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Gov. Gavin Newsom is expanding the size and role of the California governor's office

Taryn Luna, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Gov. Gavin Newsom announced plans to hire California's first surgeon general hours after he took office last month. The next day he announced a new senior adviser for emergency management. Then on his third day, he created a "strike team" to reinvent the troubled Department of Motor Vehicles.

And on Day 4, Newsom unveiled a new state budget, requesting 41 additional staffers and a total of $24.6 million for the governor's office -- more spending than many of his predecessors.

California's 40th governor is beginning his tenure with a flurry of ideas and enough cushion in the state budget to afford a large inner circle of advisers and aides to help carry out big promises, such as creating a single-payer health care system, universal preschool and addressing the state's housing crisis.

"The truth about the governor's office is that things move fast and you drink from a fire hose every day," said Dana Williamson, a former top adviser to then-Gov. Jerry Brown. "He also has a big agenda."

Brown had a lean crew of confidants. Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had a more expansive operation, with a $21.9 million budget and a staff of 202 employees at its peak during his final full year in office. Chief executives before him also oversaw large offices, but because some of their employees were paid from the budgets of different departments, it is unclear just how many staff members worked for them.

Facing a $27 billion budget deficit, Brown whittled the size of the governor's office down to as few as 81 employees and a low of $12.7 million to cover salaries, benefits and administrative overhead.

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He also closed the administration's field offices around the state, eliminated the first lady's office and forced appointees to take a 5 percent pay cut in keeping with campaign promises to limit government spending.

Williamson said that Brown's first stint in the governor's office eased his return to the job more than three decades later, allowing him to operate with a small staff.

Newsom has taken a different approach.

Building a 132-person staff will allow Newsom to reopen five field offices focused on constituent affairs and hire representatives for each region of the state, said Nathan Click, a spokesman for the governor. The outposts will hold public office hours "to bring the governor's office closer to the communities it serves," Click said.

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