Soyla Fernández, a leading Capitol lobbyist, has over 20 years of experience with California’s state and local legislative and policy issues, and heads one of the state’s most prominent Latina-owned and operated lobbying firms. Fernández Government Solutions was formed in 2004, with clients that include Southern California Edison, the North Fork Rancheria, the city of Sacramento and a number of water districts, among others. Prior to becoming the principal and owner to her own firm, Fernández was an associate at Manning Advocates, and before that was appointed to Business, Transportation, and Housing Agency and the Technology, Trade and Commerce Agency. Under former Assembly Speaker and former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, she acted as senior budget consultant for the Assembly Budget Committee.
Mark Baldassare is the president and chief executive officer of the Public Policy Institute of California, a non-profit, independent think tank that provides in-depth research and regular surveys the mood of Californians. PPIC’s polls are perhaps the most publicly visible of PPIC’s projects, but it is the research that defines the group. PPIC has a deep academic component, as well, and chooses which surveys to undertake rather than waiting for political clients to direct the action. Baldassare joined PPIC in 1996 – just two years after it was established with an endowment from William R. Hewlett – and was named president in 2007. Under Baldassare the organization has established a Sacramento political operation staffed by Dave Lesher, a former L.A. Times reporter and California Journal editor. Full disclosure: Lesher also is president of the board of Open California, publisher of Capitol Weekly. A sociologist by training, Baldassare is that rare academic who makes a substantive contribution to the real rough and tumble of Capitol politics.
98. Donna Brownsey
The senior VP of Sacramento Advocates – she works with Barry Brokaw, who’s also on our list — is behind lots of touchy-feely sounding causes: adoption, breast cancer, dispute resolution. Don’t be fooled. She joined the lobbying corps 18 years ago, when there were far fewer women in positions of power in the industry and became the first woman in Sacramento to establish her own major firm. Brownsey is known for having a sharp mind for legislative language and a preference for working behind the scenes. And she’s been deep in water issues — a sink-or-swim pool for any lobbyist, to be sure. Full disclosure: Years ago, she mentored the editor’s daughter, who was interning in the Capitol with Bob Forsyth and who decided she liked the political world. Brownsey made news this year when she successfully dislodged artist Maren Conrad’s “Politically Vulnerable” paintings of Governors’ sex partners from their roost at the Vanguard nightclub, charging that the work belittled womens’ contribution to politics.
Fundraiser extraordinaire Dan Weitzman is a Democratic political junkie to his fingertips, he’s handled the top folks for years – leaders in both houses and a select group of up-and-comers with whom he has relationships. But mainly he’s identified with the Democratic leadership. Successful political fundraising requires first-rate networking, aggression mixed with deft social skills, a thorough knowledge of politics and a good sense of the bottom line. Weitzman has them all and is a key – but largely unknown – player in the Capitol’s political battles. By the way, we follow Weitzman on Twitter, but we’re not sure why: Every few hours he tweets where he is at that moment – lunch, coffee shop, store, etc – and that’s it. We keep wanting to reply, “So what?” but his tweets are locked. Beyond that, he’s still got the best office in Sacramento: An old, used-brick enclave on O Street with outside wooden stairs and the light rail line in front.
We’ve said this before, but it continues to be true: In the arcane world of political redistricting, there are few real experts and Paul Mitchell is one of them. He’s Vice President of Political Data Inc., but to journalists, politicians and political pros he’s better known as owner of Redistricting Partners, which provided a wealth of data on California’s voter-approved process of drawing political boundaries, and since then has crunched numbers on candidates and ballot measures. He not only crunches numbers, he analyzes them and comes up with results that are far from apparent at a cursory glance. A detail maven – he’s got a master’s in urban planning and econometrics (gasp!) from USC – and he’s been involved in numerous campaigns up and down the state. He also is a hardcore bicyclist.
Tenacious but personable, Angie Tate is the chief financial officer of the California Democratic party. A good thing, too, because she’s put the party in better financial shape than it’s ever been. In the Senate, she helped John Burton build record-breaking campaign war chests, as in 2012 when the party poured $3.5 million into targeted congressional races, helping the Dems pick up six seats. Angie started working for Burton 15 years ago when she was 5 1/2 months pregnant, and when Burton became Democratic Party chair, she agreed to be the money person. A side note: After agreeing to take the job, she found out the party had $1.12 in the bank. Yes, $1.12. The Democratic Party now has just under $10 million in its state account. This year, Angie led the purchase of a permanent office building for the party, buying the old Wishing Well building downtown. She’s also a friend and advisor of Gov. Brown and his wife, Anne.
