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After historic wins, you’re fired! Asm. GOP leader Kristin Olsen dumps GOP policy director, demotes chief of staff

By on November 9, 2014
Assembly GOP leader Kristin Olsen

Just a day after she “chafed at the decision by California Republican Party Chair Jim Brulte to target Democratic Assemblyman Adam Gray of Merced,” Assembly GOP leader Kristin Olsen turned her fire on the caucus staff who helped her pick up three seats on election night.

On Tuesday night, Assembly Republicans defeated three Democratic incumbents and blocked a Democratic super-majority. It was the first time in 20 years that an incumbent Democratic lawmaker lost reelection.

Richard Mersereau, the longtime policy director at the Assembly GOP Caucus, was rewarded on Friday with a pink slip.

Within minutes of Mersereau’s firing, GOP Caucus chief of staff Deborah Gonzalez was told her hard work was being recognized with a demotion. She’ll be taking over as Olsen’s policy director. In Gonzalez’s place, Olsen has tapped Jim Richardson, a GOP superstar operative and longtime Brulte loyalist. Under other circumstances, Richardson’s hiring would be seen as a savvy addition to the new minority leader’s team.

“That’s why we call it the stupid party,” one GOP staffer, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution, said of the way the staff changes were handed down.

Olsen: GOP Caucus had become “static” organization

Olsen told CalNewsroom.com that the caucus had become a “static” organization and needed “to modernize and be restructured.”

“I have spent the last four months talking to a wide variety of stakeholders up and down California,” Olsen said of the staff changes. “Many expressed great concern that the Assembly GOP Caucus had become a static organization that needs to modernize and be restructured in order to meet the needs of a changing state, economy, and technological world. The Caucus shares this view and is enthusiastic about modernizing its operations.”

Olsen said that change was necessary for the organization’s continued success.

“We are focused on building a dynamic, conservative operation that can effectively advance Republican principles to grow our caucus and revitalize California,” she said. “Change is never easy, but it is necessary for any effective business operation to continue to compete successfully.”

#WinLikeaGirl, #GetDemotedLikeaWoman

Who is missing from this picture?

Assembly GOP leader Kristin Olsen introduces new members, Young Kim, Catharine Baker and Ling-Ling Chang.

Gonzalez’s demotion came on the same day that Olsen held a media call to showcase three Republican women elected to the State Assembly.

Catharine Baker is the first Republican to win a Bay Area legislative seat in years. Ling-Ling Chang is the first Taiwanese-American Republican woman to join the Assembly, and Young Kim is the first Korean-American Republican elected to the lower house.

Would a male chief of staff, who helped Republicans take out Democratic incumbents for the first time since 1994, receive the same ignominious treatment as Gonzalez?

A CalNewsroom.com analysis of payroll data shows women who work for the California State Assembly face a glass ceiling, substantial pay inequities and limits to their career advancement.

A former chief of staff to former State Senator Chuck Poochigian and policy director to former Speaker of the Assembly Curt Pringle, Gonzalez made CalNewsroom.com’s inaugural list of the “Capitol’s 100 Best and Brightest.”

In 1996, Mersereau’s wife drove herself to hospital because he was busy with “house of origin” deadline

Mersereau, who has served as policy director of the Assembly Republican Caucus for 14 years, has been universally praised as one of the sharpest minds in an otherwise dull GOP caucus. He routinely put the GOP caucus ahead of himself and his family. In 1996, his wife drove herself to the hospital, while in labor, because it coincided with the “house of origin” deadline.

Yet, the ever-gracious Mersereau said in a statement posted on his Facebook page that he hoped to move forward in a “positive, constructive manner.”

“No one has a ‘right’ to a “government job,” Mersereau wrote in the only statement he will publicly make about his firing, which appears in its entirety at the bottom of this post. “While I am obviously profoundly disappointed at the decision, an elected Member of the Legislature has an absolute right to choose their own staff — particularly the senior leadership staff of the Caucus.”

Former Republican members flabbergasted by Mersereau’s firing

Former GOP members of the State Assembly were flabbergasted and outraged by Mersereau’s firing. Hundreds of friends and colleagues took to Facebook to offer their support for Mersereau and vent their frustration.

“Wow,” wrote former State Senator John Lewis, “that’s all I can say wow.”

Former Assembly GOP leader Sam Blakeslee, a well-respected Central Coast moderate, described the move as “infuriating.”

“Someone has to say it: If this is what we can expect from ‘leadership’,” Blakeslee said, “Well, the caucus is in trouble.”

Former GOP Assemblyman Ken Lopez-Maddox added, “I share any unmentioned strong opinions. You are the best.”

Mimi Walters

Senator and Congresswoman-elect Mimi Walters

Former GOP Assemblyman Roger Niello, a moderate who served as vice-chair of the Assembly Budget Committee, added, “From a personal perspective, I was honored to work with you in my time in the Assembly. I always welcomed your advice and learned from you. On the few occasions when we disagreed you were more than gracious.”

