Capitol Weekly’s Top 100: The year of living dangerously
Welcome to California in the year of living dangerously.
Intense politics and natural disasters are common in the Golden State. This year we had them both.
As if the interminable pandemic, wildfires and drought savaging the state weren’t enough, we have added in a recall campaign against Gov. Newsom that is projected to cost the state $215 million …. and, perhaps, our patience. What started as the subtext to a bad joke has since gained a degree of traction. While we believe its chances of succeeding are slim, there is no denying that the recall has shaped behavior in Sacramento.
So this year’s list, as you’ll see, reflects the recall – but also much more than that.
The state budget may be in the best shape ever, following a brief interlude of a projected multibillion-dollar shortage that, amazingly, was superseded by a $38 billion surplus. Roads are getting fixed, finally. Health care seems to be getting an infusion of money, state and federal, and the Medi-Cal program covers an astonishing one-third of California’s population. We seem to be getting a handle on the jobless benefits scandal – $2 billion was a recent loss estimate – as accountants and investigators follow the money and figure out how it all went awry,
Not everything is rosy: Housing availability is a disaster, rents are stratospheric and homelessness is intractable.
“Roller-coaster” may be the term for describing California this year, starting with COVID-19. Cases go up, then go down, then rise again and flatline, then go down, then spike again. Masks are on, then off, then back on outdoors, then back on indoors.
In a sense, the pandemic begat the recall. That’s because the central message of the pro-recall forces shaped Newsom’s on-again, off-again rules over lockdowns and masks as an abuse of power – a narrative that seemed especially powerful in Orange County. And, as many have pointed out, the only reason the recall effort qualified is because Sac County Superior Court Judge James R. Arguelles extended the signature-gathering period due to COVID.
It was difficult to ignore Republican Kevin Falconer, the former San Diego mayor and one of 46 candidates challenging Gov. Newsom. But one of our Top 100 criteria is this: How much does someone shape policy in Sacramento?
No doubt the recall effort shaped Newsom’s behavior and his policies in the months preceding the election – our list shows it. But Falconer consistently didn’t rank high enough among the other contenders to shine; we didn’t include him. Or Larry Elder. Or John Cox. Or Tag the Bear, for that matter.
Enough of the recall. This year’s Top 100 list includes a number of new faces and the departure of others who may be back next year. As usual, the list is top-heavy with the Horseshoe denizens, lobbyists and labor. It’s also light on Republicans, but we tried to do better this year and snuck a few in.
This year also saw a number of high profile exits from the list: longtime Metropolitan Water District head Jeff Kightlinger finally made good on his threat to retire; Pres. Biden tapped Catherine Lhamon to lead the Office for Civil Rights; and Gov. Newsom appointed Marty Jenkins to the California Supreme Court. And, of course, Ann O’Leary (see no. 1).
We didn’t sit down in coffee shops or bars to glean comments for the list. Instead, we did it by phone and email; totally boring.
Well, there it is. A subjective view of California’s non-elected political power structure. Take a look, then get back to work…
Editor, Capitol Weekly
1 Jim DeBoo
Jim DeBoo is the governor’s chief of staff – executive secretary is the official title – and he was named to the post in December following the abrupt departure of Ann O’Leary, who reportedly left to take a position in the Biden administration (thus far, she hasn’t). DeBoo, a devout 49ers fan, is a jack-of-all trades: He’s been a lobbyist, a political strategist and a ranking manager in the Legislature, including interim chief of staff to former Speaker John Pérez, to temporarily filling the position of Greg Campbell (see No. 95). A governor’s chief of staff is sort of like a traffic cop presiding at the highest intersection of politics and management, and DeBoo fills the bill. Newsom brought him in for his political acumen as much as his executive smarts, and it was a good move: The Republican-dominated recall, once viewed with contempt as just another smack at the governor, has gained traction and DeBoo is coordinating the fight against it. DeBoo also holds a Capitol Weekly record: He has jumped the most ground in one year on the Top 100, moving from No. 64 last year to No. 1 today. We make no apologies. The announcement of his appointment as chief of staff to “lead the Office of the Governor alongside Cabinet Secretary Ana Matosantos” caused confusion – okay, Capitol Weekly was confused – so the obvious question was, “Who’s running the show?” Opinion is divided here, but the bottom line is that this is a year of intense political turmoil with drought, wildfires, a stubborn pandemic and, of course, the recall. The administration’s task is to define for the public a positive answer to the essential question: What’s Newsom doing about all this? That’s where DeBoo comes in.
2 Ana Matosantos
Cabinet Secretary Ana Matosantos knows money and she knows government, in spades. She also knows politics, although most agree that her role right now is more policy. In effect, Matosantos runs California’s government, exercising authority through the cabinet to make sure the trains run on time. When Ann O’Leary left, Matosantos seemed like the logical person to take the chief of staff’s job, but the governor wanted to go heavy on the politics and brought DeBoo in. The Stanford-educated Matosantos’ record is amazing: She ran the top entity in state government – the Department of Finance – under both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown, and she remains the go-to person for Newsom on all things fiscal. She’s navigated multibillion-dollar budget shortages and drew praise from most in the Capitol, including notorious cheapskate Brown. Now, in what must be a refreshing relief, she’s managing the state’s huge surplus. Assigning Matosantos to the No. 2 slot wasn’t easy – we went into this list with her as the obvious choice for No. 1, but ultimately were dissuaded.
3 Angie Wei
Angie Wei has been viewed, rightly, as a top labor leader – she spent a decade as the chief of staff at the California Labor Federation – and her entrance into the Newsom administration reflected the governor’s effort to maintain a strong bridge to organized labor. Most – but not all – say that’s exactly what she did, although you’d never know it from her original, jaw-breaking title, “Chief Deputy Cabinet Secretary for Policy Development.” Now, Wei is Newsom’s Legislative Secretary, which means it’s her job to get the Democratic governor’s agenda through a balky Legislature, no easy feat, even though the Legislature is overwhelmingly dominated by Democrats. But there is more to it than that: Wei also is a major communications voice and strategy voice in the Horseshoe – she worked closely with strategist Daniel Zingale – and her reach spreads definitely beyond whatever her job title suggests. When we put together last year’s list there were rumors that Wei was leaving the administration, but that didn’t happen. Given the current political landscape, Newsom is happy she didn’t.
4 Mark Ghaly
It’s been a helluva year for Dr. Mark Ghaly, Secretary of Health and Human Services, a Cabinet-level post at the tip of the state’s health bureaucracy and the principal health adviser to Gov. Newsom. The interminable COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged California – about 64,000 deaths and 4 million confirmed cases since early last year, and it’s been a roller-coaster ride. First, there was the spread of the disease, then it retreated, then it was spreading again. Then the variants popped up, then receded, then popped up again. The latest, frightening Delta variant is hitting people who have been vaccinated twice, among others. Then there are people who refuse to wear masks, and see common-sense health advice as the path to government dictatorship. Ghaly is Newsom’s point man on all things health and regularly briefs the public. He knows health: He has degrees in biology and biomedical ethics from Brown University, a medical degree from Harvard Medical School, and a Master’s Degree from Harvard’s School of Public Health. BTW, his wife Christina Ghaly directs L.A. County’s Department of Health Services.
5 Marybel Batjer
Marybel Batjer is the president of the California Public Utilities Commission, one of the state’s most powerful regulatory bodies, with a vast sway over telecommunications, railroads, investor-owned utilities, and more. That’s a big deal, especially now. Last year, the PUC gave its blessing to PG&E’s bankruptcy plan, a major decision after the giant utility was on the hook for billions of dollars worth of damages to property owners, in part because of PG&E power lines that sparked blazes. The five-member PUC also fined PG&E $1.9 billion – the largest penalty the commission ever levied. A key player here is Batjer, who only has one of the five votes on the commission but who has wide influence in setting the agenda. Batjer, a troubleshooter, is no stranger to state government. Jerry Brown named her the first head of the Government Operations Agency – known as “GovOps” – in 2013, and Newsom placed her at the head of the panel to reorganize the complaint-plagued DMV, which she did successfully. Earlier, she was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s cabinet secretary.
6 Robbie Hunter
Robbie Hunter leads the powerful State Building and Construction Trades Council — for now. He announced his retirement in June, catching the Capitol by surprise because he departs at the peak of his powers. But, he’ll be around until BCTC finds his successor, so he’s still in the saddle and on our list – in fact, our highest-ranking labor leader. Hunter’s BCTC, which he has led since 2012, is affiliated with unions representing 450,000 workers. He has no problem defending his turf and picking fights, such as when he publicly complained after the governor booted him off a work commission. They sorted it out, but tensions remain. (He even smacked Capitol Weekly, when we invited a speaker he found objectionable to one of our discussion forums.) The Irish-born Hunter lives and breathes unions: His great-grandfather John Quinn, himself a labor organizer, used to tell how famed Irish labor leader James Connolly slept on the family couch. Hunter first appeared on this list in 2013, at No. 55, and was in the top 10 by 2015, where he’s resided almost every year since.
7 Keely Bosler|
Keely Bosler directs the Finance Department, and if you had to pick a year to hold the job, this might be it: Going into the latest fiscal year, the state had a $38 billion surplus, and as Humphrey Bogart said in The Maltese Falcon, “That’s a lot of dough.” It’s better to be flush than strapped, and Bosler helps the governor sort through the priorities. Bosler is a successor to Ana Matosantos (See No. 2), to whom she reports, which means that state spending gets careful vetting from Newsom’s two top fiscal people. Earlier during the Brown administration, Bosler held the position, cabinet secretary, that Matosantos holds now. Bosler replaced Dana Williamson (See. No. 93). The roller-coaster ride we mentioned, referring to Covid, also holds true for money. When Bosler came into Finance, there was a hefty budget surplus. The following year there was a daunting $54 billion shortage, and now we’re back with a big surplus. Nobody knows how long that will last, but it came as a big surprise that a pandemic-era budget would be so fat. Bosler’s fingers remain crossed.