94. Charles Bell
If Robin Johansen and her colleagues are at the core of the Democratic legal machine, then Chuck Bell (with partners Tom Hiltachk and Colleen McAndrews) is at the heart if the GOP’s court strategy. It’s always a toss-up who to list in this spot, so we choose Bell for convenience, but certainly Hiltachk and Andrews easily fill the bill, too. If there’s a legal battle involving Republicans anywhere, anytime, then Bell is either leading the charge, defending against the enemy or offering sought-after advice to everyone else. This can get awfully busy, since politics and legal challenges seem to go together like bread and butter. The GOP may be wounded now, but one thing they’ve got is solid legal chops. Bell has the good lawyer’s knack of explaining even intricate issues with clarity and simplicity, and if you think that’s not a valuable skill, you try it sometime.
David Townsend is a long-time Sacramento political strategist who has handled so many campaigns over the years that it’s hard to keep track. He’s won some – a lot, actually – and he’s lost some, but he’s still there with a top-flight operation that draws major clients. State and national campaign strategists looking for Sacramento-based help invariably seek out Townsend. In 2010, Townsend had a big piece of the unsuccessful $46 million campaign by PG&E to make it harder for locals to set up their own municipal utility districts, but since then he has been involved in the myriad discussions to place a downtown sports complex in Sacramento and the related effort involving the local basketball team. Townsend has been a key adviser to Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, who won a major political victory when the Sacramento Kings remained rather than head for Seattle.
Jason Kinney, a political consultant and strategist at California Strategies, handles major Democrats, including Lt. Gavin Newsom, among others, and works on any number of major projects, most of which we know nothing about until they make headlines. Kinney, who’s close to Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg, worked in Gray Davis’ communications shop and is known best in the Capitol and among reporters for his political connections and savvy, but he’s also advised any number of corporate clients, including AT&T, perhaps the single most powerful corporate presence in the Capitol (see Bill Devine, No. 6). Kinney also knows the relationships between strategists, candidates and clients, and is a walking encyclopedia of what’s going on beyond the public view.
91. Jon Fleischman
The FlashReport was one of the first and most influential information sources for political junkies, especially Republicans, who looked to it for commentary, coverage and leadership they found nowhere else. Jon Fleischman’s well-organized site aggregates general news, includes staff-written and other commentary and has a near-constant cycle of blog postings from staff and partners. It’s also a site for the trials and turmoil of the GOP, targeting miscues, offering support – or opposition – on specific issues, smacking the Dems whenever possible and generally causing trouble. What makes the FlashReport valuable is that it’s a place for GOP muscle-flexing without the screeds, rants and raves of the far-right sites. Fleischman, who founded the FlashReport in 2001, has a consulting group and he’s served as a local and state GOP official, although he’s not shy about whacking Reeps if he thinks they’ve strayed. The FlashReport also breaks news.
90. Chris McKenzie
Somewhere, somehow, there’s always a fight going on involving the cities, and the fights in the past two years over redevelopment agencies and realignment-related issues are just two examples. The redevelopment agencies were abolished by Brown two years ago, but the fight isn’t over: Legislation simmers in the Capitol to wangle funding for worthy redevelopment-type projects – low income housing, for example – and the success of the attempt may rest in the end on the clout of Chris McKenzie, executive director of the League of California Cities. Enterprise zones are another hot topic – again, the plan to abolish them is coming from Brown – and the loss of the 40 zones and $700 million in local business tax and hiring incentives means a lot’s at stake. But McKenzie, still scarred from the redevelopment fight, is ready. It ain’t over till it’s over.
When one thinks of counties’ advocacy, the California State Association of Counties comes to mind. But there’s another group, too: The Regional Council of Rural Counties, nearly four decades old, which is involved in some of the hottest issues of the Capitol, including curbing greenhouse gas emissions, land use restrictions, transportation, water rights, growth and the like. The fights are usually uphill, but nobody said it would be easy. On water alone, a topic of vital interest to the counties, this year and next will see major political battles, as the Brown administration seeks to push through the twin-tunnels Delta project. And at the center of RCRC is Patricia Megason, the group’s executive vice president, who helps translate the will of RCRC’s governing board into action. And that’s no easy chore, but she does it.
Christy Bouma, who owns Capitol Connection, is the top lobbyist for the California Professional Firefighters, an aggressive, well-financed labor group and a top player in Democratic politics. Example: CPF took a lead role in successfully opposing the passage of Proposition 32 last November. Capitol Connection has done work for others, including the California School Employees Association — a nice fit, since Bouma was a teacher for 11 years. But her principal role is to advocate for CPF, which is more than a full-time job. We’ve always liked the pugnacious CPF – full disclosure: our editor’s daughter works there, and she’s pugnacious, too – because they like fights and seem to enjoy being in the front line. Since the Capitol is nothing but fights lately, CPF fits right in.
