Capitol Alert

Former McClintock challenger lands $165,000 job in Newsom administration

Jessica Morse’s underdog campaign to oust Rep. Tom McClintock from Congress in 2018 was unsuccessful, but it helped land her a new job — in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration.

Newsom appointed Morse, of Pollock Pines, as Deputy Secretary of Forest Resources Management at the California Natural Resources Agency, the governor’s office announced last week. According to the agency’s organizational chart, Morse will report to Secretary for Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot. The post pays $165,000. That’s nearly as much as the $174,000 she would have made as a member of Congress.

Morse made climate change and its impacts on California’s forests a key focus of her congressional campaign in a district that encompasses Sierra Nevada communities from Lake Tahoe south to Yosemite and Kings Canyon.

With Democrats eager to send a message to President Donald Trump and Republicans in Washington in 2018, Morse raised a record amount for her campaign. But she still lost to McClintock by 8 percentage points in the GOP-leaning 4th district.

After the November election, Morse volunteered to help survivors of the Camp Fire in Paradise, California. She also has continued to blast McClintock, a veteran Republican lawmaker, for denying humans’ role in climate change, linking the warming climate to the increasingly catastrophic fires California has endured in recent years.

Morse, however, does not have any formal experience or training in forestry, conservation or environmental policy. Before running for Congress as a Democrat, she served in a variety of roles in the federal government, focused on international affairs. Her last job in public service was as a budget analyst for the U.S. Agency for International Development from 2012 to 2015. She then left Washington, D.C. to write a book and volunteer on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

That gap in formal employment became a headache for Morse during her congressional run, as she struggled to come up with an acceptable professional description to appear on the ballot. California election law requires that a candidate’s ballot description represent the candidate’s “current principal professions, vocations, or occupations” or that of the previous year. After attempting to use the label “national security strategist,” Morse ended up running without a designation on the ballot in the primary, and as a “Candidate for Congress” in the general election.

Newsom’s appointee to head the agency’s Forest Management Task Force, Jennifer Montgomery, also comes from a political background: she served more than 10 years on the Placer County Board of Supervisors. Montgomery endorsed Morse’s congressional campaign last May.

Newsom’s office did not respond to a request for comment on why the governor picked Morse for the role or what responsibilities she will have. Morse also did not respond to questions about her appointment.

But Morse did say in a post on Facebook over the weekend that she was “delighted to be joining California’s Natural Resources Agency as the Deputy Secretary for Forest Resource Management.”

“Restoring healthy forests will mitigate fire danger, improve our watersheds, function as a carbon sink and improve rural economies,” she continued. “I’m honored to have the opportunity to serve California!”

Emily Cadei works out of the McClatchy Washington bureau, where she covers national politics and policy for McClatchy’s California readers. A native of Sacramento, she has spent more than a decade in D.C. reporting on U.S. elections, Congress and foreign affairs for publications including Newsweek, Congressional Quarterly and Roll Call.