Gov. Gavin Newsom has governance problems. He’s struggled with finding a consistent response that local officials will follow. He’s failed to fix the state department that handles unemployment. He hasn’t rallied sufficient support for the unemployed and distressed businesses. He’s failed to re-open schools.
But Newsom seems to think his problems are primarily about politics and perception. So instead of bringing on stronger managers and those with governance experience in California, he’s turning to political consultants, and putting them in charge of his administration.
He’s apparently making Jim DeBoo, who is also a lobbyist, his next chief of staff. I say apparently, because the switch appears to have been bungled—which does not reflect well on DeBoo or Newsom—with a pre-emptive leak that chief of staff Ann O’Leary was leaving before she was actually leaving.
Then, Newsom announced the hiring of the former Clinton press secretary Dee Dee Myers not to handle but to serve as a senior advisor, and direct the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development. The justifications for hiring Myers to that post include her past tenure at Warner Bros. and her role as key volunteer in the governor’s Task Force on Business and Jobs Recovery , but the latter would seem to be a strike against Myers and him. That task force produced little, other than a final report so vague and useless that, upon reading, I doublechecked to see if it was really a spoof by The Onion.
With Newsom facing a recall effort, bringing on more political types makes sense, but putting them in major operational roles is harder to understand. Perhaps the new team of Dee Dee and DeBoo will rise to these challenges, and become expert at governance. Goodness knows, California needs outstanding governance right now. But it’s hard to be confident about that, or about Newsom.
The governor himself seems to see himself as outstanding at governance. And he’s done some good things as governor, notably on housing. But he also seems unaware of the various ways that he’s failed to follow through on important initiatives.
He’s handed over key tasks to task forces and strike teams that haven’t performed well. And on central priorities—especially early childhood, and his signature promise of a “cradle to career” system for children—he’s dropped the ball himself.
In his first year, he backed away from the promise of a universal system of early childhood education and care by retreating from an initial budget proposal. (And when challenged on it, he didn’t seem to understand he had retreated). This fall, a master plan to advance his vision actually backtracked from universality, and failed the most basic test of a plan: it lacked the money needed to do what he’d promised, and failed to identify a funding source.
These failures suggest that Newsom’s central problems are managerial. The governor doesn’t need to empower spin doctors to address that. He needs managers who understand the peculiarities of governance in California.