8 Ann Patterson
Newsom’s legal affairs secretary is Ann Patterson, which means she’s the governor’s top adviser – and negotiator – on the state’s legal business. Much of her time earlier was spent on the intense negotiations between the state and PG&E, a pre-pandemic priority of the governor. But that may have been supplanted more recently by the issues surrounding the pandemic, including challenges to the governor’s rules concerning masking, closures and back-to-school policies. Patterson got the gig after she replaced Catherine Lhamon, who departed for the Biden administration. Lhamon’s chief deputy had been Kelli Evans, who Newsom named in July to the Alameda County Superior Court. Before coming to the administration, Patterson, a graduate of the McGeorge School of Law, was a partner at Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe, where she was a co-leader of the public policy unit. Husband Nathan Barankin is president of Oak Tree Strategies Group, a communications consultancy, and former chief of staff to Kamala Harris when she was state attorney general and U.S. senator.
9 Jennifer Siebel Newsom
The governor’s wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, clearly belongs on this list, but where? With Jerry Brown’s wife, it was easy: Anne Gust Brown managed the governor, advised him on politics and policy – she even reviewed legal briefs when he was state attorney general – and organized his life. Siebel Newsom may not wield such large clout, but she definitely is a powerful force. Newsom consults her and pays close attention to her advice on early education, gender equity, toxic masculinity and childhood health care, among other issues, and she reportedly had a decisive role in the appointment of the state’s first surgeon general, Nadine Burke Harris. She doesn’t like the title “First Lady,” but prefers “First Partner” – and that’s how she appears on the Byzantine official flow chart of the governor’s office. She grew up in Marin County and holds an MBA from Stanford. A filmmaker, she created the documentary Miss Representation, which detailed the media’s flawed depiction of powerful women.
10 Dee Dee Myers
California political reporters with long memories may recall Dee Dee Myers from her days as spokeswoman for Tom Bradley’s 1986 gubernatorial campaign. She impressed newsies then, and she went on to impress just about everyone else soon enough. She was a spokesperson for Michael Dukakis and Dianne Feinstein, and she did two years as President Bill Clinton’s press secretary – the first woman to hold that job, and the second youngest. She wrote a New York Times bestseller, Why Women Should Rule The World, and from 2014 to 2020 she was head of communications for Warner Bros. She also was a script adviser and consultant for The West Wing. So with all that, what is she doing in the Horseshoe? Her job is to develop and communicate Newsom’s “California Roars Back,” which gets the word out about California’s economic power. Since California actually seems to be roaring back, that shouldn’t be too hard. Myers’ husband, Todd Purdum, is the national editor of The Atlantic; they have two children.
11 Richard Figueroa
Richard Figueroa is a key health adviser to the governor and the inner circle’s contact point for rival health interests. Ghaly knows health issues, but Figueroa knows health politics and the inside battles, the result of a long career in the Capitol. Figueroa’s rolodex of health contacts is legendary. He is the first call of health-industry representatives looking for guidance from the administration or for support for their proposals. As the pandemic has deepened, Figueroa’s role has steadily intensified. His official title is Deputy Cabinet Secretary – an elastic term that covers a lot of territory, and the same one he had under Arnold Schwarzenegger – but his real role is to serve as the governor’s political brains on health-related politics and policy. Figueroa, who came to Newsom’s team from the California Endowment, served as Gray Davis’ deputy legal secretary and was the legislative director for Rep. John Garamendi, a former state lawmaker and insurance commissioner.
12 Allan Zaremberg
Allan Zaremberg has been with the California Chamber of Commerce for nearly 30 years, and its top dog – president and CEO – for more than 20. He’s a perennial figure on this list, and for good reason: He heads the state’s most politically powerful business group, and is aggressive about picking and winning political fights. Zaremberg is a staunch Republican who cut his teeth in the Deukmejian administration, but he’s also a pragmatist who makes alliances to benefit business interests, such as when he cozied up to Democrat Gray Davis – a move that caught the Capitol by surprise. The Chamber has a full-throated political operation, and its principal spin effort – labeling legislation it opposes as “job killers” – may be long in the tooth but still gets traction. As we went to press, there were the inevitable rumors that Zaremberg was planning to retire. Since Capitol Weekly loves rumors, we thought we’d let you know.
13 Jason Elliott
Jason Elliott has carried several titles in the Horseshoe, and his latest is “Senior Counselor and director of Intergovernmental Affairs,” which seems to cover a lot of territory – and it does. He watches political issues like a hawk, tracks and explains the arcane budget process, and weighs in on such things as homelessness, evictions and the housing crisis, and routinely smacks recall backers, among many other activities. We know this because he is aggressive on Twitter and provides a useful feed. Elliott initially drew attention on California’s housing crisis, when he was known as the “Senior Counselor for Housing and Homelessness,” and later he became Newsom’s “Chief Deputy Cabinet Secretary for Executive Branch Operations.” But whatever he’s called, he reports directly to chief of staff Jim DeBoo. Elliott and Newsom go way back: He worked for Newsom when the latter was mayor of San Francisco, and he worked on Newsom’s gubernatorial campaign as a senior adviser. He is married to Nicole Elliott, director of the state Department of Cannabis Control.
14 Dustin Corcoran
Dustin Corcoran is the CEO of the California Medical Association, a group that represents some 50,000 general practitioners and specialists, and the CMA is involved, directly or indirectly, in virtually every major health battle in the state. In this era of the pandemic, the CMA – not surprisingly – spreads the word on the need for masking and vaccinations. It has urged boosting cigarette taxes to curb smoking, and has a suit against Aetna regarding out-of-network patient care, but other political fights remain simmering. Voters next year will be asked to weigh in on a delayed ballot initiative backed by personal injury lawyers and consumer advocates that would raise pain-and-suffering awards, capped at $250,000 since 1978, to about $1.2 million, a figure reflecting inflation. The fight is over MICRA – the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act – and it has been going off and on for more than 40 years between doctors, lawyers and insurers. Corcoran has been with CMA for 32 years, and became its top executive in 2010.
15 Rusty Hicks
Rusty Hicks has had quite a ride as the head of the California Democratic Party. He took over in 2019 in the wake of the forced departure of his predecessor Eric Bauman, who was snared in a sexual harassment scandal. Later, the state slid into a pandemic, forcing the party – and just about everyone else – to reorganize operations. Amid the pandemic, a recall drive against Gov. Gavin Newsom emerged and ultimately made the statewide ballot for Sept. 14 of this year. Hicks and his members are opposing the recall, defining it as a partisan move launched by Republicans to recoup waning influence in a Blue State. Hicks, who lives in Pasadena, served as California political director of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. He was born in Fort Worth, Texas, and attended Austin College. He came to California in 2003, and has a law degree from Loyola.
16 Carmela Coyle
We’ve alluded to roller-coaster rides before in this list, and nowhere is that truer than with California’s hospitals. Just ask Carmela Coyle, president and CEO of the California Hospital Association. The hospitals had available beds, then their capacity was stressed, then they faced a dearth of patients and lost money, then they got crammed beyond capacity as the pandemic spiked anew. Nowhere are the ups and downs of the COVID-19 pandemic more visible than in hospitals, especially in the emergency rooms where thousands have died. The CHA represents 400 hospitals and health systems, and is a potent voice in Capitol politics. Among its current positions, it supports extending Medi-Cal services to all regardless of age or immigration status. Coyle came to the CHA in 2017 after heading the Maryland Hospital Association for nine years, and before that she spent 20 years in senior policy positions at the American Hospital Association.
17 Yolanda Richardson
Yolanda Richardson heads a cabinet-level agency called “GovOps,” or Government Operations Agency, which Jerry Brown created in 2013 and is intended to bring organization and rigor to nearly a dozen state operations, including Human Resources, the Census Office, the Franchise Tax Board, CalPERS, CalSTRS and something called the Department of Tax and Fee Administration, among others. Phew! Running GovOps must be like herding cats, but people we talk to say Richardson is doing the deed. Gov. Newsom appointed her in January 2020, and four days after being sworn in, Newsom ordered her to handle the burgeoning pandemic. (Welcome to GovOps, Yolanda). Richardson is viewed as smart and fast with a get-things-done attitude – one of her first chores was transitioning state employees to work from home – and we hope that continues to be true as she rides herd over big bureaucracies. She also was part of the state’s acquisition of personal protective equipment, an acquisition that drew harsh scrutiny last year. Richardson is a former chief deputy director of Covered California, and served there for five years.
18 Brian Rice
The California Professional Firefighters represent 30,000 local firefighters, who are a potent political force. Democratic governors – Jerry Brown, for example – have turned to them for help – and they’ve delivered. The head of the CPF is Brian Rice, an outspoken labor leader who spent 12 years as president of the firefighters’ Local 522 in Sacramento. A political ally of the governor, the CPF noted last year that “all CPF priority and sponsored bills had been signed by the governor,” a fact due in part to Christy Bouma, CPF’s veteran lobbyist. As we’ve noted before, firefighters do a lot more than put out fires: They rescue people, provide emergency medical treatment, mitigate disasters, clean up toxic spills and rescue cats from roofs. Even those who may have mixed views about organized labor have a fondness for the firefighters. Rice drew national attention when he called former President Donald Trump’s comments about California’s forestry management “disgraceful,” adding that Trump didn’t “even realize how much of the (California) forest is actually owned by the federal government.”
19 Kip Lipper
Water, fires, drought, oil exploration, sea level rise, environmental justice – you name it, Kip Lipper is involved. Lipper is the Senate’s environmental adviser, and his fingerprints are on every major piece of environmental legislation to emerge from the house. He’s been in the Legislature for nearly four decades and served as chief of staff to Byron Sher – first in the Assembly, then the Senate – for 25 years. Former Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg called him “a force of nature;” others call him the 41st senator. Lipper does not promote himself: “I’m not interesting, hate attention and like to hide in my office,” he once told the L.A. Times after reluctantly agreeing to an interview. A big win this year: A landmark budget offering billions of dollars for one-time new investments in natural resources and the environment. Another milestone: Kip also is staffing SB 1, which he wrote, the first bill to expressly address sea level rise in California and to fund poor communities.
