The atmospherics surrounding the Top 100 list vary slightly from year to year, but they usually stem from such things as elections, retirements, hires, campaign staffing, bureaucratic shuffling, news stories and who’s doing what to whom. Normally, we set up interviews in coffee shops or, better yet, taverns, and pick the brains of people who know the Capitol.
Not this year.
The pandemic changed the way we put this list together. We haven’t been in a coffee shop talking about the Top 100 since February. It’s all been done remotely.
We didn’t run into people on the street and gossip for a few minutes. We didn’t pop into a cafe or restaurant to chat with somebody we spotted from the street. We didn’t run into people while shopping at Raley’s. When we did video conferencing, people looked weary, rumpled and grouchy, especially me, and it got worse as the pandemic wore on. I’m starting to look like my line drawing, without the smile.
COVID-19 has changed who’s on the list and where. That’s because the Top 100 has always been situational: The big events of any given year will be reflected in the list’s rankings, and that’s good. It helps us keep the Top 100 fresh with new blood, and that’s good, too.
This year, that was especially true. Two of the people in the top 10 are health experts, and many health industry executives and activists are scattered through the rankings. The list only partially reflects California’s diversity and gender balance, but we think we are making improvements each year. As usual, the Top 100 contains a hefty share of organized labor leaders and lobbyists – two groups that wield enormous influence in Sacramento. We make no apologies.
The Top 100 isn’t the only thing that changed.
The Horseshoe, the inner sanctum in the Capitol of the governor’s executive suite, is like a ghost town. Most are working from home, while some core staff members, perhaps 15 to 20 people, periodically come in. Cabinet members are on Zoom with each other and their staffs, who in turn Zoom with their staffs.
Newsom and his top aides gather at the OES operations center at Mather, east of Sacramento to deal with COVID-19, rather than come into the Capitol. They’ve been there a lot, and they’re all but certain to be there even more after the wildfire season gets underway.
But despite the changes the list reflects its roots: It’s a subjective, partly tongue-in-cheek ranking of unelected folk in the state political community. That’s it.
Years ago, when we did the first Top 100, it was fun. It still is – sort of.
Editor, Capitol Weekly
Click on the name to see illustration.
1 Ann O’Leary
Ann O’Leary is the governor’s chief of staff, which means she manages the state’s top personnel, distills political strategy for Gov. Newsom and generally has the final say on action proposals heading his way. That alone guarantees her the top spot on the list, the position she held last year, too. But now she’s also co-leader of the governor’s task force on the economy, a panel that Gov. Newsom created in April to devise strategies to deal with the pandemic-induced recession, which hit California hard and is getting worse. In Sacramento, two phrases always spark suspicion – “task force” and “advisory commission” – but this time a task force may actually have some clout. Its members include all four former living governors, Disney chairman Bob Iger and other business types, including billionaire and former presidential candidate Tom Steyer, who serves as O’Leary’s fellow leader. For a brief moment, it looked like California was turning the corner on the pandemic, but COVID-19 roared back after a premature loosening of restrictions in May – a decision in which she surely participated. For O’Leary, these must be odd times. She’s at the center of power in the Capitol’s “Horseshoe” – the executive office suite that includes the governor – but she’s operating in something of a ghost town. Most people are working from home and the Horseshoe is largely deserted. O’Leary, an attorney and former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton, brought Beltway political smarts to her gig here as chief of staff, presumably a good move for a governor who is likely to make a presidential bid in 2024. But COVID-19 may have made that climb steeper for Newsom, with his every move drawing intense scrutiny. And we haven’t even mentioned wildfires yet. O’Leary has her work cut out for her.
2 Ana Matosantos
As Newsom’s cabinet secretary, Ana Matosantos essentially runs California’s bureaucracy. Matosantos was finance director for former Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown, and was instrumental in helping Brown resolve a $27 billion budget hole. Now, she’s looking at a bigger hole – twice the magnitude of the earlier shortage – and the state’s experts say this could drag on for years. A Finance Director decides on the annual budget request of government departments and the cabinet secretary manages those same departments and agencies from an Olympian level – we think she’s got the bases covered. In between stints in government, she was a budget and policy consultant, and she earlier served as deputy legislative secretary for Health and Human Services and Veteran Affairs. Meanwhile, Matosantos, who has a political science degree from Stanford, was appointed in 2016 by former President Obama to a seven-member board charged with coming up with ideas to help Puerto Rico achieve economic stability. They might have, too, but the following year, Hurricane Maria smacked Puerto Rico but good, so any earlier financial progress was gone with the wind.
3 Keely Bosler
Speaking of the Finance Department and cabinet secretary, the person holding Matosantos’ earlier job is Keely Bosler, who moved to Finance after Matosantos became cabinet secretary. There’s a certain amount of musical chairs here: During Jerry Brown’s final administration, Bosler served as cabinet secretary, replacing Dana Williamson. That means Bosler has served in high positions in both the Brown and Newsom administrations, so she is clearly an institutional link between the two. She also faces a grim reality. When she took over Finance, the state had a $21.5 billion surplus and Bosler must have been smiling. Two months ago, the state budget for 2020-21 showed a $54 billion shortage – an enormous swing of $75 billion. She wasn’t smiling, but the state managed to come up with a budget that delays payments, hopes for federal money and makes cuts. But the budget, once the perpetually premier news story out of Sacramento, has moved back in line as COVID-19 elbows its way in. The employment losses associated with the pandemic, including the demand for extended jobless benefits, are putting a new slew of challenges on Bosler’s desk.
4 Mark Ghaly
Mark Ghaly is a Harvard-trained doctor, a pediatrician and a veteran health-program administrator. He’s also California’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, so he’s at the top of the pyramid of California’s sprawling health bureaucracy – “sprawling” being the operative word here. Ghaly, of South Pasdena, is largely unknown to the general public, but his position at H&HS is a big deal: he is the go-to person handling California’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. For the past six months, Ghaly has been consumed by COVID-19 and advises the governor on everything from masks to restaurant closures to public gatherings. He appears at the governor’s briefings on the coronavirus, and he’s one of a handful of top officials who regularly go to the emergency services compound with the governor to coordinate strategy. Ghaly’s credentials are impeccable: He earned dual B.A. degrees in biology and biomedical ethics from Brown University, a medical degree from Harvard Medical School, and a Master’s Degree from Harvard’s School of Public Health. For Ghaly, health is definitely a family business. His wife, Dr. Christina Ghaly, directs LA County’s Department of Health Services.
5 Marybel Batjer
Marybel Batjer, who has served in an array of important government posts, is the president of the Public Utilities Commission and she’s on the hot seat – literally. After a lengthy investigation, the state Public Utilities Commission in May ordered a $1.9 billion fine against Pacific Gas & Electric Co. for the utility’s role in the catastrophic northern California wildfires in 2017 and 2018. It is the biggest fine ever levied by the PUC, and it followed an outpouring of public outrage directed at the giant, investor-owned utility. The five-member Commission’s vote was unanimous and Batjer is only one vote. But as president she has sway over much of the PUC’s operations and she sets the tone. She’s also close to Gov. Newsom, who named her to the job, and she’s a veteran of the Capitol’s interminable political wars. She served as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s cabinet secretary, and before that, she was chief of staff to former Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn. Prior to her stint at the PUC, Newsom picked her as the lead person and trouble shooter to overhaul California’s Department of Motor Vehicles.
6 Richard Figueroa
Richard Figueroa has had quite a roller coaster ride. He went from the California Endowment to join the Newsom administration – two other Endowment people, Daniel Zingale and Maricela Rodriguez, also came over — and he moved into the Horseshoe, where he was a deputy cabinet secretary. Then Newsom tapped him to temporarily lead the state’s Department of Health Care Services, which supervises Medi-Cal, the huge multibillion-dollar state-federal program through which about a third of Californians get their health care. Now he’s back in the Horseshoe. But whatever his title and wherever he is, Figueroa’s function doesn’t change: He’s one the governor’s top health advisers. That position during a worsening pandemic is especially important now, so he works closely with Mark Ghaly (No. 4) and Ann O’Leary (No. 1). Apart from his expertise in health policy, Figueroa knows his way around the political world. He was Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger’s deputy cabinet secretary, Democrat Gray Davis’ deputy legislative secretary, and legislative director for former state Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi, who is now in Congress.
7 Angie Wei
The administration describes Angie Wei as “a special adviser to the governor,” a vague job description that takes in a lot of territory. Wei is best known for her labor connections – she spent nearly two decades at the California Labor Federation, including eight years as chief of staff – but her portfolio has broadened as she rises in the Newsom administration. In addition to her labor linkage, she gets into communications and political strategy. When we did this last year, one person familiar with the governor’s setup described Wei as the administration’s political director, and that may even be true. The governor himself earlier described Wei as his “chief deputy for policy.” There were rumors that Wei was planning to leave last fall, but that didn’t happen. In fact, the recent departure of veteran political communicator Daniel Zingale (No. 13 last year) created a vacuum and some open turf, into which Wei appears to have moved. She served on the Immigrant Welfare Collaborative during the 1990s, and later was chair of California’s workers’ comp commission. So between labor, immigration and worker safety, she’s got Newsom’s flanks covered.
8 Robbie Hunter
Robbie Hunter heads the State Building and Construction Trades Council, an amalgam that represents 450,000 construction workers in California. Those as fierce a fighter for labor as exists in the state, is not one to shy away from battle, and is often at odds with power players who have crossed a line. Last year found him going to war with Gov. Newsom following a number of slights from the Horseshoe, the last of which was when Hunter was publicly disinvited from the governor’s Future of Work Commission. Hunter gave Newsom the works, castigating his treatment of labor and sending kids dressed as newsies to deliver papers with the headline “Gov. Newsom Vetoes Fair Wages for Construction Workers” at the California Democratic Party convention in Long Beach. Newsom and Hunter made peace this year; he has since turned his fire toward Sen. Scott Wiener, who Hunter says has failed workers with inadequate prevailing wage protections.
9 Catherine Lhamon
Catherine Lhamon is Newsom’s legal affairs secretary, but she also holds a major federal position – chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, to which former President Barack Obama appointed her in 2016 to a six-year-term. Legal affairs secretary is a key position in any administration, although the title – like so many in government – is misleading. A more accurate description of Lhamon might be “general counsel.” Lhamon serves the governor as a legal-political adviser, which means she has a broad portfolio and gets into an array of issues, including the judiciary. Lhamon, an Amherst College graduate who got her law degree from Yale, is a former assistant secretary for civil rights in the U.S. Education Department and practiced law at the ACLU in southern California, where she served as assistant legal director. She’s also won a slew of honors from legal and educational and institutions and publications. Through her federal and D.C. connections, Lhamon is probably the best known nationally of all Newsom’s staffers.
