Capitol Weekly’s Top 100 List

21. Willie Pelote Sr.
The California branch of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, is headed by Willie Pelote Sr., a labor ally of the governor and, with 179,000 members, a very important one. On most major issues – Brown’s drive to abolish redevelopment agencies was an exception – Pelote and Brown are in agreement. The straight-talking Pelote’s vigorous and unabashed support for his public-employee members inevitably draws fire from Republicans and pension-cutters over the years, but AFSCME’s fiscal clout is even more fierce — by one estimate, the union coalition has spent more than $23.6 million on political causes in the past decade. Pension and health-care security are at the top of AFSCME’s list.

22. Dave Low
Dave Low is the executive director and the head of governmental relation of the California School Employees Association – like Joe Nuñez, he wears two big hats – and he’s on just about everybody’s list of Top 100 names. Low has been at the California School Employees Association for 33 years and he’s done it all: union organizing, local campaigns in San Francisco and San Mateo, Personnel Board hearings, grievances, arbitration, contracts, bargaining and, of course, union rep and union steward. In addition to staff management, his interests include legislative and political issues for CSEA, which represents over 200,000 classified employees in California’s public schools and community colleges, as well as peace officers in the California State University. He’s also chairman of Californians for Health Care and Retirement Security, which has taken the lead in the fight against rolling back public pensions. A factoid: CSEA is the largest union of school classified employees in the United States.

23. Kip Lipper
There are a number of staffers in the Capitol who wield enormous influence over their policy specialty, and Kip Lipper is one of them. He is the environmental policy guru for the Senate, and every — and we mean every — major piece of environmental legislation has his fingerprints, and many of the minor ones, too.  Lipper was a long-time aide to former Sen. Byron Sher, a deal-cutting icon to environmentalists.  For the past year, Lipper has cast a careful eye on attempts to ease CEQA, and he’s in a perpetual struggle to fight the wholesale erosion of the powers of environmental regulatory bodies or attempts to streamline statutes in order to give polluters and developers a pass. He analyzes legislation, brokers agreements, serves as the Senate’s environmental hardball player and does myriad chores. In the Capitol, when he’s signed off on a bill, it’s been “Lipperized,” a term that evokes equal measures of delight or outrage, depending on who’s using it.

24. Mona Pasquil
Mona Pasquil, the governor’s appointments secretary, has a sensitive, difficult, crucial job at the heart of the administration – she vets the people who want jobs in the administration. A governor has hundreds — thousands — of appointments to state government, ranging from justices on the state Supreme Court and Cabinet-level officials, to Superior Court judges and members of agencies and boards and commissions. Pasquil examines the appointees and makes recommendations on their worthiness for appointive office, among other chores. It’s a vital piece in any administration, since a miscue here can lead to major problems later on. But Pasquil, who was John Kerry’s political director during his 2004 presidential bid 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. Bet you didn’t know that.

25. Catherine Reheis-Boyd
Catherine Reheis-Boyd is the president of the Western States Petroleum Association, and an effective one, too, given the battles they wage and win, up to and including a blocked oil severance tax.  WSPA’s members are a “who’s who” of Big Oil, including BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and many more, and Reheis-Boyd has been the point person for the industry’s public response to AB 32 and, more recently, fracking and the transportation fuels piece of the cap-and-trade auctions. The latter, part of AB 32’s mission to curb greenhouse gases, looms in January amid the industry’s argument that the cost of fuel at the pump will rise. According to the secretary of state, last year WSPA spent the most on lobbying in Sacramento during the first six months of 2013 of any interest group – just over $1 million in the first quarter and nearly $1.29 million in the second, a total of $2.3 million.

26. Tom Steyer
Billionaire Tom Steyer plans to spend $100 million during the current campaign cycle to support selected Democratic candidates and to push for greater reductions in greenhouse gases, continuing a long-standing effort on behalf of environmental causes. Steyer, a hedge-fund wizard from Stanford with a deep political gene, has made waves, first in California when there was speculation that he would run for office, and then nationally with his plans to bankroll environmental causes and candidates. He faced sharp criticism, however, when the New York Times reported that his hedge fund had invested hundreds of millions of dollars over the years into companies that operate coal mines and coal-fired plants. In California, Steyer’s standing is high: He successfully handled two ballot-initiatives – winning one, Proposition 39, to close a $1 billion corporate tax break, while beating back another, Proposition 23, 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.

27. Brian Kelly
The cabinet-level Secretary of Transportation is Brian Kelly, who had been groomed for the job, served in the post on an interim basis and finally got it after a long-developing reorganization was completed. His appointment was widely expected. Kelly has been an important Capitol player for years, well known in the Senate as a go-to person with a broad policy portfolio. Kelly was fresh out of college when he began working in 1994 for the Democratic Caucus. He was only there a year before he moved along to work as a consultant and negotiator for the next four democratic Senate leaders. He didn’t leave the Legislature until 2012, when he became undersecretary and then quickly acting secretary of what was, prior to the reorganization, the California Business, Transportation, and Housing Agency.

28. Donna Lucas
Communications strategist Donna Lucas of Lucas Public Affairs worked as a campaign press aide and learned the insides of the Capitol during the Deukmejian administration. She learned her lessons well: She has developed into a major communications force and is a go-to person for companies and people — State Fund, Chevron, Maria Shriver (Lucas was Shriver’s chief of staff), assorted  businesses, health care issues, etc. — looking for communications advice in the byzantine world of Capitol politics. She’s also connected: Her brother, Kip Lipper, is a top Senate staffer Kip Lipper (you’ve met him, No. 23) and her husband is State Librarian Greg Lucas, the former Sacramento bureau chief of the San Francisco Chronicle, the founder and editor of “California’s Capitol.” When we created Open California, a public benefit corporation to publish Capitol Weekly, we needed a board of directors — she was our first pick.

29. Rex Frazier
Rex Frazier is the president of the Personal Insurance Federation of California, a trade group that represents only a handful of insurers, but they include heavy hitters – including as State Farm, Allstate, Mercury and Farmers. Frazier is a lawyer by training, a professor at the McGeorge School of Law by inclination, and a political junkie by temperament. The latter is evident when Frazier and several of well-heeled, like-minded players talk strategy and move money around to sympathetic legislative contenders. His job is to make sure that PIFC protects its own, and he does that by backing candidates who are helpful, or at least not hostile, to his industry. In today’s world of Democratic supermajorities, that also means that Frazier takes careful aim at the moderates – a target-rich environment. He gets into the political battles at election time, and while he’s not often quoted in news accounts, he is well-known in the Capitol as a first-tier player.

30. Scott Wetch
Scott Wetch of Carter Wetch and Associates, is an aggressive, go-to person for the pipe trades and electrical workers unions, among a host of other clients, but he also gets into other fights. His unions have gone contrary to many other powerful labor groups on key issues like the implementation of the state’s greenhouse gas law, and his is not a household name in the state. But in the Capitol, where he served for 12 years in both houses, Wetch was a key aide to top figures, including David Roberti, Jack Scott and Mike Thompson, and was consultant for several committees, including Senate Housing and Assembly Insurance. He gained wide attention in 2011 for winning what Capitol Weekly called “one of the oddest, most passionate political fights” in California in which he spearheaded a bill over the opposition of nurses to allow school employees to administer medication to students caught in epileptic seizures.

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