11. Michael Peevey
It’s been a tough year for Michael Peevey, president of the Public Utilities Commission. The powerful PUC, has been on the hot seat amid complaints that it hasn’t adequately flexed its regulatory muscle to protect the public, including its dealings with PG&E over the San Bruno gas explosion. PUC President Michael Peevey, a former utility executive, has felt the heat, including demands for his ouster from, among others, the city of San Bruno, where the 2010 blast killed eight people, injured 66 and leveled 38 homes. PG&E faces up to $2 billion in fines, the state attorney general has been asked to investigate and Gov. Brown has been asked to dump Peevey. But removing Peevey is no walk in the park. When Brown earlier considered dropping Peevey as PUC president, Wall Street got so nervous that Brown held back. Why? Because the PUC regulates investor-owned utilities and Wall Street likes Peevey. So, for now anyway, Peevey remains in charge at the PUC, appointed or reappointed by two governors and enjoying the confidence of the utilities as well as the financial community – no mean feat.
12. Allan Zaremberg
Allan Zaremberg is something of a survivor. President of the California Chamber of Commerce, Zaremberg, a lawyer and a protégé of former Gov. George Deukmejian, has deep Republican roots. But he has demonstrated an ability to curry favor from governors of whatever political stripe, which invariably places the Chamber near the top of the political pecking order. It also is the architect of using the term “job killer” to describe legislation opposed by business – a masterful PR term that has found its way into the Capitol lexicon. A close ally of Republican Pete Wilson, he later became an ally of Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, who was booted in the 2003 recall when Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected. He then got close to Schwarzenegger. Jerry Brown has been in power for nearly four years now and Zaremberg’s charm doesn’t seem to be as effective with Brown as it was with the earlier governors. Despite that, the Chamber under Zaremberg is a powerful political institution and isn’t shy about exerting its influence.
13. Marty Morgenstern
Morgenstern, who once was a street-level labor organizer, and Brown have long worked together. Morgenstern headed the Department of Personnel Administration during Brown’s first terms in the 1970s and 80s, the agency that negotiates collective bargaining agreements with the state’s public employee unions. Since the DPA represents the administration – in other words, management — in bargaining with the unions, Morgenstern might seem an odd choice. In fact, in the world of labor negotiations, Morgenstern has won kudos from both sides. A graduate of Hunter College in New York, which he attended on the G.I. Bill, Morgenstern during the late 50s worked for the New York City welfare department, where he became a strike captain. He later was a shop steward at the East Harlem Welfare Center and rose through the union ranks to become president of the Social Service Employees Union. Morgenstern, who retired as Brown’s Labor and Workforce secretary, headed an agency of 14,000 employees with a $26 billion cumulative budget. He also is considered Brown’s oldest adviser — a role he maintains even in retirement.
14. Dustin Corcoran
It’s been a busy year for Dustin Corcoran, and it’s about to get a lot busier. Corcoran is the chief executive of the 37,000-member California Medical Association, the physicians’ principal state political arm, fighting for the docs on any number of fronts that include Medi-Cal reimbursements, corporate medicine and turf fights over scope of practice — just to name a few. But this year, Corcoran is taking a lead role in coordinating opposition to a ballot initiative, Proposition 46, which would raise the decades-old, $250,000 ceiling on pain-and-suffering damages in medical malpractice cases and peg it instead to cost-of-living increases, which would put it at about $1.1 million if approved by voters. The measure also includes a provision for drug testing of doctors. Medical and insurance communities already have raised some $40 million for the ballot fight, and more is on the way. Corcoran joined the CMA in 1998 and rose through the ranks, mentored by the late Steve Thompson, a popular and effective Capitol lobbyist. After some internal wrangling, Corcoran became CEO in 2010.
