California has its share of billionaires and most of them aren’t on this list — and rightly, too. But Steyer, a hedge-fund wizard from Stanford with a deep political gene and passion for environmental protection, is making waves. As we go to press, the rumor is that he will push for an oil-extraction fee in legislation with supermajority support. He is rumored to want to run for governor or U.S. Senate, and already has successfully handled two ballot-initiatives – winning one, Proposition 39, to close a $1 billion corporate tax break, while beating back another, Proposition 23 of 2010, which would have suspended the state’s landmark law to curb greenhouse emissions. His street chops have caught the eye of California politics watchers and they now are watching him closely. And not just in California: Steyer recently headed to D.C., where he announced his opposition to the Keystone XL project and said he’ll financially support Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s run for governor in Virginia this year.
A governor has hundreds — thousands — of appointments to the state bureaucracy, boards, commissions, advisory panels, etc., and the person at the heart of the whole process is Mona Pasquil, who vets the appointees and makes recommendations on their worthiness for appointive office, among other chores. It’s a vital gig in any administration, since a miscue here can lead to major problems later on. Pasquil, who was John Kerry’s political director during his 2004 presidential bid and a superdelegate for Hillary Clinton in 2008, knows the ropes. She was former Lt. Gov. John Garamendi’s chief of staff, and when Garamendi left to run for Congress, Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed Pasquil lieutenant governor, pending the confirmation of Abel Maldonado. Pasquil, who in between various government jobs was a first-rate political fundraiser, was California’s first Asian lieutenant governor and that office’s first woman. Pretty heavy resume for the appointments secretary.
In the hyperpartisan world of the Capitol, one might think that a lobbyist’s political affiliation would be a deciding factor. It’s not necessarily so. Effectiveness trumps the party label, getting things done trumps ideology. Kevin Sloat’s client list includes such names as the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Verizon, Platinum Advisors, McKesson, Black & Decker, Cisco Systems and others. Sloat’s firm, Sloat Higgins Jensen, is a major lobbying force, with close ties to former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson but which has expanded far beyond that. Sloat has worked on both sides of the aisle in the legislative and executive branches and he knows where the bodies are buried. He may have buried a few of them. And Sloat’s partners – Maureen Higgins and Kelly Jensen – clearly belong on this list as well, but first we’ll have to kick Kevin off to make enough room.
We said once that veteran lobbyist Aaron Read of Aaron Read & Associates is one of those advocates who seems to be everywhere with a client list that seems to include everybody but Capitol Weekly — and we probably couldn’t afford him anyway. That’s still true. Read has been lobbying the in the Capitol since Ronald Reagan was governor, then formed his own firm in 1978. His clients have stuck with him a long time, too. In addition to a marketing and information section, his client list includes doctors, police, local government, utilities (such as AT&T), pharmacists, firefighters, ranch owners and casinos, among others. His office, with Randy Perry in the lead, also puts out an election analysis for his clients that is first-rate — a concise, easy read that covers a lot of ground, down to numerous local races. He did one last November, and hopefully he’ll do one next time around. Maybe we can get on the subscription list.
As the chief executive of the 37,000-member California Medical Association, Dustin Corcoran heads the physicians’ principal state political arm, fighting for the docs on any number of fronts that include Medi-Cal reimbursements, corporate medicine and turf fights over scope of practice — just to name a few. It’s been a busy year for the doctors, and it’s about to get a lot busier, starting with a number of bills and a potential ballot initiative to raise the ceiling on pain and suffering awards in medical malpractice cases. That’s a perennial, high-dollar fight in Sacramento that pits attorneys against doctors and insurers. Corcoran joined the CMA in 1998 and rose through the ranks, mentored by the late Steve Thompson, a popular and effective Capitol lobbyist. Corcoran served on the association’s PAC to boost membership and was part of the lobbying team with Thompson. After some internal wrangling, Corcoran became CEO in 2010.
