Governor Jerry Brown has the power to appoint a new California Attorney General if Kamala Harris wins the U.S. Senate race on Tuesday.
According to the final pre-election Field/IGS Poll, conducted jointly by The Field Poll and UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies, California Attorney General Kamala Harris held a commanding 47 percent to 23 percent lead over fellow Democrat Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez in the race to replace U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who is retiring.
Harris is favored by a broad base of registered voters that spans most of California’s major demographic and regional subgroups of the likely voters. The Field Poll reveals the Attorney General leads in all major regions of the state, among both men and women, across voters in all age ranges and educational backgrounds.
Sanchez only holds a 1 point advantage over Harris among Republicans and conservative voters. Given that over half of those voters do not expect to vote for any Senate candidate on November 8, Sanchez has the backing of only about one in four Republicans and conservatives.
With 2 years to go in the Attorney General’s term if Harris is victorious, Governor Brown would be kingmaker – subject to confirmation by the Democrat controlled Legislature – to pick a successor for one of the state’s most powerful and influential positions. He would also give a Democrat the huge advantage of incumbency for the 2018 election campaign.
The last statewide gubernatorial appointments were Arnold Schwarzenegger nominating Bruce McPherson as Secretary of State in 2005 and Abel Maldonado as Lieutenant Governor in 2010. Both lost to Democrats in subsequent elections, with McPherson losing to Debra Bowen in 2006 and Maldonado losing to Gavin Newsom in 2010.
Democrat strategist Katie Merrill told the Los Angeles Times, “I would think that the governor would make less of a political decision and more of a decision of who could step in and run the office and hit the ground running on day one.”
But Brown could also use the Attorney General appointment to clear a pathway to the 2018 governorship, when he is termed out of office. Both Brown, his father Pat Brown, and Republican George Deukmejian all successfully used the Attorney General office as a stepping-stone to the governor’s mansion.
The viable candidates in the governor’s race – Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Treasurer John Chiang, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer – would all appreciate Brown picking a “caretaker” attorney general, happy with keeping that job.
The rumor mill seems to expect Brown to appoint Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg as Attorney General. Steinberg served as President Pro Tem of the California Senate from 2008 to 2014, when the legislature suffered several corruption scandals. He is a huge Brown ally and has stated a desire to get back into state politics.
But there are also whispers that Brown could defy the state’s constitutional term limits forcing him out of office in 2018 by appointing his wife, Anne Gust Brown, as Attorney General. She is a former corporate attorney with sterling legal credentials.
Gust Brown was Brown’s most influential aide during both his governorship and his previous stint as attorney general. Jerry Brown is by far the most powerful Democrat fundraiser in California. With Brown’s cash machine and their shared deep power within the party, Gust Brown would quickly become the odds-on favorite to be the next governor.