15. Gale Kaufman
Gale Kaufman, who founded her political strategy firm in the 1980s, is the Democrats’ No. 1 ballot measure warrior in California and the go-to person for the California Teachers Association’s ballot fights – of which there are many. In fact, she’s been in so many campaign battles, it’s hard to keep track. She engineered the defeat of Proposition 32, a business- and Republican-backed effort to block unions’ ability to raise campaign cash. That campaign was intertwined with the governor’s Proposition 30 to raise income and sales taxes to generate money for schools and fill a budget hole. The Proposition 30 effort, headed by veteran Brown strategist Ace Smith (we’ll get to him later), was approved, at least in part because of the fierce No on 32 campaign that Kaufman put together. Kaufman has handled some six dozen campaigns, including the destruction of the core of former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ballot plans – a feat that earned her the title of Campaign Manager of the Year from a group of international political consultants.
16. Elaine Howle
State Auditor Elaine Howle, a state watchdog if there ever was one, keeps a skeptical eye on government, tracking everything from the nickel-and-dime stuff to the high-level, big-bucks issues that make headlines. She gets her marching orders from the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, the two-house panel that orders up the investigations, and her mere presence certainly is an encouragement for government efficiency. What she does is particularly important to the parsimonious governor, who has publicly described himself as “tight with a buck” and doesn’t want stories – especially during an election year – of waste, fraud and abuse in the administration. He gets them anyway, though. Howle’s latest audit: She found that the state Department of Toxic Substances Control failed to collect $194 million in cleanup costs for more than 1,600 projects. She is soon scheduled to release a major audit – long awaited – on California’s Medi-Cal drug program. And so it goes.
17. Art Pulaski
Art Pulaski, who joined a union as a teen-age meat cutter, has headed the California Labor Federation for 18 years, and before that he was the top executive at the San Mateo Labor Council for 12 years. As head of the California Labor Federation, Pulaski helps shape the labor movement through his organization that represents more than 2.1 million workers in 1,200 unions. The Labor Fed is a sort of umbrella group, not a union, but it has the ability to organize action, staff phone banks, walk precincts, call statewide meetings and keep the troops focused. As executive secretary treasurer and chief officer of the Labor Fed, Pulaski is a power to be dealt with by any governor – and Brown’s no exception. Brown’s support among labor is strong, in part because there are no heavy hitters out there on the horizon who would be better for organized labor than Brown. But Brown said a governor sometimes needs to “knock heads,” and so far Pulaski’s forces appear relatively content.
18. Greg Campbell
Greg Campbell, the newly named chief of staff to newly elected Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins of San Diego, has been a legislative staffer for more than 20 years, including as top aide to a succession of Democratic speakers. If anybody knows the Assembly inside and out, it’s Campbell. The chief of staff is part political operative, part employee manager, part schmoozer of the caucus and part communications strategist, all characteristics that have to be coupled with solid social skills and the ability to say the most important word in the chief of staff’s vocabulary – “no.”
19. Aaron Read
We keep trying to push veteran lobbyist Aaron Read of Aaron Read & Associates to a higher number but despite our best efforts, he keeps slipping back in to 19 – the highest ranked lobbyist on our list. Read has been lobbying in the Capitol since Ronald Reagan was governor, then formed his own firm in 1978. His clients have stuck with him a long time, too. In addition to a marketing and information section, his client list includes doctors, police, local government, utilities (such as AT&T), pharmacists, firefighters, ranch owners and casinos, among others. His office, including Terry McHale, Randy Perry and Steve Baker, also puts out an election analysis for his clients that is first-rate — a concise, easy read that covers a lot of ground, down to numerous local races. Hopefully, they’ll do one this year and maybe we can get on the subscription list.
20. Janet Napolitano
Janet Napolitano, the president of the University of California, has an amazing resume. She was the first woman to head the Department of Homeland Security and the first female valedictorian of Santa Clara University; she served as attorney general of Arizona, and then went on to serve two terms as Arizona governor. So she clearly has two attributes that can serve a person well in government – she’s a good politician and she can effectively manage a legion of bureaucrats. Both should prove invaluable at UC, an august, sprawling institution driven not by the Office of the President but by its 10 largely autonomous campuses, a university known in the Capitol as much for its inertia as its academic excellence. Napolitano has her work cut out for her. If some quibble with the Top 20 place we’ve assigned in her debut appearance on this list, realize that this is quite a demotion: Forbes ranked her as the world’s ninth most powerful woman in 2012.