10 Jason Elliot
Musical chairs seems to be a familiar pastime in the Newsom administration’s inner sanctum, and another example of that is Jason Elliott, who is serving the governor as a “senior counselor for housing and homelessness,” and who earlier was the “chief deputy cabinet secretary for executive branch operations.” Titles aside, Elliot was named the point man for housing and homelessness on Jan. 10, but since then there’s been a lot of water – blood? – under the bridge. Affordable housing was, and is, in crisis, but COVID-19 has sucked out all the oxygen feeding that crisis and others, and the public and media’s attention for months has been directed almost entirely on the pandemic. That means housing counselor Elliot, often described as the governor’s brains and idea man, is focusing on this latest emergency. Elliot, like other top members of the administration, has strong connections to Newsom. He served Newsom when the latter was mayor of San Francisco, and he was a senior adviser on Newsom’s gubernatorial election campaign in 2018.
11 Jennifer Siebel Newsom
The days of a California governor’s wife staying home in relative obscurity or sticking to ceremonial social functions are long since gone – a good thing, too – and Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s role and influence illustrate that. She’s not as directly engaged in governance as her predecessor, Anne Gust Brown, but Siebel Newsom is clearly a force in her husband’s administration and has weighed in on issues of special importance to her, including women’s rights, childhood health and how the media and society define gender roles from an early age. We’re told she played a significant role in the hiring of Nadine Burke Harris, California’s first surgeon general, a nationally known expert in childhood trauma. Siebel Newsom, a documentary filmmaker, directed, wrote and produced Miss Representation, which examined the media’s faulty representation of powerful women. Five years later, in 2015, she did The Mask You Live In, a film that targeted toxic masculinity.” Eschewing the title “First Lady,” First Partner Siebel Newsom grew up in Marin County and holds an MBA from Stanford.
12 Dustin Corcoran
Dustin Corcoran is a regular on our roster, and for good reason: He’s the CEO of the California Medical Association, many of whose nearly 50,000 members are out on the front lines treating victims of the COVID-19 pandemic. The CMA is a potent force in the Capitol – either through lobbying or campaign spending, or both – and this year is no exception. Two major political issues drew CMA’s immediate opposition. One, a ballot measure backed by organized labor, seeks to increase medical staffing at dialysis clinics. The other, also a potential ballot measure, but pushed off until 2022, is supported by the doctors’ traditional enemies, the attorneys. It would increase payments for noneconomic damages in malpractice suits under the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, or MICRA. Those payments, set in the original 1975 law, are capped at $250,000 and immediately drew lawyers’ fire. The fight over MICRA is one of the longest-running political fights in California between doctors and lawyers, with both sides spending a lot of money. Corcoran has been the CMA’s top executive officer for more than a decade and joined the association in 1998.
13 Mary Nichols
It’s hard to overestimate Mary Nichols’ role in fighting air pollution, in California and nationally. Nichols, something of a California institution, chairs the Air Resources Board, which enforces the state’s clean-air rules and is tracked closely by the industrial Northeast, which looks to the ARB for guidance. Appointed by various governors, she’s headed the board continuously for 13 years, but she also served as chair from 1979-83, and from 1999-2003. Among its many, many chores, the ARB regulates gasoline and diesel emissions, targets factory pollution, administers the cap-and-trade auctions to curb greenhouse gases and hunts down faulty pollution control devices in vehicles — as it did with the landmark Volkswagen case. The word around the water cooler is that Nichols will retire after her term ends on Dec. 31, and board member Hector De La Torre, a former lawmaker, is being groomed to take the reins. Nichols, who has been dubbed the “Queen of Green,” is an attorney and Yale graduate, and a former lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
14 Anthony Williams
Anthony Williams, Gov. Newsom’s legislative affairs secretary, was one of the governor’s earliest appointments. With the Legislature now running on only two cylinders, being the legislative secretary must be really hard or really easy. “I mean, how hard can it be?” a lobbyist very familiar with the Capitol asked us recently. But when the pandemic lifts, it will be back to normal – and that means the usual pandemonium, an avalanche of bills and negotiations with a balky Legislature. Handling that pressure shouldn’t be a problem for Williams, who worked for former Senate Leader John Burton. Williams, an attorney, has taught law at the McGeorge Law School on the Legislature’s dynamics since 2007. He also served two years as policy director former Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg, now mayor of Sacramento, and Williams once was the chief lobbyist for the State Bar of California.
15 Mark Ghilarducci
Years ago, the term “Master of Disaster” was applied to a prominent political consultant, but that title is a much, much better fit Mark Ghilarducci. Ghilarducci has been the head of California’s Office of Emergency Services for the past seven years, appointed first by Jerry Brown and then reappointed by Gavin Newsom. Ghilarducci has spent much of his professional life dealing with emergencies: He has been deputy director of OES and a deputy state fire chief and he served as a coordinating officer in FEMA under Bill Clinton. At various times, he’s handled everything from emergency communications to threat assessments to counter-terrorism. Much of the public associates OES with fire fighting, but OES also gets involved in floods, quakes and – you guessed it – the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, key meetings of the administration’s top staff about COVID-19 often take place at OES headquarters in suburban Sacramento, where security is ultra tight. He’s also board chairman of the California Earthquake Authority. Ghilarducci is a UC Davis grad in science, and graduated from Harvard’s Kennedy School program for senior government executives.
16 Elaine Howle
As if State Auditor Elaine Howle doesn’t have enough to do riding herd on the state’s money-handling, she also played a crucial role in the selection of some of the members of California’s redistricting commission, the powerful panel that will draw legislative, congressional and Board of Equalization districts for the 2022 elections. She started on it last year, but crafting the commission doesn’t happen overnight and the toil continued into mid-2020. By most estimates, Howle’s staff waded through 30,000 applications, boiled those down to come up with likely prospects, then screened those further to set up calls and interviews, then scheduled followup interviews. Ultimately, the 14-member commission will hold public hearings around the state and come up with the plans, which will be crucial in determining who gets elected to what. Now she can get back to her day job, making enemies and probing potential fraud and abuse in state government. Her most recent reports? On June 30, she smacked the executives at the Board of Registered Nursing for falsifying data to try and fool Howle’s office. And so it goes…
17 Allan Zaremberg
Allan Zaremberg has become a Capitol institution – a significant force here since the 1990s, and he’s not going anywhere soon. He heads the California Chamber of Commerce, the sprawling pro-business group that finances political campaigns, launches full-court-press lobbying efforts on issues critical to its members – taxes? job creation? regulations? – and annually puts forward its “Job Killer” list, a compendium of pending legislation that the Chamber contend will wound the economy and hurt hiring. The latest list of 13 bills – some of them gutted and others blocked/defeated – are all authored by Democrats. The Chamber describes itself as the “largest broad-based business advocate to government in California, working at the state and federal levels for policies to strengthen California,” and that’s probably true, given its financial backing and reach. Certainly, Zaremberg deserves much of the credit for that: People who should know describe him as canny and pragmatic. He got his start in the administration of former Republican Gov. George Deukmejian, and he has led the Chamber for more than two decades through four governors.
18 Ann Patterson
Newsom’s chief deputy legal affairs secretary is Ann Patterson, who works with Catherine Lhamon (No. 9) and fellow deputy Kelli Evans. Patterson’s gig has been almost 24-7 dealing with one of the administration’s top priorities: the state’s negotiations with Pacific Gas and Electric Co. PG&E, the huge investor-owned utility, has drawn widespread criticism – and a $1.9 billion fine – stemming from the deadly wildfires in 2017 and 2018. Typically, the deputy legal affairs secretary has a more multifaceted portfolio, but the scope of PG&E’s issues have claimed Patterson’s focus. That’s not surprising, given the public attention targeting PG&E, including demands for a breakup or a public takeover, worries about the utility’s solvency and Wall Street’s concerns about investments. Before coming to the administration, Patterson, a graduate of the McGeorge School of Law, was a partner at Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe, where she was a co-leader of the public policy unit.
19 Kip Lipper
Kip Lipper has been a presence on this list since we started it more than a decade ago, and the reason is always the same: Lipper is the go-to person for the Senate leadership on environmental legislation. He’s done it for so long, it’s hard to remember a time when he didn’t. From a tiny, paper-clogged, debris-strewn office on the 4th floor of the Capitol’s refurbished wing, Lipper analyzes bills, meets lobbyists, negotiates with warring factions, and generally avoids the press whenever possible. His influence is felt on virtually every piece of major environmental legislation in the Capitol – and many of the minor bills, too. Many in the Capitol accept Lipper as a force of nature, but over the years, not everyone has been happy with that. “He has more influence than some senators,” former state Sen. Tony Strickland, a Thousand Oaks Republican once told the LA Times. “You can’t fault Kip for being good at what he does, but I personally believe the voters would rather that the power lies with the people they elected.” Maybe.
20 Rhys Williams
Ah, 2019. Back in those halcyon days, before everything revolved around masks, viruses and opening/closing decisions, there were other emergencies to be prepared for and Gov. Newsom directed a good deal of energy to them. On his first full day as governor, Newsom addressed emergency preparedness and announced plans to beef up the state’s ability to combat natural disasters. He established the position of Senior Advisor on Emergency Preparedness and Management within the Governor’s Office to directly coordinate with Administration officials across agencies and departments, as well as federal, state and local officials and public safety experts. The position was filled by a longtime ally, Rhys D.J. Williams, who previously served as chief of staff when Newsom was lieutenant governor. Of course, what no one saw coming was that the biggest emergency of the century would not be a wildfire, but a virus that would quickly kill more Californians than every one of the state’s wildfires combined. Whatever the emergency, Williams sits at the center of the administration’s response.
21 Tracy Arnold
Tracy Arnold is Gov. Gavin Newsom’s chief deputy cabinet secretary, which means she’s the top lieutenant to Ana Matasantos (No. 2). While most of the governor’s staff have moved out of the building during the pandemic, Arnold is still in the Horseshoe, and that proximity to power is more than a metaphor: Arnold is at the heart of the state’s command center. She is a skilled strategist with a deep understanding of topics ranging from international relations and economic policy to issues of social justice. Previously, she was a partner at Mercury Public Affairs where she oversaw The California Endowment’s Affordable Care Act advocacy campaign, including the Medi-Cal outreach and enrollment effort that resulted in over
4 million newly enrolled Californians. Prior to that, she served in the Schwarzenegger administration as the deputy executive director at the Commission for Jobs and Economic Growth. There, she drove the business and policy agendas for Schwarzenegger’s international missions, and she is credited as being the guiding force behind his groundbreaking trip to China where her fluency in Mandarin probably came in handy.
