Richardson’s congressional tenure marked by high staff turnover

In her two years in Congress, at least 18 full-time staffers have left the office of Rep. Laura Richardson, D-Long Beach, a turnover rate that appears to be far out of line with other representatives.

This figure was determined by using Legistorm, an online database of congressional salaries and staffing, as well as calls to Richardson’s office and interviews with former Richardson staffers. Those who used to work for Richardson, many of whom are now working for other politicians, declined to be publicly identified.

Richardson’s has been one of the most meteoric rises in recent California politics, her career notable for both achievements and controversy.

She spent only seven months in the California State Assembly before being elected to Congress  —  a tenure that was also known in the state Capitol for discord with staff. She made headlines last year after Capitol Weekly reported that her Sacramento home was in foreclosure. Two other homes she owned in Southern California were also reported to be in foreclosure, and she had an array of other financial difficulties, according to other published accounts.

The turnover in congressional staffs is generally high. But Richardson’s record is unusual for both the number of staffers who have left, and the changes at the top of her staff, where tenures are usually longer. Typically, the top three positions in most legislative offices are the chief of staff, legislative director and the communications director.

Richardson is already on her third chief of staff. The second, John Bowman, lasted less than two months in late 2008. The first, Kimberly Parker, spent six years as chief of staff for Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Illinois, before joining Richardson in September 2007, shortly after she won a special election to replace Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald, who died in office in April, 2007. Parker was one of the highest-ranking African American female staffers in Congress. Neither Bowman or Parker has worked in Congress since, according to Legistorm.

Richardson’s first press secretary, Jasmyne Cannick, lasted less than three months. She has not listed a press secretary or communications director in Legistorm since November, 2007. The person listed as the press contact in the most recent press release on her Web site, dated August 13, is no longer with the office. However, the Los Angeles Sentinel, a prominent African-American-run newspaper, announced two weeks ago that a longtime editor, Ken Miller, has gone to work for Richardson, presumably in a press role.

Richardson has never employed a legislative director. She has had the same deputy chief of staff her entire time in office.
Richardson’s office did not respond to phone calls seeking comment for this story.

Turnover on congressional staffs is generally high, according to Jock Friedly, founder and CEO of Storming Media LLC, which puts out Legistorm. The Web site is compiled using congressional records and the staff employment studies produced by the Congressional Management Foundation, a private, non-partisan organization contracted by Congress.

Still, he said, Richardson’s turnover seems to be excessive. Even with more movement happening among congressional staffers in recent years, the average tenure is about 2.5 years in the Senate and 1.5 in the House. House staffs average about 15 people. By this standard, Richardson should have turned over only about half the number of staff she has.

“When you see someone who can’t keep staff, it’s usually either they’re a difficult boss to work for, they don’t pay enough or the staff just doesn’t respect them while they’re there,” Friedly said. “I can’t say whether any of this is the case in Laura Richardson’s case.”

He added, “For Laura Richardson to go onto the top of the worst employers in Congress, she’s got a pretty steep road to climb.”

Earlier this month, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) listed her as one of their 15 “Most Corrupt” members of Congress — though Storming Media’s Friedly said she seemed more guilty of “financial boobery” than corruption, and that in his mind there were far more deserving members.

In July, the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) had launched an investigation into whether Washington Mutual violated gift rules when it retracted the foreclosure of her Curtis Park home, returned it to her, and paid a settlement to the man who had bought it at auction.

Richardson’s staffing turnover also appears to be unusually high when compared to the Legistorm records of the five members of California’s congressional delegation who were first elected in the two years before she was. In each case, the overall turnover rate is lower, stability at the top end is generally higher, and more of the departures appear to be to take better jobs in other offices.

On one end of the employee loyalty scale is former Assembly Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield. Elected in November 2006, he still has 12 of the 15 full-time staffers that were in his office in January, 2007. The three that have left were all lower-level employees: a legislative aide, a scheduler and a field representative. He’s had the same chief of staff, legislative director and press secretary during his nearly three years in office.

Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Tracy, was elected at the same time as McCarthy and has seen 11 full-time staffers leave. But the top end of McNerney’s office has remained fairly constant. His first chief of staff, Angela Kouters, left in January to take the same job with Rep. Glenn Nye, D-Virginia. She was replaced by Nicholas Holder, McNerney’s legislative director since he took office.

Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-Solana Beach, has seen 16 staffers go, although he came in via a special election 15 months before Richardson. He’s only had one chief of staff, Steve Danon, and one press secretary. He had the same legislative director for nearly two years, Amy Smith, though she left last year to become chief of staff for Rep. Scott Garrett, R-New Jersey, and has not been replaced as of the latest Legistorm report.

The only other Congress member in the group to have 18 staffers leave was Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento. But Matsui has been in office two and a half years longer than Richardson. It should be pointed out the Matsui inherited eight staffers from her husband, Robert Matsui, and five of them left during her initial months in office, contributing to her high number. Robert Matsui died in office on Jan. 1, 2005.  

Rep. John Campbell, R-Newport Beach, also came in via a special election in 2005. He’s seen 10 staffers go in a tenure that is nearly two years longer than Richardson’s. He is on his third chief of staff and legislative director, and has also gone through two communications directors.

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