20 Erika Contreras
The Senate’s administrator is Erika Contreras, the first Latina to hold the office and the first woman to hold the position since Grace Stoermer in 1921. Contreras has worked in the Capitol in various staff positions since 2003, and was appointed Senate secretary in 2018 via a vote of the membership. A Senate secretary wears a lot of hats, and Contreras is no exception. She’s involved in politics and policy and answers to the Senate Rules Committee, the five-member panel that administers the house. She’s part personnel director, part adviser, part soother of wounded feelings, part go-between for an array of interests and lawmakers. Basically, the secretary of the Senate seems to get involved in everything and makes sure the house runs smoothly. Contreras was born in Aguascalientes, Mexico and raised in the San Fernando Valley. She’s a graduate of UC Santa Barbara.
21 Tracy Arnold
Tracy Arnold is the chief deputy cabinet secretary and reports to Ana Matosantos (No. 2). Arnold is at the heart of the Horseshoe and covers a lot of territory. Newsom appointed her in 2019 as his director of research, but she is versed in a number of fields, including international trade, economic development and economic empowerment – all of which take a front-row seat in the era of the pandemic. A former partner at Mercury Public Affairs, Arnold also served as an adviser on jobs and economic growth under Arnold Schwarzenegger. She is a skilled communicator and strategist with an economic bent, so presumably she’s helping out the “California Roars Back” campaign. (No. 11). At the California Endowment, Arnold oversaw advocacy for the Affordable Care Act, including Medi-Cal outreach.
22 Gabriel Petek
Legislative Analyst Gabriel Petek skeptically eyeballs the Newsom administration’s fiscal policies, and that’s a good thing. Because he answers to the Legislature, not the governor, he’s not shy about poking around. That’s exactly what you want when you have a $38 billion surplus going into the new fiscal year. State government doesn’t employ journalists to ply their trade, but Petek’s staff of more than 50 in the Legislative Analyst’s Office comes the closest. They pore over every aspect of state spending, revenue, taxes and programs. They make economic projections. They analyze the financial impact of ballot initiatives. Remarkably, in the era of hyperpartisan politics, they receive approbation from Republicans as well as Democrats, and both rely on the LAO for solid data. The LAO has been around since 1941 but, amazingly, the office has had only six chiefs, including Petek. Petek, a product of Loyola Marymount, Harvard and the London School of Economics, served for two decades at Standard & Poor’s, including a stint as a primary analyst for public financing, where one of his chores was to analyze California.
23 Elaine Howle
State Auditor Elaine Howle speaks unpleasant truths. That’s pretty much her job description. A sample of her most recent: California has 12% of the nation’s population, but 28% of the nation’s homeless and 51% of the nation’s unsheltered homeless. And, local governments have issued less than a fifth of the permits needed for low-income housing. Howle reports to the Democrat-controlled Joint Legislative Audit Committee, which authorizes her audits, but she also has a sort of rotating portfolio to regularly audit state agencies. Nobody likes an auditor, and for those in state government, Howle is one of the reasons why. In recent years, she has taken her stick to whack the University of California, the Board of Registered Nursing, the Economic Development Department (a target-rich environment), mobile home park inspections, workers comp fraud, and much, much more. Last year she finished up work on the selection process by screening 30,000 applicants for California’s 14-member Citizens Redistricting Commission, the final results of which will be seen in next year’s elections.
24 Mark Ghilarducci
When you head California’s Office of Emergency Services, you’re pretty busy. For the last few years, the state has been devastated by wildfires, and now we’re caught – yet again – in a drought. On top of that, we’re in a pandemic, and we haven’t even mentioned earthquakes or floods. For Mark Ghilarducci, it’s all becoming the new normal. Ghilarducci heads the OES, and as such he’s California’s top official in disaster response. Jerry Brown appointed him OES director in 2013, and Gov. Gavin Newsom kept him on. Ghilarducci has been dealing with disasters professionally for years: He was a deputy state fire chief, a deputy OES director, a coordinating officer in FEMA under Bill Clinton and board chair of the California Earthquake Authority. Throughout the pandemic, regular meetings of the administration’s Covid response team have been held at OES headquarters in Rancho Cordova which, it turns out, is closer to Newsom’s home than the governor’s office downtown in the Capitol. Ghilarducci is a UC Davis graduate in science, and graduated from Harvard’s Kennedy School program for senior government executives.
25 Nick Hardeman
Nick Hardeman is one of those Legislative staffers who is at the top, no matter what house he is in. He was then-Assemblywoman Toni Atkins’ chief of staff when she was Assembly speaker, then moved with her to the Senate, where she is Senate Leader and Hardeman is, not surprisingly, her chief of staff. Hardeman is virtually unknown to the general public, but he’s been in the Legislature for nearly two decades, rising through the ranks. He was also a Senate Fellow, as are many of the managers in the Capitol. There are Assembly Fellows, Senate Fellows, Coro Foundation Fellows, Executive Fellows, for starters. A chief of staff is a jack of all trades – managing personnel, tracking and pushing the boss’ legislative agenda, representing the boss at public (and private) meetings and dealing with lobbyists, among many other chores. Hardeman does them all.
26 April Verrett
This isn’t a trick question: What’s the largest SEIU local in California? Hint: It’s not SEIU Local 1000, which seems to get the most attention. Actually, it’s SEIU Local 2015, which has 380,000 members and not only is the largest local in California but is the largest in the United States. The person running the show at 2015 is April Verrett, a dyed-in-the-wool union organizer who worked in the Midwest before coming to California. She took over following the departure of Laphonza Butler, a regular on our Top 100 list, who went to a campaign strategy firm. Verrett earlier served as Local 2015’s executive vice president, and before that she was executive veep of the 92,000-worker HCII, SEIU’s health care operation in Illinois and Indiana, which also serves Missouri and Kansas. Long-term health care definitely is a growth industry: In California alone, the population of older adults is expected to double between 2015 and 2030 and about half of older adults are in need of assistance for their daily activities.
27 Thom Porter
Thom Porter is Gov. Gov. Newsom’s top fire fighter, a daunting task in a state which seems to face huge fires every summer and into the fall, sparked in part by the impacts of climate change. Porter is director of the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, and his job is to coordinate the state’s response to the fires. No easy feat: Thus far this year, there have been nearly 5,600 fires burning a total of 460,000 acres. An interesting factoid: Porter was in a 90-second video in 2009 produced by Greenpeace that laid out the dangers of climate change. Porter was remarkably prescient, but he has the chops: He was a timber industry forester in Washington and Oregon, where he developed timber harvesting plans and coordinated prescribed burns, and he’s a registered professional forester. He’s got a degree in forestry management from UC Berkeley.
28 Jason Sisney
Jason Sisney is the state budget adviser to Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, and traditionally this job is one of the most important in the Legislature. Sisney is the lead budget negotiator for the Assembly Democratic Caucus and the Speaker in dealings with the Senate and the administration. Like a number of state government’s fiscal experts, Sisney served at the Legislative Analyst’s Office (No. 22). Sisney spent 12 years there as a nonpartisan examiner of budgets and spending. Now he’s in a partisan position, but as far as number crunching goes, his role really hasn’t changed: He points out the money, and tells lawmakers if they have the money – or not. Earlier, he worked at Fitch Ratings in New York as a bond rating analyst for debt issued by states, water utilities, tribes, and universities. Sisney has an undergraduate degree in government and foreign affairs from the University of Virginia and a master’s degree in public administration from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University.
29 Chris Woods
Chris Woods, as the budget director for Senate Leader Toni Atkins, is Jason Sisney’s opposite number (No. 28). Woods, too, crunches the numbers to find out what’s available, and he must be smiling a bit these days. Instead of the $54 billion shortage that – briefly – confronted lawmakers last year, the state showed a $38 billion surplus as the 2021-22 fiscal year got under way. Atkins and her fellow Democrats share many of the same priorities, and one of Woods’ unenviable tasks is to find ways to get them funded, then sell that to his own house, and then to the Assembly and administration. To do all this, Woods needs to know politics, and he does. As we mentioned last year, Woods has a law degree from UC Davis, which means he’s well suited to follow mind-numbing detail of California’s budgets. Better him than us.
30 Carrie Cornwell
Speaking of opposite numbers, Carrie Cornwell is to Speaker Anthony Rendon as Nick Hardeman is to Senate Leader Toni Atkins. Cornwell was Rendon’s staff chief when he was a rank-and-file lawmaker, and she kept the position when he moved into the speaker’s office. Cornwell pushes the speaker’s legislative priorities, serves as a sounding board, weighs in on who is hired or fired, and generally serves as a managerial presence to the other staff chiefs of the rank-and-file members. Cornwell served for nine years as chief consultant to the state Senate’s Transportation and Housing Committee and, then on the Assembly’s version of that same committee. She was chief of staff to former state Schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson when he was in the Assembly and, later, as a state senator. She came to the Capitol as an Assembly fellow and has degrees from Princeton and UCLA.
31 Donna Lucas
Lucas Public Affairs, LPA, is a sort of one-stop-shopping destination for people wanting guidance on politics, strategic communications, digital communications, campaigns for office, design, and more. Donna Lucas has been on our list since its inception, and she is the highest ranking communications expert on the Top 100. Her 15-member staff includes people well-known in the Capitol community – Cassandra Pye and Nancy Heffernan, for starters. Lucas was a press handler during Republican Gov. George Deukmejian’s successful gubernatorial effort, did a great job and never looked back. Lucas, whose husband Greg is the California State Librarian, went into private consulting, worked for and with other firms, and for the last 15 years has headed her own outfit. Lucas, the chair of the governing board of the California Chamber of Commerce, is a first-rate networker, and has a knack for spotting talented young people and moving them up the ladder. In fact, the staff photo on the LPA web site looks so young and dynamic, we got depressed at Capitol Weekly (we’re easily depressed). Isn’t there one grouch, one misanthrope, one angry person? Nope.
