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.”
But it has yet to be truly challenged, say most of the reporters I spoke to. “It’s a gamble when you have a strategy like this,” says Myers. “Right now it’s working for him because he only has one thing he’s doing and that’s the state budget problems. It’s hard to know how that’s going to work when multiple things are happening at multiple times.” Halper helps paint such a situation: “Frankly, if we have a major earthquake at the same time as we’re trying to have a special election to get tax increases extended, and then something else happens, like a fire, any administration is going to be hard-pressed to handle it, even the last one with its press operation of seventeen. I don’t see how these three people get all the information coordinated and out.”
Deputy Press Secretary Elizabeth Ashford says her team is already handling a tough news cycle spinning with big-ticket events. “I think the press sees our world through the lens of what they’re writing about on any given day,” she says. The budget crisis drags on and draws focus, true, but the tsunami that followed this month’s earthquake in Japan did more than $40 million worth of damage to the California coastline, and the administration has been sending resources to Japan as well as coordinating diplomatic outreach. Plus, adds Ashford, there is the busywork that comes with any new administration—one of the most labor-intensive and complicated phases of any governorship.
When I ask Duran about the prospect of a more tumultuous news cycle, he is more cavalier than his deputy. In fact, he sounds a little like his boss. “We can do anything,” he says. And he’s happy to act like the boss too: one of Duran’s first moves was to implement cuts of his own, cancelling a subscription to a morning news clips service that had cost the office over $200,000 a year. “Whatever the governor has to deal with is what we have to deal with.”
Surely though he’d call in some extra hands help in the office should multiple stories explode? “No,” he says, echoing again like the folksy new throwback governor. “I would bring a blanket.”