Earlier this week, Governor Gavin Newsom’s Chief of Staff, Ann O’Leary, announced that she is to leave her position sometime in the coming weeks to take a job in the presumptive Biden Administration.
O’ Leary, a long-time Washington and California Democratic insider, has held numerous positions in law and government since the 1990’s. Her first major position was as Special Assistant to then-president Bill Clinton on the White House Domestic Policy Council in the mid-1990’s. She followed that up with a stint as a liaison between the policy teams of Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton. In the early 2000’s she then became an aide and legislative director for the recently-elevated Senator Clinton.
After two years as Clinton’s aide, she left and got her law degree from Berkeley, and after a short time as a clerk for a circuit court judge, became a deputy city attorney in San Francisco. After leaving in 2008, she spent the next decade in non-profits and think tanks, as well as helping the Obama administration transition team as a liaison on certain issues.
However, in 2016, she was chosen by Hillary Clinton to be one of her Senior Advisors for her Presidential run and had been widely expected to receive a top post in a Hillary Clinton administration. She had even been appointed to her transition team in preparation for a victory. However, the Trump victory crumbled any possible higher office advising, and she went back to practicing law in San Francisco for two years before Governor Newsom picked her as Chief of Staff in 2018.
As Chief of Staff, O’Leary has influenced many policies in California, including increasing the state’s earned income tax credit, halting capitol punishment, and was behind Newsom’s recent executive order that will stop the sale of all gas-powered vehicles in California in 2035.
Notably, her stint as Chief of Staff to Newsom has become more and more tumultuous over time, especially in 2020. The Newsom administration has been largely criticized for how it has handled the COVID-19 crisis, particularly through strict statewide lockdowns ordered by Newsom that have closed businesses across the state.
Newsom’s popularity has also plummeted in recent months. Since being clocked at a 64% approval rating in late September, scandals, most the notably the French Laundry affair where Newsom went to a party that broke numerous state guidelines despite months of saying that Californians should remain at home, have hit Newsom hard. It is now estimated by some analysts that his approval rating may now be below 50%.
O’Leary jumps to the Biden camp after 2 years as Chief of Staff to Newsom
O’ Leary has also seen numerous setbacks on her part. Despite championing Democratic House candidates and supporting many policies on the line through propositions in the 2020 election, the GOP ultimately gained 4 House seats in California. Voters also decisively rejected against most Democrat supported ballot initiatives, including overwhelmingly voting against Proposition 16, striking down affirmative action in California once again.
The declining popularity of Newsom and the recent string of failures likely influenced O’Leary’s decision to go for a job in the Biden administration. She is currently on a short list of candidates. Her upcoming resignation would free her from any transitionary baggage, making her odds of getting a job even higher.
“She wouldn’t have quit if she didn’t know she was getting something,” explained John Whittaker, a Washington-based lobbyist and former policy advisor. “O’Leary is something of an opportunist and doesn’t really stick around too much at a single job. She’s been working her way up the ladder for years, and honestly, she thought she would have had a top advisory post in a Hillary Clinton administration right now, possibly even being an undersecretary on the cabinet.”
“She spent two decades on and off with the Clinton’s, and it didn’t pan out at the end for her. But Biden likes experience, and O’ Leary’s resume is, objectively, impressive. But O’ Leary has also jumped ship like this before. She left Clinton in 2003 to figure out Iraq War things on her own and she left other positions when they still needed her or could transition out more gradually. But she doesn’t do that.”
“Newsom’s next Chief of Staff has, at most, 3 weeks to get up to speed on everything, and that may not be enough. She’s leaving people high and dry again for a step up in the ladder. She’s ambitious, but she screws over a lot of people this way.”
Despite not being 100% confirmed as of Thursday, O’Leary will likely receive a job in the presumptive Biden administration in the next several weeks.