With over 25 years of experience in the capitol, Dick Temple is one of Sacramento’s best-known political consultants. Temple has spent the last 20 years of his time in California politics at McNally Temple Associates, one of the state’s premier PR and political consulting operations. As the firm’s executive vice president, Temple knows the political landscape down to the ground and wields influence over numerous issues and has influence among the players in the political community. Despite the firm’s history as a staple in California Republican campaigns, McNally Temple Associates has a strongly bipartisan influence in the Capitol, particularly given its involvement in labor issues such as its work with the California Correctional Peace Officers Association. Given the importance of the group in the re-alignment debate, and despite the Republicans’ apparent dwindling of political influence, at least for now, consultants like Temple will remain front and center.
Ray McNally has been a go-to consultant for California’s conservatives for many years, so one might assume that with the decline in California Republican’s political power, there would be a similar loss in McNally’s. But being one of the Capitol’s most experienced political players means that McNally knows how to play the game. His alliances with labor organizations and other left-leaning groups and people in Sacramento has given McNally bipartisan influence in the Capitol and helped maintain his firm, McNally Temple’s longstanding reputation as one of the Sacramento’s strongest public relations firm. It’s not surprising that McNally is so capable of the political calculation, given the length of his experience in California politics. He was around years before he founded his firm in 1980 and has done everything from media relations to political consulting for a widespread number of groups and people in the Capitol.
Dan Walters has been writing columns and analyses for the Bee for nearly 30 years, and before that he had a similar role – plus reporting – at the defunct Sacramento Union. Today, Walters does both. He does analyses and opinion pieces, but he also does reporting – generally in shorter form than when his first priority was to fill a newsprint hole. To those who follow Walters – and in the Capitol and among the lobbyists and advocates, that’s most of them – the changes in Walter’s delivery are apparent. Those changes are largely a function of the Web, which demands constant postings. What hasn’t changed, however, is Walters’ basic approach, which is skepticism of just about everything, especially Dems and Jerry Brown. The deeply sourced Walters loves to skewer authority and point out the daily hypocrisies of the Capitol, which is one reason why he’s popular with his readership. Another is that he writes in a straightforward, just-the-facts style. A new role: He’s featured in the Bee’s videos.
Dan Morain is a senior editor and opinion writer at the Sacramento Bee, where he combines straightforward reporting with analysis and commentary – a combination that makes him a solid read and a go-to place for those looking for insight into the Capitol’s political stew, not only from government people but from other reporters as well. Morain casts a wide net – anything that strikes his fancy is fair game. He’s written on mental health care, Tom McClintock’s pension, the pervasive influence of lobbyists on government, environmental protection, money in politics – you name it, he’s probably written about it. His columns appear several times a week, including Sundays, and when he’s not doing those, he’s handling other writing chores, including editorials. Before joining the Bee, Morain reported for the Los Angeles Times’ Sacramento bureau, where he wrote extensively on the influence of money on politics, including campaign donations, independent expenditures, corporate and labor contributions, and many others.
Bill Dombrowski has headed the California Retailers Association for nearly two decades, representing some 167,000 businesses doing $571 billion worth of trade annually. Those are big numbers, so there’s usually a lot at stake for retailers in virtually every budget fight — sales tax hikes, for example — although the group’s interests go far beyond taxes to credit regulation, garment manufacturing, privacy, alcohol and tobacco sales. A recent fight, in which the retailers and their allies emerged victorious, was to block a labor-backed attempt to penalize large retailers if they didn’t pay enough to keep their workers off the Medi-Cal rolls. Dombrowski was a key player in the coalition that blocked the measure by picking off enough Democrats, a critical demonstration of the vulnerability of the supermajority. Dumbrowski is a former chairman of the Industrial Welfare Commission, which sets the minimum wage and deals with overtime issues. He’s also worked with the California Business Roundtable and the Los Angeles Urban League.
Alice Huffman has been a player in the Capitol’s hardball politics since the 1980s; she gives no quarter and expects none. Now she is president of the NAACP in California and remains a shrewd political player – a combination that gives her influence, particularly when it comes to endorsements and raising funds, but for others whose causes she supports. Huffman, who had close ties to former Speaker Willie Brown, is a familiar figure in California who once represented the California Teachers Association, so she knows how to move money, and lots of it, around for political leverage. She’s also not afraid to buck the party line if it means pushing the agenda of a client – which sometimes makes her fellow Democrats nervous. She’s not as overtly visible as she once was, but within the closed community of the Capitol she remains a potent, and sometimes unpredictable force.
In a Sacramento Bee feature last year, L.A. attorney Brian Kabateck described hiding his liberal opinions from his conservative family throughout his time as a student at USC. Now, it’s Brian’s views that have helped make him a political warrior as president of the Consumer Attorneys of California, an aggressive and well-funded political advocacy group that traditionally has opposed major deep-pocket business interests, especially insurers. Ironically, there is a good-natured family tiff here, too: Brian often leads the charge against corporate and business interests, including those represented by his brother, John Kabateck, who heads the NFIB’s California operation. But Brian seems unabashed about picking fights with his brother or any other opponents, for that matter. By one calculation, Brian reportedly has won more than $1 billion for his clients, and in the Capitol has helped draft industry regulations that were sure to create some tense family get-togethers.
