Capitol Weekly’s Top 100 List

1. Susan Kennedy, Chief of staff, Arnold Schwarzenegger
Unlike last year, this year’s choice for the top position was not a slam dunk. The list on the whole reflects the waning influence of the Schwarzenegger administration and a cast of power players behind the new candidates for statewide office. But ask the state political players – lobbyists, staff members, consultants and reporters – about who should be Numero Uno, and the same answer keeps coming up – Susan Kennedy. Her role? She manages the state. She has redefined the job of chief of staff and remains the bottleneck through which most Capitol decisions are made. The big question about Susan: When will she leave to become a lobbyist?

2. Joe Nunez, California Teachers Association
It may seem odd to place the head of the CTA toward the top of this year’s list, considering we’re entering a budget season where education is expected to take a major hit. But there is still no single interest that wields as much power as CTA, and with election season coming up, that clout is increased dramatically. Just ask any Democrat running in a contested primary election.

3. Maria Elena Durazo, Los Angeles County Federation of Labor
In the wake of the death of Miguel Contreras, there has been much talk about the diminished clout of “the fed.” But after losing a battle over gaming compacts, Durazo has forged alliances with major developers to push a plan to build a new NFL stadium through the Legislature, and is teaming with the business community to get a change to the state’s term limits law on the November ballot. With close ties to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Durazo has maintained the clout of her organization inside the Capitol.

4. Mary Nichols, chairwoman, California Air Resources Board
There is no California regulatory agency more powerful than the CARB or which has a greater national and international reputation. The November election could become a direct challenge to Nichols’ clout – between the governor’s race and the ballot measure that would slow down California’s greenhouse gas remissions law, AB 32. But for now, the shrewd and deft Nichols remains the paragon of the increasing power of the state bureaucracy in this era of term limits.

5. Steve Merksamer, partner, Nielsen Merksamer Parrinello, Mueller & Naylor
As head of the first of the Capitol’s superfirms, Merksamer remains a go-to person for Republicans and major players inside the Capitol. His firm casts a wide political net and advises an A-list clientele on law and politics. Merksamer, who was chief of staff to former Gov. George Deukmejian and has been a political force in Sacramento since the 1970s, balances politics and policy.     

6. Gale Kaufman, Kaufman Campaign Consultants
 This is an even year – Kaufman’s time to shine. As political consigliore to the California Teachers Association and the top Democratic consultant on all things initiative-related, Kaufman remains a force inside the Capitol and among some of the Democratic Party’s largest political players. This year, she’s taking on PG&E’s Proposition 16 and girding CTA for a fight to repeal corporate tax cuts in November.

7. Jeff Miller, Capitol Advocacy
The omission of Miller from last year’s list was a mistake. We admit it. But this year, Miller’s name rose toward the top. As a lobbyist for Capitol Advocates, which won the Top Big Lobbying Firm honors in our survey of legislators last year, and – more importantly – as chief finance officer for the California Republican Party, Miller’s influence is unavoidable in Republican circles. As one source put it, when donors are discussing how to move $1 million checks into the state politics, Miller is the one they contact.

8. Michael Peevey, President, California Public Utilities Commission

This list is always a reminder for us about how power has shifted in California. In a world of term limits and high legislative staff turnover, institutions like the Public Utilities Commission only grow in power. Sure, Peevey has had his setbacks – losing the appointment of Rochelle Chong and tangling with the administration over renewable energy. But the fact that he feels empowered to continually challenge both the legislative and executive branches of government shows just how much power he wields. He chooses his weapons well and doesn’t shrink from a good fight

9. George Soares, Lobbyist, Kahn, Soares & Conway, LLP

Soares is the premier agricultural lobbyist in California, and in a state with the nation’s highest farm receipts, that’s saying something. Fruits, nuts, water, milk, apples, avocados, dates, cotton, flowers, kiwifruit, blueberries, biodiesel – Soares has ‘em all. His creation of the astroturf Latino Water Coalition pushed water development policy – at least, for a while – and Soares is at or near the center of every substantive water discussion in the state.  

10. Anne Gust Brown, wife of state Attorney General Jerry Brown
 Every time the role of political spouse as advisor is redefined, someone comes along to take it to another level. Mrs. Brown, the former COO of The Gap, is a force in her own right. She is the top adviser and aide to her husband, the attorney general and Democratic gubernatorial standard-bearer. And her influence is increased by Brown’s insular style and lean campaign apparatus. Nobody knows who exactly has Jerry’s ear, but everybody knows that Anne Gust Brown does.