22 Gabriel Petek
Gabriel Petek is California’s Legislative Analyst, and he’s the Legislature’s nonpartisan money expert – a crucial job indeed amid a $54 billion budget shortage, a recession and an intensifying pandemic. Petek, who is hired by lawmakers and answers to them, and his staff are the go-to source for solid fiscal data on state spending and policy. They eyeball the governor’s budgets and suggest changes. They analyze ballot initiatives. They offer economic projections. They subdivide the sprawling budget into dozens of policy areas, then pick apart each one, everything from high-speed rail to nurse midwives to prison construction to COVID-19. They pick fights, as when Petek said the governor needed to do a better job providing budget information to lawmakers. The Legislative Analyst’s Office has been around for 80 years and has had only six chiefs, including Petek – a remarkable track record of stability. Petek, a product of Loyola Marymount, Harvard and the London School of Economics, served for two decades at Standard & Poor’s, including a stint as a primary analyst for public financing.
23 Carmela Coyle
Nobody ever said being president and CEO of the California Hospital Association, which represents 400 hospitals and health systems, would be a walk in the park, and it hasn’t been – just ask Carmela Coyle. The pandemic has had a profound impact on California’s hospitals, stressing health care delivery, finances, staff safety and the availability of beds, among many other issues. It was like a roller coaster: When it looked like COVID-19 was easing in California, the hospitals had a surplus of empty beds that had been set aside for pandemic patients, and they lost big money. When the pandemic grew – again – the hospitals were jammed, some beyond capacity. Thus far, the hospitals appear to be holding their own, and Coyle is a key reason. She came to the CHA in 2017 after heading the Maryland Hospital Association for nine years, and before that she spent 20 years in senior policy positions at the American Hospital Association. (A sad note: Coyle’s predecessor, C. Duane Dauner, who led the CHA for 32 years, died in a traffic accident in Rancho Mirage shortly before we went to press).
24 Rusty Hicks
Rusty Hicks is the chair of the California Democratic Party, and in a state where his party controls just about everything except scattered local governments, it’s a significant job. He took over in the summer of 2019, replacing veteran political player Eric Bauman. His first year as chair has been tough, spent partly in cleaning up after a series of sexual harassment scandals targeting Bauman, while dealing with disputes over how much information about those scandals should be publicly released. But he’s weathered the storm and now is firmly in the saddle. The youthful Hicks – he’s 40 and looks much younger – served five years as the president of the LA County Labor Federation, an important state and national political force. Hicks, who lives in Pasadena, served as California political director of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. He was born in Fort Worth,Tex., and attended Austin College. He came to California in 2003, and has a law degree from Loyola.
25 Nick Hardeman
Nick Hardeman, the chief of staff to Senate Leader Toni Atkins, has worked in the Legislature for nearly two decades, starting out as a Senate Fellow after graduating from St. Mary’s College and steadily rising through a series of increasingly important gigs. Hardeman, by the way, is one of many top legislative staffers who rose from the Fellow and internship programs. He’s worked in both houses, including a stint as chief of staff to Atkins during her role as Assembly speaker. When Atkins, a San Diego Democrat, moved to the Senate, Hardeman came along with her. A chief of staff is a jack of all trades – managing personnel, tracking and pushing the boss’ legislative agenda, representing the boss at public (and private) meetings and dealing with lobbyists, among many other chores. Hardeman does them all.
26 Chris Woods
Chris Woods is the budget director for Senate Leader Toni Atkins, so he tries to figure how much money is available and what it should be spent on, keeping in mind Atkins’ priorities. Being a budget expert amid a $54 billion shortage comes under the heading of “challenge,” but Woods clearly is up to it. Woods does more than follow the money: He knows politics, too, and in a Capitol where politics, policy and money inevitably converge, that’s a valuable skill indeed. He also has a law degree from the UC Davis School of Law – which means he closely follows detail and won’t doze off reading those compelling fiscal analyses. His undergraduate degree, also from UC Davis, was in American Studies.
(Updated, Aug. 12, 2020)
27 Brian Rice
Brian Rice heads the California Professional Firefighters, which represents some 30,000 local firefighters across California and has been an important political power in California for years. It still is. Firefighters do more than put out fires: They rescue people, provide emergency medical treatment, mitigate disasters, clean up toxic spills and rescue cats from roofs. Even those who may have mixed views about organized labor have a fondness for the firefighters. Rice, who was elected CPF president last year, began as a reserve firefighter with the Sacramento’s Metropolitan Fire Department 37 years ago and retired as deputy chief of operations in 2011. He’s no stranger to union politics – he was on the board of the Sacramento Firefighters Local 522, including 12 years as president – and he’s happy to get in fights, as when President Trump said California’s wildfires were caused by faulty forest management. Rice called Trump’s comments “disgraceful,” noting that Trump “doesn’t even realize how much of the forest is actually owned by the federal government.”
28 Yvonne Walker
The head of Local 1000 of the Service Employees International Union is Yvonne Walker, who has led the local for 12 years and is the first African American woman to ever have that job. Her local represents nearly 100,000 state workers, and that’s a force to be reckoned with when it comes to paying dues, demonstrating, carrying signs, organizing and negotiating. Walker, who started her state career 25 years ago working as a legal secretary for the Justice Department, has had a turbulent two years, but as far we can tell she’s still in the saddle. She’s weathered the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus decision, which blocked unions’ ability to collect fees from nonmembers, and she’s survived dissension in her own ranks. The most recent contract with the Newsom administration – negotiated before the pandemic – called for a 7 percent raise over three years and increased health benefits. Walker, who hails from Oceanside, is a Marine Corps veteran.
29 Marcie Frost
Marcie Frost is the CEO of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, all $400 billion of it, which is one of the most important financial entities in the United States, much less California. CalPERS’ headquarters is only a mile from the Capitol, but apart from a rare scandal or some other controversy – or a Great Recession – CalPERS draws little attention. Except from Wall Street. Frost and her staff of 2,800 people ride herd on CalPERS, which has about 1.9 million members and a $1.8 billion annual budget. Like everything else, CalPERS has been affected by the pandemic-fueled economic downturn, which has “thrown a fresh spotlight on the challenges that public pension funds face in delivering retirement security to public employees.” CalPERS has put together its own 7 percent solution – no connection to Sherlock Holmes – to achieve a 7 percent rate of return over time on its sprawling portfolio. Frost knows money: She headed Washington state’s retirement system before coming to CalPERS in 2016, and she served in Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s cabinet.
30 Nadine Burke Harris
Named California’s first-ever Surgeon General in 2019, Nadine Burke Harris has blazed her own path, creating a portfolio for the office that differs widely from the familiar national model. Harris helped pioneer the use of ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) screening in her career prior to joining Newsom’s cabinet, and has made the treatment of childhood trauma the focus of her position – and she hit the ground running: In her first year as Surgeon General she led an effort to make ACEs screening universal throughout California, and is credited with getting nearly $100 million set aside in last year’s state budget to cover ACEs screening and to train health care providers to administer those screenings. Harris has said that “social determinants of health are to the 21st century what infectious diseases were to the 20th century,” and believes that universal screening could help cut childhood trauma by 50% in just one generation. If she is correct, that budget investment will be a relative bargain, as the effects of ACEs are estimated to cost Californians over $10 billion per year in health care costs.
31 Donna Lucas
Donna Lucas, a master at networking and communications, has been on this list so many times that we probably should have a space reserved just for her. She heads Lucas Public Affairs, and for people who want to know what’s going on in Sacramento, they usually call her first. I know we did: She was our first call when we converted Capitol Weekly into a 501c3, and we’ve called her many times since. Lucas served on the Public Policy Institute of California’s governing board from 2007 to 2019, and chaired the board from 2013 to 2016. Lucas started out in Gov. George Deukmejian’s press office after serving on Deukmejian’s successful gubernatorial campaign. Later, during Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration, she served as chief of staff to Maria Shriver and an administration adviser. Most recently, veteran political and business strategist Cassandra Pye joined Lucas Public Affairs as executive vice president – a coup for both of them.
32 Erika Contreras
Erika Contreras, the secretary of the state Senate, is perfect for our Top 100 list: Outside the Capitol, she is largely unknown. Inside the Capitol, everyone knows who she is. The secretary of the Senate balances politics and policy, seems to get involved in everything and makes sure the trains run on time. She’s part personnel director, too, a difficult job amid conflicting, prickly personalities. Although a Democrat, the secretary of the Senate is expected to be reasonably even-handed and deft. Contreras, who was born in Mexico and raised in the San Fernando Valley, came to the Senate when Toni Atkins became Senate leader. She spent a decade as chief of staff to Ricardo Lara, former state senator and now insurance commissioner. A newspaper report noted that her family was granted legal residency following the amnesty bill signed by Ronald Reagan in 1986, and Contreras later earned her citizenship.
33 Carrie Cornwell
Carrie Cornwell is major player on the Assembly side, and rightly so: She is chief of staff to Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, and has served in that position for four years, after serving Rendon as chief of staff when the latter was a rank-and-file lawmaker before he attained the speakership. The speaker’s job isn’t what it used to be, when near-autocrats like Jesse Unruh and Willie Brown held sway, but as term limits have eased, the speakership is regaining some of its institutional heft – and Cornwell is at the center of it. As chief of staff, she has a major say on who is hired and fired, and on meeting the speaker’s legislative agenda. She served for nine years as chief consultant to the state Senate’s Transportation and Housing Committee and, then on the Assembly’s version of that same committee. She was chief of staff to former state Schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson when he was in the Assembly and, later, as a state senator. She came to the Capitol as an Assembly fellow and has degrees from Princeton and UCLA.
34 Aaron Read
We keep trying to kick Aaron Read off this list, but there’s no way to do it. His iconic lobbying firm is a Sacramento institution, loaded with clients, such as 3M, the thoroughbred trainers, AT&T, the California Hospital Association and the Beer and Beverage Distributors, among many, many others. Read has lobbied in Sacramento since Ronald Reagan’s first term as governor, which started in 1967. Read founded his current firm in 1978. He’s been on every Top 100 list we’ve produced, and his firm has always presented us with a dilemma: Why list just Read; why not the other lobbyists in the firm, such as Randy Perry, Patrick Moran, Terry McHale, Steve Baker and Jennifer Tannehill? As we’ve noted before, the firm also helps clients seeking procurement contracts with state agencies, while a sister firm, Marketplace Communications, provides graphic design, social media strategies and boasts its own broadcast studio.
35 Teri Holoman
Teri Holoman is the associate executive director of the 325,000-member California Teachers Association, for generations the most powerful single political group in the state. It may not have quite the same dominance it once had, but it’s still way up there when it comes to leveraging power in the Capitol. Titles are a bit tricky at the CTA – at least for us – but Holoman is at the top of the policy operation in Sacramento, and she has a say about the thrust of CTA’s lobbying. CTA has had a turbulent year: A year ago, Executive Director Joe Nuñez – a perennial name on this list – was abruptly fired, and the impact of his ouster rippled through the CTA. But Holoman seems to have emerged unscathed, and life goes on. Earlier, Holoman served as deputy appointments secretary for former Gov. Jerry Brown and was deputy political director for the California Democratic Party’s Every Vote Counts Campaign.