32 Eloy Oakley
Eloy Oakley is the chancellor of California’s community college system, the largest postsecondary system in the United States with 2.1 million students, 73 districts and about 115 colleges. The community college system is hugely important in California, and Oakley, who has been chancellor since 2016, makes no bones about keeping that message in front of the governor and legislators. Apparently, President Biden thinks highly of him, too, because he named Oakley a special adviser to the U.S. Department of Education, a temporary gig. That means Oakley will be out of California for a few months, but he’ll be back at his community college job in the fall. Oakley, who is a member of the UC Board of Regents, earlier served as president and superintendent of the Long Beach Community College District, and before going to Long Beach he was vice president for college services at Oxnard College. An Army veteran, he has a Bachelor’s degree and Master’s degree from UC Irvine.
33 Nadine Burke Harris
During a pandemic, it’s a good thing to have a person crisscrossing the state extolling the virtues of wellness, preventive care and the value of vaccinations, and Nadine Burke Harris fits the bill. Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Harris as California’s first surgeon general, which means she urges people to identify health issues before they become chronic and expensive to treat. She is an expert on childhood maladies, and she is credited with landmark work in the use of ACEs, or Adverse Childhood Experiences, in screening and treating childhood trauma. Harris managed to carve out healthy funding for the ACE screening during her first year, and the governor proposed extending the program. Harris says “social determinants of health are to the 21st century what infectious diseases were to the 20th century,” and believes that universal screening could help cut childhood trauma by 50% in just one generation.
34 Aaron Read
Aaron Read is known best for lobbying – which he’s been doing since Ronald Reagan was a rookie governor – but his outfit, Aaron Read and Associates, which he founded in 1978, has spread out over the years. It handles campaign strategy and execution through a sister firm, Marketplace Communications, which advises candidates on everything from political positioning to ringing doorbells and walking precincts. His diverse client list includes the CHP officers’ credit union, AT&T, Dun & Bradstreet, 3M, Matson, PORAC, the government’s professional engineers, the Water Foundation, and many more. As we’ve said before, this firm poses a dilemma: Why list just Read? Why not the other lobbyists in the firm, such as Randy Perry, Patrick Moran, Terry McHale, Steve Baker and Jennifer Tannehill? We don’t know either.
35 Teri Holoman
It’s been a tough year for just about everybody, and the 310,000-member California Teachers Association is no exception. But the CTA also scored some major victories, due in part to Teri Holoman, CTA’s associate executive director and coordinator of the group’s Sacramento lobbying effort. A major victory: The governor’s signing of legislation to tighten controls over privately managed charter schools, long a CTA priority, a move Newsom described as the most comprehensive changes to charter school operations in nearly 30 years. The CTA is first and foremost a labor group – as the public was reminded following strikes in L.A. and Oakland. Holoman is well versed in Sacramento and politics: She came to CTA after serving as Jerry Brown’s deputy appointments secretary and she was deputy political director of the California Democratic Party’s Every Vote Counts Campaign.
36 Alma Hernandez
SEIU California is a potent political force, with 700,000 members that range from home care workers to college professors to state workers. The executive director of SEIU California is Alma Hernandez, whose parents emigrated from Mexico and who grew up in the Central Valley. Hernandez, who earlier served as the group’s political director, has run campaigns and built coalitions – the very core of political action. A UC Berkeley graduate with degrees in political science and rhetoric, Hernandez spent five years as a legislative staffer and is on the board of the nonprofit California Budget and Policy Center, which examines government policies to improve the plight of low- and middle-income Californians. Tough at the bargaining table, one lawmaker said Hernandez learned “the art of negotiation with her mother as they set up shop on the weekends in the Central Valley’s swap meets.”
37 Jodi Hicks
Jodi Hicks is a high profile advocate for women’s rights and healthcare access, so it was no surprise when she was named CEO and President of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California in 2019. The move marked her second transition in as many years: in 2018 Hicks left DiMare, Brown, Hicks & Kessler for a gig as national co-chair of Mercury LLC – the first woman ever to hold that position. Prior to joining DBRK, Hicks had served as the VP of Government Relations at the California Medical Association, and before her tenure at CMA Hicks served as the legislative director at the California chapter of the National Organization for Women. Hicks kept the ship afloat last year as the pandemic wrought havoc with the state budget and donors’ pocketbooks, and her considerable skills will be invaluable in the expected battle over Roe when the latest effort to overturn abortion rights gets to the Supreme Court next year. Full disclosure: Hicks serves on the board of Open California, the nonprofit that publishes Capitol Weekly.
38 Art Pulaski
A staunch union supporter since he was a teenager, Art Pulaski is the Executive-Secretary Treasurer and Chief Officer of the California Labor Federation, whose affiliates represent about 2.1 million California union members in 1,200 manufacturing, transportation, construction and public sector unions. The Labor Fed’s big focus this year is beating back the attempt to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom, which Pulaski’s group characterizes as an attempt financed by “anti-union millionaires” to boost Republicans. The Fed has set up phone banks, precinct walking, text blasts and the like to reach voters. Organized labor is always heavily represented on Capitol Weekly’s Top 100 list, and the Labor Fed shows why: It can rally the troops and put boots on the ground in a way that their opponents cannot. Pulaski has been a union supporter since age 16 when he worked at a supermarket and joined the meat cutters’ union. Since he took office at the California Labor Federation 24 years ago, the group has more than doubled in size.
39 Jennifer Barrera
Jennifer Barrera is an executive vice president of the California Chamber of Commerce, which means she wears two hats: She develops policy and strategy, and she represents the Chamber in legal reform spats, which presumably includes smacking unionized labor and pushing for business tax breaks. But whatever Barrera does, she’s doing it well. She headed the Chamber’s labor, tax and employment advocacy for seven years, then was named a senior vice president in 2018, and a year later she was named executive vice president. Sounds to us like she’s being groomed as the Chamber’s heir apparent when Allan Zaremberg (No. 12) steps down. For her to get the top spot, however, she’ll have to bypass the four other executive VPs, including veteran political star and campaign strategist Marty Wilson. Barrera earned a BA in English from California State University, Bakersfield, and a JD with high honors from California Western School of Law.
40 Jared Blumenfeld
Jared Blumenfeld isn’t a household name in California, but he probably should be. He heads CalEPA, the state’s Environmental Protection Agency, and he’s viewed as an aggressive, systematic regulator at the largest state environmental operation in the nation. His official title is “Secretary for Environmental Protection,” which means he’s holding a cabinet-level post. Blumenfeld served eight years in the Obama administration as Pacific Southwest regional chief for the U.S. EPA, which included California, Nevada, Arizona, the Pacific Islands and 148 tribal nations. Before that, he headed San Francisco’s Environment Department, first under Mayor Willie Brown and later under then-Mayor Gavin Newsom. In San Francisco, he pushed a local rule requiring mandatory recycling and composting, bans on plastic bags and Styrofoam, and a 20% cut in greenhouse gases. Somehow, he also found the time to be general manager of S.F.’s Park and Recreation Department, and he served on the governing board of the Treasure Island Redevelopment Authority – an important job in The City.
41 Wade Crowfoot
Wade Crowfoot is California’s Secretary of Natural Resources, a critical post in California government at any time with jurisdiction over 26 agencies – including Cal Fire and Water Resources – and thousands of employees, but particularly important now with the widespread, existential challenges of climate change. Crowfoot is well known within the Capitol community and bureaucracy, but he is not well known to the general public, a circumstance that may be changing: He has instituted the Secretary Speaker’s Series, monthly online discussions available to the public on resource topics, including drought, conservation, wildfires, Tahoe protections, science, tribal governments, and more. Crowfoot was a deputy cabinet secretary and senior adviser to Jerry Brown, and was a deputy chief of Brown’s Office of Planning and Research. Before that, Crowfoot was the political director of the Environmental Defense Fund, and he earlier advised Gavin Newsom when the latter was San Francisco mayor. Crowfoot’s appointment as Resources Secretary was one of the governor’s earliest major actions.
42 Marcie Frost
The California Public Employees’ Retirement System, CalPERS, is having a good year and you’ll have to pardon CEO Marcie Frost if she crows a bit. Through mid-July, CalPERS reported 21.3% net return on investments for the previous 12-month period, and more than $469 billion in total assets. “Great returns,” as one top CalPERS official said, given that we’ve been plagued by a pandemic for the last year and a half when the initial outlook was grim and the early indications did not look good. But those are remarkable numbers. CalPERS, the nation’s largest pension fund, is one of the most important financial institutions in the U.S., much less California, with nearly 2 million members. At the helm is Frost, who came to CalPERS in 2016. As CEO, Frost rides herd on three critical areas – pensions, health benefits and investments. Earlier, she was the top executive at Washington state’s retirement system and served in Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s cabinet, and worked on pension and investment issues in Washington state for 30 years.
43 Harmeet Dhillon
Harmeet Dhillon is the founder of a nationally recognized business litigation law firm – the Dhillon Law Group – and the founder of the Center for American Liberty, which targets discrimination and civil liberties. A Sikh who was born in India and came to the U.S. as a child, Dhillon, a Republican, is a remarkable combination of smarts, energy, persistence and savvy politicking. If that weren’t enough, she’s also a good lawyer: She just prevailed in a case before the Ninth Circuit that unraveled much of the Newsom administration’s school closure policy, and she’s fought rules requiring wearing masks in public. A former vice chair of the California Republican Party, Dhillon serves on the Republican National Committee and she’s a regular commenter on Fox News (she has described pundit Laura Ingraham as her “mentor”) and was active in “Women for Trump.” Dhillon also served on the board of the ACLU in Northern California, and one legal magazine has repeatedly referred to her as the “Northern California Super Lawyer.” Finally, she’s got a quarter million Twitter followers. Phew!