11. Allan Zaremberg, President, California Chamber of Commerce
During the Schwarzenegger administration, the chamber has been the de facto political arm of the governor’s office. Jerry Brown made clear early on he was not willing to cede the business community to Republicans, and ultimately forced Zaremberg to back down  over recent TV spots funded by the Chamber. Zaremberg’s future clout depends in some measure on the outcome of the governor’s race, but if a Republican wins in the fall, the chamber may once again be the training ground for a future gubernatorial administration. But Zaremberg is adept at wooing new governor’s regardless of party: Few in the Capitol have forgotten how Zaremberg built an alliance with former Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat and Brown’s former chief of staff.

12. Maria Shriver, Wife of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger
It’s always been hard to quantify Shriver’s influence over state politics. That Shriver, a Democrat, has wielded influence over her husband’s governance, is clear, and that alone makes her an important political force. She also has maintained a role in hiring top administration officials. While her political expertise is uncertain, her ability to raise money for worthy projects and her networking skills are world class. Add to that the cachet of the Kennedy family and you have quite a package. And as she prepares to leave the life she never wanted for herself, her role of trusted adviser is still an important one.

13. Mac Taylor, Legislative Analyst
Under Taylor’s leadership, the legislative analyst’s office has taken a more aggressive stand – and not just on number crunching. The LAO has challenged the governor’s authority to implement environmental regulations and suggested the Legislature defund efforts to enact those regulations – and that’s just for starters. The LAO has quickly adapted its voluminous analyses to the online world, revamped its media strategies and plays a greater role than ever in responding to lawmakers’ requests. In a world where the budget is everything, the analyst’s office is more important than ev
er. And Taylor seems all too willing to engage.

14. Bev Hansen, Partner, Lang, Hansen, O’Malley and Miller
Hansen has parlayed decades of legislative experience – both as a staffer and an Assemblywoman – into a career of wielding serious political clout. She was whispering in the ear of Republican leaders looking for concessions as part of a budget deal, and is often called in to help close on the major legislative issues of the year. Her firm’s clients read like a laundry list of some of the most powerful interests in the state, including utilities, local governments, gaming interests, health plans – and even some labor clients.

15. Kip Lipper, environmental consultant, state Senate
For years, Lipper has been the legislative staff’s top strategist on all things environmental. Lawmakers used to jokingly ask whether a bill had been “Lipperized” – and they still say that, only no longer in jest. Lipper has had his fingers in every major piece of environmental legislation of the past decade, whether it involves water, air quality, land use or energy. Regardless of the house of origin, he’s drafted, written, rewritten, negotiated, shot down, pushed through, or hijacked virtually every significant bill that’s crossed his radar.  

16. Joe Caves, Conservation Strategy Group
Like Lipper, Joe Caves is largely unknown to the public. But Caves, too, exerts a profound influence on environmental policy. Caves’ expertise is figuring out funding sources for environmental projects and convincing voters to support them. His latest effort is the $11.1 billion water bond in November. Caves is part policy maker, part politician, part negotiator, and he’s at the center of most of the big money environmental deals in the state.

17. Aaron Read, lobbyist, Aaron Read & Associates
The fancy high-rise office looking down on the Capitol? Check. A track record that began before many Capitol staffers were born? Check? A powerful client list that includes cops, docs and local government? Check. Read would have been on this list years ago, and if his ability to assemble talent around him is a guide, Read and his firm will be on this list for years to come.

18. Kevin Sloat, principal and founder, Sloat Higgins Jensen & Associates
A riser on the list, Sloat appeared twice in our lobbyist awards last fall—getting nods in the categories of “best-connected” and “most likely to cross party lines.” His 13 year-old firm has the kind of client list you have to scroll down, twice, to get to the bottom of. Along the way you’ll find tech giants (Cisco), powerful tribes (Yocha Dehe Wintun), even a National Hockey League team, the San Jose Sharks.