36 Alma Hernandez
Labor leaders pop up on this list all the time, and the reasons are clear: Unions can make a lot of noise, they can marshal get-out-the-vote troops at election time, and they vote in large, disciplined numbers. The largest union in the state is the 700,000-member Service Employees International Union, and the executive director at SEIU is Alma Hernandez, who joined the union as a political director and quickly built a rep as a shrewd campaign strategist and coalition builder. Hernandez became executive director in 2016 – the first Latina to hold the job. SEIU’s issues include immigration policy, affordable housing, homelessness, immigration, health care and opposition to all things Trump. She earlier worked as a staffer in the California Legislature for five years, was a lobbyist and worked on a number of statewide campaigns. Hernandez, who is a member of the board of directors of the nonprofit California Budget and Policy Center, graduated from UC Berkeley with degrees in rhetoric and political science.
37 Jodi Hicks
Jodi Hicks is a high profile advocate for women’s rights and healthcare access, so it was no surprise when she was named CEO and President of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California in September 2019, after serving in an acting capacity in the same role since June. The move marks her second transition in as many years: in 2018 Hicks left DiMare, Brown, Hicks & Kessler for a gig as national co-chair of Mercury LLC – the first woman ever to hold that position. Prior to joining DBRK, Hicks had served as the VP of Government Relations at the California Medical Association, and before her tenure at CMA Hicks served as the legislative director at the California chapter of the National Organization for Women. As the pandemic wreaks havoc with the state budget and donors’ pocketbooks, Hicks’ considerable skills will be invaluable in keeping PPAC’s seven affiliates and 108 health centers funded. Full disclosure: Hicks serves on the board of Open California, the nonprofit that publishes Capitol Weekly.
38 Art Pulaski
Art Pulaski is another familiar name on this list: He’s a major labor leader, the Executive-Secretary Treasurer and Chief Officer of the California Labor Federation, a sort of umbrella group that represents 2.1 million California union members in 1,200 manufacturing, transportation, construction and public sector unions. In recent years, a major target of the Labor Fed has been the gig economy, and it has been fighting efforts by companies to classify employees as independent contractors, a move that Pulaski and other labor leaders say cuts income and cripples job protections. Pulaski has been a union supporter since age 16 when he worked at a supermarket and joined the meat cutters’ union. Since he took office at the California Labor Federation 23 years ago, the group has more than doubled in size. He has led several nonprofits, including the California Works Foundation and the Labor Project for Working Families.
39 Jeff Kightlinger
Jeff Kightlinger is the general manager and CEO of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and that pretty much says it all. The biggest uncertainty in the world of water this year is the fate of the massive project to convey northern water south through a single tunnel in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River delta; MWD wants that water and wants that tunnel. The state said in January that it was proceeding with the project, but that was then. The multibillion-dollar plan has already been scaled back from an earlier twin tunnel incarnation, and it’s uncertain, given budget shortages and pandemic woes, exactly how all this will play out. In a state where water has been the single biggest bone of contention since statehood, the sprawling MWD — it has 1,800 employees and a $1.8 billion annual budget — is the major player, serving nearly half of California’s population in six southern California counties. By the way, Kightlinger has plans to retire next year after 14 years at the helm, and the hunt is underway for a successor. No, we don’t know who that will be.
40 Jared Blumenfeld
As head of the state’s Environmental Protection Agency, CalEPA, Jared Blumenfeld is California’s top environmental enforcer, and if ever a person was qualified to handle that gig, it’s Blumenfeld. Before Gov. Gavin Newsom picked him as his CalEPA director (official title: “Secretary for Environmental Protection”), Blumenfeld served eight years in the Obama administration as Pacific Southwest regional chief for the U.S. EPA, which included California, Nevada, Arizona, the Pacific Islands and 148 tribal nations. Before that, he headed San Francisco’s Environment Department, first under Mayor Willie Brown and later under then-Mayor Newsom. In San Francisco, he pushed a local rule requiring mandatory recycling and composting, bans on plastic bags and Styrofoam, and a 20% cut in greenhouse gases. Somehow, he also found the time to be general manager of SF’s Park and Recreation Department, and he served on the governing board of the Treasure Island Redevelopment Authority – an important job in The City.
41 Flo Kahn
If you had to rank the powerful political forces in Sacramento – or in DC, for that matter — the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, would be near the top of the list. And the person who directs that effort here is Floreine “Flo” Kahn, a veteran advocate for the pharmaceutical industry who took over as PhRMA’s point person here after the venerable Merrill Jacobs retired in 2018. Kahn’s official title is “deputy vice president, state advocacy,” a fancy title that really means she’s the guardian of PhRMA’s interests and she coordinates the group’s lobbying efforts through at least five major firms. She earlier handled state government affairs in the West for AbbVie, and before that she worked at Vertex Pharmaceuticals and Bristol-Myers Squibb. She worked on the staffs of several state Republican lawmakers, and served as a deputy chief of staff to then-Assembly GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy (yep, that Kevin McCarthy), where she worked on such key issues as energy, water and workers’ compensation. She’s a UC Berkeley graduate in political science.
42 Diane Griffiths
When Toni Atkins took over as Senate leader, she brought with her a number of staffers and she even wheedled at least one out of retirement – Diane Griffiths. Griffiths had retired in June 2017 after serving as chief of staff to Sen. Bob Hertzberg; earlier, she served as Hertzberg’s chief of staff when Hertzberg was Assembly speaker. Griffiths, an attorney with political chops, seems to have a broad portfolio and advises on everything from the budget to workplace safety to gender equity. Her law degree is from UC Berkeley’s Boalt Law School. She earlier served as a chief of staff to the UC Board of Regents and as a general counsel at the state’s campaign watchdog, the Fair Political Practices Commission.
43 Sara Cody
On January 23, 2020, three days after the first confirmed case of coronavirus in the U.S., Santa Clara County public health officer Dr. Sara Cody established a coronavirus incident command center – three days later, the CDC confirmed the first COVID-19 case in California. The disease seemed to spread slowly – at first – but harrowing reports from Italy and other hotspots led public health experts to prepare for the worst. By March 3, the rate of transmission in the Bay Area had made contact tracing nearly impossible and Cody recognized that aggressive actions needed to be taken to slow the spread of the virus. She issued guidelines recommending cancellation of public gatherings and convinced her colleagues of the urgency of the situation. On March 16, medical officers in seven Bay Area counties followed Cody’s guidance and announced the first shelter-in-place order in the United States. Gov. Newsom followed suit with a statewide mandate three days later. While it is impossible to know the full impact of Dr. Cody’s efforts, her decisive action undoubtedly saved lives and set the standard for all jurisdictions in the state.
44 Peter Lee
Peter Lee is the executive director of Covered California, the landmark entity set up via the federal Affordable Care Act to expand health insurance coverage for people through a competitive market place. About 1.6 million people currently are covered, according to its own figures. Covered California is working the way it’s supposed to and Lee is a survivor, but it hasn’t been easy: Since its inception nearly a decade ago, Covered California has come under near constant criticism from, mostly, Republicans and business interests, over the concept of the “individual mandate.” The “individual mandate” penalty, the fine for uninsured people who refused to get coverage, went into effect for the first time in January. Lee has been executive director for nine years, and before that he served in the Obama administration as ranking Medicare and Medicaid official, and he also worked under former Health Secretary Kathleen Sibelius.
45 Marty Jenkins
The person who handles judicial appointments for Gov. Gavin Newsom is Marty Jenkins,
who holds a position that is pivotal in any administration – governors come and go but judges tend to stick around long after an administration departs. Jenkins knows judges:
He served 12 years as a state appeals court justice for the 1st District and more than a decade as a federal judge for California’s Northern District.
Before that, he was on the bench in the Alameda County Superior Court and the Oakland Municipal Court. He also worked as a trial attorney for Pacific Bell’s legal department and for the U.S. Justice Department, and he spent several years as an Alameda County prosecutor. He also played professional football, briefly, for the Seattle Seahawks. As Newsom’s Judicial Appointments Secretary, Jenkins will vet people who want to be judges and make recommendations to the governor. It’s a sensitive job and judgeships are among the most coveted jobs in state government.
46 Bill Wong
Bill Wong, a veteran campaign strategist, has long been a familiar figure in the Capitol. He is senior political adviser to Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and political director for the Assembly Democrats. The Assembly is overwhelmingly controlled by Democrats – 61 Dems, 18 Reeps and one vacancy, the largest Democratic majority since 1883 – so Wong has been doing his job well and there’s no reason to think there will be any major changes during this election cycle. In 2018, the Dems flipped five Republican seats (AD16, AD38, AD40, AD74, and AD76), and GOP Assemblyman Brian Maienschein barely won reelection and switched parties soon after. Wong, who has also steadily developed the political clout of California’s Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities, served as chief of staff to Assemblymembers Rendon and Judy Chu, and to state Sen. Hilda L. Solis. He also has served on the board of Chinese for Affirmative Action, as an adviser to the Asian Pacific Islander Capital Association and as board Member of the Asian Pacific American Leadership Project.
47 Gale Kaufman
It’s election time, so it’s show time for Gale Kaufman, who has been handling major campaigns for decades – especially for the California Teachers Association – and who may be the single best-known campaign handler in the state. This year she’s on Proposition 22 and Proposition 25. She’s doing labor’s opposition campaign to Proposition 22, which seeks to allow app-based ride-hailing and delivery companies to hire workers as independent contractors, instead of as employees. She also is doing the yes campaign for Proposition 25, a referendum on California’s no-cash bail law, which allowed defendants to be released pending court appearances or trial without posting bail. A referendum is tricky: A yes vote means you want to continue to allow no-bail releases. A no vote means no, you don’t want to keep the existing law. Kaufman is not handling a major CTA-backed ballot measure on property tax reassessments, Proposition 15, but she remains as an outside consultant to CTA.
48 Lance Hastings
Lance Hastings is the president of the California Manufacturers & Technology Association, a century-old group representing some 400 major businesses. He also sits on the Future of Work Commission established by Gov. Gavin Newsom, a panel that includes labor, business, education and technology leaders. Among many other things, CMTA advocates for tax relief on production equipment purchases, an increased commitment to career technical education, and opposes shifting health care costs to employers. Hastings, a Sacramento State grad, also is an instructor in the university’s “Exploring Careers in Manufacturing Academy.” We’d like to sign up for his class: How many instructors have a solid background in beer? Before he went to CMTA, Hastings was a vice president for national affairs for MillerCoors and he worked in the U.K. for SABMiller.
