“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.
Duran, who admits to being something of a pressure junkie, doesn’t spend time worrying about how small his team is. He wouldn’t even if he had the time to spare. “It would be nice to have another person but I’m not counting on it; we have higher priorities right now,” he says before shrewdly putting it back on us—the always-frustrated pen-and-notepad class. “I would think that reporters understand how it is. Newspapers have been downsized as well. As a reporter you’ve got to do a lot more stuff. I’ve seen people carrying around cameras—talk about juggling.”
And for the most part, reporters do seem to understand. Anthony York who covers the governor for the Times, says that while, yes, turnaround isn’t necessarily as quick, “It’s like a restaurant, you don’t want to judge it too much until it’s been open for a couple of months.” One of the difficulties, says York, is that there are few pre-existing relationships between those in the press shop and the reporters they now work with. They’re still in the courtship phase. He says the responsibility to get things working quickly is just as much the journalists’ as it is the governor’s staff. “It’s incumbent upon journalists to articulate their concerns and to make clear to them: you can’t disappear when I’m on deadline. You can’t just not answer your phone or not respond to e-mails.”
“We try not to judge a press office in the embryonic stages of an administration,” Halper agrees. He insists that despite his few gripes, he’s been generally impressed by Brown’s press operation. “To be frank, there were people who Schwarzenegger brought in who we just thought were complete incompetents in the beginning and they grew into some of the most seasoned professionals in the business. And Brown’s shop gets better every day.”