Capitol Weekly’s Top 100 List

61. Jacob Mejia
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 – his other gig is Director of Public Affairs at Pechanga Development Corporation. These jobs keep him busy: with his headquarters 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.

62, Peter Lee
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 – proved helpful to give Covered California a smooth launch. Thus far, there have been few missteps, and that, in itself, is a solid gain.

63. Ann Notthoff
The Natural Resources Defense Council is one of the state’s — and nation’s — most powerful environmental protection groups, and Ann Notthoff is the NRDC’s well-known head of California advocacy. The NRDC is a kind of hatchery for major government environmental regulators — the ARB’s Mary Nichols is an NRDC alumnus, for example — and often takes the lead in litigation. Notthoff, for her part, seems to be everywhere at once and is on everyone’s list of environmental warriors.  Regardless of the major issue, from species protections to greenhouse gases — Notthoff has figured somewhere near the center of every fray – and sits at the table when the final negotiations play out. The issues are too numerous to list here, but she sponsored legislation that set up the first network of marine reserves in the nation and later worked to curb carbon emissions from automobiles. The NRDC also figured in the negotiations that created the system of cap-and-trade auctions that have been put into place to curb carbon emissions.

64. Shari McHugh
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. 

65. Dan Morain
Dan Morain, a journalist’s journalist who spent nearly three decades at the Los Angeles Times doing investigative and political reporting, is the newly named Editorial Page Editor at the Sacramento Bee. It’s a good fit for Morain and an even better one for the readers, who get a solid mix of opinion backed by hard reporting and analysis. Morain casts a wide net. He’s written opinion pieces on politicians obscure and famous, the environment, health, billionaires, gambling, labor — anything that strikes his fancy is fair game. He also handles editorials, and there are administrative chores as well. Reporters read him, and so do people in the Capitol, which means his views often are considered when policy is decided.

66. Angie Tate
Tenacious but personable, Angie Tate is the chief financial officer of the California Democratic party. In addition to her regular duties, she successfully completed a major project in raising money – largely on her own time – for the party’s new headquarters in Sacramento. 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. She’s also a friend and advisor of Gov. Brown and his wife, Anne.

67. Steve Merksamer
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.

68. Ralph Simoni
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.

69. Barry Broad
Barry Broad, an attorney, member of the Employment Training Panel and committed labor advocate, is intriguing on a number of levels. First, he’s a lobbyist with long experience in the Capitol’s wars, representing such heavy hitters as the Teamsters Public Affairs Council, the Jockey Guild and the Unite Here International Union. Second, the word “Teamster” may conjure up visions of a scrappy striker walking a picket line – and Broad may well have done that – but in appearance, he resembles more a canny company executive. Third, he’s the Capitol’s answer to Ian Fleming: He’s an adventure-spy novelist of solid talent, and a friend of ours who admires his work says he writes a good read.

70. Debra Gravert
Debra Gravert is the new Jon Waldie, and while that may not resonate outside the Capitol, it’s a big deal inside. Waldie retired after 17 years as the top staff person at the powerful Assembly Rules Committee, and Gravert took his place. The job is a combination of personnel director, enforcer, political arbiter, and watchdog for the entire house. But Gravert, who twice unsuccessfully ran for the Assembly, should be able to pull it off: She most recently served as chief of staff to Assemblyman Jim Frazier, an Oakley Democrat, and has headed the staff for the chair of the Labor and Employment Committee, an important committee in the Democrat-ruled Assembly.  

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