By Zach Arnold | May 30, 2014
Another day, more turmoil.
Yesterday came word that figurehead Denise Brown, a Sacramento lifer, was on her way out via retirement at the Department of Consumer Affairs. DCA is the monstrous government behemoth that controls many agencies in California. She was able to pad her retirement benefits by hanging around for a few years. And now her hatchet-man, Awet Kidane, is taking over.
Awet Kidane, 38, of Elk Grove, has been appointed director of the California Department of Consumer Affairs effective July 3, 2014, following the retirement of director Denise Brown. Kidane has served as chief deputy director at the California Department of Consumer Affairs since 2012. He was chief of staff for California State Assemblymember Steven Bradford from 2009 to 2012 and senior advisor to California State Assembly Speaker Karen Bass from 2008 to 2009. Kidane served as a legislative consultant for the California State Assembly from 2003 to 2009, where he was an associate consultant from 2002 to 2003. This position requires Senate confirmation and the compensation is $148,836. Kidane is a Democrat.
Tracy Rhine, 42, of El Dorado, has been appointed chief deputy director at the California Department of Consumer Affairs, where she has served as deputy director of legislative and policy review since 2012. Rhine served in multiple positions at the California Board of Behavioral Sciences from 2008 to 2012, including assistant executive officer and legislative analyst. She was a consultant for the California State Assembly Committee on Business, Professions and Consumer Protection from 2005 to 2008 and consultant for the California State Assembly Speaker’s Office of Member Services from 2002 to 2005. Rhine was a graduate research assistant in Governor Gray Davis’ Office of Innovation in 2002. This position does not require Senate confirmation and the compensation is $132,528. Rhine is a Democrat.
In the grand scheme of things, not a lot will change at the Athletic Commission as a result of Kidane getting promoted. He was already doing a lot of the dirty work for Denise Brown. The only difference is Kidane is now the face of DCA. He’s the target. The dossier on him is that he hates bad press. Really hates it. One way he can avoid bad press is by doing his job professionally and that includes cleaning up the festering mess of problems at the Athletic Commission.
Kidane is a smart political animal who is a hustler. A fixer. A mover-and-shaker. Given his background with Steven Bradford and Karen Bass in the Assembly, the news of Kidane moving to the top is good news for DCA legal power brokers Doreathea Johnson & Spencer Walker. The fact that the Athletic Commission continues to allow DCA lawyers to control them on decision making is absurd. The Athletic Commission has the power, in the code, to hire their own separate legal counsel. Relying on DCA legal means that DCA maintains much of the control over the AC. We see this same scenario with the other major athletic commissions in the States and those ACs have the power to use their own legal counsel, too, but refuse to do so. It’s a big problem in getting things done.
DCA control of the Athletic Commission is the biggest issue in the room. On a smaller scale, the impending shake-up at the Athletic Commission body itself for 2015 will also lead to some interesting political maneuverings. John Frierson, Dr. Christopher Giza, and Dr. VanBuren Ross Lemons will all be out on January 1, 2015.
This leaves us with three people: John Carvelli (the dental HMO lobbyist who is Governor Jerry Brown’s point man) who will likely take over as CSAC Chairman, Mary Lehman (the appeals lawyer), and Martha Shen-Urquidez (the political fixer who sometimes looks out for Andy Foster/John McCarthy). Mary and Martha will be around until 2017 and I expect a feud to brew between those two. Mary is a usually straight by-the-book lawyer and that makes sense given her background in appellate law. Martha, on the other hand, has demonstrated plenty of situational ethics and has a hell of a quotable background from her days at the Los Angeles Housing Authority.
With only three members left starting in 2015, there will be a mad rush to put new political fixers on the Athletic Commission board. Expect a lot of wheelers-and-dealers but not the best and the brightest from the fight industry to be involved.
Where things stand and what the current situation reminds me of
Right now, the AC is over-budget. That was the one big takeaway from the mid-May meeting in Los Angeles. There’s no video or audio available of that meeting. Once the new Fiscal Year begins on July 1st, there will be a mad push to use cash built up in the reserves. Whether that leads to a higher quality of regulation of fight events, who knows? But the spending will commence in a hurry for the rest of the year. Then the Winter months will come and a slowdown will happen until April 2015.
And if the reserve cash starts getting burned in a hurry? Then we’ll be seeing a situation that resembles the situation that Armando Garcia had to deal with when he came into power. When Armando came into power, he was a boxing referee in Florida. He got into his share of battles with the press, with the promoters, and with the fighters. I was one of those people who had battles with him over the phone. He was tough but fair. He rubbed a lot of people in the MMA scene the wrong way. But for all the labels people put on the guy, he took a situation where business was down big time and turned around the financial situation in a hurry. He didn’t have to call himself “promoter friendly” or cut back on staff to attract big shows in California. The state was getting some A-level shows along with the regular B-show mixture.
In other words, he knew how to make money and meet budgets.
In 2014, the AC is going to collect around $1.3 million dollars in revenue. That’s what Armando collected in his first year. What’s interesting to note is how significant the revenues from taxation without regulation on WWE accounts for CSAC’s revenues now: we’re looking somewhere around 30%.
Once Armando got rolling, he was doing $2 million dollar years. I don’t see that happening in California in the foreseeable future. And the cash reserves got built up. Money was spent on drug testing. Since George Dodd has left, you’ve rarely heard anything at all under Andy Foster’s tenure about extensive drug testing & drug suspensions. There have been some deals cut, like with Lavar Johnson, to get a lesser punishment for testosterone usage if he doesn’t bring the matter in front of the Athletic Commission body. But for the most part, drug testing really has not been much of a story at all in California. Very lenient nowadays.
Many of the newbies brought on as athletic inspectors today aren’t adequately trained or have the skills to be leads and yet Andy Foster promoted Robert Judge, a volunteer athletic inspector, to the role of a lead after Judge was involved in the Rodrigo Mosquera altered boxing gloves scandal last September in Montebello.
We now have fighters who are openly hostile about wanting to fight in California due to regulatory or taxation issues. Even with high taxation, California used to be a place where most fighters wanted to work. The fans are great. Weather is usually great. Energy was really flowing. There weren’t nearly the safety issues a few years ago as there are now. California wasn’t just a destination, it was a hub of activity.
I can tell you this: there ain’t no way in hell that Armando Garcia would have approved a 59-year old 203 pound female boxer with no amateur experience against a 300-pounder on a club show. Not a chance.
Most disturbingly, no one has a clue on what to do with the money in the boxing pension fund or the neurological fund. There’s over $5.6 million dollars in the boxing pension fund. How many distributions have been approved over the last three years from the fund? A few. You can’t tell me that administrators aren’t tempted to see that pile of cash and not touch it. Same with the neurological fund. Where’s the expenditures to pay for MRI testing of fighters?
The worst part: MMA fighters/promoters continue to pay into these funds and will receive zero benefit from it. Boxers/promoters continue to pay into these funds and 99.9% of the fighters will never see a penny.
And none of the fighters are protected by a catastrophic insurance policy if they end up in a situation like Angel Osuna has found himself in with million-dollar medical bills.