Just a few months after returning to the governorship in 2011, Jerry Brown did an odd thing.
He rescinded an appointment that his predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, had made to the state community college Board of Governors just before leaving office.
The appointment Brown canceled was of a young Latina and community college trustee from the Fresno area, Isabel Barreras.
“I was surprised when I received the call rescinding my appointment to the Board of Governors because I had just received a letter from the (Senate) Rules Committee notifying me of my upcoming Senate confirmation hearing,” Barreras said. “I’m not sure what transpired in those few days, but I was told the governor wanted to go in a different direction.”
The “different direction,” as it turned out, was giving Barreras’ seat to Natalie Berg, the wife of one of Brown’s oldest and closest friends, the late San Francisco lobbyist and political activist, Peter Finnegan.
Finnegan was a high school and Catholic seminary classmate of Brown’s more than a half-century ago and Finnegan and Berg had been steadfast fundraisers for Brown’s many campaigns for state and local offices, often hosting events at their home.
Barreras “is an 11th-hour appointment by Schwarzenegger and the governor decided to make his own,” Brown’s spokesman, Gilbert Duran, said at the time.
Appointing Berg was not the last example of Brown’s penchant for appointing close aides and personal friends to state positions, some prestigious and powerful, and others carrying hefty salaries.
Some of Brown’s appointees are returnees from his first governorship, such as Public Utilities Commission president Michael Picker, High-Speed Rail Authority chairman Dan Richard and Diana Dooley, Brown’s chief of staff. And some, like Berg, are old friends.
Recently, it was revealed that Brown had appointed Juan Pedro Gaffney, a Bay Area choir director, to a position on the state Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, which settles disputes over benefits to workers claiming job-related injuries and illnesses.
Most of the board’s members, who are paid $147,778 a year, are either attorneys or others well versed in the complicated law governing workplace disabilities, although it also has been a landing place for out-of-work politicians upon occasion.
Gaffney’s qualifications? He and Brown were classmates at St. Ignatius High School more than 60 years ago and they have been friends ever since. Previously, Brown had appointed him to the Alcoholic Beverage Appeals Board, which paid a much smaller salary.
Quite a few of Brown’s staff aides have also received appointments, such as:
–Gareth Lacy, a deputy press secretary, to the California Gambling Control Commission;
–Kathy Baldree, a governor’s office scheduler, to the State Personnel Board;
–Katherine Dodd, a deputy legal affairs secretary and daughter-in-law of state Sen. Bill Dodd, also to the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board;
–Adrian Carpenter, another deputy legal affairs secretary, to the Cannabis Control Appeals Panel;
–Michael Cohen, Brown’s long-time budget director, to the University of California Board of Regents, just before Cohen resigned to become a top executive at the California Public Employees Retirement System.
Brown has always portrayed himself as a transformative political figure, but in his second gubernatorial incarnation he’s adopted the traditional trappings of politics, including giving jobs to those closest to him.
It’s likely that the biggest plum Brown has yet to bestow, his fourth and decisive appointee to the state Supreme Court, will be in the same vein. The two at the top of the speculation list are legal advisor Josh Groban and PUC member Cliff Rechtschaffen, a former aide.