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California Democrats’ communication office gets six-figure remodel

Rendon supportive, but cautious on single-payer health plan

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon on Wednesday April 26, 2017, suggested the timing may be off to approve single-payer health care in California, a system he supports.
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Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon on Wednesday April 26, 2017, suggested the timing may be off to approve single-payer health care in California, a system he supports.

The Assembly office that assists Democratic members with press releases and constituent mail is getting a major makeover: more than $160,000 in new carpet, fresh paint, drywall and other renovations.

The Democratic Office of Communications and Outreach is the new name for what for decades was known as the Speaker’s Office of Member Services, following a reshuffle ordered earlier this year by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount.

Officials say the renovations are part of an overhaul for a legislative office long seen as having a decidedly partisan bent. Teams of employees are assigned to help Democratic lawmakers shape and deliver their message to constituents.

The work includes $93,555 for new carpet, $27,132 for framing, drywall and electrical work, and $46,000 to repaint the space in blue and silver, according to contracts provided to The Bee. The spending total is more than double the $80,000 allotted in the current budget for Assembly office alterations in the Capitol.

John Casey, a Rendon spokesman, said the renovation spruces up a space that hasn’t had new carpet in more than 15 years and and no new paint or other improvements since the 1990s. The work, on about half of the fourth floor of the Legislative Office Building across N Street from the Capitol, should be done by the end of the month, he said.

“The office was incredibly dated. It was incredibly worn,” Casey said.

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Assembly officials awarded the contracts in the weeks before lawmakers left town July 21 for summer recess. Around the same time, Democrats had voted to strip the state Board of Equalization of many of its powers, in part because of frustration with the board’s spending. That included $130,000 for the purchase and installation of designer furniture for the offices of board member Jerome Horton.

Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, said government employees deserve “a functional environment in which to work” but said he suspects the spending on the communications and outreach office renovation goes beyond that.

“Regrettably what we’ve seen in the past, whether it’s a city hall or a Board of Equalization office, is they tend to go overboard with high-luxury items and accoutrements,” he said.

“This is not the Office of Emergency Services where you need a new communications system,” Coupal added “This is a political operation and they’re spending taxpayer money.”

Casey rejected the comparison to the Board of Equalization. New furniture, he said, isn’t part of the Assembly office renovation and existing furniture will continue to be used amid the new paint and carpet.

“Offices need to be periodically spruced up and this was one of those times,” he said.

It’s the second time in recent years that a caucus office in the legislative office building has undergone major work.

Two years ago, the offices of the Assembly Republican Caucus, located on the same floor as the Democratic office, had $131,000 in painting, carpet and blinds, Assembly records show.

Casey said more than 50 people work in the revamped Democratic communications office. That represents less than half of all Assembly Democratic caucus staffing, which stood at 123 employees in May. Republicans, who hold 25 of the Assembly 80 seats, had 58 caucus employees then.

Other Assembly employees work directly for members or committees.

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