Toni Atkins seeks speechwriter to crank up the volume

Top pro tem aide pulling down $229,000, staff director gets $204,000

Toni Atkins
  • Toni Atkins

Toni Atkins, President Pro Tempore of the California Senate is looking to hire a speechwriter. "The Office of Communications for Senator Atkins has the responsibility to lead all strategic communications efforts for the Senator," says a help-wanted notice posted online by the San Diego Democrat.

Christopher Woods, chief assistant to the pro tem

Christopher Woods, chief assistant to the pro tem


"An essential element of that effort includes elevating the voice of the Senator," says the announcement, adding that the new hire will "serve as principal writer of the Senator's written work, which includes speeches, opinion pieces, blogs, video scripts, talking points, announcements, and presentations."

"Salary range starts at $6,712 per month," per the job solicitation.

Multiplying by twelve, the new hire would make at least $80,544 a year to start, putting the staffer fourth behind Atkins chief of staff Pamela Ison who has an annual salary of $114,000, press secretary David Rolland at $96,000, and legislative director Deanna Spehn with $90,000, per an October 31, 2018 online roster of Senate employee wages.

The total yearly payroll cost of the Atkins senate office totals $784,180, according to calculations based on the Senate's monthly salary summary.

Total state Senate spending for press secretary salaries combined, per the online data set, is $1.1 million, out of annual payroll expenses of $64 million.

At the top of the body's salary cost list are principal consultants, who make a yearly combined total of $5.7 million, district representatives, at $5.2 million, and chiefs of staff, costing taxpayers $5 million.

Over in the office of Senate Pro Tem, which Atkins also heads, payroll expenses total $2.54 million, including $229,000 for Christopher Woods, chief assistant to the pro tem, followed by executive staff director Kernan Lipper with $204,000.

Next comes pro tem chief assistant Nicholas Hardeman, making $194,000, special assistant to the pro tem Kimberly Rodriguez, the office's highest-paid woman with $185,000, and principal consultant Charles Wright at $170,000.

Besides a handsome salary, Woods has also benefited from lobbyist gifts, including a complimentary field club ticket to a San Francisco Giants versus Oakland Athletics game last July 14 worth $165 from cellphone and online giant AT&T.

“He’s an example of an expert behind-the-scenes Capitol player unknown to the public, but who has far-reaching influence on how tax dollars are spent,” Capital Weekly once said about the aide's financial influence over the legislature.

“Woods makes sure that the spending priorities of the Senate and its leader are given consideration. It’s a job that requires more than a green eyeshade.”

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An amazing roster of well-paid helper-elves for my State Senator. Presumably we constituents get a reasonable return on this investment (regressive gas tax excluded.) Often Sacramento aides are experts in their particular areas (maybe like Christopher Woods is said to be) and they are often much smarter than their bosses. Whatever works. I sure would like to see a similar rundown on the amount of staff and staff salaries attached to our esteemed City Council members.

It should warm your heart that when you write a letter to your senator that some overpaid staff member will answer with a letter with a real stamped signature.

If the legislative aide is smart and has a helpful or informative reply, I am fine with that. Try writing to U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on any issue. Her (office's) response will apply to your specific question, request or position as well as include her own position, a context for pending legislation, likelihood of a bill's passage and prospects for alternative approaches. It is a mini-education on statecraft. She never uses her franking privilege just to thank you for writing. For this attention to business, I am impressed and grateful.

Amazing. I have in the past written both Feinstein and Boxer. I always got a response from Boxer but never a word from Feinstein. She must have new folks working in her office.

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