49 Mike Belote
Mike Belote is the president of California Advocates, a venerable lobbying firm that has had a presence in the Capitol for decades. The firm also has the bluest of blue-chip clients – Coca-Cola, Copart, Delta Air Lines, See’s Candies, UC’s Hastings College of Law, Equifax, Apple, Bayer U.S., the California Judges Association, and more and more. More than six dozen clients, in fact. California Advocates’ vice president is Dennis Albiani, a ranking staffer in the Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger administrations, who has deep knowledge of agricultural and land-use issues. Belote is a graduate of UC Berkeley and the McGeorge School of Law. He’s heavily involved in philanthropic activities, and recipients inlude such groups as the Volunteers of America, the Public Legal Services Society at McGeorge law school, and My Sister’s House, an organization focused on domestic violence and trafficking in the Asian Pacific Islander community. Full disclosure: Belote serves on the board of Open California, publisher of Capitol Weekly.
50 April Verrett
April Verrett heads Local 2015 of the Service Employees International Union, a huge local representing 380,000 long-term care workers – it’s the biggest local in California, by far, and the largest in the nation. Verrett took over in early 2019, replacing Laphonza Butler, a popular labor leader credited with a major role in getting California’s hourly minimum wage increased. Butler, who went to Ace Smith’s (No. 63) campaign firm, is a hard act to follow, but Verrett is doing just fine. Verrett earlier served as Local 2015’s executive vice president, and before that she was executive veep of the 92,000-worker HCII, SEIU’s health care operation in Illinois and Indiana, which also serves Missouri and Kansas. Long-term health care definitely is a growth industry: In California alone, the population of older adults is expected to double between 2015 and 2030 and about half of older adults are in need of assistance for their daily activities.
51 Rex Frazier
The traditional fights between insurers and lawyers that for years drew so much attention in Sacramento are still around – they’ll never really go away. But a new reality for insurers is figuring risks on future wildfires and other disasters that are increasingly linked to climate change and housing density. That means bigger challenges for insurers and that’s where Rex Frazier comes in. The canny Frazier is president of the Personal Insurance Federation of California, representing a half-dozen heavy hitters: State Farm, Progressive, Liberty Mutual, Mercury, Farmers and Nationwide. Those companies sell a lot of coverage in California, and they have a lot to protect. Frazier’s job is to protect them, and he does that in part by supporting political candidates of either major party who he thinks will give his industry a fair shake when it comes to legislation and regulations. Frazier, who has graduate and undergraduate degrees from the University of Chicago, has a law degree from McGeorge School of Law and has served there as an adjunct professor.
52 Dan Dunmoyer
Dan Dunmoyer, the president and CEO of the California Building Industry Association is yet another of those who started out as a legislative Fellow. He served for a decade as president of the Personal Insurance Federation of California (No. 51), and he was a deputy cabinet secretary for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger from 2006 to 2008. Whenever affordable housing or housing availability arises as a topic of Capitol discussion, Dunmoyer weighs in. His positions are straight forward: California housing is expensive because myriad rules and fees drive up the costs and cripple new construction. The less housing available, the more costly it is to rent or buy. Dunmoyer’s arguments resonate with the business community, although not so much with renters. He is a USC grad with a Master’s in Public Policy from the Price School. He’s also chaired the board overseeing the RAND Institute for Civil Justice, and the Price School’s advisory committee of the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy, and a former board member for CalPERS. He holds an MA in public administration and a BA in political science from USC.
53 Craig Cornett
For years, Craig Cornett was one of just a handful of people in the Capitol who knew the Byzantine state budget backwards and forwards. He was the budget expert advising a half-dozen legislative leaders, and he educated rank-and-filed lawmakers – and reporters – about key issues. Three years ago Cornett was named CEO of the California Association of Health Facilities, a 70-year-old nonprofit representing some 800 skilled nursing facilities and 500 intermediate care facilities throughout California, with their patients largely developmentally disabled. CAHF’s members serve about 370,000 patients annually. It’s not an easy gig, and it didn’t get any easier with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Cornett received his Master of Public Affairs degree from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin and his B.A. from Washington and Lee University.
54 Susan Santana
Susan Santana is AT&T’s political point person in Sacramento, and traditionally that’s been a big deal here. Her predecessor was Bill Devine, now retired, a pervasive presence in the Capitol and an architect of the annual Speaker’s Cup golfing event at Pebble Peach, which raises lots of cash for Democrats. The Speaker’s Cup is something of a Capitol institution, so presumably Santana, who like Devine has DC chops, will want to keep the tradition going for a Legislature that’s overwhelmingly Democratic. Santana, a San Diego native, came to AT&T in 2007 as assistant veep for external affairs – a flack – and two years later she joined AT&T’s lobbying team targeting Congress. She’s got Bachelor’s degrees from UC Berkeley and a law degree the UCLA School of Law, and practiced law for a combined six years at Baker & McKenzie, a global law firm in San Diego, and Holland & Knight in Washington DC.
55 Janus Norman
As senior vice president of the California Medical Association, Janus Norman – his first name is pronounced “jane-uss” – handles government relations and political operations for the CMA, which takes in a lot of territory. His title is senior vice president, and he is CMA’s top lobbyist on a team of 10 lobbyists. Political operations this year include the CMA’s opposition to Proposition 23, a labor-backed initiative to boost staffing levels at hundreds of dialysis clinics in California. It’s not the first time CMA has gone against labor over dialysis: Two years ago CMA opposed a labor-supported attempt to cap dialysis clinics’ profits. Norman was a legislative advocate for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), worked for the Judicial Council of California, and staffed the State Assembly Budget and Appropriations Committees. His career began when he joined the office of then-Assemblymember Darrell Steinberg as a Jesse Unruh Assembly Fellow.
56 Fiona Hutton
It’s been nearly 20 years since Fiona Hutton set up Fiona Hutton and Associates, a nonpartisan public affairs firm with offices in Los Angeles and Sacramento, and things have gone well. Her raft of top clients have included Sutter Health, State Water Contractors, California State Parks Foundation, Health Net, Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, Association of Talent Agents and the Personal Care Products Council, among others. FHA has been involved in some of the most closely watched issues at the state Capitol, such as the heath access and equity, PG&E bankruptcy, police use of force, cannabis, natural resources and climate change and COVID/emergency preparedness. The firm, sort of a one-stop shop, handles everything from corporate reputation to crisis management to advocacy to media relations. She currently serves on the board of directors for the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and Open California, the nonprofit, nonpartisan publisher of Capitol Weekly. She received her B.A. in political science from San Diego State University (Again, go Aztecs!).
57 Paula Treat
Lobbyist Paula Treat is as impressive as she is energetic. She operates largely on her own, but she’s built a formidable list of a dozen clients that includes Tesla, the California Medical Association, the Brandenburg Group and two major Native American tribes – the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Mission Indians and the Cachil Dehe Band of Wintun Indians of Colusa. Treat, who has worked out of her home but also has office space near the Capitol, began more than four decades ago. In 1987, Treat established the first woman-owned contract lobbying firm, with offices in Carson City and Sacramento. With this résumé it was no surprise that Treat had her own #MeToo moments — she documented harassment by the late Assemblyman Lou Papan in a soul-baring Op Ed in the Sacramento Bee in 2017.
58 Kevin Sloat
Kevin Sloat’s lobbying firm – Sloat Higgins Jensen and Associates – is a top-drawer outfit with deep roots in the Capitol. The firm has some five dozen clients, including Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, California Business Roundtable, BMW of North America, PG&E, Anheuser-Busch, the California Trucking Association, Foster Farms and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, among others. Sloat was former Gov. Pete Wilson’s legislative secretary, a job that entails pushing the governor’s agenda, negotiating legislation with often balky lawmakers and keeping a close eye on what those legislators are up to. After leaving Wilson in 1997, he launched his own lobbying firm and hasn’t looked back.
59 Joe Lang
Joe Lang is a perennial presence in Sacramento, and his lobbying firm, Lang, Hansen, Giroux & Associates (formerly Lang Hansen O’Malley and Miller), is well known indeed and familiar to those entering the Senator Building across from the Capitol. As is customary among the major lobbying firms, LHG&A boasts a major client list. Those include such companies as FedEx, Estee Lauder, the California Business Roundtable, the California Retailers Association, the Port of San Diego, Wal-Mart, DraftKings, etc., etc. We’ve said this before, but it’s true: The firm has people who should be on this list and, guess what? This time one of them is: see Bob Giroux at No. 97. Along with Lang and Giroux are Bev Hansen – she’s been on the list before – and Awet Kidane, who registered in January.
60 John Latimer
John Latimer’s lobbying firm, Capitol Advocacy, has an 11-member advocacy team and so many deep-pocket clients that we can’t even list them. Here’s a sample: 7-Eleven, DoorDash, the City of Del Mar, Lowe’s Companies, California Association of Health Facilities (No. 53), American Airlines, the California Association of Dental Plans – you get the idea. As you can see, Capitol Advocacy handles business regulation, tort reform, consumer concerns and environmental regulation, among many other issues. A year after an unsuccessful 1998 run for an Assembly seat, Latimer set up his own lobbying shop. Earlier, he had worked in the Capitol as a chief of staff and as a consultant to several Assembly committees, including Appropriations and Governmental Organization.
61 Steve Maviglio
Longtime Democratic consultant Steve Maviglio runs Forza Communications and advises both political and commercial clients. He was a spokesman for former Gov. Gray Davis, and deputy chief of staff to Assembly Speakers Fabián Núñez and Karen Bass, and was a communications consultant for a third, John Pérez. Earlier, in Washington, Maviglio was executive director of the House Democratic Caucus – and thereby hangs a tale. In June, Maviglio roughly inserted himself into the national dialogue by castigating Rahul Dubey, the man who won wide acclaim for allowing 70 protesters to shelter from alleged police violence in his home – a home Maviglio purchased during his DC days and now rents to Dubey. Maviglio’s “A real hero pays his rent” tweet (and follow ups) set off a storm of fiery criticism and the story made it into the Washington Post and Esquire, among others. The controversy led to calls for him to be removed from the boards of CADA and Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op; the Co-op went so far as to ask for his resignation, but as of this writing, Maviglio is staying put.
62 Carrie Gordon
Dentists have been uniquely impacted by the coronavirus – it’s hard to think of a situation more perfectly suited to transfer an airborne virus than dental work – and the California Dental Association has been in the middle of the battle to ensure that their members can practice safely. In mid-March, as the extent of the impending crisis became clearer, the CDA negotiated with the California Department of Public Health to get one million N95 masks for their members. Days later they picked up four truckloads of masks from a warehouse in Fresno, only to be forced by the state to return the whole lot one day later. An April 7 directive from CDPH effectively closed all dental offices, except for emergencies; that order was modified on April 28, allowing dentists back in their offices – if they could find appropriate PPE. Carrie Gordon, the chief strategy officer for the association is using her 18 years of experience – and the clout of her 27,000 members – to advocate for COVID-19-related assistance.
