The Gavin Newsom administration began to take shape Friday as California’s Democratic governor-elect announced his first two senior staff appointments and launched a website to solicit job applications and advice.
Ann O’Leary, a former top adviser to Hillary Clinton with an emphasis in children and family policy, will serve as chief of staff. The choice potentially signals that Newsom will prioritize the expansion of early childhood education, a proposal he emphasized in the final days of his campaign above other key issues like housing and health care.
Capitol veteran Ana Matosantos, who worked as director of finance for Govs. Jerry Brown and Arnold Schwarzenegger, will be the cabinet secretary, coordinating between Newsom’s office and the dozens of agencies and departments that make up the state government.
A new website called “All In California” will provide an online hub for the gubernatorial transition — led by O’Leary, with help from Sacramento political strategist Jason Kinney and others — as Newsom prepares to take office on Jan. 7. The public can use the site to apply for jobs in the Newsom administration and recommend policy solutions to the new governor.
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“It’s time for California’s State Capitol to engage more of California’s diverse voices and talents, beginning with this transition,” Newsom said in a statement. “This isn’t going to be the usual top-down, closed-door, paint-by-numbers process. Our state government impacts millions of California lives every day and we are committed to offering unique ways to enable more Californians to help shape the future.”
O’Leary’s background is primarily in Washington, D.C., and national politics, working in the White House under former President Bill Clinton, as legislative director for former Sen. Hillary Clinton and as a senior policy adviser for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Former White House chief of staff John Podesta praised her deep policy knowledge and her “experience in designing and implementing social policy at the government level.” O’Leary was key in developing the Children’s Health Insurance Program, he said, and later worked on K-12 initiatives, like No Child Left Behind, as well as expanding paid family and medical leave.
“What motivates her into policy and politics,” Podesta said, “is concern for kids and particularly poor kids, and that they get the opportunity to succeed in life.”
O’Leary also has deep roots in California, where she earned a master’s degree in education from Stanford University and a law degree from UC Berkeley, according to a Fortune magazine profile. She lives in the Berkeley hills and used to be married to California Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu.
Working for a Palo Alto law firm the past two years, O’Leary has already offered advice to California lawmakers like Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson. The Santa Barbara Democrat said she turned to O’Leary last year for help on how to pass a bill expanding new parent leave, despite opposition from the business community. Jackson described her as a “shrewd and effective strategist.”
Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who worked with O’Leary on Hillary Clinton’s presidential transition team, said O’Leary’s “incomparable” breadth of experience would benefit Newsom’s progressive vision for California. She is adept at navigating the interpersonal politics of the legislative process, Granholm said, and “capable of handling 50 things at once” as an administrator.
“She’s trilingual: She can speak federal, she can speak state and she can speak local,” Granholm said. “The two of them together will continue to accelerate California’s position as a policy leader.”