CPUC is next target for Newsom’s “strike team” leader

15 July 2019 by Steve Blum
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Batjer 2014

The new president of the California Public Utilities Commission is Marybel Batjer. Originally appointed by governor Jerry Brown, she heads the California government operations agency, which oversees “procurement, real estate, information technology, and human resources” for all state agencies. Governor Gavin Newsom announced on Friday that she will replace outgoing president Michael Picker.

Batjer seems to like a challenge. In his brief six months in office, Newsom has already tapped Batjer to clean up two bureaucratic black holes: the Department of Motor Vehicles and state government’s information technology “mess”. She’s leading Newsom’s “DMV Strike Team”, which has the daunting task of creating “a more customer-friendly and user-centered culture” at the agency. She will wrap up that assignment this month before taking on the CPUC.

Her resume is impressive. Batjer worked as cabinet secretary for former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and chief of staff for former Nevada governor Kenny Guinn, and held top level jobs in state and federal government, all the way back to the Reagan white house. No one will have to explain to her how state bureaucracies do and don’t work.

She’s not a career political minion or a former utility executive, and there’s no evidence of particular telecoms, energy or regulatory policy expertise in her background. Add it all up, and you get a bureaucratic turnaround specialist.

If you’re interested in hearing her talk about remaking California government to “meet the needs of our digital society”, and attracting and retaining millennials in the state workforce, click the picture above to see the video.

Newsom made a shrewd choice. As with the DMV, there’s no affection for the CPUC in the California legislature. No one has tried to disestablish it (yet) this year, but antipathy toward the commission is a driving force behind assembly bill 1366, which would deregulate telephone service in California. Perhaps not as a big a driving force as the money that AT&T, Comcast and other monopoly-model incumbents pay to state legislators, but it serves well as a closing argument.

The California senate has to confirm Batjer, but she can begin the job while that’s going on. There’s about a year and a half left on Picker’s term, so she’ll have to be reappointed if she’s planning to stay beyond the end of 2020. There’s no obvious opportunity for Newsom to make further changes – absent resignations, the roster of commissioners is set until then.