Capitol Alert

Assembly Republicans lay off veteran staff amid new PR push


Assembly Republicans laid off eight staff members Thursday as part of a long-expected restructuring that focuses on strengthening the caucus’s public outreach.

Four months after parting ways with two senior-level officials, the move by Assembly Republican leader Kristin Olsen effectively collapses the policy and budget staffs, freeing up positions for public relations.

With Republicans firmly in the minority, and unable to advance many of their policy priorities, the reorganization is an acknowledgment that no amount of internal budget or policy work is likely to help the party disseminate its message and grow its ranks. Despite the layoffs, the caucus payroll will increase by one position.

Amanda Fulkerson, a spokeswoman for the caucus, said the changes are long overdue. She said the framework of its current structure was developed more than two decades ago – “when Twitter was a verb (and) ‘going green’ was something you did on St. Patrick’s Day. Times are changing … and we are, too.”

“Like any significant restructuring, resource reallocation and redundancy result in the elimination of positions and functions,” she said. “Care was taken to ensure that persons in eliminated positions would be placed into newly-created positions if the skill sets were compatible.”

Officials plan to focus on advancing policies and messages that highlight an “optimistic vision of opportunity for all Californians,” according to a Thursday announcement prepared for release and obtained by The Bee.

The Assembly GOP leader and top aides have been preparing staffers for what they’ve described as thoughtful and deliberative changes, even bringing in a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute to consult. Olsen hinted at the reorganization during a recent speech to the Sacramento Press Club. In the statement Thursday, she cast the restructuring as an effort to modernize state government operations.

“Our caucus is leading by example,” Olsen said.

“Just like any large organization, our caucus must adapt to a changing world,” she added. “Modernizing our structure and operating differently will allow us to more effectively serve our 28 members and the 13 million Californians they represent.”

Among the goals is boosting the caucus’ presence on social media platforms, an area framed as helping increase transparency and understanding of the Assembly’s actions by “providing accurate information quickly,” the announcement said.

Olsen parted ways with a pair of veteran policy aides shortly after taking over as leader. In November, Richard Mersereau and Deborah Gonzalez, the policy and fiscal director and chief of staff to former Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway, R-Tulare, were removed from their posts. Olsen at the time portrayed the moves as part of the normal process when new leaders take over, saying through a spokeswoman she wanted to “take the caucus in a different direction.”

Taking over as chief of staff was Jim Richardson, a veteran Capitol operative who has worked for former Senate Republican Leader Jim Brulte and former Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner.

As part of the changes Thursday, Danita Ng will be named deputy chief of staff for the caucus’ policy and communications. Ng has worked as an economy policy adviser to the National Republican Senatorial Committee and served in a similar role on Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in 2012.

Steve McCarthy, who had been the interim policy director for the caucus, will become permanent. He previously worked as a policy consultant for the Assembly Republican Caucus on water, agriculture and other resource issues.

Fulkerson, the caucus’ press secretary for the past year, will step in as communications director. She worked as the chief of staff to Lt. Governor Abel Maldonado and as the chief deputy communications officer to then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Call Christopher Cadelago, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5538. Follow him on Twitter @ccadelago.

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