44 Linda Darling-Hammond
Linda Darling-Hammond is the president of the State Board of Education, the policy-making body that sets academic standards and curriculum for California’s sprawling K-12 educational system, which serves about 6 million students. If anyone was qualified for this gig, it’s Darling-Hammond. She’s a professor in education at Stanford University, the founding president of the nationally known Learning Policy Institute, and at Stanford founded the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education. She started out as a public school teacher, and founded a pre-school and high school. She’s got more than 60 publications to her credit – no, we won’t name them all, but one of them is partly titled “The Flat World and Education,” which sounds good, even for an academic tome. Darling-Hammond has a BA from Yale, and her doctorate in education from Temple.
45 Flo Kahn
The pharmaceutical manufacturing industry has been a major political player in California for decades, drawing the most public attention when the costs of drugs take center stage, such as when the industry spent nearly $110 million to beat back Prop. 61 in 2016, which would have allowed the importation of cheaper prescription drugs. The industry is best known as PhRMA, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, and the person who directs PhRMA’s lobbying game is Floreine “Flo” Kahn, the deputy vice president of state advocacy, who coordinates the group’s lobbying through at least five major firms. She earlier handled state government affairs in the West for AbbVie, and before that she worked at Vertex Pharmaceuticals and Bristol-Myers Squibb. She worked on the staffs of several state Republican lawmakers, and served as a deputy chief of staff to then-Assembly GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy (yep, that Kevin McCarthy), where she worked on such key issues as energy, water and workers’ compensation. She’s a UC Berkeley graduate in political science.
46 Bill Wong
The pandemic has affected us all, but for Bill Wong, it’s been particularly difficult: Hate crimes targeting Asian Americans grew exponentially during COVID-19, and the trend appears to be continuing. Wong, who successfully worked on legislation to deal with the issue, is the Democrats’ top political strategist for the Asian American community, and is the adviser to the Legislature’s Asian American & Pacific Islander Caucus. Wong is a senior adviser to Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, and he serves as the political director to the Assembly Democrats. The Assembly is handily controlled by Democrats, which means Wong is definitely doing something right. Wong has worked inside the Capitol as a chief of staff to two Assembly members and to one senator. He has served on the board of Chinese for Affirmative Action, as an adviser to the Asian Pacific Islander Capital Association and as board Member of the Asian Pacific American Leadership Project. His bachelor’s degree from UC Davis is in political science and Asian American Studies. Perfect training.
47 Gale Kaufman
Gale Kaufman, the California Teachers Association’s near-iconic campaign strategist and outside consultant, is always up to something. This time, she’s putting together a fight against next year’s ballot initiative that would raise pain-and-suffering awards in medical malpractice cases, a long-sought goal of personal injury lawyers. She’s working with the California Medical Association, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, the Doctors’ Group and others. There are rumblings of a school voucher measure aimed at next year’s ballot and Kaufman would be likely to take a lead role in that fray. Meanwhile, Kaufman is handling assorted IEs, including one for Mia Bonta in the 18th Assembly District. Kaufman, with deep ties to labor, also serves as an outside consultant to SEIU.
48 Lance Hastings
Lance Hastings is the president of the venerable California Manufacturers & Technology Association, and he and his staff scored some major victories this year. He successfully fought for an additional $150 million in funding this year for Career Technical Incentive grants, a key CMTA-backed effort, and sought $50 million more for the state’s Employment Training Panel to “skill up” manufacturing workers. The CMTA, a century-old group representing some 400 major businesses, advocates for tax relief on production equipment purchases, an increased commitment to career technical education, and opposes shifting health care costs to employers. Hastings, a Sacramento State grad, also is an instructor in the university’s “Exploring Careers in Manufacturing Academy.” Before he went to CMTA, Hastings was a vice president for national affairs for MillerCoors and he worked in the U.K. for SABMiller.
49 Mike Belote
A scrappy litigator of our acquaintance once described California Advocates as a “most established” firm, a term of respect signifying respectability and integrity. The president of that firm is Mike Belote, who has been with California Advocates for decades. Belote is a lawyer – via McGeorge School of Law and UC Berkeley – and has long represented the California Judges Association and the Hastings College of Law. With a raft of clients in and around the legal system and judicial branch, Belote has been intimately involved with issues arising from the pandemic. Judges, defense lawyers and many others rely on his contacts. But his client roster includes such companies as Bayer, Apple, Equifax, See’s Candies and Delta Air Lines, to name a few. He’s heavily involved in philanthropic activities, and recipients include such groups as the Volunteers of America, the Public Legal Services Society at McGeorge, and My Sister’s House, an organization focused on domestic violence and trafficking in the Asian Pacific Islander community. Full disclosure: Belote serves on the board of Open California, publisher of Capitol Weekly.
50 Orrin Heatlie
A retiree after a 25-year-stint in the Yolo County Sheriff’s Department, Orrin Heatlie is credited with being the spark that touched off the recall drive against Gov. Gavin Newsom. Heatlie has characterized Newsom as a “rogue governor,” who deserves to be ousted. Newsom now faces his sixth recall effort, but it’s the only that has gained some traction, and Heatlie certainly is part of the reason. A strong organizer and deft manager, Heatlie – a former patrol sergeant and hostage negotiator – put together a statewide team and invigorated Newsom’s political foes. The effort launched on a shoestring, but drew enough attention to attract professional strategists (credit here to Dave Gilliard and Anne Dunsmore who jumped in and helped supercharge a mail-in signature-gathering drive), and even funding, to push the recall toward the Sept. 14 ballot. Depending on what happens in the recall, Heatlie’s role in California history will be decisive – or an asterisk.
51 Rex Frazier
Rex Frazier is a Republican, and in a state dominated by Democrats, that’s a daunting prospect. But he’s also head of the Personal Insurance Federation of California, an expanded, nine-member group of heavy-hitting insurers, including State Farm, Farmers, Mercury, Chubb, Liberty Mutual and Progressive. The group is small but their pockets are deep. Frazier also heads something called PIFPAC, a coalition of about 1,500 State Farm agents and employees “who understand that California politics can impact, both positively and negatively, (their) businesses,” and he participates in an aggressive pro-business PAC called Keep Californians Working. Frazier’s first job is to protect his members, and he does that in part by supporting political candidates of either major party who he thinks will give his industry a fair shake when it comes to legislation and regulations. Frazier has graduate and undergraduate degrees from the University of Chicago, a law degree from McGeorge School of Law and has served there as an adjunct professor.
52 Dan Dunmoyer
Dan Dunmoyer heads the California Building Industry Association, a high-visibility role that draws even more attention because of the housing crisis and the demand for new construction. Dunmoyer’s essential mantra: Unnecessary fees and dubious governmental regulations strangle new construction and make what little there is more costly. He is the most articulate and strongest purveyor of that message in Sacramento. This past year he’s been working with Newsom to keep homebuilding an “essential business” throughout the pandemic and has helped defeat a number of NIMBY bills. Dunmoyer served for a decade as president of the Personal Insurance Federation of California (see No. 51), and he was a deputy cabinet secretary for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger from 2006 to 2008. Dunmoyer is a former board member for CalPERS, and he holds an MA in public administration and a BA in political science from USC.
53 Mark Weideman
Lobbyist Mark Weideman, who heads the Mark Weideman Group, had a very busy year: He was on the ground floor of the Newsom administration’s decision in January to place Blue Shield in charge of the state’s COVID-19 vaccination program. A number of counties balked loudly at the move, and it was a major decision during the depths of the pandemic that caught the Capitol by surprise. Several participants said Weideman, who counts Blue Shield among his three-dozen clients – did the heavy lifting during the negotiations and seemed to be everywhere at once. The decision certainly reflected the administration’s confidence in Blue Shield – CEO Paul Markovich is a long-time Newsom supporter – as well as in Weideman. Weideman’s other clients include BHP, the California Chiropractic Association, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Bloom Energy Corporation. Weideman, an attorney, has a BA from UC Berkeley and a law degree from UC’s Hastings College of Law.
54 Susan Santana
Susan Santana’s official title is Senior Vice President, Legislative Strategy, for AT&T, which means she directs the lobbying and communications operations for the utility in California. There is a lot at stake here, and AT&T knows it. Santana, who is not a lobbyist herself, was picked in January 2020 to succeed AT&T’s long-time point-person Bill Devine, who was well known in Sacramento as the architect of the annual Speaker’s Cup golfing confab in Pebble Beach, a mix of fund-raising and lobbyist-legislator schmoozing, (This year, it’s Nov. 1-3). So far, Santana has maintained a lower profile than Devine, which may be due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has curtailed gatherings, mano-a-mano meetings and fundraisers. Santana, who worked in D.C. lobbying congress for AT&T before coming to California, has Bachelor’s degrees from UC Berkeley and a law degree the UCLA School of Law, and practiced law for a combined six years at Baker & McKenzie, a global law firm in San Diego, and Holland & Knight in Washington D.C.
55 Janus Norman
Dustin Corcoran (No. 14) runs the California Medical Association in Sacramento, but the CMA’s senior vice president Janus (“jay-nuss”) Norman handles CMA’s extensive lobbying and political chores. It’s been a busy year, medically speaking, in this era of the pandemic. There were, and are, Interminable debates over vaccinations – the CMA strongly supports them. A campaign is brewing over a likely 2022 ballot initiative boosting payouts under the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, or MICRA, which CMA opposes. There may be yet another battle over whether staffs should be expanded at dialysis clinics, which CMA also opposes. It’s a seemingly obscure issue, but it has made the ballot before amid a big-dollar fight. Norman was a legislative advocate for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), worked for the Judicial Council of California, and staffed the State Assembly Budget and Appropriations Committees. His career began when he joined the office of then-Assemblymember Darrell Steinberg as a Jesse Unruh Assembly Fellow.
56 Fiona Hutton
Fiona Hutton’s nonpartisan public affairs firm, Fiona Hutton and Associates, has an eclectic client list that reads like Who’s Who of California heavy hitters. She’s built it up over the past two decades, and FHA’s raft of top clients have included Sutter Health, State Water Contractors, California State Parks Foundation, Health Net, Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, CalCannabis and the California Cable & Telecommunications Association, among others. FHA, with offices in L.A. and Sacramento has been involved in some of the most closely watched issues at the state Capitol, such as the pandemic, health access and equity, energy/grid reliance, police use of force, and the digital divide. The firm handles everything from reputation management to issue advocacy to legislative drills and regulatory challenges. She currently serves on the boards of directors for the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, Ojai Valley Land Conservancy and, full disclosure, on the board of Open California, the nonprofit, nonpartisan publisher of Capitol Weekly. Hutton received her BA in political science from San Diego State University.
