Davis rewards staffers;

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Governor hires former campaign workers

San Jose Mercury News

SACRAMENTO: In the four months since Gray Davis won re-election, the Democratic governor has rewarded at least 17 former campaign workers with state jobs — many with generous raises — even as California prepares to lay off hundreds of state workers.

A San Jose Mercury News review has found that, despite having imposed a hiring freeze on other parts of California’s government, Davis has found state jobs for virtually every campaign staff member who expressed an interest. The total annual cost: nearly $1 million, not including benefits.

Of the two dozen folks Davis has hired since November to work on his 100-plus person staff, more than half worked on his campaign.

Taxpayer groups criticized the governor’s actions, especially in light of the state’s unprecedented budget crisis.

“It shows either Gov. Davis’ complete arrogance or absolute ignorance of the public’s mind-set about the way he has behaved,” said Doug Heller, senior consumer advocate for the left-leaning Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

But Davis spokesman Steve Maviglio praised the employees as hard-working colleagues who had proved their mettle on the campaign trail.

“The governor looks for loyal employees who are willing to work 16-hour days and that’s exactly the kind of people you get on campaigns,” Maviglio said.

Perhaps the move that has raised the most eyebrows is the elevation of Amber Pasricha. The 24-year-old former press aide for the public power authority was rehired last month as the governor’s main spokesperson on tribal gaming at $60,000-a-year — nearly two-thirds more than her old state salary and higher than some Davis speechwriters and top assistants.

Gabriel Sanchez, a 31-year-old former state press aide who went to work on the campaign, now makes $75,000 a year fielding media calls in Los Angeles and sending out regular e-mails to reporters listing the governor’s accomplishments. Sanchez’s salary is on par with Clark Kelso, the respected law school professor hired by Davis to revamp California’s troubled technology agency.

Sanchez’s two-year stint on the campaign allowed him to return making twice what he made when he left state government.

After three months on the campaign team, 37-year-old Deputy Communications Director Carol Dahmen came back to a new $90,000-a-year salary in the Capitol — a 7 percent increase.

Dana Williamson, the campaign’s deputy political director, got her first paid state job after the election — an $84,000-a-year post helping with community outreach in the governor’s office.

Campaign aide Laura Adelman, who previously worked for Attorney General Bill Lockyer as a $42,000-a-year speechwriter, has been hired on to a $63,000-a-year post doing the same thing for Davis.

And 25-year-old Aaron Bloom, who helped raise money for Davis, got a new $40,000-a-year job in the press office.

While most of the former political aides work directly for Davis, many actually draw their salary from state agencies they never work for — a practice that allows the governor to make it appear on paper as if he is spending less money on his staff than he really is.

Sanchez gets his check from Caltrans, Pasricha is paid by the state Environmental Protection Agency and Bloom technically works for the Department of Child Support Services.

Former colleagues of the campaign workers defended them as committed, driven young professionals who — like other former Davis aides — could be making much more money in the private sector.

But Davis’ decision to hand out generous raises and high-paying jobs to state-aides-turned-campaign-workers also created resentment among Davis loyalists who remained on the state payroll during the political season.

Pasricha’s elevation so rankled co-workers that she was given a desk outside the press office in part to mute tensions.

”I don’t think of it as a reward,” she said.

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