63 Ace Smith
Ace Smith is one of the best in the biz – if your business is electoral politics. Smith is a 30-year veteran of state and national campaigns, and has worked for household names like Clinton (both of them), Feinstein, and Brown (Jerry). The other Brown, Willie, once called Smith the “Dems’ ace in the hole.” Kamala Harris tapped Smith’s firm (then called SCN Strategies, now SCRB Strategies) to run her winning 2016 Senate campaign, and again for her 2019 presidential campaign. Her bid started strong, with a showstopping Oakland campaign launch which drew an estimated 20,000 supporters on January 27, but ultimately ground to a halt after a bruising nine months. Hey, you can’t win ‘em all. We’d be remiss if we didn’t note that a big part of SCRB’s success are the other principals: Sean Clegg, Juan Rodriguez and Laphonza Butler, each of whom are stars in their own right, and both Clegg and Butler have been on this list before.
64 Jim DeBoo
Jim DeBoo, a political adviser to the governor, is a consultant who has participated participated in more than two dozen campaigns and can brag on his website that he has won 90 percent of them. In that other 10% is this year’s ill-fated Prop. 13, a Newsom-backed $15 billion bond measure that would have funded repairs and upgrades to aging school buildings, which fell short in March despite DeBoo’s best efforts. DeBoo’s lobbying and consulting firm, DeBoo Communications, has worked for corporations, independent expenditure committees, labor unions, and legislative and political action committees and their lobbying teams. DeBoo has a long list of legislative posts before becoming a consultant. He served as interim chief of staff for Speaker John A. Pérez, was chief legislative representative for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the City of Los Angeles, and as chief of staff for two former Assembly members as well as special adviser to former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell.
65 Henry Perea
Henry Perea, often described as a “business friendly” Democrat who spent five years in the Assembly, has a mouthful of a title: He is the senior vice president for policy and strategic affairs at the Western States Petroleum Association, which represents oil producers large and small. Perea’s title means he devises and coordinates communications strategy and lobbying, and serves as the point person for WSPA – pronounced “whispuh” – in the Legislature as he mingles with former colleagues. After he left the Assembly – a move that caused surprise in the Capitol – he went to PhRMA, the pharmaceutical industry trade group, and left there
to go to WSPA in 2017. Perea went to Fresno State and USC’s Price School, unsuccessfully ran for
mayor in Fresno in 2008. While in the Assembly,
he represented the 31st District.
66 Scott Wetch
Organized labor is the 800-pound gorilla of California politics, and as such, is heavily represented on this list. One of the reasons is Scott Wetch, whose offices at 13th and I are one floor down from SBCTC (see No. 8) and right across the alley from Capitol Weekly’s digs on H Street. Wetch represents union interests first, last and always. His list of clients includes the State Pipe Trades Council, the International Union of Elevator Constructors (Locals 8 and 18) and a whole slew of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers locals, among others. Wetch has earned a reputation as a ruthless bill-killer if legislation coming out of the Capitol threatens his constituents’ interests. He worked at the Capitol in the Senate and Assembly for over 12 years, getting his start as an intern in the Senate president’s office while still a student at CSU Sacramento. His firm, Carter, Wetch and Associates billed $3.5 million in 2019. Founding partner Art Carter retired in 2003 but Wetch, perhaps more sentimental than his reputation would belie, has kept his name on the firm all these years.
67 Rob Lapsley
Rob Lapsley, the head of the California Business Roundtable, is a cool-headed, old-school moderate, and not given to hyperbole, so when he likens the COVID-19 crisis to “another 9/11,” people take notice. The California Business Roundtable, a pro-business nonprofit, specializes in economic research and projections, taxation research and data crunching, and the numbers Lapsley is seeing must be daunting. The Air Force veteran has solid political chops — he used to be political director at the California Chamber of Commerce — so he knows the ins and outs of the Capitol’s political wars, a definite help in a deeply blue state where pro-business advocates are viewed with suspicion. And, while Lapsley is well regarded in the Capitol on both sides of the aisle, some of his suggestions for dealing with the crisis (like suspending AB5 and holding off on any new laws and regulations for 180 days) are likely to land on deaf ears in the Democratic-controlled Assembly/Senate/Horseshoe. Lapsley served as chief of staff to former California Secretary of State Bill Jones, one of California’s last Republican statewide officeholders.
68 Catherine Reheis Boyd
The Western States Petroleum Association (see No. 65), is a critical voice for a coalition of oil interests in California. For the past decade, Catherine “Cathy” Reheis-Boyd has served as president of WSPA, and she’s been at the center of seemingly interminable debates over fuel taxes, exploration, fracking, pollution controls, and other issues. The Association represents the oil industry in Washington, Oregon, Nevada and Arizona, as well as California. WSPA has engaged on climate issues in a way unlike most petroleum industry groups – in 2019 Reheis-Boyd spoke at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Madrid, making WSPA the first oil and gas trade association to attend a climate change summit. But at the moment, Climate Change is not WSPA’s biggest challenge. With the pandemic scaling back most travel, the petroleum industry has been hard-hit – projections suggest that the global oil industry may lose $1.8 trillion this year. Reheis-Boyd’s members are struggling to keep their operations going when there is no place to sell – or store – new product during a global oil glut.
69 Wade Crowfoot
California’s resources secretary is Wade Crowfoot, who was a senior environmental adviser to Gavin Newsom when the latter was mayor of San Francisco, and who now does much the same thing for Gov. Newsom as the governor’s cabinet-level secretary for natural resources. He oversees 26 different agencies and 19,000 employees, including Water Resources, Fish and Wildlife, CalFire, the California Conservation Corps and the Department of Parks and Recreation, among other offices. His agencies are responsible for an array of forests, deserts and waterways (and the critters in them), including coastline. If COVID-19 is our most immediate concern, Climate Change and the ongoing global mass-extinction of wildlife are right behind. Early in the year Crowfoot’s team was working on an $8 billion bond proposal that would fund wildfire resilience, safe drinking water and environmental protection; that appears to be off the 2020 ballot in the wake of the pandemic, but nothing ever dies in Sacramento, so expect it to return at some point.
70 Jason Kinney
Jason Kinney has served as an adviser in one way or another to Gavin Newsom for 15 years, including volunteering as part of his transition team. Kinney also makes strategic policy and political recommendations and is a trusted source for the governor. He helped screen and recommend people for key administration jobs when Newsom first took office, and Kinney’s wife, Sacramento stylist Mary Gonsalves Kinney, is close to First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom (No. 11). Kinney is a lobbyist with the firm Axiom Advisors, and some see his fingerprints on the governor’s recent decision to reverse an earlier fracking moratorium and extend permits to Aera Energy, an Axiom client. Kinney may lobby now, but his background is in communications. He worked with Newsom to help legalize recreational marijuana and was the communications director for Proposition 64, the 2016 marijuana initiative. He previously worked at the lobbying/communications firm California Strategies, where he handled several bigwig clients, including AT&T and the California Medical Association. Before that Kinney was a speechwriter in the Davis administration.
71 Jim Wunderman
The Bay Area was the first region in the country to shut down due to coronavirus, and now, nearly five months later, large offices are still mostly deserted, with employees – those who still have jobs – working from home wherever possible. Whenever the pandemic ends, Bay Area employers and employees will find a new normal: A survey prepared by the Bay Area Council found that nearly 90 percent of the companies they queried plan to expand remote work, and a whopping one-in-six intend to move primarily to a work-from-home model. Add the effects of an intense recession and you have a huge headache for Jim Wunderman, the president and CEO of the BAC, which is a major economic development advocacy group in the San Francisco area. For the past few years the homeless crisis has been the BACs biggest concern; now the homeless situation is poised to get even worse while funding gets ever tighter. The challenges facing Wunderman’s members seem to be getting harder every day, and will be a test for “the best-connected man in the Bay Area.”
72 Ed Manning
KP’s Ed Manning has represented an array of water and energy interests for over 15 years, including his stint at his own firm, Manning Advocates, prior to joining Kahl Pownall in 2005. He is always in the mix whether it be as one of the leaders of the fight against the water tax or on major energy issues such as regional transmission and wildfires. After a multi-year hiatus Manning is once again lobbying on behalf of homebuilders and developers by representing the California Housing Alliance. He also lobbies state government agencies such as the Cal-EPA, the Air Resources Board, the state water board and others. Like his partner Jon Ross (No. 73), Manning previously was a partner in a law firm and helped lead KP in transitioning from its prior incarnation as Kahl Pownall. We hear he’s lost the beard, so at some point we’re going to have to update the attached cartoon.
73 Jonathan Ross
KP Public Affairs is a regular top biller among lobbying firms, and Jonathan Ross is a reason. He handles such fiscal heavyweights as Citigroup, the California Mortgage Bankers Association and Morgan Stanley. When Google was searching for a lobbyist years ago, they hired Ross – a move that led to his hiring by other technology leaders, including Cisco, Airbnb and Lyft. Ross started his lobbying career with the San Francisco law firm of Landels, Ripley and Diamond, which he left in 1996 to help start the predecessor firm to KP Public Affairs. As the firm’s principal advisor to the California Restaurant Association, whose members have been hammered by the pandemic, and lead lobbyist for the Hertz Corporation, now under bankruptcy protection, Ross has his work cut out for him this year.
74 John Myers
John Myers is the Los Angeles Times bureau chief in Sacramento, and a respected journalist who made the rare transition from broadcast to print (it’s usually the other way around) after years at KQED and ABC10 in Sacramento. Myers came to LAT in 2015, as the paper dealt with years of budget and staff cuts and seemed to be in declining fortunes under the ownership of the embarrassingly-named TRONC Inc. But that all changed in 2018 when a Los Angeles billionaire, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, bought the Times and injected new resources, energy and optimism. A union – cue the entire Chandler line spinning in unison in their graves – soon followed. Like many institutions, the LAT has faced a reckoning this year, sparked by questions about racial equity at the organization. Meanwhile, in Sacramento, Myers and his team struggled to cover a Capitol that had – for the first time in memory – shut down, changing all the norms of political newsgathering. Through it all, the Sacto bureau has produced a steady stream of top-notch reporting, and much of the credit for that goes to Myers.
75 Mark Macarro
Mark Macarro, the Tribal Chairman of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, is serving his 12th consecutive two-year term on the Council and is in his 25th year as Tribal Chair. Macarro is viewed as one of the most influential tribal voices in California, and he led the recent effort – stymied by the coronavirus’ effect on signature-gathering – to place a sports wagering measure on the 2020 ballot; the campaign is now targeting 2022. The initiative, which has the support of 18 tribes, followed an effort by Sen. Bill Dodd and Assemblyman Adam Gray to put a different sports betting measure – developed without input from Pechanga – on the ballot. The COVID-19 pandemic not only sidelined the tribes’ efforts at signature-gathering, but also forced the closure of Pechanga and other casinos. Pechanga and the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians were the first in the state to close their facilities, shutting the doors on March 16 and remaining out of operation until June 1, when they reopened with limited operations.