57 Paula Treat
Paula Treat seems to be everywhere at once, quickly, and how she does it is a mystery to us. But it works: She is one-person lobbying firm, with clients that include Tesla, two major Native American tribes (Pechanga Band of Luiseno Mission Indians and the Cachil Dehe Band of Wintun Indians of Colusa), the California Academy of Eye Physicians and Surgeons, Carbon Lite Industries and more. Treat, who has worked out of her home but also has office space near the Capitol, has largely been doing her lobbying from her place near Truckee during the pandemic. That makes sense to us since she has everyone’s cell phone number. She began lobbying more than four decades ago, and in 1987, established the first woman-owned contract lobbying firm, with offices in Carson City and Sacramento. With this résumé it was no surprise that Treat had her own #MeToo moments — she documented harassment by the late Assemblyman Lou Papan in a soul-baring Op Ed in the Sacramento Bee in 2017.
58 Kevin Sloat
Kevin Sloat founded his lobbying firm nearly 25 years ago after leaving Pete Wilson’s administration and it has grown exponentially over the years. His lobbying firm – Sloat Higgins Jensen and Associates – is a top-drawer outfit with deep roots in the Capitol. The firm has dozens of clients, including BMW of North America, PG&E, Anheuser-Busch, the California Trucking Association, Foster Farms and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, among many others. Sloat was Wilson’s legislative secretary, a job that entails pushing the governor’s agenda, negotiating legislation with often balky lawmakers and keeping a close eye on what those legislators are up to. Great training for a lobbyist.
59 Joe Lang
Joe Lang is a perennial presence in Sacramento – he should be, after more than 40 years – and his blue-chip lobbying firm, Lang, Hansen, Giroux & Kidane (formerly Lang Hansen O’Malley and Miller), is a fixture in the Capitol community. His offices are ensconced in the Senator Building across L Street from the Capitol. LHG&K’s clients include FedEx, the California Business Roundtable, the California Retailers Association, DISH, the Port of San Diego, The California Trucking Association, and more. As Lang’s clients attempted to navigate the pandemic, LHG&K were put in the position of serving as a quasi “help desk.” One example: Lang helped E&J Gallo Winery — which suddenly began producing hand sanitizer — get the product out. Major issues Lang has been involved with include the comprehensive 1993 Worker’s Compensation Reform Act, the Electrical Restructuring Act of 1996 and efforts to achieve comprehensive regulation of gaming in California. Both of those laws later came in for intense criticism, particularly the latter, which many argued pave the way for California’s electricity market meltdown.
60 John Latimer
Capitol Advocacy is a major lobbying force in Sacramento, and John Latimer is the main reason why. He’s not alone, though: He’s got 10 lobbyists working with him, and they handle more than — wait for it — 80 clients. It seems like everybody has hired Capitol Advocacy but us, and we would, too, if we could afford him. Here’s just a sample: Broadcom, L.A. County, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Pepsico, T-Mobile, Doordash, Goodwill Industries, California Retailers Association, Lowe’s, and on, and on. CA handles business regulation, consumer concerns and environmental regulation, among many other issues. A year after an unsuccessful 1998 run for an Assembly seat, Latimer set up his own lobbying shop. Earlier, he had worked in the Capitol as a chief of staff and as a consultant to several Assembly committees, including Appropriations and Governmental Organization.
61 Steve Maviglio
Forza Communications is Steve Maviglio’s baby. It looks like a big operation handling communications, crisis management, branding, campaign strategy, digital marketing, and more, but actually, it’s just Steve, virtually by himself. A busy year: He worked on the Blue Shield vaccine rollout (see No. 53), got more in the state budget for hydrogen fueling infrastructure and anti-gun volence prevention programs, and consulted with the California Cattle Council on droughts and fires. One of his major clients is AT&T. He also works with the Sacramento Press Club and is president of the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-Op. A staunch Democrat, he was executive director of the House Democratic Caucus, and after coming to California served as former Gov. Gray Davis’ spokesman and was a ranking executive for two former Assembly speakers and a communications consultant for a third. His Davis stint may have been a precursor of things to come — Davis failed to fend off a Republican-led recall drive, and the state faced a meltdown in the electricity markets. Sounds familiar.
62 Carrie Gordon
Carrie Gordon has spent 20 years working for the California Dental Association and its 27,000 member dentists, and among her responsibilities as Chief Strategy Officer is overseeing CDA’s lobbying and political program. She spent the past year leading the effort to navigate dentistry in California through the pandemic – from acquisition of PPE supplies from the state, authorization and deployment of dentists for the state’s vaccination efforts, and keeping the public informed about the safety of dental care. CDA also notched some notable wins in the latest state budget, specifically with higher Medi-Cal reimbursement rates funded by Prop. 56 (2016) becoming permanent. Gordon represents CDA in the MICRA coalition as well, which is bracing for a ballot measure fight next year.
63 Tom Hiltachk
Attorney Tom Hiltachk started out handling civil litigation, but for the past three decades he’s focused on political and election law. He’s the managing partner at Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk in Sacramento, a major Republican political law firm (Chuck Bell and Colleen McAndrews also have been on the Top 100, FYI). Hiltachk has been involved in drafting or defending key Republican-driven ballot initiatives over the years. He’s crafted the GOP’s legal perspective on such things as taxes, education, the environment, union prerogatives, justice and tribal gaming. Among the most visible was his drafting of Proposition 32 in 2012, which would have banned payroll deductions by unions and corporations for political purposes. It was defeated. Hiltachk’s firm said he specializes in “drafting complex tax and constitutional measures and counsels on qualification efforts for ballot measure campaigns.” Indeed, and each election we see more evidence of it.
64 Anthony Wright
Being a health care activist in the midst of a pandemic can’t be easy, but there were some bright spots. Anthony Wright heads Health Access California, which pushes for greater access to quality health care, and he had some reasons to be pleased. First, President Biden named former California Attorney General Xavier Becerra as the new secretary for Health and Human Services, which means Wright, who has been back in D.C. this year, has a familiar friend at the federal level. Second, California’s Medi-Cal program, which provides health care to about a third of the state’s population, got lots of money — nearly $6 billion more in the 2021-22 fiscal year, an unprecedented hike. Quite a change from last year’s doom and gloom predictions. Wright has spent most of his professional life advocating for the expansion of quality health care. He was active in the discussions that led to the creation of Covered California, and his fingerprints are usually all over any progressive health care-related legislation that emerges from the Capitol.
65 Jason Kinney
Kinney might be more famous these days for his ill-considered choice of dinner venues. But, long before his 50th birthday made headlines and “French Laundry” synonymous with “faux pas,” Capitol observers have known him as a ubiquitous political fixer and strategist-about-town who not only served governors, senators and mayors but some of the state’s biggest companies and campaigns. An Indiana native and former speechwriter, he advised Gavin Newsom and helped him with the campaign to legalize marijuana as the spokesperson for Proposition 64. In 2019, he spun off from consulting juggernaut California Strategies and co-founded his own Axiom Advisors with lobbyist Cassie Gilson (see No. 66) and ex-Newsom staffer Kevin Schmidt. He’s since added a thriving media shop with ex-Airbnb comms head Molly Weedn. Axiom’s meteoric rise shows no signs of slowing, with marquee clients like Facebook, Netflix, AT&T, Centene, CBIA, CMA and the National Football League leading the way.
66 Cassie Gilson
Jason Kinney (No. 65) might get the headlines (good and bad), but true Capitol insiders understand how much of Axiom’s deft thinking and heavy lifting is borne by longtime lobbyist Cassie Gilson, the only female Managing Partner among Sacramento’s top five contract firms. A Stanford-trained lawyer, Gilson helped build the fast-growing firm while emerging as a go-to advocate on housing issues, maneuvering the building industry, affordable housing developers and Facebook (with its billion-dollar California workforce housing commitment) to get policymakers to “yes.” She also has attracted a star-studded portfolio of renewable energy concerns to the Axiom roster. Gilson is a presence on emerging tech issues: she made a splash early in her career guiding legislators through the Capitol halls on a Segway. Like Kinney, Gilson worked in the Gray Davis Administration.
67 Rob Lapsley
The California Business Roundtable is a nonprofit, pro-business group with specialties in research and strategy, and keeps its finger on the pulse of the business community. It has a lower public profile than the California Chamber of Commerce or California’s chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, but it is a significant player in the Capitol community, and has been for years. The Roundtable is headed by Rob Lapsley, an Air Force veteran and the former political director of the Chamber of Commerce, so he knows well the Capitol’s political wars. In the last statewide election, CBR’s positions largely reflected Republlican values — it opposed dismantling the tax-cutting Proposition 13 of 1978, backed restricting parole for nonviolent offenders, supported giving certain property owners tax breaks in purchasing replacement property, opposed local rent control and favored keeping the cash bail system. Lapsley served as chief of staff to former California Secretary of State Bill Jones, one of California’s last Republican statewide officeholders.
68 Catherine Reheis-Boyd
Not many of us thought that The Western States Petroleum Association would have a worse year in 2021 than they did during a global pandemic year that cut California oil production to the lowest levels since tracking began. But then, on April 23, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced plans to phase out fracking in the state, starting with a moratorium on new permits beginning in 2024, and expanding on his September 2020 executive order to begin California’s transition away from fossil fuels. Further, at the governor’s direction, CARB will evaluate how to phase out oil extraction altogether by 2045. None of the above is good news for Catherine “Cathy” Reheis-Boyd, the president of WSPA, which helped scuttle SB467, a legislative fracking ban, only a week before Newsom’s announcement. Reheis-Boyd, a seasoned pro with 11 years at the head of WSPA, does her best to protect her members and remind politicians and the public alike that the state’s oil companies provide good paying jobs and that oil production in California is some of the cleanest in the world.
