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California Air Resources Board chairwoman Mary Nichols was reappointed to the post.(AP Photo/Steve Yeater, 2010 file)

SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday retained Mary Nichols as head of the California Air Resources Board, tapped a pair of old labor hands to head agencies overseeing union issues, and dipped into a shaky past in appointing former state Superintendent Bill Honig to the state Board of Education.

In his first significant round of Cabinet appointments, Brown stayed loyal to his party: All 21 selections, including seven to the Board of Education, are Democrats. It was a departure from his predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who sprinkled his Cabinet with members of both parties.

"There might be more surprising appointments in the future, but at the moment, these are more or less conventional appointments for a Democratic governor," said Jack Pitney, a political-science professor at Claremont McKenna College. "Perhaps he's trying to send reassuring signals to Democrats before he presents unsettling news with his budget. If he can't send them a budget they like, at least he'll make appointments they'll like."

Brown also announced that James Humes, his top deputy in the state Attorney General's Office, and top PG&E official Nancy McFadden will operate as co-executive secretaries, at salaries of $175,000. His wife, Anne Gust Brown, will serve as an unpaid "special counsel."

Honig is the most controversial pick. After serving for a decade as the top school official and once mentioned as a possible candidate for governor, he left in disgrace in 1993, convicted of four felony conflict-of-interest charges for directing $337,509 in public funds to consultants who did work for a private education organization run by his wife, Nancy. She later committed suicide.

The convictions were later reduced, in 1996, to misdemeanors, and his restitution was dropped from $274,754 to $47,000. Since 2005, Honig has been president of the Consortium on Reading Excellence and previously served as a visiting distinguished professor at San Francisco State's School of Education from 1993 to 1998.

Honig was first appointed by Brown to the state Board of Education in 1975, where he served until 1983 when he was elected state superintendent.

During the transition, Brown has kept a tight lid on who he will surround himself with in his Cabinet. But his first appointments signal a close alignment with environmentalists and labor -- and the desire to work with familiar faces who might be able to deliver tough news to allies.

Nichols has served as the California Air Resources Board chairwoman since 2007 under Schwarzenegger and has been seen as a moderating force who can work with both the environmental and business communities, observers said. She would receive a salary of $142,965.

Marty Morgenstern, chosen as the secretary of the Labor and Workforce Development Agency, is "trusted by all parties and is being brought in to deliver tough news," said Steve Maviglio, a former aide to ex-Gov. Gray Davis.

Morgenstern, a tough-talking New Yorker with sight and hearing difficulties, has a long relationship with Brown, dating to his first term, when he headed various agencies. He also served from 1999 to 2003 under Davis as director of the Department of Personnel Administration, and was responsible for negotiating controversial and lucrative pay and pension benefits with the California Correctional Peace Officers Association. He may have a role in negotiating a less friendly contract with the union this time, Maviglio said.

"Brown wants people he's comfortable with, who understand his priorities, and they all fit that mold," Maviglio said. "They all have experience dealing with special interests that will be banging at the door."

Morgenstern has consulted with the University of California on labor relations matters since 2003 and has worked as a consultant to labor groups. Compensation for his position is $175,000.

Ronald Yank, a veteran labor and employment lawyer, was appointed as director of the Department of Personnel Administration. Yank has represented state employee labor groups, including the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, and is expected to take the lead in contract negotiations with labor groups. Yank, who must be confirmed by the Senate, would receive a $142,965 salary.

John Laird, who will lead the California Resources Agency for a salary of $175,000, served in the Assembly for six years before losing in a high-profile Senate race last year. The Assembly's budget chairman for four years, Laird was the author of numerous pieces of legislation on environmental protection and most recently taught environmental studies at UC Santa Cruz.

Brown had previously announced he would keep Schwarzenegger's finance director, Ana Matosantos, and named another former Brown staffer, Diana Dooley, as secretary of Health and Human Services.

Stanford education professor Michael Kirst, who advised Brown on education during the gubernatorial campaign, will return to the State Board of Education, where he served under Brown from 1975 to 1982. Also selected for the board: Patricia Rucker, a lobbyist for the California Teachers Association; former San Diego schools Superintendent Carl Cohn; James Ramos, chairman of the San Manuel Band of Indians; Bakersfield school district educator Aida Molina; and Trish Boyd Williams, longtime executive director of EdSource, an education reform group. Pay for board members is $100 per diem.

Also appointed: Gil Duran, press secretary, at a salary of $147,900; Elizabeth Ashford and Evan Westrup as deputy press secretaries, with salaries of $130,000 and $70,000, respectively; Joshua Groban and Julie Henderson, as senior policy advisers at salaries of $147,900; Jonathan Renneras as legal affairs secretary at a salary of $147,900; and Nick Velasquez as director of external affairs at a salary of $80,000.

Contact Steven Harmon

at 916-441-2101.

APPOINTMENTS
All are Democrats and all require Senate confirmation.
California Resources Agency secretary: John Laird, of Santa Cruz. Democratic Assemblyman from 2002 to 2008. Recently taught in the environmental studies department at UC Santa Cruz. Former trustee, Cabrillo College. Santa Cruz AIDS project director. Santa Cruz mayor. City Council member. Pay: $175,000 a year.
Labor and Workforce Development Agency secretary: Marty Morgenstern, of Oakland. University of California consultant on labor relations. Former director, state Department of Personnel Administration. Consultant for labor organizations. Chairman of UC Berkeley's Center for Labor Research and Education. Director of state Department of Personnel Administration, 1981 to 1982. Pay: $175,000 a year.
California Air Resources Board chairwoman: Mary Nichols, of Los Angeles. Has held post since 2007. Former director of the Institute of the Environment at UCLA. Professor in residence at the School of Law and the School of Public Affairs. Secretary for state Resources Agency. Chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board. Pay: $142,965 a year.
Department of Personnel Administration director: Ronald Yank, of Oakland. Retired labor and employment law attorney. Arbitrator and mediator in labor and employment, 2007 to 2009, and a partner at several law firms. Assistant professor of rhetoric, UC Berkeley. Representative for bargaining units of state employees including the California Correctional Peace Officers Association and the CDF Firefighters. Pay: $142,965 a year.