Add another item to the ways Republicans feel they get shortchanged in the California Legislature: Only three of 18 Senate Fellows in the 2007 class will be working in GOP offices.
Officials with the Capitol Fellows program and some Republican senators said the disparity represents an ongoing problem with recruiting Republican candidates, combined with an unusual number of late drop-outs from the program.
Still, representatives of the Fellows programs acknowledge that the disparity had some Republicans grumbling. Since 1992, Republicans have averaged six Senate fellows per session, nearly in line with a legislative body where they hold 15 of 40 seats.
“We’re not alarmed about it,” said Sen. Dave Cox, R-Fair Oaks. “Obviously, if this continues as a trend we would have to look into it.”
Cox has employed a fellow each of the last two years; he tried and failed to get one this year. He said the applicant pool does not include enough Republicans–something which his office would like to change with outreach programs.
David Pacheco, who took over as director of the Senate Fellows program in August of last year, said that they got caught in a numbers crunch. Of the 314 applicants, only 17 self-identified as Republicans, he said. Of these, five were offered spots–an acceptance rate far higher than the approximately 6.5 percent of applicants accepted overall.
Three of these people turned them down to take Assembly fellowships; the Assembly Fellows program placed seven Republicans out of 18 slots. There was only one Republican at the top of the Senate’s alternate pool, meaning that two of these three Republicans were replaced by Democrats.
“It makes my job easier if I have a more balanced applicant pool,” Pacheco said. “I think it does a disservice to the institution if we hire someone just because of their party affiliation.”
Pacheco said that he didn’t have numbers available for how many Republicans applied for last year’s class. But he placed six Republicans in that class, the first he oversaw. The overall applicant pool was down from about 360 applicants a year ago, Pacheco said, something he attributed to a stronger job market than in recent years. He also said that the state’s popular Republican governor has pulled many qualified Republican applicants to apply for the Governor’s Fellow program instead.
With so few Republican fellows to go around in the Senate, GOP offices were left to compete for them. Bill Bird, communications director for Sen. Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley, said all the offices that had requested fellows had a chance to meet with the three Republicans selected. They offered fellow Greg Santiago a chance to be actively involved in legislation for the assistant chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“He chose us,” Bird said of Santiago, who graduated from UC Berkeley in May and was a member of that schools active College Republicans chapter. “I think he felt there was opportunity for him here.”
The Senate Fellows selection committee contains three Republican Senate staffers, three Democratic Senate staffers, two Center for California Studies personnel and one outside member. The current class was selected in May. They began the year-long program with a one month orientation period that ended in late November.
“Over the years, we have had a problem recruiting large numbers of Republican applicants,” said Tim Hodson, executive director of the Center for California Studies at CSUS. “It sounds like a cliche, but a lot of the folks who are Republican and conservative are going to go into business, not public service.”
The Center has been trying to counter the low numbers of Republican applicants with outreach to Christian colleges and booths at College Republican conventions. They also moved Center staffer Claire Bunch into a full-time role as outreach coordinator at the end of this past summer.
“We’re really going to try to work on getting more [Republican] people to apply,” said Sheron Violini, a member of the Selection Committee who works for Senator Dick Ackerman, R-Irvine.
The program faces similar challenges with other underrepresented groups, such as African-American men. In each case, it’s not that there is a complete lack of applicants, but that the most of the best ones have lots of options. Hodson noted that the Fellows program tries to entice highly accomplished young people to work for “starvation wages” of $1,972 a month plus health care. About 1,000 applicants go for 64 total slots–36 total in the Legislature, 18 in the Governor’s office and 10 in the judiciary–an acceptance rate that is lower than Harvard Law School. Applicants are typically college graduates in their early to mid-twenties. However, each year typically will feature one or more fellows in their thirties or forties.
The Center’s staff discussed the lack of Republicans in the most recent Senate Fellows class at their recent staff meeting on Monday. Pacheco and Hodson also said they are looking into meeting with any Republican senators who may be concerned about the issue.
Overall, the four branches of the Fellows program have graduated about 1,400 people over 50 years, half of them since 1992. This includes four sitting California legislators: Senator Dean Flores, D-Shafter, and Assembly members Todd Spitzer, R-Orange, Audra Strickland, R-Moorpark, and Jose Solario, D-Santa Ana.
In fact, fellows are a prime source of new talent in the building, Pacheco said–which is part of the reason Republican members are so concerned that their party be well-represented.
“Usually a good core stay on as staffers,” Pacheco noted.
Contact Malcolm Maclachlan at