69 Craig Cornett
Craig Cornett is the CEO of the California Association of Health Facilities, a 71-year-old nonprofit group representing some 800 skilled nursing facilities and 500 intermediate care facilities throughout California, with their patients largely developmentally disabled. The CAHF — like every other medical entity in the state — has focused on the pandemic and its impacts on its vulnerable patient population. Since last year, CAHF developed several disaster preparedness plans targeting COVID-19. The plans include emergency response, the handling of volunteers, emergency staffing, handling the health care surge, and identifying alternative health care sites. CAHF’s members serve about 370,000 patients annually. Before coming to CAHF, Cornett was one of the select few who knew the Byzantine state budget backwards and forwards. He was the budget expert advising a half-dozen legislative leaders, and he educated rank-and-filed lawmakers – and reporters – about key issues. Cornett received his Master of Public Affairs degree from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin and his BA from Washington and Lee University.
70 Paul Mitchell
Paul Mitchell, the vice president of Political Data, Inc. and owner of Redistricting Partners, lives at the intersection of politics, data and analysis. It’s a good thing he does, because we – and anyone who pays close attention to California elections – learn a great deal from him about campaigns and what makes us tick as an electorate. Political Data markets voter file information; the firm stirred a tempest in the state’s political teapot when it announced in February that, after 30 years as a nonpartisan operator, it would no longer handle Republican clients. With redistricting in full swing this year, Redistricting Partners is busy; They are the state’s leading firm helping local agencies redraw district boundaries and helping politicos to stay ahead of the new linework. Mitchell was also one of the first to tap the state’s voter registration file to pose email survey questions to thousands of voters – a move that has been widely duplicated. He is married to Jodi Hicks (No. 37), the head honcho at Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, and is an avid cyclist.
71 Anne Irwin
Anne Irwin is the Director of San Francisco-based Smart Justice California, which “works to elect and educate state and local policymakers who champion smart, meaningful criminal justice reforms.” The group launched in 2017, and since then has notched significant victories: helping elect reformist District Attorneys Chesa Boudin and George Gascón in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and supporting then-state Sen. Holly Mitchell’s run for L.A. County Board of Supervisors. Winning fights like those doesn’t come cheap, and Irwin’s activist board is stacked with deep-pocketed reformers including Patty Quillin, wife of Netflix billionaire Reed Hastings. Directing those dollars is a key part of Irwin’s job, and she is advised by longtime Democratic Party stalwart Shawnda Westly, who is no stranger to this list herself. Irwin has criminal justice reform in her blood: Her father did time in Soledad for armed robbery, reformed himself, and became a prominent criminologist and author; Her mother is director emeritus of the San Francisco office of the Drug Policy Alliance.
72 Ed Manning
KP’s Ed Manning has represented an array of water and energy interests for over 15 years, including his stint at his own firm, Manning Advocates, prior to joining Kahl Pownall in 2005. He is always in the mix whether it be as one of the leaders of the fight against the water tax or on major energy issues such as regional transmission and wildfires. After a multi-year hiatus Manning is once again lobbying on behalf of homebuilders and developers by representing the California Housing Alliance. He also lobbies state government agencies such as the Cal-EPA, the Air Resources Board, the state water board and others. Before becoming a full time lobbyist Manning was a partner in a Los Angeles law firm, Weston, Benshoof (now part of Alston & Bird) where his practice focused on environmental, resource and land use law. Like his partner Jon Ross (No. 73) Manning helped lead KP in transitioning from its prior incarnation as Kahl Pownall.
73 Jonathan Ross
KP Public Affairs is a regular top biller among lobbying firms and Jonathan Ross is one of the reasons. Among their more than 60 (!) clients he handles such fiscal heavyweights as Citigroup, the California Mortgage Bankers Association and Morgan Stanley. When Google was searching for a lobbyist years ago, they hired Ross — a move that led to his hiring by other technology leaders, including Cisco and Airbnb. We don’t know if he handles KP’s coolest client: The Association of Surfing Professionals, but next time we’ll ask. Ross started his lobbying career with the San Francisco law firm of Landels, Ripley and Diamond, which he left in 1996 to help start Kahl Pownall, the predecessor firm to KP Public Affairs. As the firm’s principal adviser to the California Restaurant Association, whose members were hammered by the pandemic and now can’t find enough employees as they attempt to staff up, Ross has his work cut out for him this year. Well, and every year: It’s always something.
74 Scott Wetch
Organized labor is the 800-pound gorilla of California politics, and as such, is heavily represented on this list. One of the reasons is Scott Wetch, whose offices at 13th and I are one floor down from SBCTC (see No. 6). Wetch represents union interests first, last and always. His union-heavy list of clients includes the State Pipe Trades Council, the International Union of Elevator Constructors (Locals 8 and 18), a whole slew of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers locals, and some interesting non-labor entities like Seaworld and the Kaiser Foundation. Wetch has earned a reputation for ruthlessness if legislation coming out of the Capitol threatens his clients’ interests, and he cuts an imposing figure on the natural. That demeanor usually gets results, but can also backfire. In July, Wetch was involved in a public dust-up at the Senator Building with another lobbyist — the scene did not play to rave reviews, even among his usual labor allies.
75 Mark Macarro
Mark Macarro has served for over a quarter of a century as the Tribal Chairman of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians. Macarro is viewed as one of the most influential tribal voices in California, and he (and his lieutenant, Jacob Mejia, see No. 91) led the successful effort to place a sports wagering measure on the 2022 ballot. The initiative, which has the support of 18 tribes, was spurred by an effort from Sen. Bill Dodd and Asm. Adam Gray to put a different sports betting measure — Constitutional Amendment 6, developed without input from Pechanga — on the 2020 ballot. Tribal opposition and the COVID-19 pandemic derailed SCA6 last summer, leading to an all-out push from the tribal consortium to qualify the competing measure. If the initiative becomes law, California would join 26 other states which allow sports betting: The state’s tribal casinos and some horse-racing tracks would be allowed to offer onsite sports betting, with a 10 percent tax on gross gaming revenue.
76 Jeff Grubbe
Chairman Jeff Grubbe is in his fifth consecutive two-year term as the head of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. Grubbe, an increasingly prominent leader in Indian Country, worked his way up to Chair after starting out as a casino table games shift manager, and, like Pechanga Chairman Mark Macarro (No. 75) strongly supports the 2022 ballot proposition that would allow sports betting at the state’s tribal casinos. The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, a tribe of about 500 members that owns several casinos and resorts on 32,000 acres of land in and around Palm Springs, is a powerful, affluent tribe and its assets are one of the region’s biggest economic drivers, with big impacts in the Coachella Valley. Grubbe, generally known for his measured approach, sharply criticized President Trump last year when he failed to meet or acknowledge tribal leaders after landing Air Force One on Agua Caliente land. “Take all the politics out of it, the lack of respect is disappointing.”
77 Amy Brown
Lobbyist Amy Brown has long been a familiar, formidable presence in the Capitol — she was voted “Favorite Lobbyist to Work With” when we did a poll on lobbyists way back in 2009. Her recently reconfigured firm, Arc Strategies, has a long string of clients including Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, now led by Jodi Hicks (No. 37), her former partner at DiMare, Brown, Hicks and Kessler. Also on the list are the California Charter School Association, Safeway, and several cities, which makes sense since she worked as a legislative representative for the League of California Cities before striking out on her own. Brown, a retirement and pension specialist, travels the state constantly – at least she did in the pre-coronavirus era – conducting seminars on retirement issues and educating retirees and others about their options. These days we assume she’s in perennial Zoom meetings with her far-flung client base. She’s also handled workers compensation insurance issues — she served on the Commission on Health, Safety and Workers Compensation.
78 Jim Wunderman
The Bay Area was the first region in the country to shut down due to coronavirus, and now, nearly 18 months later, large offices are still understaffed, with employees working from home wherever possible. Whenever the pandemic ends, Bay Area employers and employees will find a new normal: A survey prepared by the Bay Area Council found that nearly 90 percent of the companies they queried plan to expand remote work, and a whopping one-in-six intend to move primarily to a work-from-home model. That’s just one of the challenges facing Bay Area businesses, and by extension, Jim Wunderman, the president and CEO of the BAC. Other concerns: climate change, the housing crisis, and combating the perception that people are fleeing California in droves (they’re not, as Wunderman pointed out in a recent Op Ed in the San Francisco Chronicle.) One of Wunderman’s other tasks is advocating for billions in state and federal dollars to improve infrastructure, and it looks like we’ll be getting some if we’re reading the D.C. tea leaves correctly.
79 Matt Rexroad
Matt Rexroad is the chief legal counsel for Redistricting Insights, a former Yolo County Supervisor and former legislative staffer. Rexroad is a key adviser to Republicans, including House Minority Leader, and Speaker-in-waiting, Kevin McCarthy. He has also become a leading business community consultant, even leading independent expenditures for several moderate Democrats in recognition of their increased role in protecting business interests. Rexroad is advising Republican office-holders and political action committees in California and in several other states. As the state looks toward new maps for 2022, Redistricting Insights is a key player. They are playing a lead role with business groups working to impact redistricting at the statewide level in California, including legislative and congressional line drawing, and working to monitor and influence the redrawing of multiple local government district maps being conducted under the new FAIR MAPS act. The firm is also crafting local political boundaries, much as it did in 2011. Outside of political work, Rexroad and his family are licensed foster care providers and he is a strong advocate for foster families.
