April 21, 2017: ASSOCIATED PRESS - Brown's California agriculture board pick hit by backlash

April 21, 2017

By JJ Cooper

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Isadore Hall was a veteran Democratic legislator from Compton until he gave up his seat to run for Congress and lost. But Gov. Jerry Brown gave him a soft landing when he appointed Hall to a six-figure job mediating disputes between farmers and union workers.

Hall's former Democratic colleagues in the California Senate confirmed him Thursday to the Agricultural Labor Relations Board despite allegations that he threatened farmers who opposed his nomination and is too close to labor interests.

The obscure board often draws fierce partisan conflict between agriculture-backed Republicans and labor-supported Democrats. But the fight over Hall was especially touchy.

"The once thorough and extensive Senate confirmation process for appointees of the governor has been corrupted," said Sen. Andy Vidak, a Republican from Hanford in California's Central Valley agricultural heartland. "Isadore Hall is a classic case of someone who is completely unqualified, ill-suited and ethically challenged getting rubber-stamped rather than vetted."

According to Vidak, Farmers opposed to Hall's nomination told the GOP lawmaker that Hall threatened to "get" them during a confrontation at a Sacramento hotel bar the night before his confirmation hearing.

Vidak last month called for Hall's confirmation vote to be delayed pending an investigation. When Democratic leaders refused, he filed a complaint with the Legislative Ethics Committee. Vidak also asked Brown to withdraw Hall's nomination.

"It's not our practice to review or investigate barroom conversations," said Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles.

Hall was a well-liked lawmaker known for bantering and joking with colleagues. He represented Compton in the Assembly and Senate for eight years until he opted against a re-election bid and ran instead for Congress. He lost to fellow Democrat Nanette Barragan in November.

Brown appointed Hall to the $142,000 a year job in January. Hall has spent 15 years in public office and has a doctorate in theology but does not have a background in labor law or agriculture.

The board is a quasi-judicial agency that rules on allegations of unfair labor practices at farms and conducts elections for workers deciding whether to unionize.

The appointment smacks of "cronyism," said Sen. John Moorlach of Costa Mesa, among all 13 Republicans who voted against confirming Hall.

Some of the state's most influential agricultural organizations opposed Hall's nomination, alleging he's too closely tied with the United Farm Workers union. They said Hall received campaign contributions from the UFW, supported legislation sponsored by the union and marched with UFW members locked in a long-running labor dispute.

Mark Soble, the board's acting executive secretary, said Hall declined to comment on the alleged bar confrontation. He pointed to Hall's testimony to the Senate Rules Committee, in which he pledged to work with people from all sides. The alleged confrontation did not come up during that hearing.

"I can't make a decision with 50 percent of the knowledge," Hall said at the March 1 event. "I have to have information from all stakeholders in order to be an effective member of the board."

Democrats defended Hall's nomination, saying they know him well as a committed colleague who works hard to understand issues and build consensus.

"I see somebody that can serve in this position in an effective, fair manner," said Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose. "I do not see one incident that someone might bring up as a reason to turn down someone we've worked with, as I have, for eight years."

Evan Westrup, a Brown spokesman, said the governor's top priority is to select the best candidate for every appointment.

But Brown gave an unusually candid look into the political nature of his appointments in an offhand comment at the end of a speech Wednesday to the League of California Cities. He launched into a story from his first campaign for governor in 1974.

"I met a dentist in Lodi and he did a fundraiser for me," Brown said. "So after I got elected I put him on the dental board. And people said, 'Why'd you put this guy on the dental board?' And I said, 'Because I wanted some representation from Lodi,' which we didn't have."

Photo Caption: State Senator Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, joined other Democrats in calling for the Senate to approve the nomination of former state Sen. Isadore Hall, D-Compton to the Agricultural Labor Relations Board, Thursday, April 20, 2017, in Sacramento, Calif. Despite Republican opposition, Hall was confirmed to the board.