State Senator and Congresswoman-elect Mimi Walters described Mersereau as “a class act” and “one of the smartest people I know.”

“You taught me a tremendous amount about public policy and I will forever be grateful,” said Walters, who served as Assistant Republican Leader and Vice Chair of the Appropriations Committee. “It is a great loss to the caucus and you will be missed.”

Olsen’s staff changes backed by members

Current members of the GOP caucus defended the staff changes.

“All the members are very excited about our recent election wins,” Asm. Travis Allen of Huntington Beach told CalNewsroom.com on Sunday evening. “She’s making some bold changes to move the caucus in a direction so that it is more current and effective in today’s environment.”

Allen offered praise for Mersereau, who has helped the Orange County conservative navigate tax increases and legislative maneuvers.

“Mersereau is an incredible individual and a good friend — what he’s brought to the building is immeasurable,” Allen said. “The changes that have been made including the policy shop as well as the structural changes to the executive level, appear to be designed to make the caucus as relevant today as possible.”

Asm. Melissa Melendez, a conservative member of the Assembly Republican Caucus, also offered high praise for Mersereau on Facebook. “You’ve done phenomenal work for the caucus Richard, you should be justifiably proud of your years of service,” she wrote.

Democrat John Longville: “There is no individual legislative staffer — of either party — for whom I developed greater respect”

Over the years, Mersereau prepared Assembly Republicans for legislative battles with Democrats over taxes and regulation. Yet, even in the heat of battle, Democrats respected Mersereau’s work.

“Anyone who has seen my page knows there is not a more intense critic of Republican policies than I am,” wrote former Assemblyman John Longville, a liberal Democrat who represented San Bernardino County. “I worked closely with Richard Mersereau throughout my six years in the State Assembly, both on the floor and in the highly partisan Elections Committee, which I chaired from 2000 until I was termed out in 2004. And I have to say that there is no individual legislative staffer — of either party — for whom I developed greater respect.”

Richard Mersereau’s Statement on Firing

As many of you have already heard, yesterday I was fired as Director of the Assembly Republican Caucus Office of Policy. Lori and I truly appreciate the many outpourings of kindness and concern expressed by so many friends and colleagues since that announcement was made public.

I sincerely believe it is vital that this change be handled with the utmost respect for the new Assembly Republican Leader, and for a Caucus which grew its ranks by the largest margin in 20 years, and which I have been honored to serve in so many capacities since December of 1984.

As such, the following is the only comment I will make about this situation. I hope everyone will understand and respect this decision. Thoughts, prayers and best wishes for me and my family (as well as job leads!) are most gratefully appreciated and welcomed, but I urge everyone to move forward in a positive, constructive manner. As such, I would ask everyone to refrain from posting any comments other than those offering kind words and encouragement to me and my family, or similarly kind and supportive words about the Caucus, its Members, and its new Leadership, on this site. I have always used Facebook and Twitter for the sole purpose of celebrating family and friends, and the things I believe in and enjoy. Particularly at this difficult time, I want to be as positive and constructive as possible. Thanks in advance for your understanding and support.

“While I am obviously profoundly disappointed at the decision, an elected Member of the Legislature has an absolute right to choose their own staff — particularly the senior leadership staff of the Caucus. No one has a “right” to a “government job.” All who are honored to serve, elected and staff alike, are public servants, who are called to do just that — serve the people to the best of their abilities, as Lincoln said, ‘…with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right…’

“I am truly grateful for and proud of my service to the taxpayers of the state of California, particularly these last 14 years as Director under 9 Assembly Republican Leaders of a truly remarkable Policy staff. These dedicated public servants represent the very best that government can offer: they have worked ceaselessly to provide Republican Members with the most accurate, timely and essential information on legislation and policy issues, consistent with the principles of limited government, maximizing individual opportunity and liberty, and creating an environment where economic growth and entrepreneurship can flourish. I cannot adequately express my respect, admiration and friendship for these fine men and women.

“The Assembly Republican Caucus, its Members, and its goals have been a vital part of my life for 30 years. Lori drove herself to the hospital in full-blown labor on “house of origin deadline” in 1996, as we were pulling another all-nighter at the Capitol, and Lori, Katie and AJ have sacrificed much so I could pursue my passion of public policy analysis. My adult life has been inextricably linked to the Caucus, and the commitment to rigorous, objective, principled policy analysis.

“I am truly grateful for the opportunity to serve the taxpayers of our state for these many years, and I hope to do so in whatever new capacity awaits me. I wish the Caucus every success in the days ahead, and offer my sincere thanks for the opportunity to serve for these many years.”

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About John Hrabe

John Hrabe spends his time traveling the world as a freelance journalist. When he isn’t on an international flight, John writes about state and national politics for CalWatchdog.com, FlashReport.org, Huffington Post and the editorial pages of the Orange County Register. John’s most recent high-profile investigation uncovered the questionable labor practices of Goodwill Industries, the nonprofit organization famous for its secondhand clothing stores.

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