Gale Kaufman, who founded her political strategy firm in the 1980s, is the Democrats’ No. 1 ballot measure warrior in California and the go-to person for the California Teachers Association’s ballot fights – of which there are many. She was the principle architect behind the defeat of Proposition 32, a business- and Republican-backed effort to block unions’ ability to raise campaign cash. That campaign was intertwined with the governor’s Proposition 30 to raise income and sales taxes to generate money for schools and fill a budget hole. That effort, headed by veteran Brown strategist Ace Smith, was approved, at least in part because of the fierce No on 32 campaign that Kaufman put together. Kaufman has handled some six dozen campaigns, including the destruction of the core of former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ballot plans – a feat that earned her the title of Campaign Manager of the Year from a group of international political consultants. Her specialty is protecting labor from corporations – hence her lead role in defeating Proposition 32.
Art Pulaski, who joined a union as a teen-age meat cutter, has headed the California Labor Federation for 17 years, and before that he was the top executive at the San Mateo Labor Council for 12 years. As head of the California Labor Federation, Pulaski helps shape the labor movement through his organization that represents more than 2.1 million workers in 1,200 unions. The Labor Fed is a sort of umbrella group, not a union, but it has the ability to organize action, staff phone banks, walk precincts, call statewide meetings and keep the troops focused. As executive secretary treasurer and chief officer of the Labor Fed, Pulaski is a power to be dealt with by any governor – and Brown’s no exception. Brown’s support among labor is strong, in part because there are no heavy hitters out there on the horizon who would be better for organized labor than Brown. But Brown said a governor sometimes needs to “knock heads,” and so far Pulaski’s forces appear relatively content.
At first blush, accountants and numbers crunchers wouldn’t be on this list, but state’s Auditor Elaine Howle is different: She keeps a close eye on government operations. What she does is particularly important to the parsimonious governor, who has publicly described himself as “tight with a buck.” Brown doesn’t want to be embarrassed by fiscal messes, as he was with the state Parks and Recreation Department, which, it turned out, had been hoarding millions of dollars instead of spending them on parks, even during a period of closures. Howle, with voter approval, took the lead in setting up the independent commission that ultimately created the new Assembly, Senate, Board of Equalization and Congressional districts for last year’s elections. That put Howle at the center of the hyper-partisan political disputes over redistricting – an unusual position for someone accustomed to audits, performance reports and fiscal reviews. But she carried it off, relying in part on her political experience answering to the demands of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee.
Allan Zaremberg is something of a survivor. President of the California Chamber of Commerce, Zaremberg, a lawyer and a protégé of former Gov. George Deukmejian, has deep Republican roots. But he has demonstrated an ability to curry favor from governors of whatever political stripe, which invariably places the Chamber near the top of the political pecking order. An ally of Pete Wilson, Zaremberg later become just as close – perhaps closer – to former Gov. Gray Davis, who was booted in the 2003 recall. Then, Zaremberg deftly worked the incoming Schwarzenegger administration until, as we noted last year, the Chamber became a de facto arm of the governor’s office. Jerry Brown is in power now and Zaremberg has his work cut out for him. One reason why Zaremberg succeeds is that he knows how to get close to new governors and hopes to bridge partisan lines. But that’s not easy for a business advocacy group that offers phrases like “no-taxes” and “job killer bills” as its principal positions.
The Public Utilities Commission, which regulates California’s huge investor-owned utilities, often takes criticism and this year was no exception, starting with its handing of penalties against PG&E for the San Bruno gas explosion. But PUC leader Michael Peevey emerged relatively unscathed and here’s why: He knows what he’s doing, he used to run a big utility himself and Wall Street likes him. When Brown was considering dropping Peevey as president, Wall Street got so nervous that Brown held back. Why? Because the PUC regulates investor-owned utilities and there were fears that Brown, seen by those don’t know him as an anti-business radical, was going to dismantle the PUC. It didn’t happen and Peevey is still there, appointed or reappointed by two governors and enjoying the confidence of the utilities as well as the financial community – no mean feat. Messing with Peevey could cause problems for Brown in the Capitol, too: Peevey’s wife is Democratic Sen. Carol Liu, a Democrat in La Canada Flintridge.
