Dan Walters

Who will Jerry Brown pick to fill very powerful office?

In this Sept. 29, 2014, file photo, Gov. Jerry Brown meets with his executive secretary Nancy McFadden, left, and other advisers at his Capitol office. McFadden has been mentioned as a possible Brown choice to become attorney general after Kamala Harris won a U.S. Senate seat.
In this Sept. 29, 2014, file photo, Gov. Jerry Brown meets with his executive secretary Nancy McFadden, left, and other advisers at his Capitol office. McFadden has been mentioned as a possible Brown choice to become attorney general after Kamala Harris won a U.S. Senate seat. Associated Press file

Tuesday’s election may be history, but another contest for one of California most influential offices looms – with just one voter who counts.

With Attorney General Kamala Harris easily claiming a U.S. Senate seat Tuesday, Gov. Jerry Brown must appoint her successor, subject to confirmation by both legislative houses.

Brown could name a caretaker to oversee the Department of Justice for the next two years or launch someone on a political career that could lead to the governorship, a U.S. Senate seat or even the presidency.

The position is one of the state’s most powerful, second only to the governorship because of the occupant’s oversight of criminal justice and his or her ability to file lawsuits on just about any topic.

Brown is well aware of that power and the political momentum it creates. He was attorney general himself for one term before returning to the governorship six years ago, and, in fact, most recent attorneys general have used the position as a steppingstone, including his father, Pat Brown, Evelle Younger, George Deukmejian and John Van de Kamp, albeit not always successfully.

If Brown wants to jump-start someone’s political career, there would be no shortage of hopefuls, beginning with the seven men and women who have accounts to raise money to run for attorney general in 2018.

The best known, and perhaps most ambitious, of the seven is Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones. He’d love to have an appointment that would set him up to run for a full term in 2018, and climb more rungs thereafter.

However, a Jones appointment is considered highly unlikely because Jones has feuded with Brown’s administration over regulation of health insurance rates.

The names of at least a dozen other politically ambitious possibilities are floating around the Capitol, such as Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, or retired San Francisco Judge Katherine Feinstein (daughter of Sen. Dianne Feinstein).

But what of potential caretakers, should Brown go that route?

The name of his wife, Anne Gust Brown, has popped up, but when asked about her recently, Brown replied, “My wife is fully employed.”

Nancy McFadden, Brown’s executive secretary, is another possibility – and perhaps someone who might want to run for a full term in 2018. As he campaigned for Hillary Clinton in Colorado a few days ago, Brown told the Politico website that McFadden is “very qualified” for the position.

If Brown wants a pure caretaker, however, someone like Clark Kelso would fill the bill. The McGeorge Law School professor has already done a couple of stints as a troubleshooter, taking over leadership of state agencies for limited terms, and would be quickly confirmed by the Legislature.

However, it’s not unknown for a caretaker political appointee to suddenly get ambitious. That’s what happened, for instance, when career bureaucrat Ed Lee was appointed mayor of San Francisco after Gavin Newsom was elected lieutenant governor. He won the mayoralty on his own and may be in line for a Cabinet post.

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