Q: What’s the difference between a veteran Republican Senator and a freshman Democratic Assemblymember with three months under his belt?
A: About 20 square feet.
And no, we’re not talking about extra time spent in fundraiser buffet lines. This is about that all-important measuring stick of legislative power, the office space race.
Democrats have long held onto most of the spaces in the Capitol with the best views and, more importantly, the most room to stash employees. While the majority of legislators see the amount of space they have rise with their prominence, what matters far more is which party you belong to. After all, even a freshman Assembly member is kicking around in 869 square feet of office space. A Senate Republican gets an average of 889.
None of these measurements contain numbers for the main leadership offices, one Republican and two Democrats in each house, which generally are large and often in the older side of the Capitol. Overall, Assembly Democrats average 1,090 square feet, with veterans getting an average of 1,186. Senate Democrats have an average of 1,130.
A more telling measurement might be the rising fortunes of several Assembly Democrats in their second or third terms, many of whom have moved into big offices set aside for committee chairs. The biggest gainer is new Appropriations Committee chair Felipe Fuentes, D-Sylmar, who tripled his footprint from 730 square feet to a palatial 2,180 in Room 2114, traditionally the landing spot for the committee’s chairperson.
Right behind him was Health Committee chairman Bill Monning, D-Carmel, who jumped from 786 square feet to 1,882.
Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, D-San Fernando Valley, nearly doubled his space from 1,262 to 2,234 by becoming Budget chair and getting that job’s sixth-floor slot. Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Bruno, added a third more space, going from 1,041 last session to 1,567. He serves as agriculture chair.
Other Democratic chairs who pulled off a territorial expansion of 350 square feet or better include: Marty Block (San Diego, Higher Education), Joan Buchanan (San Ramon, Accountability), Mike Feuer (Los Angeles, Judiciary), Warren Furutani (South Los Angeles County, Public Employees), Alyson Huber (El Dorado Hills, Joint Sunset Review) and Bonnie Lowenthal (Long Beach, Transportation).
Assembly Republicans, meanwhile, get an average of 710 square feet. This might appear to be up slightly from the 702 they had two years ago, but there’s a caveat — the infamous Doghouse, the 391-square-foot office that has served as a two-room torture chamber for uppity Assembly members, almost all of them Republicans, now sits empty. That’s because Ted Gaines, R-Fair Oaks, jumped ship and won a special election for the Senate (where, at 750 square feet, he shares the smallest-office title with Mark Wyland, R-Escondido).
When a special election is held to fill that seat, the winner or some other Republican (AD 4 is safely Republican) will move into the infamous fifth-floor office and pull the GOP average in the Assembly down to 698.
By contract, only two Assembly Democrats had less than 728 square feet. One was freshman Ben Hueso, D-Chula Vista, with 655. In unrelated news, Hueso is carrying anti-bullying legislation this session (see Page 3 this week). Assemblywoman Norma Torres, D-Pomona, meanwhile, saw her space drop from 1,091 to a mere 686 in her second term.
With the Doghouse briefly dog-less, the title for smallest office goes to freshman Republican Assemblyman Brian W. Jones, R-La Mesa, with 526 square feet. His chief of staff, Bob Giovatti, greeted the news with a chuckle.
“We’re proud to be number one in something,” he said.
As opposed to the Doghouse, which has a decent view from one window but little else, Jones’ room 3149 has nice patio access – though Giovatti noted that the weather has been too awful to enjoy it. And space is still a constant issue.
“We were just talking the other day about trying to hire an intern, and we were scanning our office and wondering where we would put them,” he said.
Overall, the 11 freshmen Republicans in the Assembly get an average of 610 square feet. All but three are working in less space than Hueso (as are three second-term Republicans).
The next-most cramped digs went to a quartet of freshmen: Tim Donnelly (Hesperia, 542 square feet), Linda Halderman (Fresno, 568), Katcho Achadjian (San Luis Obispo, 572) and Kristin Olsen (Modesto, 584).
Veteran Republican Assembly members got an average of 783.