If there’s anybody who deserves the thanks of taxpayers, it’s Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor. The LAO examines the budget line by line and cuts through the smoke and mirrors. To see what we mean, check out its discussion of the Brown administration’s use of accrual accounting. The LAO analyzes the dollar costs of state labor contracts, ballot initiatives, education and social programs, tax hikes and cuts, regulatory schemes, state-local power shifts – you name it. The LAO staff prize being balanced (The joke goes that the first words of a baby with LAO parents are ‘’on the other hand…”). But the LAO’s reports are readable and quotable – a rarity in Sacramento – and the people who write them actually answer the phone and will even talk on the record with a reporter (OMG!) The LAO is hired by the Legislature – which really means by the majority party – but even in the hyper-political, overheated atmosphere of the Capitol, there is scant complaining about Taylor and his staff from either side of the aisle.
9.Maria Elena Durazo
When Maria Elena Durazo took over as head of the L.A. County Labor Federation in 2006, nobody was quite sure how long she’d be around. She came in on an interim basis in the wake of the death of her husband, Miguel Contreras, who rose from a San Joaquin crop worker to build a powerful labor organization in the state’s most populous county. A predecessor, Martin Ludlow, tripped in a financial scandal and forced out, so her transition period was difficult. In L.A., the “Fed” has the power to make and break candidates — or at least influence them at campaign time. The umbrella group has served as a hatchery for powerful political leaders – including the current and former Assembly speaker. Every L.A. Democrat in the Legislature has come to terms with the Fed, a process that shows no signs of changing. Durazo also serves as executive vice president of the governing executive council of the national AFL-CIO and as a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee.
Jim Earp wears two hats and both are big. One, for the past six years, he has sat on the California Transportation Commission, which decides major road projects in California and sets the priority schedule to pay for them; Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed him originally, Gov. Brown reappointed him. Two, he heads the Alliance for Jobs, which represents 1,700 construction companies and 50,000 unionized workers. The Alliance targets lots of jobs and big projects, which translates into a lot of dough and political clout. At a time when the state appears moving toward a major Delta tunneling project and high-speed rail, the Alliance becomes an even more significant player. The Alliance also has pushed for bond financing for an array of infrastructure projects, and his group played a major role in the big-dollar discussions over air-quality rules for diesel equipment. The 2014 water projects bond is likely to be rewritten before it gets to the ballot, and the Alliance is sure to be involved along the way.
Mary Nichols has been the face of environmental regulation for so long, she’s a California institution. She is the chair of the state Air Resources Board, the premier air-quality regulator whose decisions serve as a model for much of the country, including the highly industrialized, congested Northeast. Nichols’ role, in our view, makes her the most influential air-quality regulator in the nation. Her environmental and air-quality credentials go way back. An environmental lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council, she worked for Brown back in the old days during his initial terms as governor as chair of the ARB, worked for Arnold Schwarzenegger as ARB chair, worked for Gray Davis as Resources Secretary and now is working for Brown as – you guessed it – ARB chair. Nichols is accustomed to attention, and that’s good because the world is watching California’s new cap-and-trade auctions, which are administered by the ARB.
Since we started doing this list some years ago, the only difference with Bill Devine is that he keeps moving up. Each year, AT&T is a huge player – the single, largest corporate player, in fact — in the Capitol and each year Bill Devine, AT&T’s chief lobbyist, makes sure it stays that way. So far, it has, and Devine is a big reason why. No single corporation spends more – an estimated $14,000 a day since 2005 — trying to influence the Capitol than AT&T. So victories are common, defeats are rare. Whether the issue involves deregulation of telephone service, VoIP, broadband or wireless, AT&T invariably is in the midst of the fight. And there’s its annual Pebble Beach golf tournament that typically raises $1 million for Democrats. And since Democrats now have supermajorities in both houses and are likely to keep their edge, dealing with them will continue to be Devine’s top legislative priority. Now, if Capitol Weekly could get its AT&T high-speed DSL service fixed, we’d all be happy.
Like Dooley, Morgenstern is experienced working under Brown, serving during Brown’s first terms as governor in the 1970s and 80s as director of the Department of Personnel Administration (Remember that name? Now it’s called Human Resources.) Morgenstern came back to serve as DPA director for Gray Davis’ entire governorship. Since the DPA represents the administration in bargaining with state employee unions, Morgenstern might not seem a good fit. In fact, in the world of labor, Morgenstern is the real deal. A graduate of Hunter College in New York, which he attended on the G.I. Bill, Morgenstern during the late 50s worked for the New York City welfare department, where he became a strike captain. He later was a shop steward at the East Harlem Welfare Center and rose through the union ranks to become president of the Social Service Employees Union. Under Brown, Morgenstern heads an agency of 14,000 employees with a $26 billion cumulative budget and he was instrumental in a $16 billion workers compensation insurance overhaul.
