The False Narrative in Assemblymember Nora Campos’ Damage Control

Assemblymember Nora Campos is apparently that rare politician who just knows what the people want without asking. So, when she relinquishes half a million dollars to the state, rather than having a properly staffed office or conducting outreach services to her constituents, she’s bucking her budget allotments out of a noble sense of duty.

That’s the message Campos’ communications director, Steve Harmon, trotted out during an interview with local radio station KLIV 1590 in response to a report Metro/San Jose Inside published last week.

The piece, reported over a two-month period, lays out in extensive detail the dysfunction that has been a hallmark of Campos’ office during her three years in the State Assembly. She has gone through an extraordinarily high number of staff members compared to her Assembly peers, and the cause appears to be her volatile temper and demeaning treatment of subordinates.

As a result of constant employee turnover, Campos’ office had a budget surplus of $495,118, which went back to the general fund instead of providing services to her district.

“If we had hired a big staff, we’d be criticized for playing fast and loose with the public’s money,” Harmon told KLIV. “If you want to go after somebody for not spending a lot of money, maybe you should listen to the people. The people are probably happy to know that she’s not spent all that money and went back to the general fund.”

Under this logic, it would seem that Assemblymember Campos has kept a budget panacea to herself. Imagine the millions the state could save if she called on her fellow assemblymembers to show similar fiscal restraint and start firing/losing employees in droves.

Harmon’s comments also leave out the fact that starting in 2009 all Assembly offices already started giving back 10 percent of their staff budgets in response to the recession.

I called Harmon, a former Bay Area News Group reporter who covered state politics, to find out why Campos didn’t share the office’s freakonomics with her colleagues. He said he would need to get back to me or speak off the record. Not expecting a call back—Harmon ignored calls for comment during the reporting of the original story—I went with the latter. The conversation ended with an acknowledgement that Campos’ office does not intend to comment on the story.

But going back to Harmon’s comments to KLIV, the spokesman suggested that Campos’ office was a model of stability in 2013. “It should be noted that the current staff has been a strong, stable core for nearly a year,” he said. “Even in (San Jose’s) City Hall she had staffers that were with her for a good six years at a time.”

According to staffing documents provided by the Assembly’s Committee on Rules, 41 people worked in Campos’ office during her first three years. Thirteen people left Campos’ office just last year. And during her last four years on the San Jose City Council, Campos’ office had more staff turnover than any other district, according to numbers provided by the City Clerk’s office.

Email tips to Josh Koehn at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @Josh_Koehn.

Josh Koehn is the managing editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @Josh_Koehn.

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