19. Willie Pelote, Sr., assistant director, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees

In the midst of budget cuts, labor is in lots of people’s crosshairs. Pelote got in a tiff with one of his own union locals a couple years back when they hired their own private lobbyist. Yet Pelote ranked as one of our top liberal crusaders in last year’s poll of the best lobbyists. Now he moves into our top 20 of movers and shakers in the Capitol, after not even making the top 100 a year ago. What changed? Pelote has become an increasingly staunch advocate for the rights of labor in the editorial pages, a pain in the side of the Schwarzenegger administration in their fights for furloughs and worker concessions, and a gatekeeper for labor support for Democratic candidates.
20. Dave Low, California School Employees Association
Organized labor does not speak with a single voice. But Low speaks for more than just school employees. He is a tactician and trusted voice among much of the state’s divided labor family, and helps guide union resources to political campaigns around the state.

21. Jon Ross, lobbyist, KP Public Affairs
Ross represents some of the largest lobbying clients in the state. From Google to the mortgage bankers association, Ross is a trusted insiders voice for some of the state’s largest political players.

22. Henry Gomez, confidante to Meg Whitman
Meg Whitman has hired a lot of advisers. She’s hired a lot of Schwarzenegger people, and a lot of Pete Wilson people. But Henry Gomez may be the only Whitman person on the campaign. Gomez is a personal aide de camp for Whitman, dating back to her time at eBay. And while others may be more seasoned political tacticians, no adviser is more trusted inside the Whitman circle than Gomez.

23. Steve Burns, Chevron
As the main political decision maker for oil giant Chevron, Burns is often a key voice, particularly in Republican circles, when it comes to policy decisions. But Burns is also a divvy operator, willing to engage in backroom shuttle diplomacy with political rivals, to help minimize some of the inevitable political skirmishes.

24. Bob White, partner, California Strategies

If White is lower on our list than he was last year, it’s only because he’s surrounded himself with such an impressive team of Capitol insiders. White gets bonus points for conceiving of the prototype of the new power firm. Why register as a lobbyist when you can be a consultant? The pay is better and the disclosure laws are nil. Just because their name doesn’t show up on the lobby ledger much, make no mistake: White’s influence inside the Capitol, along with his firm’s influence, is felt in all corners of the Capitol.

25. Rick Claussen, Goddard Claussen

It’s initiative season, and that means go time for Rick Claussen. While Claussen has had some mixed results with initiative campaigns on the governor’s behalf, he’s taken on Rob Reiner and nurses, and was able to pass legal reforms on behalf of the business community. In 2008, he helped deliver a victory for Schwarzenegger on the arcane issue of redistricting reform. Claussen and company will have to defend that issue in November as Democrats launch a full assault on Proposition 11.

26. Ed Manning, lobbyist, KP Public Affairs

Manning has been in the middle of some of the biggest deals in the Capitol in recent years. Whether it was helping to forge coalitions with environmentalists over a major piece of regional planning legislation, or being caught in the cross currents of the state’s water battle, Manning has solidified his role as a major policy expert with an ability to work across party lines and among disparate interests.
27. Shari McHugh, McHugh & Associates

On our list of best small lobbying firms, voted on by lawmakers, the firm of husband and wife team Shari and Gavin McHugh came up time and time again. The firm represents major players in the business world, including the California Manufacturers Association and California Credit Union League, and a number of health care clients. A former insurance industry lobbyist, McHugh continues to be a strong voice on insurance, financial and healthcare issues in the Capitol.

28. John Latimer, Capitol Advocacy

Sometimes, losing an election can be the best thing to ever happen to you. Just ask John Latimer. After losing a primary race for Assembly in 1998, Latimer, a former Assembly staffer, registered as a lobbyist and became a major power broker during the Gray Davis years. Over the last decade, Latimer and his firm have risen to the top of the Capitol’s lobbying ranks.
29. Joe Lang, Partner, Lang Hansen O’Malley & Miller

With some of the state’s mega-lobbing firms, it’s hard to know exactly who to place on the list. Lang’s firm is clearly one of the heavyweights in Sacramento. With close ties to both Republican and Democratic leadership, Lang and his firm are well pos
itioned to remain influential in the Capitol for years to come.

30. Jim Earp, Chairman, California Alliance for Jobs

Earp has become the governor’s builder. Whether it’s infrastructure bonds or a water deal, Earp and his members have pushed for new construction jobs throughout the Schwarzenegger administration. Earp was a leading force in the fight for new infrastructure bonds. Earp also serves as vice-chairman of the California Transportation Commission, which helps dole out all those transportation bond dollars.

