Reporting from Sacramento — Gov.-elect Jerry Brown filled two key positions Tuesday, saying in his first major announcement since winning election that he will keep Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's budget director and hire a veteran of his own previous tenure to head the state's huge Health and Human Services agency.
FOR THE RECORD:
Brown appointments: An article in the Dec. 8 LATExtra section about Gov.-elect Jerry Brown's naming of two appointees misstated the age of his choice to head the state Health and Human Services agency. Diana Dooley is 59, not 69. —
Brown has said that solving the state's estimated $25.4-billion deficit over the next year and a half is his top priority, and in naming Ana Matosantos as his chief budget architect, he will be relying on a veteran of the state's recent budget wars.
Though she has served under a Republican governor, Matosantos, 35, is a Democrat. She "has what it takes" to navigate the state through its fiscal crisis, Brown said in announcing her appointment.
The new Health and Human Services chief, Diana Dooley, 69, served as Brown's chief liaison with the Legislature and special advisor during his first stint as governor from 1975 to 1983. She currently serves as president of the California Children's Hospital Assn.
The agency she will head has a budget of roughly $25 billion in state funds — the largest piece of the general fund outside of K-12 schools. In addition, it spends almost $60 billion more in federal money. She also will be charged with helping implement the national health overhaul approved by President Obama and Congress. Brown praised her in a statement as having "the skill, the experience and the human qualities" to run the giant agency.
Together, the two appointments underscore Brown's unorthodox approach to governance and his long political history — what he liked to term on the campaign trail "an insider's knowledge, but an outsider's mind." No finance director has served two governors of differing political parties in California history, according to the Department of Finance.
The appointments also signal two trends that are expected to continue as Brown fills out his administration — asking many Schwarzenegger appointees to stay on while reaching back to his own stable of former aides to round out the new government.
Brown and Matosantos will appear together Wednesday in Sacramento at a meeting that Brown's transition office has described as a primer on the current state budget crisis. State and local lawmakers have been invited to the forum.
Matosantos struck up a relationship with Brown during the campaign, when he once visited her unannounced and unaccompanied by staff to chat about budget policy.
For weeks, she has carried out the awkward task of unofficially serving two governors simultaneously. On Monday, she was by Schwarzenegger's side as he unveiled a grim special session agenda that included proposals to eliminate welfare and government-subsidized child care. Asked at a news conference what Brown's thoughts were on the package, she demurred.
Matosantos resigned her post under Schwarzenegger on Tuesday; the governor elevated Cynthia Bryant, the No. 2 finance official, as director.
Known around Sacramento as a policy wonk with a business-like demeanor, Matosantos has generally earned plaudits from lawmakers of both parties.
Sen. Sam Blakeslee (R- San Luis Obispo), who worked with Matosantos in 2009 when he served as Assembly minority leader, called her "a superb appointment."
"Very bright, encyclopedic knowledge and a straight shooter," Blakeslee said, adding that she was "a tremendously pleasant person — that's not that common up here."
Even some advocates whose programs Schwarzenegger has targeted for cutbacks embraced Brown's decision to retain Matosantos. Carmela Castellano-Garcia, president of the California Primary Care Assn., criticized Schwarzenegger's budget approach Monday as "fundamentally flawed," but praised Matosantos as "eminently qualified."
"She's going to have a new boss, with new values and new priorities," Castellano-Garcia said.
Dooley, as head of the health and human services agency, will manage more than 33,000 employees and oversee administration of Medi-Cal, the state's welfare program, as well as health programs for children living at or near poverty.
Those programs have been on the chopping block in recent years; her appointment came one day after Schwarzenegger's budget plan called for cuts almost exclusively to health and human services.
"In these difficult times, it's more important than ever to manage our health and social programs with efficiency and a sense of compassion," Dooley said in a statement. "And that's my commitment in taking this position."
Ted Lempert, president of Children Now, a children's healthcare group based in Oakland, said he was "thrilled" with her appointment. "She's been a stalwart in saying kids have to come first," Lempert said.