Diana Dooley is the Health and Human Services Secretary and she’s also the chair of the California Health Benefit Exchange, which means she will be at the center of decision – making relating to health care policy and finances as the Affordable Care Act gets under way. Dooley, who will have a say in the administration of a multibillion-dollar marketplace, has a background in health care issues and politics, and she may be exactly the right person for the job at a time when the future of health care is so uncertain. Brown’s first appointment as governor, Dooley headed the California Children’s Hospital Association and prior to that she was general counsel and vice president of the Children’s Hospital near Fresno. She served Brown during his first years as governor, too, as legislative secretary and special assistant from 1975 to 1983. But prior to her appointment in 2010, Dooley was little known to the wider public, although many in health care community had predicted her appointment weeks before.
Nancy McFadden, executive secretary and chief of staff to Gov. Brown, is the administrative leader of the “Horseshoe” – the governor’s inner Capitol sanctum – who stands at the intersection of policy and politics. God only knows what the Horseshoe’s flow chart looks like, but this much is clear: Nothing much happens unless McFadden signs off on it. McFadden’s political chops include her service as a top strategist for PG&E and she’s had roles in an around the Capitol for years. Democrats and Republicans don’t agree on much, but they agree on this: McFadden has one of sharpest political minds in the Capitol. She also has a lot of help: Dana Williamson, who came to the Horseshoe after a stint as the PG&E public affairs chief, runs much of the day-to-day, which means she has a lot of clout and administrative savvy, but doesn’t get a lot of public credit. That’s changing, however, since the word is that she’s up for a cabinet-level appointment.
2. Joe Nuñez
Joe Nuñez, as executive director of the 325,000-member California Teachers Association, represents the single most influential political entity in the state. Nunez, who had been the CTA’s director of government relations, was named executive director in June and runs a staff of 435. But whatever his title, Nunez’s function is the same: to spread the CTA’s gospel of labor protection and educational quality among California’s elected officials, and doing that means using money, cajolery and judicious arm-twisting. Nunez is an expert at all three. In fact, he’s so good that the vast Capitol Weekly staff suggested that Nunez be No. 1 on this year’s list and that Anne Gust Brown should drop to No. 2. But friends rolled their eyes and chortled derisively at the notion. The consensus was that Nunez is a big shot, but Anne Gust Brown is a bigger shot. So Joe, as we said earlier, you’re the Avis Rent-a-Car of Capitol Weekly’s Top 100 list, which means you’re still an honorable No. 2 – at least for now.
1.Anne Gust Brown
Anne Gust Brown is the governor’s sounding board, wife, special adviser, political partner, protector, campaign strategist, soul mate and general factotum — quite a combination. Jerry Brown’s improbable return to high statewide office as attorney general and governor clearly has been due, at least in part, to his well-organized and politically savvy wife. Brown manages the state and she manages the state’s inquisitive, restless, still-ambitious, 75-year-old chief executive. At least, that’s the conventional wisdom. But this is a case where conventional wisdom actually may be true: At the attorney general’s office, she played a major role behind the scenes, getting involved in staffing and operational issues to a degree that surprised – and even angered – some colleagues, and there is no reason to believe she’s not performing a similar function for his governorship. A former executive at Gap, Inc., she’s got degrees from Stanford and the University of Michigan law school. She left the Gap in 2005 to help run Brown’s campaign for attorney general and were married after a whirlwind, 15-year courtship. They had met in 1990 with the help of mutual friends. At the time, Jerry Brown was chairman of the California Democratic Party and Anne represented him in a lawsuit for free, and the two started dating soon after. Ahh, true love. If Anne Gust Brown does, in fact, wield decisive influence over her husband, then she is playing a major role in a critical period of California’s history. Abolishing redevelopment agencies, crafting high-speed rail, realigning state-local authority, changing the prison system, changing environmental laws — you name it, and she’s probably involved in it.