76 Jeff Grubbe
Chairman Jeff Grubbe was reelected as the head of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians in March 2020 – his fifth consecutive two-year term. Grubbe, an increasingly prominent leader in Indian Country, worked his way up to Chair after starting out as a casino table games shift manager. He has built a presence at the Capitol and is said to have an easy rapport with Gov. Newsom. The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, a tribe of about 500 members that owns several casinos and resorts on 32,000 acres of land in and around Palm Springs, is a powerful, affluent tribe and its assets are one of the region’s biggest economic drivers, with big impacts in the Coachella Valley. Under Grubbe’s leadership, Agua Caliente has unveiled several impressive developments, including a proposed 10,000-seat arena and a cultural center, both in Palm Springs, and a new casino in Cathedral City. Grubbe’s grandfather, Lawrence Pierce, previously served on the Tribal Council.
77 Amy Brown
Lobbyist Amy Brown has long been a familiar, formidable presence in the Capitol. She still is. Her newly reconfigured firm, ARC Strategies, has more than three dozen clients, including Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, now led by Jodi Hicks (No. 37), her former partner at DiMare, Brown, Hicks and Kessler. Brown, a retirement and pension specialist, traveled the state constantly – at least she did in the pre-coronavirus era – conducting seminars on retirement issues and educating retirees and others about their options. These days we assume she’s in perennial Zoom meetings with her far-flung client base. She’s also handled workers compensation insurance issues — she served on the Commission on Health, Safety and Workers Compensation — and she helped draft major changes to the industry that former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law.
78 Maricela Rodriguez
Maricela Rodriguez serves in the governor’s office as the director of Civic Engagement and Strategic Partnerships, where she helps develop communications strategy. She has also taken a lead role in the state’s decennial census Count – the ultimate outcome of which will determine how much federal funding the state receives, and could change the number of California delegates the Golden State sends to congress. By all accounts, Rodriguez is the right woman for the job. Prior to joining the Newsom Administration in 2018 she was a heavy hitter at the California Endowment; there she ran the $350 million #Health4All campaign to promote enrollment in the new ACA exchanges. Rodriguez recognized that the success or failure of the state’s enrollment program would hinge on Latino participation, and made outreach to the Latino community a top priority. Last year she was named one of “40 Under 40” by the Sacramento Business Journal. Rodriguez started her career in a very-different governor’s office, as scheduler for then-First Lady Maria Shriver – not bad for a kid from Tulare County whose first job was at KFC.
79 Andrew Antwih
Lobbyist Andrew Antwih does a bit of everything, but he is perhaps best known for his work on transportation issues. During a 12-year stint in the Capitol, he served eight years as chief consultant to the Assembly Transportation Committee. He’s a partner in Shaw Yoder Antwih Schmelzer & Lange (formerly Shaw Yoder Antwih), which handles numerous local governments, including cities and counties, as well as a number of energy clients. Antwih joined the firm, which started back in 1975 as Edward R. Gerber & Associates, in 2008. SYASL’s founding partners, Josh Shaw and Paul Yoder, purchased the firm in 1998, establishing Shaw / Yoder, and changing the name to Shaw Yoder Antwih when Antwih was named a partner in 2009. Two additional partners, Karen Lange and Jason Schmelzer, were added in 2015. Antwih, who started his legislative career as a Senate Fellow in 1994, served on former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s staff as the chief legislative representative to Los Angeles.
80 Anthony Wright
It has been estimated that as many as 3.8 million people could lose their employer-provided health care in California this year due to the pandemic. With so many Californians losing their existing health insurance, Medi-Cal (the health care program for low-income Californians) will see an explosion of applications for new coverage, and the state expects to add 2 million new people to the program. That influx will stress an already-stressed system, and major service cuts are likely to result. That is devastating news that strikes at the heart of Health Access California, a high-profile advocacy group – actually a coalition of 200 groups – committed to health care reform and improved access to health coverage. The executive director of Health Access is Anthony Wright, who has spent most of his professional life advocating for the expansion of quality health care. He was active in the discussions that led to the creation of Covered California, and his fingerprints are usually all over any progressive health care-related legislation that emerges from the Capitol. This year he has his work cut out for him.
81 Nancy Drabble
Days after Gov. Newsom’s Stay-at-Home order of March 19, state Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye announced the suspension of jury trials for 60 days, and authorized courts to adopt new rules to function safely in the COVID-19 era. The Consumer Attorneys of California immediately sprang into action, lobbying the governor and Judicial Council to protect access to the legal process and maintain rights. CAOC didn’t get everything they wanted, but on April 6, the Judicial Council extended the statute of limitations and the five-year rule for bringing cases to trial, and loosened restrictions on remote depositions. While the Consumer Attorneys called their response an “all-hands-on-deck” effort, much of the credit goes to CEO Nancy Drabble who knows a thing or two about using her considerable expertise and clout. Drabble, a UC Berkeley graduate, came to CAOC in 1986 after a stint with Ralph Nader’s “Nader’s Raiders.” She was a player in the legendary 1988 “napkin deal” crafted at Frank Fat’s restaurant between what was then known as the Trial Lawyers and the California Medical Association, among others.
82 George Skelton
Terse, wry and caustic by turns, LA Times columnist George Skelton glares at state political leaders with suspicion. He’s honed his stiletto over decades of watching the Sacramento drama unfold, and he isn’t shy with his opinions – a mandatory quality for a columnist. In this chaotic year of pandemic and protests, Skelton has had a lot to say. He broke with the governor over his decision to close beaches, saying “all Californians are endowed with certain unalienable rights. Among these are sun, surf and a day at the beach,” but lauded Newsom’s creation of a sprawling Task Force on Business and Jobs Recovery: “this ‘blue ribbon’ commission is truly top of the line, loaded with brainy, practical Californians with extraordinary career successes…” He also offered advice to Joe Biden about VP selection, ranking congresswoman Karen Bass at the top of California’s potential contenders. “She’s calmly articulate, not bombastic. Liberal, but not fiery. Most important for any VP selection, Bass wouldn’t hurt the ticket. She’d probably help by adding a positive, reassuring force.” Many California pols heed his advice; we’ll see if Biden does too.
83 Jennifer Fearing
Jennifer Fearing has been a longtime presence around the capitol, but we first became really aware of her during Gov. Brown’s third term in the office. In 2012, the administration shrewdly deployed the governor’s beloved corgi, Sutter Brown (R.I.P., sniff) as an emissary during the Prop. 30 campaign, racking up goodwill and media coverage on a high profile 2,500-mile road trip with Fearing as chauffeur and ringmaster for the operation. Fearing remained close to the Browns throughout their tenure, and by all accounts, she also has a good relationship with the Horseshoe’s new boss. This year started off on a high note – Fearing is credited with getting $50 million set aside in the January budget to fund a UC Davis program that would transition the state’s animal shelters to meet a no-kill goal in five years. Then, COVID. Ninety percent of the shelter funding was clawed back in the brutal pandemic/recession budget revision, but it is a testament to Fearing’s abilities and influence that $5 million was left in.
84 Lynn Valbuena
The Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Indian Nations, a coalition of a dozen federally-recognized southern California tribes – a mix of both casino-owning and non-gaming tribes – was formed in 1995. The association’s member tribes generated over $2.5 billion in total economic output in 2019 and employ over 16,000 Californians – many in rural and underserved communities. Lynn ‘Nay’ Valbuena, has been the chair of TASIN for 25 years, and is an influential figure in tribal issues, in California as well as nationally. She is viewed within the tribal world as a peacemaker and a canny negotiator, and she plays a significant role in the regular gatherings of tribal officials from across California. She is the great-great-granddaughter of Yuhaaviatam tribal leader Santos Manuel, and was for years the head of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, a major casino-owning tribe in San Bernardino County. Her reputation extends beyond California: She’s a former trustee of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian and has been involved in not just gaming issues, but also in women’s rights, social and environmental justice, sovereignty, and income disparity.
85 Dan Newman
Dan Newman is a political strategist, specializing in communications, media relations, and crisis management for candidates, companies, and causes. Newman rose to prominence as partner at SCN Strategies (with Ace Smith, No. 63). There he worked on over a dozen successful initiative campaigns and counseled a multitude of high profile Democrats including Kamala Harris, Jerry Brown, Alex Padilla – and Gavin Newsom. He has stayed close to Newsom and currently serves as chief political spokesperson and political adviser to the governor. He is involved in at least five initiative campaigns at the moment: Yes on Prop. 16, Yes on Prop. 17 and No on Prop 20 – all for this year – and two initiatives (plastic pollution and sports betting) aimed at the 2022 ballot. He’s also running (along with Brian Brokaw, No. 90) the big IE backing George Gascón for Los Angeles District Attorney. Newman has previously worked as a Congressional staffer, aided asylum seekers in Mexico and was a Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay.
86 Paul Mitchell
Paul Mitchell, the vice president of Political Data, Inc., lives at the intersection of politics, data and analysis. It’s a good thing he does, because we – and anyone who pays close attention to California elections – learn a great deal from him about campaigns and what makes us tick as an electorate. Mitchell’s firm markets information – census and precinct voting numbers, for example – to campaigns in both major parties. Over the years, he’s become a go-to person for the media and pollsters who pose the question, “What does this all mean?” In 2015, Mitchell created a political column for Capitol Weekly called “CA120” to unveil the findings of his analyses; it has developed a state and national following among the political cognoscenti, including FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver. He also was one of the first to tap the state’s voter registration file to pose email survey questions to thousands of voters – a move that has been widely duplicated. Mitchell, who is married to Jodi Hicks (No. 37), the head honcho at Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, is an avid cyclist.
87 Jeff Randle
Jeff Randle is president and CEO of Randle Communications, which handles political strategy, media, communications and other chores for an array of clients, including the California Hospital Association, Golden 1, the California Association of Realtors and the California Earthquake Authority, among others. Randle served eight years as deputy chief of staff under former Gov. Pete Wilson, and was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s political director in the 2003 recall campaign against Gray Davis. Randle is close to House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, and is chairman of the board of California Trailblazers, the state’s version of the NRCC’s Young Guns candidate recruitment program. Jessica Milan Patterson, the group’s CEO, was elected chair of the California Republican Party in 2019 – the first woman, and first Latina to lead the party – and some credit Randle as a guiding force behind her election. If so, it wouldn’t be Randle’s first time advising a prominent Republican woman: He was a key strategist for Meg Whitman and helped secure Pete Wilson’s endorsement for her gubernatorial run in 2010.
88 John Garcia
Founded in California in 1945, Kaiser Permanente is a massive player in U.S. health care, serving over 12 million members through 700 medical facilities, and a network of 23,000 physicians, 63,000 nurses and 220,000 employees. As vice president for Kaiser Permanente in Sacramento, John Garcia makes sure that Kaiser thrives in the Capitol. He lobbies for a far-flung medical organization made up of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc., Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, The Permanente Medical Group and Southern California Permanente Medical Group. He is a 20-year veteran of Kaiser Permanente, but even before that was involved in politics, serving as a field representative for Democratic congressman Pete Stark. Earlier, Garcia was the community educator for the City of Hayward. He has also done pro bono work for organizations ranging from the Foundation for Children Without Homes to the Latino Community Foundation to the Monterey Jazz Festival. He is a graduate of California State University at Hayward, majoring in, what else, political science.
