Reporting from Sacramento — Throughout his campaign for governor, Jerry Brown suggested that the administration of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had fallen short, going so far as to ridicule Schwarzenegger in campaign advertisements and repeatedly assert that the movie star was in over his head in Sacramento.
Politics aside, however, Brown and Schwarzenegger had relatively good relations. And now that Brown is about to assume office, the 72-year old Democrat appears likely to keep much of his predecessor's administration intact for some time.
Brown advisors say the governor-elect is focused on the budget; filling a couple of thousand government posts with new faces is not his priority now, they say. Even on financial matters, Brown may not bring in a new top-level advisor. He has praised Schwarzenegger's budget director, who people close to the transition say may be invited to keep the job.
Brown had consulted the budget director, Ana Matosantos, for insight on state fiscal matters during the campaign. At one point he showed up at her office unannounced and without any entourage, and the two sat down and drilled deep into budget policy.
Matosantos fits the profile of some of Brown's top appointees in the attorney general's office: Wonky, apolitical and a workaholic. One of those appointees, Jim Humes, is spearheading Brown's transition. Few in the Capitol know anything about him other than that he tries to steer clear of politics.
Another prominent official who could easily hold over would be one of the state's top environmental regulators, Schwarzenegger appointee Mary Nichols, who heads the Air Resources Board. She worked for Brown when he was governor three decades ago.
The governor-elect returned to the Capitol on Tuesday after a weeklong vacation to hold meetings with legislators and prepare to take on a budget deficit that has swollen to more than $25 billion — or roughly 29% of this year's general fund. He and his advisors provided few details about his plans for the transition or closing the budget gap. But they did make clear that Brown's first order of business is not to shake up the administration.
A go-slow approach is consistent with how Brown managed after he was elected attorney general four years ago, opting to promote from within instead of cleaning house.
"If people are doing a good job and they are on the same wavelength, he'll be inclined to keep them," said Tom Quinn, a longtime Brown friend and advisor who is helping manage the transition.
Quinn said the transition team received a briefing from Schwarzenegger's chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, on which officials want to stay in government. Kennedy declined to comment on who they are. But Schwarzenegger administration officials anticipate that many department heads will stay put.
Quinn said Brown plans to meet with department heads one-on-one as his team culls through the transition books each department and agency has prepared.
Brown, however, remains unpredictable.
His transition team is refusing to say who he is meeting with while in Sacramento. On Tuesday, they made him available only briefly for a photo op where he took just three questions from reporters.
The transition team is barricaded inside one of the most secure public buildings in all of California, the Department of Justice edifice in downtown Sacramento. Its lobby is protected by bulletproof glass and security guards; visitors must scan their driver's licenses to enter.
Brown spokesman Sterling Clifford refused to offer details about Brown's other meetings Tuesday, saying only that he met with "lawmakers, administration officials and people outside of government."
Brown advisors say the location was picked to save taxpayers the expense of renting office space for the transition. But it also allows the team to stay walled off from the press.
At the photo op, Brown listened as Jeannie Oropeza, Schwarzenegger's budget manager for education issues, walked through portions of the budget for the state's public university systems.
Joining Brown was his campaign manager, Steve Glazer; Quinn, who ran Brown's first campaign for governor; and education consultant John Mockler. Mockler has longtime ties to the California Teachers Assn. Perhaps as important, he was the author of Proposition 98, the 1988 ballot measure that guarantees minimum funding levels for California public schools, and is widely viewed as one of the few people in Sacramento who thoroughly understands the workings of the state's convoluted system of education funding, under which roughly 40 cents of each general-fund dollar goes to education.
Brown said it was too early to say how much of the Schwarzenegger administration he would keep intact. "This is Day 1," he said. "I'm not going to decide anything until I get a better understanding of what the possibilities are."
One area where Brown seems to be taking a markedly different approach than Schwarzenegger is labor relations. He has taken on as an advisor Marty Morgenstern, who served as director of the Department of Personnel Administration under Brown three decades ago. Morgenstern held the post under former Gov. Gray Davis and helped negotiate some of the lucrative contracts for state workers that Schwarzenegger spent most of his administration trying to unwind.
Morgenstern said Brown approached him the day after the election and asked him to examine the state's labor-related agencies. "I'm nosing about seeing how deep this hole we're in is, trying to make sure he'll be presented with all the facts and know where all the land mines are when he takes over," Morgenstern said.
Special correspondent Anthony York contributed to this report.