Democrats widen their lead in Capitol office space race

Democrats didn’t just pick three seats in the Legislature in the November elections. They also appear to have slightly widened their advantage when it comes to Capitol office space.

According to office assignments listed on Capitol directories this week, the average Democratic Assemblymember gets 1,082 feet for themselves and their staff. Their GOP counterparts must squeeze into a mere 703.

Things are more spacious over in the Senate, while the difference between the parties is smaller. Democratic Senators get an average of 1,117 feet to move around, compared to 902 for Republican Senators. None of these figures count the top few offices specifically allotted for leadership.  

The difference in the Assembly, currently at 379 feet, widened from 324 feet at the beginning of 2007. This difference itself is nearly as big as the Capitol’s smallest legislative office—the 391 square foot space affectionately known as “The Doghouse.” That space, as usual for the beginning of a session, is occupied by a freshman Republican, Jeff Miller, R-Corona. The two-room office, 5194 in the annex, is so small that taking him out of the mix raises his GOP colleagues’ averages by 11 feet.

In the Senate, the average difference actually shrank very slightly, from 221 feet in 2007 to 215 feet now. This might reflect the fact that Assembly Democrats picked up three seats from their Republican rivals in the November elections, while the party makeup of the Senate has remained essentially unchanged. These averages include the 820-square-foot office currently allocated to whoever wins the 26th Senate District race. Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas, D-Los Angeles, resigned this seat on Nov. 30, but is almost certain to be replaced by another Democrat.

Of course, all these figures are just a snapshot in time. The new class has been here since last month. There has been quite a bit of moving around during that time—and there’s likely to be more.

“Nothing is ever set in stone,” said Jon Waldie, chief administrator of the Assembly Rules Committee, when asked about the office space allocations last month.

As recent moves have shown, no office position is permanent. Veteran GOP Assemblyman Todd Spitzer got sent to the The Doghouse by then-speaker Fabian Nunez in May, 2007, for his constant recalcitrance on public safety issues. Last August, Democratic Assemblywoman Nicole Parra did Spitzer one-better—or worse—by getting kicked all the way out of the Capitol to a building across N Street. The move followed her defiance against Democratic leadership on a budget vote. But her support for former Republican opponent, Danny Gilmore, against Democratic nominee Fran Florez, certainly couldn't have helped. Gilmore now occupies a 763-square-foot space—quite a lot of room for a freshman Republican—while Parra and Spitzer have termed out.

Still, office space matters—especially to those who have to work in it. Square footage is the easiest way to quantify this balance of power. Though access to nice window views is arguably a more sought-after resource.

Tracking the amount of office space they occupy can also be a good way to follow the fortunes of a particular legislator. Take the cases of the three new leaders who came in last year. In taking over as Senate President Pro Tempore, Senator Darrel Steinberg, D-Sacramento, saw his office footprint double from an already enviable 1,432 feet to a palatial 2,747 when he moved into Don Perata’s old leadership office. His Republican counterpart, Sen. Dave Cogdill, R-Fresno, moved  up from a 750 square foot space—tied for the smallest in the Senate—to the 2,014 foot leadership office on the third floor of the old building.

Assemblywoman Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, took over the Speakership last May. This let her move on down the floor, from her 2,626 foot Majority Leader digs to the biggest legislative office of all—the 3,742 allotted for those who hold the same job once held by legends such as Jesse Unruh and Willie Brown.

Meanwhile, Assemblywoman Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, got a boost from 1,196 feet to 2,234 feet. As the new Budget Committee chairwoman, she moved into the space formerly occupied by the last chair, John Laird, D-Santa Cruz, who termed out. But this large office is needed to accommodate the large committee staff, and doesn’t necessarily result in any new elbow room. Her last office, 3152, is also known for having some of the nicer window views in the Assembly. It’s now occupied by Lori Saldana, D-San Diego, the new Assembly Speaker pro Tempore, who is entering her last term in the Assembly.

And then there are times when office space isn’t the best marker of a politician’s progress. Take Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco. As a prominent Assemblyman, he held one of the best Assembly offices—a 2,180 square foot space that is nearly 300 feet larger than that occupied by Assembly Republican Leader Mike Villines. After making a controversial run to up-end an incumbent from his own party, Carol Migden, he moved into a Senate space about half that size.

One thing that has stayed the same is that the newest members get the smallest offices. Freshmen Democrats in the Assembly got an average of 896—though this still puts them better off than veteran Republicans. One exception is Assemblyman John Perez, D-Los Angeles. The new occupant of the seat once held by former Speaker Fabian Nunez took over the important role as Democratic Caucus chair as a freshman. He’s seen as a rising star and has the digs to prove it—1,567 square feet of them.

On the GOP side, freshmen actually averaged more than veterans, getting an average of 742 square feet. This difference evaporates, however, if you take out the 1,196 square foot digs landed by one prominent freshwoman, Diane Harkey, R- San Juan Capistrano.

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