31. Angie Wei, legislative director of the California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO
Wei, a lobbyist, is charged with protecting labor against the periodic onslaught of anti-worker legislation in the Capitol, which mean she engages in almost perpetual warfare with major, well-heeled business interests. But she’s suited to the task: In any discussion of California’s power players, Wei’s name invariably comes up. The Cal Labor Fed is an umbrella group representing some 1,200 unions with more than 2 million members.

32. Dustin Corcoran, CEO of the California Medical Association

Corcoran was tapped as in January, but he was the real power in the CMA long before that. A 12-year veteran with the group, Corcoran made his mark as a lobbyist under the guidance of the late Steve Thompson. He helped pass CMA-supported bills relating to tobacco use, emergency medicine, access to care—the list goes on. He has also turned CMA into a force in election politics, intervening with independent expenditure committees on behalf of Democrats and Republicans alike.

33. Tony Russo, President, Apex Strategies

Russo has worked as a Republican campaign strategist for some of the state’s most respected consulting firms. But it is his connections to the state’s business community, and its donor base, that places him on our list. With deep connections to the Irvine Company, his former employer, and the Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Republican Party, Russo is another behind-the-scenes rainmakers for Republicans.

34. Jack Kavanagh, Rough & Tumble
In this world of blogs, feed readers and Twitter, it’s hard to keep up. In fact, many of us don’t. And in this increasingly fractured media world, the power of the aggregators becomes that much more pronounced. For more than 15 years, nobody has done it better when it comes to state news than Jack Kavanagh. Rough and Tumble is still the first stop for most political insiders who want a quick rundown of what’s happening in California. And for many reporters, if you’re not on Rough and Tumble, it’s almost as if you don’t exist.
35. Tom Adams, chairman of the board, California League of Conservation Voters

The CLCV’s board is quite a group – Ann Nothoff, Steve Blank, Maria Elena Durazo and Joe Dunn also serve – and running the show is Tom Adams, who people in the political and policy worlds say is a major Capitol force. Under Adams, the CLCV is an activist, grass-roots research and campaign group that knocks on doors to raise money and goes to bat for candidates it likes – and fights those it doesn’t. It’s annual scorecard is a prized for its analysis of environmental votes, and it maintains a full-court lobbying presence in the Capitol.

36. Ed Roski, chairman and CEO, Majestic Realty
Two years ago, we didn’t even know who Ed Roski was. Now, we know him as the guy who can help move Democrats to suspend the California Environmental Quality Act, and as a savvy political operator who has forged alliances with labor leaders and prominent Democrats. Now, Roski is teaming with labor groups to push for a change to the state term-limits law. Maybe he liked that taste of political rough and tumble last year.

37. Jeff Randle, Randle Communications
Randle has been around California politics for more than 20 years. As a veteran of the Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger campaigns, he has risen among the ranks of trusted insiders to Republican governors. And if there are bonus points for being there early, Randle gets them for being the first consultant Meg Whitman reached out to. It was Randle who prepared the op-research dossier against Whitman to test her political mettle, and he continues to be active in the day-to-day operations of the Whitman campaign.

38. Frank Schubert, president of Schubert Flint Public Affairs
Schubert has a quarter century under his belt as a political consultant, but he may be forever known as the driving force in passing Prop. 8 in 2008. Even opponents concede he ran an effective, disciplined campaign to pass the ban on same-sex marriage, making him the go-to guy for red causes in this blue state. He’s also the only person to be named twice by the American Association of Political Consultants as the country’s most valuable public affairs professional.  

39. Elaine Howle, State Auditor
Think you’ve got a lot on your plate? Howle’s office is overseeing much of the federal stimulus money coming into state, taking a look a lot of California’s technology spending, conducting a controversial audit on the family court’s system, and putting together the citizens commission that is supposed to rewrite Assembly and Senate districts. A tough-minded public bureaucrat at heart, Howle has her finger in a lot of the big political battles now going on.

40. Nettie Sabelhaus, Senate Rules Committee
Sabelhaus is responsible for vetting all appointees that come before the Senate Rules Committee. In that role, she is the first line of defense for the Senate leader and can help quietly orchestrate the demise of an appointee who she feels is not fit to serve, for one reason or another.