To the general public, the California Dental Association may not be viewed as a major Capitol political player, but indeed it is – in spades. It’s been around since 1870 and represents some 25,000 dentists, targeting such touchstone issues such as regulation and quality of care. One of the reasons it wields such influence is Liz Snow, who is in the middle of the dentists’ political battles and who holds sway over their powerful PAC. Snow is the chief operations officer of the CDA, a role that is all but certain to increase in importance as the Affordable Care Act fully kicks in next year and millions of people swarm into the system for coverage through Medi-Cal or elsewhere. The restoration of optional adult dental services under Medi-Cal also is a key factor for the CDA.
Robin Johansen is a founding partner of Remcho, Johansen and Purcell, known in the Capitol as the “Remcho law firm” after the late Joe Remcho, a political battler and Democrat who represented the party in and out of court. The firm’s cadre of lawyers has been involved in most of the major Democratic legal fights during the past three decades, including redistricting, political reform issues and initiatives. Johansen is at the center of those fights – most of which she’s won. Not without help however: The firm includes Karen Getman, the former chair of the state Fair Political Practices Commission, and James Harrison, a workhorse litigator who has represented the Legislature, the state controller, ballot measure proponents or foes, candidates, and much more and, on top of all that, he’s the former president of the Political Attorneys Association.
Turning to the Assembly, Schmidt’s counterpart is Jon Waldie and his task is similar: He manages the Assembly staff, enforces the administrative rules and tracks such things as office space, employee benefits and the endless hassles of managing a political environment. The closest private parallel would be the personnel director in large corporation, but the differences are far greater than the similarities. And Waldie, who is sane, unflappable and balanced, also has sharp political instincts — an absolute necessity when it comes to heading off embarrassing staff blowouts, fielding press issues and making sure that what’s private stays private. Those can include personnel issues, job-related complaints and the like. Waldie’s job – and he’s a master at it – is to keep the ship sailing on course. Like many staffers in the Capitol, Waldie has politics in his DNA. He’s the son of the late Jerry Waldie, who served seven years in the Assembly and carried the constitutional amendment that created a full-time Legislature.
Greg Schmidt is the Secretary of the Senate and has been since 1996, which means he is the top administrator in the upper house, responsible for managing a staff of hundreds and putting into practice the wishes of the Senate’s members. That twin function is a balancing act, difficult at best, but Schmidt pulls it off, in part because he exemplifies the requirements of his position — he’s fast, discreet and detail driven, and knows the Senate from top to bottom. He also doesn’t chat aimlessly with reporters — darn it — and he’s the staff man who gets things done and runs the house smoothly. If 17 years seems like a long time at one job, that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the stint of Secretary Joseph Beek, who had the gig for nearly 50 years, starting in 1919. Now that’s tenure.
Mike Jimenez is the president of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, which was founded in 1957 but drew little public attention until more than two decades later, when crime-conscious Californians started expanding the state’s prison system. The CCPOA, which provides the officers and others at California prisons, is not as visible as it once was — budget cuts and the increasing transfer of prisoners to local custody has played a part in that — but the CCPOA still has the ability to move around major campaign cash and is a force to be reckoned with in Sacramento. Jimenez is leading the union, and he’s got his work cut out for him: Reductions in the inmate population ordered by the federal courts and the Brown administration’s drive to lower the inmate numbers play out at the CCPOA, where staffing levels face proportionate cuts. The prison staffs are largely dependent on the state’s General Fund, which means that funding often is in doubt, year to year.
Ralph Simoni is the top consultant at California Advocates, the state’s oldest contract lobbying firm, established in 1970. Simoni joined the firm in 1983 and for years he headed California Advocates as president. Simoni has built a sterling reputation in the Capitol as balanced, accurate and effective, and his firm certainly reflects those same attributes. California Advocates has something of the aura of an old, established law firm about it rather than a blue-chip lobbying operation, a perception that’s not far off the mark. The firm provides management services to state, local and national clients, including other lobbyists. The firm has nearly 50 clients and has a certain international reach, such as its efforts for the World Bank on California public pension fund investments. He’s previously served in positions with the CSU and Community Colleges, the California Land Title Association and the State Bar of California. He’s a graduate of CSU San Francisco and UC Davis, Martin Luther King Jr. School of Law.
Speaking of Republican lawyers, Steve Merksamer inevitably enters the conversation. A Sacramentan, Merksamer is at the intersection of law and politics, and has been for decades. He’s been involved in statewide politics at least since the time he served with then-Attorney General George Deukmejian, then followed Deukmejian as the top staffer when Deukmejian was elected governor in 1982 after a hair-raising race against L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley. Merksamer and an enduring partner of Chip Nielsen in the Nielsen Merksamer law firm — full name, Nielsen, Merksamer, Parrinello, Gross & Leoni. He knows the Capitol inside and out. He is courted for his legal savvy as well as his political knowledge — a potent combination, as his blue-chip client list attests. Merksamer has been a force in the Capitol since the days of bell-bottoms, wide ties and mutton chops.
