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Key Leadership Posts Remain Unfilled Six Weeks After California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Inauguration

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Gavin Newsom takes the oath of office as First Partner Jen Siebel Newsom and their four children stand beside him.

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

California Gov. Gavin Newsom campaigned on promises to build a single-payer health care system and 3.5 million new homes.

But more than six weeks into his administration — and 15 weeks after his election — he has yet to appoint the cabinet secretaries or department heads who will lead those ambitious initiatives.

He also has not announced the reappointment of any of those agencies’ current leaders, who were named by former Gov. Jerry Brown.

The same holds true for another prominent proposal: moving the juvenile justice system from the state’s prison system to its health and human services agency.

Newsom has not appointed secretaries of the Health and Human Services; Business, Consumer Services and Housing; or Corrections and Rehabilitation agencies. And a level below, he has not appointed directors of several departments, including Public Health, Health Care Services, Managed Health Care, or Housing and Community Development — or the Division of Juvenile Justice.

That leaves the fast-moving Newsom with leaders held over from his predecessor, the more deliberative Brown.

Although both governors are Democrats, the current Secretary of Health and Human Services is Michael Wilkening, who rose to lead the agency last May when its previous secretary, Diana Dooley, was named Brown’s top aide. Wilkening was listed as a registered Republican when his appointment was announced.

Newsom’s office acknowledged that many of the administration’s top jobs are currently held by previous appointees.

“The Governor is honored that a number of public servants committed to the goals of this new administration will continue to serve the people of California,” Newsom’s chief of staff, Ann O’Leary, said in a statement provided by the governor’s office. “We are proud to be putting together the most diverse administration in California history, and this administration will be making more announcements on key agency positions in the coming weeks and months.”

California governors must fill some 4,000 executive branch jobs when they take office. And there’s less urgency to name senior-level appointments when the incoming governor is succeeding a member of the same political party.

But Rob Stutzman — who served as communications director to former Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger during his recall campaign, transition and opening years in office — said he thinks the lack of appointments to these agencies is “unusual.”

“You would think at some point he would not want to delay in putting the full imprimatur of his leadership, with his people, upon these critical agencies that are critical to policy areas that he has made such a prominent part of his campaign, and now the first six weeks of office,” he said.

Stutzman said Schwarzenegger “interviewed and hired a complete cabinet to run all of the agencies by the day he was inaugurated,” though he noted that the circumstances of that transition were different because a Republican replaced a Democrat in a historic recall election.

But, he added, “there’s no reason to think it necessarily creates any type of crisis or that anything’s being neglected.”

A CapRadio review of appointments announced by Newsom’s transition team and governor’s office show he has filled six of his 11 cabinet posts. The five vacant positions are the secretaries of Transportation, Corrections and Rehabilitation, Health and Human Services, Veterans Affairs, and Business, Consumer and Housing.

In addition to the key departments that work on housing and health care policy that lack newly named leaders, other notable departments without appointments so far include CalTrans, DMV, Water Resources, Employment Development, and Rehabilitation.

Newsom has, however, filled the governor’s office with an expanded staff compared to Brown. His top staff appointments include senior advisors with expertise on the governor’s core issues of health care, housing and early childhood education.

Click here to see the Executive Branch's organizational chart.

Ben Adler

Capitol Bureau Chief

Capitol Bureau Chief Ben Adler first became a public radio listener in the car on his way to preschool – though not necessarily by choice. Now, he leads Capital Public Radio’s state Capitol coverage, which airs on NPR stations across California.  Read Full Bio 

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