41. Bill Devine, lobbyist, AT&T

 Sometimes the sign of being effective is that nothing happens. While the fervor over telephone deregulation has died down, AT&T remains a powerhouse in the Capitol, and Devine is still their voice. They are major lobbying spenders and campaign contributors, and the fact that they haven’t had a major attack from inside is a testament to their ability to pull the levers of power when needed.

42. Phil Isenberg, Delta Stewardship Council
Phil Isenberg served as mayor of Sacramento before going to the Assembly in the 1980s, then left to become a lobbyist with A-list clients, an adviser to governors and, most recently, a member of the Delta Stewardship Council, the body that will shape crucial water policy for the fragile delta as well as statewide. Isenberg, a cross between a hyper-kinetic policy wonk and a skilled player of political hardball,  has a skill prized by reporters and politicians: He’s able to take a difficult subject and describe it in straightforward terms. This is especially useful at the 11th hour when the negotiations get hot and heavy. And Isenberg is usually there.

43. Donna Lucas, Lucas Public Affairs
Donna Lucas, like a number of top communications specialists, started in the Capitol, then left to open up her own shop. Clients followed suit, and Lucas now is one of a handful of the top PR strategists in town. She’s also part of a local power family: Her brother, Kip Lipper, is a Capitol player in environmental legislation and her husband, Greg Lucas, the former bureau chief of the San Francisco Chronicle, directs California’s Capitol, which offers an erudite and inside look at state politics.  

44. Craig Cornett/Chris Woods, budget directors, Sen. Darrell Steinberg and Speaker John Perez

Budget. Budget. Budget. We know it’s a cop out to put both Cornett and Woods on the list together, but in this partisan world we live in, we figured it was not fair to split the baby. And it gave us room to put one more p
erson on the list. If it triple flips, is a revenue accelerator or is sold as ‘revenue neutral’ you can bet it’s got Cornett and/or Woods’ fingerprints on it.

45. Lenny Goldberg, Lobbyist, California Tax Reform Association & The Utility Reform Network
Lenny Goldberg is a feisty, lone-wolf who spends most of his time in an uphill battle against corporate tax loopholes on one hand and utility companies on the other. He has been involved in so many Capitol negotiations related to the state budget and taxes that it’s difficult to keep track. He loses some and wins less, but one thing is clear: Over the past two decades Goldberg has emerged as the Democrats’ conscience on tax policy.

46. David Crane, senior adviser, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger

Nobody’s job description is more nebulous or amorphous inside the Horseshoe than David Crane. He is the governor’s guru on public/private partnerships, and seems to be in the center of all the big end-of-session policy discussions. Outside of Susan Kennedy, Crane is among the most trusted of Schwarzenegger’s advisers and continues to keep his hand in all sorts of projects and legislative schemes.

47. Doug Herman, The Strategy Group
Herman is the political brain of John Perez. As we all get familiar with his leadership style, it appears Perez likes to surround himself with people he trusts, and feels comfortable bestowing with delegated authority. If that’s true, when it comes to politics, Herman is certainly the speaker’s guy.

48. Dorothy Rothrock, vice president of government relations, California Manufacturers and Technology Association

Dorothy Rothrock, an attorney with a sure feel for politics, communications and government, is the point person for the CMTA, a business group that represents some 30,000 California companies with 1.5 million employees. In Capitol speak, “government relations” means “protecting your turf,” and Rothrock does exactly that. She is an aggressive advocate of business-friendly legislation and is the public face of the CMTA on key issues. She’s been at CMTA for a decade.

49. Jon Fleischman, FlashReport
Jon Fleischman wears two hats – one as an official of the California Republican Party and the other as editor and publisher of the FlashReport, the Web site that plays a major role in reflecting – and shaping – Republican policy. Although viewed as a must-read for the GOP cognoscenti and insiders, Fleischman has steadily broadened the content of the site and regularly links to stories mainstream reporting, and he often is the first to break major stories affecting Republicans, such as the Mike Duvall scandal.

50. Jerry Roberts and Phil Trounstine, CalBuzz
 Perhaps it says more about our world that the top media impresarios on our list are online-only. With CalBuzz, former Chronicle editor Jerry Roberts and former Gray Davis flack/Mercury News political editor Phil Trounstine certainly seem to be having fun. They also provide a much-needed, left-of-center political counterweight to Fleischman. But more than that, they have a sense of humor, and their reporting and punditry reflect a sound institutional knowledge — a valuable commodity in the transitory Capitol world.

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