“When you’re doing your day-to-day work and you need to get some information it can be very tough under this administration because they have a severely understaffed media operation,” says Halper. The issue then becomes transparency, he says. As the governor was moving back in to the Capitol, Halper says he could barely get a hold of anyone to comment on whispers he was hearing about lobbyists working on the transition team. The day before I called Halper in early March—more than two months into the administration—he was frustrated because the bureau had not been able to speak to Brown in time for a deadline. Five Republican state senators had written an open letter claiming the governor was refusing to consider their concessions on budget negotiations.
Things might be improving. When we spoke, Halper had also mentioned he was having trouble getting Brown’s people to engage on the issue of a large public database the Times had been fighting with the previous administration for access to. But a few days after we spoke, he e-mailed me, writing, “Need to eat my words. Just got word from our lawyer that the administration has engaged and supposedly plans to give us the data we need.”
“There’s some delay,” says KQED’s Myers, who likes Brown’s pared-back approach and its symbolism for a state so deep in the red. “There isn’t the same staff to deal with the flotsam and jetsam of questions you have about what’s going on and the administrations position on things.” He and others note, too, that the press operation is more decentralized. Schwarzenegger’s swollen press outfit would field calls on all issues—from water to prisons. Now, reporters can pick up the phone and more freely call press operatives in California’s myriad agencies and departments.
Whether they will be up to the task is another question. “We are definitely looking to slim down the departments as well,” says the press secretary. “There’s a hiring freeze so there’s a lot of vacancies that will not be filled.”
Duran is the kind of man who inspires confidence that somehow it will all be okay, even if you can’t quite figure out how it possibly could—which is, after all, his job. At thirty-four, he has worked as a press secretary for Brown once before, when Brown was mayor of Oakland in the mid-2000s, and for L.A. mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Before coming to Sacramento, Duran was Senator Dianne Feinstein’s communications director in D.C., and he has a young Washingtonian’s sunlight-shunning work ethic. He’s up at 5.15 a.m., never home before 7.30 p.m., and was in the office the Sunday before I spoke to him, shooting the governor’s first YouTube address.
When we chat, he insists that his tiny staff of equally hard workers is up to the task of handling press for the head of the world’s eighth largest economy. The team is busy, but everybody pitches in, he says, answering phones and writing press releases (one reporter described the operation as “quaint.”) When I ask about charges that the office can be slow, he says that he and his staff comb through phone messages and e-mails every night and that “everybody gets a call back.”
They might not, of course, get the answers that they’re looking for all the time. Or get them immediately. With so few staffers, the team must prioritize. I called three times and e-mailed twice before getting Duran on the phone. After we spoke, he wrote to me unprompted to say, “By the way, I would have called you back sooner but I knew it was a magazine/blog piece and I had some time.” And there went my lede.