It’s been more than 15 years since Jack Kavanagh created Rough & Tumble, the web site that offers a straight, daily compilation of California political news. It’s still the go-to place to keep up on Sacramento news coverage. It’s the first must-read for Capitol political reporters who, thirsting for traffic, want their stories to appear and be linked on Rough & Tumble. Journalists around the state covering state-related stories feel the same way and increasingly Washington tales grace the site, giving R&T a growing national audience. For reporters the attraction of R&T is that you know your colleagues and competitors are seeing your stuff, and for general readers R&T offers an easy way to grab news without sifting through homepages and rants. Kavanagh is a former television reporter in Sacramento and he set up R&T as an in-house way of educating fellow newsies at Channel 13 about politics. It proved so popular, he decided to expand it.
Brown is a player when it comes to retirement in California, both in her work as a governmental advocate for DiMare, Van Vleck & Brown LLC, where she represents the California Retired County Employees Association, and as publisher of the online newsletter The Public Retirement Journal. She also used to work for the League of Cities, and the realignment plan that was pushed by another Brown, Jerry, made that expertise even more valuable. Amy Brown has been active in workers’ compensation issues as well, and served on the California Commission for Workers’ Compensation and worked on the industry changes that were signed into law by Gov. Schwarzenegger in 2004. While at the League, her work topics have included health care, telecommunications, labor relations, open meetings and government transparency. She’s also worked in local government in Citrus Heights, San Jose and Oakland, and served as an aide to former Assemblyman Mike Sweeney.
Confronting the complexity and magnitude of the state’s education budget would be a daunting prospect for most people, but for Rick Simpson it’s just a day on the job. Simpson is the Assembly’s lead on school funding. His official title is Deputy Chief of Staff to Speaker John Pérez, but his function is to track education money and suggest policy changes, when needed. And they are often needed. He’s a Democrat and he’s been advising Assembly speakers for years, with Pérez the latest. He’s served at various capacities in the Capitol, and he also served at the top government relations executive at the California School Boards Association, where he mixed education, politics and strategy. Simpson has a gift that many in education funding don’t – he can explain it clearly to others. He’s given background briefings to reporters and their stories were better for it.
Jacob Appelsmith is a senior adviser to Jerry Brown, having served with Brown in the attorney general’s office and, among other things, worked in A.G.’s Bureau of Gambling Control, which rides herd on some 60 tribal casinos and 90 card rooms across California. The experience there was critical, because after joining the governor’s office he took on the difficult and sensitive function of negotiating gaming compacts with California’s casino-owning tribes. By all accounts, Appelsmith, a Boalt Hall graduate who clerked for state Supreme Court Justice Allen Broussard, has done well at the job. He also clerked at law firms in New York and Portland and began his career as a commercial litigator with Pillsbury Madison in San Francisco, one of the most prominent legal firms in the state. He leaves the Brown Administration soon to work as a top UC lawyer.
Rusty Areias, a former Assemblyman, chair of the California Coastal Commission and political consultant extraordinaire, is one of the pros in the stable at California Strategies, Bob White’s consulting and communications firm. Areias knows the Capitol up and down, in and out. He was a member of the “Gang of Five,” the five Assembly members who challenged Speaker Willie Brown ‘s authority in the late 1980s – a move that drew solid support from his Los Banos-area district. He knows more stories about more people, some of which include himself. He stumbled in a race for a 12th District Senate seat – Republican Jeff Denham beat him out – but he wound up as the head of the California Coastal Commission, serving during a turbulent period when there was a concerted, unsuccessful effort to oust the powerful executive director, Peter Douglas. Areias’ wife is Julie Sandino, a major Democratic fundraiser, and between them they are potent political players.
Scott Lay has served as the president and chief executive officer of the Community College League of California, a nonprofit association serving the state’s 72 community college districts in various areas, since 2006. In 1995 he joined the league as intern while studying at UC Davis after his time as Legislative Chair of the California Student Association of Community Colleges. A high-school dropout, Lay eventually attended Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa and credits educators there for providing him the skills and knowledge needed to earn bachelors and law degrees at UC Davis. This is impressive indeed, but there’s more. Scott is a magician with online data and political analysis. He co-founded Capitol Weekly’s The Roundup in 2005, and he is the founder of AroundTheCapitol.com and ElectionTrack.com. He does the Nooner, an email blast on politics that goes out daily at – wait for it – noon to 4,000 subscribers. He’s fast, too: He was the first to break the news that FBI agents were in the Capitol during the Calderon probe.
Mike Madrid knows politics, local government and state government, and how they all come together. As realignment and other state programs move forward, that shift in authority from Sacramento to the locals, knowing the landscape outside of the Capitol is valuable. He’s been a long-time adviser to the League of California Cities and was in the middle of the fight against Gov. Brown’s first major policy offensive, the abolishment of California’s redevelopment agencies. The governor’s efforts to cut enterprise zones, which have been around for decades to encourage businesses to locate in low-income areas, are also on the front burner for Madrid and his city allies. He heads a campaign strategy and data group called Grassroots Lab, and he also is involved in the Leadership California Institute, which, among other things, seeks to identify early contenders across the state for local and state offices. In part, the idea is track the up and comers from early on.