89 Mike Madrid
What to do when the political party you spent your entire professional career helping to build takes a turn down a path you just can’t follow? That was the conundrum facing Mike Madrid, a longtime GOP consultant, Latino communications strategist and onetime political director for the California Republican Party. He’s also a Never-Trumper, and during and after the 2016 election, Madrid took the communications skills he’d honed in the service of old-school GOP leaders like Jim Brulte and turned them on Donald Trump and his enablers, blasting the blatant White Nationalism emanating from that wing of the party. Madrid became part of a collective of disaffected Republican operatives that formed the anti-Trump Lincoln Project. Their ads have hit home as election season heats up, and are effectively targeting both Trump and Trump-accommodating Republicans (like Sen. Susan Collins of Maine) in tough races throughout the country. When not busy getting under the president’s skin, Madrid documented his ongoing battle with a family of squirrels who had moved into the eaves of his house; thousands followed along on Twitter, a light spot in an otherwise dark year.
90 Brian Brokaw
Brian Brokaw opened his own political strategy firm nearly a decade ago, and he’s built an enviable track record: He’s advised public officials, global tech firms, labor and business coalitions, sports franchises and Native American tribes, just to name a few. The Guardian has called him “a top Democratic strategist” in California, and in 2019 he was named to the American Association of Political Consultants’ “40 Under 40” list. He managed Kamala Harris’ campaigns for attorney general, was an adviser on her successful U.S. Senate campaign and consulted on her recent presidential bid. Currently, he’s a political adviser to Gov. Gavin Newsom, and is said to be a regular participant on the Gov’s morning call. The name Brokaw should be familiar: His dad, Barry Brokaw, is a well known California lobbyist, and his brother Nick, a lawyer, has gone into his dad’s firm. Full disclosure: Brian serves on the board of Open California, the 501c3 that publishes Capitol Weekly.
91 Mary Creasman
Environmental advocate Mary Creasman has been at the head of the California League of Conservation Voters for almost exactly two years as we go to print. The CLCV was formed in 1972 and is probably best known for its annual Environmental Scorecard, described by the group as “the definitive barometer of environmental politics in Sacramento,” which rates the Legislature and the governor on their support of key environmental legislation. Prior to coming on as CEO at the League, Creasman served as the California director of government affairs for The Trust for Public Land. There she led the successful effort to pass Prop. 68, a $4.1 billion bond package to fund a host of environmental priorities. Creasman has a track record of leading campaigns and initiatives at regional, statewide and national levels as the chief strategy officer of Green For All, the associate director of the Partnership for Children & Youth, and the political and organizing director of the AFL-CIO Labor Council in Silicon Valley.
92 Karen Skelton
Few people can boast of being steeped in California politics and policy as deeply as Karen Skelton. She’s been practicing the arts of communicating and political strategizing for 30 years. In 2011 she founded Skelton Strategies, a boutique consulting firm handling a wide variety of clients and causes. For most of the decade prior, Skelton was CEO of The Shriver Report, a nonprofit media initiative. While at Shriver, Skelton was the coordinating producer of the Emmy-nominated documentary Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrina Gilbert. She spent most of the nineties in DC, working in the Clinton/Gore Administration from 1993-99; following her White House stint, Skelton spent ten years at the Dewey Square Group. As if all that weren’t enough, she has also worked as a prosecutor at the Department of Justice and was a staffer on five Presidential campaigns. This year the governor appointed her to the Board of Registered Nursing, and Skelton also serves on the board of Open California, the nonprofit that publishes Capitol Weekly. She is the daughter of LAT columnist George Skelton (No. 82).
93 Dana Williamson
Dana Williamson was a key figure in the Brown administration – a cabinet secretary, where she managed eleven state agencies and associated departments, the governor’s external affairs team and the Washington, DC office – but we weren’t sure how all that would translate to the post-Brown era. Turns out that she did just fine. Williamson now heads Grace Public Affairs, and is a key political adviser to state Attorney General Xavier Becerra. Her advice is sought by any number of California’s top Democratic political players. They see the same skills that Brown did – smarts and managerial ability. Williamson is known for her ability to navigate both the politics and policy of complex issues and was a senior political strategist on a variety of winning California ballot initiatives including: Yes on Prop. 30 and Yes on Prop. 1, (Water Bond). In 2016, Williamson managed Gov. Brown’s Yes on Proposition 57 (Criminal Justice Reform) campaign. And before any of that, she served in the Clinton Administration.
94 David Quintana
With a new firm (Resolute), a new office (in the Esquire) and a new podcast (Politicalish), lobbyist David Quintana (aka “Q”) seems to have settled in after a few years of upheaval. What hasn’t changed much are the clients – Quintana represents a bevy of cannabis interests, several Indian Tribes and Netflix, among others. If Q is known for one thing (aside from his trademark look: shaved head, stevedore’s shoulders and flashy suits) it is the annual Back to Session Bash that he has organized each January since 2005. (Full disclosure, Capitol Weekly is a media sponsor of the Bash.) The Bash is Quintana’s baby, and each detail – from the cigar bar to the classic hip hop – is carefully selected by the man himself. With its six-figure budget and guest list of political all-stars, The Bash is unlike any other event in Sacramento – honestly, where else could you expect to find Lil Jon and Nancy Skinner on the same dance floor?
95 Greg Campbell
Greg Campbell spent more than 20 years as a leg staffer, much of that time at the top of the heap – in various leadership capacities through five speakerships. He is the only person to have been chief of staff to two successive Assembly Speakers (Toni Atkins and John Pérez) since the inception of the full-time Legislature. Campbell left the building in 2015 to launch Campbell Strategy and Advocacy, a lobbying firm that quickly gathered a list of top-tier clients including Comcast, PG&E, Sempra Energy, Major League Baseball and the NBA. (Still no retainer from his beloved Seattle Seahawks, sorry.) In 2013, Campbell underwent major surgery to remove a non-cancerous brain tumor, leading to an incident (reported in a 2015 profile by Laurel Rosenhall, No. 100), that has become part of his legend: The phone rang at his bedside; it was Gov. Brown, asking if there was anything he could do. Ever the political staffer, Campbell said, yes, sign my boss’ bill to expand Medi-Cal coverage. We can’t say if Campbell’s plea sealed the deal, but Brown did indeed sign AB1X1 shortly thereafter.
96 Shari McHugh
Pound for pound, the small lobbying firm of McHugh, Koepke & Associates seems to punch well above its weight. Their lengthy client list has a number of insurers, including Hartford, the National Association of Insurance & Financial Advisors of California and the Pacific Association of Domestic Insurance Companies. McHugh has a history with the insurance industry: She served as senior vice president of the Coalition of California Insurance Professionals and senior vice president of the Professional Insurance Agents. But MKA also has the California Adult Education Administrators Association; the American Beverage Association, made up of soft-drink companies; the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States; and the Shell Oil Company. The firm was started in 2000 by Gavin McHugh; spouse Shari joined in 2003. Together, they contributed a section on small lobbying firms to a new book on the lobbying profession, A Practitioner’s Guide to Lobbying and Advocacy in California, which was published in February.
97 Bob Giroux
The lobbying firm of Lang, Hansen, Giroux & Associates (formerly Lang, Hansen, O’Malley and Miller) is a Sacramento powerhouse; Joe Lang is at No. 59 this year, and Bev Hansen has been on this list too many times to count. The recent addition of Bob Giroux’s name to the shingle might be seen as overdue – he’s been with the firm since January of 2006. Giroux carries with him a deep knowledge of both the legislative and political process, earned during 22 years in the capitol (11 years in each house) where he served as an adviser to leadership in both the Assembly and Senate. While at the Assembly Giroux was senior consultant to the Ways & Means Budget Subcommittee responsible for the budget of Caltrans, the California Highway Patrol and the DMV. That transportation expertise earned him an appointment to the board of the High Speed Rail Authority. Giroux has an interesting background: He grew up as an Air Force brat and worked at NASA before getting into politics.
98 Christy Bouma
Relatively few Californians outside the Capitol know of Christy Bouma, but if you’re involved in pushing or opposing a particular piece of legislation she’s interested in, you definitely are aware of her. As the head of the Capitol Connection lobbying firm, Bouma is the top lobbyist for the 30,000-member California Professional Firefighters, which has long been a major player in California politics. Bouma connected with CPF after an 11-year stint in Southern California as a mathematics and computer science teacher. She also represents the Consumer Attorneys of California, the ACLU and is a past president of the Institute of Governmental Advocates, a trade association for lobbyists. She was appointed by Gov. Brown to the state Commission on Health and Safety and Workers’ Compensation, a joint labor-management body charged with examining the health and safety and workers’ comp systems in California. Her term will expire at the end of 2022.
99 Courtni Pugh
Veteran campaign strategist Courtni Pugh doesn’t shy away from uphill battles. She was senior political adviser to former Senate Leader Kevin de León in his lopsided 2018 effort to unseat incumbent U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, and she started this year working for Mike Bloomberg’s ill-fated presidential campaign. Her shift to Bloomberg followed her 2019 efforts as California director of Sen. Kamala Harris’ presidential campaign. She was also deputy state director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 bid for president and held senior posts in the presidential campaigns of John Edwards for President, Kerry-Edwards 2004, and Gore-Lieberman 2000. If she has not managed to grab the brass ring at the presidential level, Pugh is a seasoned political organizer and brings a wealth of experience to her campaigns. As executive director of SEIU Local 99, Pugh won the battle to increase the minimum wage for Los Angeles Unified School District employees, part of the “Fight for $15” minimum wage campaign. She just signed on as a leader of the “Yes on 16” campaign to repeal Prop. 209.
100 Laurel Rosenhall
Sacramento has no shortage of great reporters, but Laurel Rosenhall of Calmatters is in a class by herself – she really should have been on this list years ago. Her bio says that “her stories explain political dynamics in the Capitol and examine how money, advocacy and relationships shape the decisions that affect Californians.” That is a tough assignment, and it takes special skill to craft compelling narratives out of the nuanced policy wonkery that many in and around the capitol would prefer to keep off the front page. Rosenhall has been delivering the goods at least since she started at the Sacramento Bee in 2002, but this year she hit a home run with the bombshell story of the governor’s mysterious half-billion dollar mask deal that collapsed hours after the state wired the dough – with a little tinkering the story would make a good script for a noir film. Rosenhall joined CalMatters in 2015 after more than a dozen years at the Bee. She is a native Californian and has a master’s from the Graduate School of Journalism
at UC Berkeley.
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