The lieutenant governor’s office may well be the Rodney Dangerfield of California government.
With little responsibility or power to speak of, the office often becomes a punching bag for political rivals, as when Gov. Gray Davis abruptly removed nine parking spaces from Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante’s staff in 1999 after public disagreements over how to treat undocumented immigrants, or when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger slashed by nearly two-thirds the office budget of Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, a vocal critic of his administration’s proposed spending cuts, in 2009.
Now Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is caught up in a public scuffle with Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León over two staff positions that have been on loan from the pro tem’s office for the past several years to bolster his small operations. As first reported in the Los Angeles Times, the employees were suddenly called back to service for the Senate leader this week.
Newsom spokesman Rhys Williams speculated that it’s retaliation for a gun-control initiative recently announced by the lieutenant governor, which includes language on background checks for ammunition that is similar to a 2013 measure by de León, Senate Bill 53.
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“That’s the palace intrigue,” Williams said. “They didn’t dispute it.”
In a statement, de León’s chief of staff, Dan Reeves, attributed the move to efforts to “improve efficiency” and maximize the Senate’s “limited resources.”
“Doing so will expand our capacity to meet the needs of our constituents,” Reeves said. “We appreciate the lieutenant governor’s cooperation as we continue to concentrate Senate resources on our core mission.”
Meanwhile, Newsom has already shifted around the $1.07 million budget for his office, which employs four staffers, to hire on the additional two employees, an office manager and an economic policy adviser.
“It’s a distraction from a key point, that no one person should assume a monopoly on actions that make our community safer,” Williams said. “I don’t know how you can put an eye-roll on the record. It’s whatever.”