In politics, Labor Day means a lot of things to a lot of people. It’s the
traditional kick-off of the campaign season. It also marks the end of the
Legislative session. But, perhaps more importantly in the Capitol, it’s the
beginning of the sprint for hundreds of Capitol staffers to find new jobs.
The bi-annual Capitol job scramble is just another byproduct of legislative
term limits. With 12 senators and 29 Assembly members termed out of office
this year, it means hundreds of resumes are being circulated, in and outside
the Building. Staffers take long lunches to go on job interviews, and the
regular care and feeding of senators and Assembly members gives way to
concern for individual job security.
Ryan Kawamoto, who works for termed-out Assemblywoman Wilma Chan, D-Oakland,
is a relative newcomer to the Capitol, and is now faced with trying to land
a new gig. Now that the madness of the end of session has passed, Kawamoto
diligently checks the Capitol Morning Report and Senate Day Book for job
The Daybook is a daily, internal rundown of the day’s political events, news
conferences and hearings, assembled by Senate staff. The Daybook is
transmitted electronically to all Capitol staffers.
But perhaps more valuable than the calendar are the classified ads at the
bottom of the Daybook, alerting staff to job openings in and around the
And then there is “The Binder.” The Assembly Rules Committee helps play
matchmaker with new members and Capitol staff, providing each incoming
freshman with a binder full of Capitol staff resumes. Those who have been
employed for more than a year are all but guaranteed a job in the Capitol if
Last month, at a “Career Planning BBQ” sponsored by the Asian Pacific
Islander Capitol Association (APICA), those actively searching for a job
were given the option of wearing a name label with a red border. Those not
looking for a job wore a plain white label.
“In this type of business you have to be very clear about what you want,”
says Tami Bui, president of the APICA and a staffer for Senate President Pro
Tem Don Perata. “And looking for a job is one of those things.”
In the Senate, there is an unspoken rule that the staff gets taken care of.
Lysa Markey, who works for Sen. Liz Figueroa, D-Sunol, says that her
coworkers have all said Senate Secretary Greg Schmidt helps put senators and
But in the job search, there are lots of things to consider: a member’s
legislative interests, their relationship with the caucus leadership, and
whether they may become a candidate for leadership or a plum committee
assignment in the future. Staffers look to hitch their stars to the new
members, in hopes of rising through the ranks along with them. And then,
there are the other considerations.
“I have been focusing on applying for jobs with incoming members, mostly
Senate members because I don’t want to lose my parking spot,” says Markey.
But other staffers use the bi-annual shuffle as an excuse to jump ship, and
try their hand in the private sector, where staff often use their Capitol
experience and connections to land jobs that pay more than what they’d be
making inside the Building.
Satinder Malhi, who works for Hillsborough Democrat Jackie Speier, says he
began his job search a week after the primary elections.
“Over the recess, I used the time to talk with contacts I’ve established.
I’ve had nothing definitive as of yet,” he says. “I certainly haven’t ruled
out the possibility of moving to Washington, D.C. There’s a lot of
uncertainty in the air.”
But for Capitol veterans, the uncertainty is just part of the job. “It’s an
awkward experience for younger staffers, but if you have a member with a
good reputation then it’s easier to land jobs,” says Deborah Gonzalez, chief
of staff to Sen. Chuck Poochigian, R-Fresno. “A lot of staffers start
looking for jobs as soon as session is over. Generally you don’t want to
leave the one you’re working for. But if your member is termed-out, it
certainly gives you an opportunity to look for a new job without offending
And for some, it may mean new opportunities. Evan Goldberg is chief of staff
to Debra Bowen, the termed-out Senator from Marina del Rey who is the
Democratic nominee for secretary of state. He’s hoping to move to 11th and O
if his boss wins the election in November.
But he says the panic among younger staffers–and from incoming members–is
palpable. “Some people who win the primary get overeager and want to get
commitments. In the past, there’s always been a story where a freshman
legislator over-commits to staff during August,” he says.
That prompted Speaker Fabian N