For insight on the politics, policy and benefits of the Brown administration’s $24.5 billion Delta twin-tunnels project, you need to go no further than Jerry Meral, the plan’s day-to-day point man in Sacramento. Meral, an environmentalist, kayaker and political player, was tapped early on by the governor to be deputy secretary of the state’s Natural Resources Agency, in charge of the largest public works project in the nation’s history. Meral previously served Brown’s administration in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s as Department of Water Resources’ deputy director. At the time he crusaded against large dams and helped found Friends of the River and the Tuolumne River Trust. Meral served 20 years as executive director for one of the state’s most influential environmental interest groups, the Planning and Conservation League, stepping down in 2003. He also has a penchant for blunt speaking, as when he declared the tunnel project “is not about, and has never been about, saving the Delta.” Delta environmental activists were not pleased.
We’ve thought that the best newspaper columnists are solid wordsmiths and aren’t predictable, repetitive or doctrinaire, and the L.A. Times’ George Skelton passes the test. It helps that he writes for the state’s largest newspaper, but that’s only part of it. We said earlier that his columns have been “tight and grouchy” and they are. He handles his columns like a reporter, showing up with tape recorder and notebook to pin a subject. He often surprises readers, as when he wrote recently that the governor’s and attorney general’s loudly stated reasons for not defending Proposition 8 before the U.S. Supreme Court were “hogwash.” Skelton, a former UPI reporter, has covered state politics since Pat Brown was governor and there’s a photo of him floating around showing him with red hair and flat-top getting off a Brown campaign plane. Cool. He’s been at the Times for four decades and it shows in the quality of his columns.
Shari McHugh of McHugh, Koepke & Associates, has a small firm but her reputation is large and her name always pops up when the conversation turns to good lobbyists. McHugh and Associates is a husband-and-wife firm – Gavin McHugh is the husband – that has built a solid client list that includes the prison correctional officers, the manufacturers, the credit unions, insurance interests, education, distilled spirits, and others. McHugh, who has represented business interests, has a wide knowledge of insurance issues, and served as VP of the Coalition of California Insurance Professionals, where she dealt with the industry’s lobbying and regulatory agenda. She also has worked as a liaison with the Department of Insurance, an important role, given that insurers and the Department of Insurance generally are at loggerheads over regulation. Prior to working with PIA, Shari served as a legislative aide for Melendez Associates, a Sacramento-based lobbying firm, where she worked on issues for major California employers such as ARCO, E & J Gallo Winery and the Port of Long Beach.
63. Jim Brulte
Jim Brulte is a solid tactician, and that’s what makes him a good fit for his new gig: Chair of the California Republican Party. Taking over the GOP in California may not seem like a pleasant task, but if anybody can find a path forward, it’s Brulte. He knows what makes winning campaigns and he knows how to convince donors to pony up – Charles Munger Jr. is a significant example. Brulte was GOP leader in both the Senate and Assembly, and he has the street cred among Republicans to crack the whip. His first hire as chair was Cynthia Bryant to run the day-to-day, and his choice drew kudos. Brulte needs a message that will knit the party, drive a wedge into Democrats and have the Reeps stand for something more than no taxes for big business. The GOP has been going after Brown and the Dems on prison issues, but there hasn’t been much traction. But if there’s a way to make it happen, Brulte will find it.
Peter Lee is executive director of Covered California – the Golden State’s operational arm of the federal Affordable Care Act. Covered California is expected to serve up to 5 million Californians when fully implemented — give or take a million — and that alone makes him someone to watch. Since graduating from UC Berkeley (where he first met future California Endowment VP Daniel Zingale), Lee has split time between California and DC, holding high profile gigs at the Pacific Business Group on Health, the Center for Health Care Rights and the National AIDS Network. Before taking the job at Covered California, Lee served in the Obama Administration at the Center for Medicaid and Medical Innovation. Lee’s experience with Pacific Health Advantage – an earlier PBGH attempt at an insurance pool – will prove helpful to give Covered California a smooth launch. Thus far, in the preliminary rounds, there have been few missteps. That, in itself, is a solid gain. The test will come when millions of people knock on the door for coverage.
In the Capitol, when you think of the Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Indian Nations, you invariably think of Jacob Mejia, the group’s key strategist and communicator, a direct, courteous and immensely knowledgeable explainer of tribal issues. As is the case elsewhere in the political world, Mejia wears several hats. As a top staffer, he has administrative duties. But he also is TASIN’s communications adviser and general point man in the Capitol, which puts him in the center of the political and policy fights affecting his members. The job keeps him busy: with his headquarters actually down in the Inland Empire, he is in constant motion, shuttling regularly between there and the Capitol. A big piece of Mejia’s task is navigating the intricate world of online gaming, the dominant issue for many tribes during the last legislative session, as well as the current one and probably the next one, too. That means he has to reconcile the politics of the Legislature, the governor, the tribes and the gaming partisans — quite a load.