Perata appointments draw criticism

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Contra Costa Times (California)

If you’re a former state legislator from the Bay Area, it pays to be on Senate leader Don Perata‘s list.

The Oakland Democrat’s list for appointments, that is, to myriad, sometimes obscure but well-paying commissions and boards in the bureaucratic maze.

In a move criticized by watchdog groups Monday, Senate leader Don Perata, D-Oakland, late Friday appointed former Sen. Liz Figueroa to the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board and former Assemblywoman Wilma Chan to the California Medical Assistance Commission.

Figueroa, a Fremont Democrat who chaired the Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee, will receive $114,191 annually on the board that weighs appeals of unemployment insurance benefits. Her term expires Jan. 1, 2011.

Chan, an Oakland Democrat who chaired the Assembly Health Committee, will get $50,000 a year and travel expenses for serving on the commission, which provides health care services to Medi-Cal recipients. Her term runs out Jan. 1, 2009.

Critics said the boards often meet just once or twice a month. Chan’s board meets twice monthly in Sacramento; and Figueroa’s meets monthly. The pay varies greatly among the boards due, in part, to perceived responsibilities and who set them up.

Perata defended the appointments of the termed-out lawmakers.

“These are veteran lawmakers who know how state government works and who have expertise and experience in these issue areas,” Perata said Monday in an e-mail statement. “I know they will be intelligent, effective and devoted members of these boards.”

But some taxpayer and good-government organizations said that despite calls for reform, there’s a long history of former political insiders being granted placeholder jobs by governors and lawmakers of both parties.

“It’s Chicago-style political patronage,” said Ron Roach, a spokesman for the California Taxpayers Association. “You take care of your allies and provide them some way to make a living. People on these commissions are a ‘who’s who’ of who’s close to power in the majority party.”

Doug Heller, executive director of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, said the appointments were “a political gift, given to maintain the political machine Perata has operating out of Oakland.”

“Is this going to break the budget? No,” he said. “But is this a symbol of how public money is spent and the priorities? Yes.”

Figueroa, who lost a primary race for lieutenant governor, said, “I earned this job. I feel I have the expertise in this area and wanted to contribute.”


“In the past some (board appointments) were (political patronage), but no longer,” said Figueroa, who has no further aspirations to run for office. “Many of us have become experts in various areas and it behooves California to have us serve.”

Chan, responding to allegations her appointment was politically motivated, said: “That’s not the way I view it. It’s an area I’ve done a lot of work in.”

Tim Hodson, executive director of the Center for California Studies at California State University Sacramento, agreed.

“Wilma Chan was one of the Legislature’s and California’s preeminent experts in heath policy, which makes her an intelligent and responsible choice for the California Medical Assistance Commission,” Hodson said.

The former assemblywoman plans to run for Perata’s 9th Senate District office when he is termed out in 2008. She and others lost a lawsuit trying to unseat Perata in 2006. He was elected in a 1998 special election.

Chan also is doing consulting work for the Alameda Health Consortium at an undisclosed sum and is receiving $6,000 annually as a “legislator in residence” teacher at University of California, Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies.
Reach Steve Geissinger at [email protected] or 916-447-9302.

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