Newsom's human resources department even produced a beautiful PowerPoint presentation titled "Civil Service Reform: Preserving the Promise of Government." In 2007, he unveiled a splashy civil service reform proposal. But the focus was no longer on gutting union-friendly work rules such as "bumping rights." Rather, its most touted features included a "modernized" hiring hall with computer kiosks, job application and assessment software, and new hiring procedures. Oh, and union-represented managers, but not rank-and-file employees, would see their bumping rights eliminated.

"It was kind of the usual Newsom — all smoke and no fire," recalled Aaron Peskin, who was president of the Board of Supervisors at the time.

Revising the bumping rights system in any meaningful way was abandoned because doing so would pose a threat to Newsom's ambitions. Labor support is essential for any California Democrat seeking statewide office.

"Bumping, or, as it's officially called, 'order of layoff,' is a labor-sensitive issue," Casper said. "It incorporates and elaborates in a civil service setting the basic union rule of last hired, first fired." A new round of proposed reforms is being debated, but as for the bumping rights at play in the school district's lawsuit, that particular issue is not on the table, Casper said.

I was unable to reach officials with the Service Employees International Union and the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers for comment before press time.

There has long been a San Francisco tradition in which lazy managers eliminated the chaff in their departments by laying off poor performers during lean budget times, then cackled into their hands when these unwanted staffers were bumped into other departments.

In the event that the school district is compelled to hire staff it doesn't need, schoolkids may end up short of supplies, or even teachers, so clerical employees can land superfluous jobs.

This sort of backward management might prove a handicap if Newsom were angling for a job other than governor of California. But if the performance of that office's recent chairwarmers is any guide, Californians have little appetite for governors bent on real reform. Rather, this state, like San Francisco, has settled into satisfying itself with a revised version of Jerry Brown's 30-year-old "canoe theory" of politics, in which a politician paddles a little on the left, a little on the right, and keeps moving forward. In San Francisco and in the state capital, politicians get away with promising a bit of reform on one side, then mucking things up even worse on the other, yet somehow advancing their political careers.

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