The Transition from Schwarzenegger to Brown 2.0: What To Expect

Fox & Hounds November 4, 2010
By: Joe Rodota

The smoke signals were being sent as long as 10 days ago: Candidate Jerry Brown began postulating what he’d do in office, while Meg Whitman fought off media reports of unfavorable polling.  The transition from the Schwarzenegger Administration to the Second Brown Administration had begun.

I served as policy director for the Schwarzenegger 2003 recall campaign and as the point person in the transition on the economic recovery portfolio, including energy, workers compensation insurance reform, and the overall business climate.  And about 10 days before voters went to the polls, I had already switched my focus to preparing for the hand-off from Governor Davis.

The first step was to prepare the official record of Schwarzenegger’s agenda – as reflected in our policy papers, in the candidate’s answers to questionnaires, and in his debates and prepared remarks.  It may seem obvious, but someone has to come up with an objective checklist of promises to guard against revisionist history, and to help educate the swarm of new players who descend on a new Governor-elect with their ideas for what needs to be done. That task should be high on the list of items to be addressed by the Brown 2.0 transition staff.

Next, the Governor-elect and his transition team will need to look under the hood of state government.

The outgoing Schwarzenegger team will establish a point person for all matters related to the transition, and agency secretaries and department directors will open their doors – and books – in an attempt to brief their successors objectively. Advisers trusted by Brown will be taking meetings all over Sacramento, and reporting back to him with their assessments of the major policy areas and what can be done. Brown should take a suggestion from Hoover Institution political analyst Bill Whalen and make these reports public, just as New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie did in his transition.

Finally, the transition team needs to develop a way to filter through requests from the "Third House" – mostly requests for meetings to recommend candidates for top-level jobs, suggest policy reforms, or simply to make a connection for future conversations.

Brown’s transition team will be inundated with suggestions for new policies ranging from useful to ridiculous.  My favorite suggestion in 2003 was from a top Sacramento insider, who said Schwarzenegger should take steps to amend the state’s "crazy" recall process as a first order of business.  I suggested that since we wouldn’t be in a transition team office were it not for the recall election, perhaps we could agree that his part of the constitution was actually working.

Many Capitol players have been planning their pilgrimages for weeks, assembling "leave-behinds" they hope will impact the thinking of the new team. I predict a shortage of three-ring binders in the region’s office supply stores.

The most important meetings Governor-elect Brown will take will focus on the state budget.  But he should ask one state official in particular, Inspector General Laura Chick, to pay him a visit.

Chick is on a mission, recently renewed by the Legislature in the state budget, to investigate the state’s use of federal stimulus funds.   Democrats and some Republicans have been reluctant to expose some of their pet projects to proper auditing, but Schwarzenegger insisted in keeping her office going.  (Historical note:  a statewide Inspector General was part of our 2003 recall platform.)

Brown should size up the situation quickly and find a way to create an even larger role for Laura Chick.  He’s said he won’t raise taxes without a vote of the people.  But until voters have confidence that many eyes in Sacramento are watching how state tax dollars are spent, and aggressively identifying and preventing waste, taxpayers will be reluctant to make any additional financial sacrifices for the benefit of state programs.