80 Juan Rodriguez
It’s a good bet that at least one person from Ace Smith’s shop will be on this list every year, and this time we’ve got Juan Rodriguez, who is managing the governor’s campaign against the recall. Rodriguez has been with Smith since 2017; Rodriguez was the “R” in SCRB when the firm rebranded from SCN Strategies following Dan Newman’s (No. 90) departure in 2018. This year the company re-rebranded as Bearstar Strategies, after partner Laphonza Butler (the “B” in SCRB) left to join Airbnb, and George Ross and Erica Kwiatkowski Nielsen were elevated to partners. Rodriguez has been around a while: He got hooked on politics while working on a school board election campaign in 2003. He served in various capacities under Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and went to work for then-Attorney General Kamala Harris at the California Department of Justice in 2013. Rodriguez managed Harris’ very successful campaign (a 23 point blowout against former congresswoman Loretta Sanchez) for senate in 2016. Rodriguez was named on Politico Playbook’s Power List of 2019.
81 Nancy Drabble
Days after Gov. Newsom’s Stay-at-Home order last year, state Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye announced the suspension of jury trials for 60 days. Two months later, the May Revise outlined a 10% funding cut to the judicial branch. Thus began a saga that continues to play out: Circumstances dictate dramatic changes in the otherwise staid culture of the courts, and Nancy Drabble of The Consumer Attorneys of California works to stave off the most dire impacts for her members and their clients. The organization successfully lobbied for a $60 million allocation in this year’s Budget to address court delays. The CAOC is also supporting SB2, which would create a police decertification process and revise Qualified Immunity for police officers; and SB447, which would allow families to sue for compensation for non-economic damages after a loved one has died. Drabble, a UC Berkeley graduate, came to CAOC in 1986 after a stint with Ralph Nader’s “Nader’s Raiders” and was a player in the legendary 1988 “napkin deal” crafted at Frank Fat’s restaurant.
82 George Skelton
Decades ago, newspaper columnists held heavy sway in politics – note that the “Governor Moonbeam” sobriquet still clings to Jerry Brown, 45 years after Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mike Royko gave him the tag. And, while the days of H.L. Mencken and Westbrook Pegler are long gone, a few scribes continue to carry an outsize influence with their readership and the elected officials they cover. Chief among these – in California at least – is Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton. Terse, wry and caustic by turns, Skelton glares at state political leaders with suspicion. He’s honed his stiletto over decades of watching the Sacramento drama unfold, and he isn’t shy with his opinions – a mandatory quality for a columnist. Gov. Newsom, we’re told, reads Skelton regularly. We wonder what he made of Skelton’s July 12 column, giving Newom a “C” as governor, but rejecting the notion of a recall. “We don’t kick students out of school for a C average…” he wrote. “The C student is likely to stay in school for the rest of the term — and should.” We’ll soon see if California voters agree with Skelton’s assessment.
83 John Myers
John Myers, the Los Angeles Times bureau chief, is something of an oddity in Sacramento journalism. He isn’t one of the ticket punchers looking to fill a resume for an assignment in Washington. His two-decades-plus of longevity shows in the depth of his coverage: This isn’t his first rodeo or even his first recall. He arrived at the Times after many years in broadcast news, at KQED and ABC10 in Sacramento and he brought his conversational writing style to break down the complexities of government and politics. He was a pioneering political blogger and quick to see the potential of social media while many in the industry tried to wish it away. And he just launched a weekly newsletter for the Times called California Politics. That background makes a powerful combination at the state’s largest newspaper and important online operation. Backed by a talented staff in Sacramento and L.A., Myers and his crew cannot be ignored.
84 Lynn Valbuena
Lynn Valbuena, has been the chair of The Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Indian Nations for 25 years, and is an influential figure in tribal issues, in California as well as nationally. TASIN, a coalition of 13 federally-recognized southern California tribes — a mix of both casino-owning and non-gaming tribes — was formed in 1995. The association’s member tribes generated over $2.5 billion in total economic output in 2019 and employed over 16,000 Californians — many in rural and underserved communities. We haven’t seen financial numbers for 2020, but we are told that they were catastrophic; both casino income and room rentals at tribal resorts plummeted. Valbuena, generally known as a peacemaker, took the U.S. Department of the Treasury to task over the initial $8 billion allotment for tribal governments reserved in the CARES Act, which she characterized as inadequate to the needs of Native people and ignorant of the history of genocide and treaty violations that left tribal communities particularly vulnerable to the effects of the pandemic.
85 Brian Brokaw
Brian Brokaw opened his own political strategy firm more than a decade ago, and he’s built an enviable track record: He’s advised public officials, global tech firms, sports franchises and Native American tribes, just to name a few. The Guardian has called him “a top Democratic strategist” in California, and in 2019 he was named on the American Association of Political Consultants’ “40 Under 40” list. He managed Kamala Harris’ campaigns for attorney general, was an adviser on her U.S. Senate campaign and ran a super PAC in support of her presidential bid. Currently, he’s a political adviser to Gov. Gavin Newsom, and is serving as a senior adviser to Newsom’s Stop the Republican Recall Committee. Last year he partnered with Dan Newman (see No. 90) to launch The Media Company, which did strategy and ads for the successful No on Prop 20 campaign and also ran the IE supporting George Gascón for L.A. District Attorney. Full disclosure: Brian serves on the board of Open California, the 501c3 that publishes Capitol Weekly.
86 Brandon Castillo
Proposition 22, the 2020 ballot initiative that exempted app-based transportation and delivery companies from AB5 and classified their drivers as contractors rather than employees, was the most expensive ballot campaign ever waged in the state. Lyft, Uber, DoorDash, Instacart, and Postmates spent a whopping $205 million in support of the measure, and Brandon Castillo, partner in one of Sacramento’s top political consulting firms — Bicker, Castillo and Fairbanks, with Gwyn Bicker and Kathy Fairbanks — decided where much of that money was spent. The measure passed with 59% of the vote, so he was doing something right. Castillo has been on the Capitol scene for some 20 years, and has been involved in dozens of initiative campaigns; his firm’s website boasts a “better than a 95% success rate.” Before Bicker, Castillo and Fairbanks was founded in 2001, Castillo was a manager of public affairs for Burson-Marsteller, one of the nation’s best-known public relations firms.
87 Jeff Randle
Jeff Randle is president and CEO of Randle Communications, which handles political strategy, media, communications and other chores for an array of clients, including the California Hospital Association, Golden 1, the California Association of Realtors and CalPERS, among others. Randle served eight years as deputy chief of staff under former Gov. Pete Wilson, and was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s political director in the 2003 recall campaign against Gray Davis. Randle is close to House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, and was chairman of the board of California Trailblazers, the state’s version of the NRCC’s Young Guns candidate recruitment program. He was also a key strategist for Meg Whitman and helped secure Pete Wilson’s endorsement for her gubernatorial run in 2010. We’d be remiss if we didn’t note that former newsie Kevin Riggs recently retired after 10 happy years at Randle, which is regularly voted one of the Best Places to Work in Sacramento.
88 John Garcia
Founded in California in 1945, Kaiser Permanente is a massive player in California health care, serving nearly 10 million members through 532 medical facilities, and a network of 16,000 physicians and 149,000 employees. As vice president for Kaiser Permanente in Sacramento, Garcia lobbies for a far-flung medical organization made up of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc., Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, The Permanente Medical Group and Southern California Permanente Medical Group. COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the finances of the medical industry, and Kaiser was no exception; Their net income dropped from about $7.4 billion in 2019 to around $6.4 billion in 2020. A round of 200 layoffs in May 2021 speaks to the challenges the organization faces as the pandemic continues to play out, and it is John Garcia’s job to make sure that the folks in Sacramento don’t make it any harder. Full disclosure: Garcia serves on the Board of Directors of Open California, which publishes Capitol Weekly.
89 Andrew Antwih
Lobbyist Andrew Antwih does a bit of everything, but he is perhaps best known for his work on transportation issues. During a 12-year stint in the Capitol, he served eight years as chief consultant to the Assembly Transportation Committee. He’s a partner in Shaw Yoder Antwih Schmelzer & Lange (formerly Shaw Yoder Antwih), which handles numerous local governments, including cities and counties, as well as a number of energy clients. Antwih joined the firm, which started back in 1975 as Edward R. Gerber & Associates, in 2008. SYASL’s founding partners, Josh Shaw and Paul Yoder, purchased the firm in 1998, establishing Shaw / Yoder, and changing the name to Shaw Yoder Antwih when Antwih was named a partner in 2009. Two additional partners, Karen Lange and Jason Schmelzer, were added in 2015. Antwih, who started his legislative career as a Senate Fellow in 1994, served on former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s staff as the chief legislative representative to Los Angeles.
90 Dan Newman
Dan Newman is a political strategist, specializing in communications, media relations, and crisis management for candidates, companies, and causes. Newman rose to prominence as partner at SCN Strategies (now Bearstar Strategies). While at SCN he worked on over a dozen successful initiative campaigns and counseled a multitude of high profile Democrats including Kamala Harris, Jerry Brown, Alex Padilla – and Gavin Newsom. Newman left SCN to stay in California with Newsom rather than sign on for the Harris For Prez campaign hayride, and he currently serves as chief political spokesperson and political adviser to the governor. Last year he joined Brian Brokaw (see No. 85) to launch The Media Company, which ran the IE backing George Gascón for Los Angeles District Attorney, and worked on the successful No on Prop 20 campaign. Newman has quite the bio: He previously worked as a Congressional staffer, aided asylum seekers in Mexico, was a Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay, and recently completed the Western States Endurance Run.
91 Jacob Mejia
There’s an old saying that success has many fathers, and the hard-fought effort to put a sports gaming initiative on the 2022 ballot is no exception. A consortium of 18 tribes, including the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation and the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, submitted more than 1.4 million signatures — most gathered during the pandemic — to qualify the proposition. Jacob Mejia, a familiar face to anyone who closely follows tribal affairs, was a key strategist and the official spokesperson for the initiative effort. An interesting wrinkle about the initiative: The tribes could withdraw their proposal before the election and replace it with a measure preferred by the legislature. As is often the case elsewhere in the political world, Mejia wears several hats; he is Director of Public Affairs at Pechanga, and Executive Director at the Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Indian Nations. And, full disclosure: he’s also on the Board of Directors of Open California, publisher of Capitol Weekly.
92 Scott Rodd
In just over two years covering politics at the Capitol, Scott Rodd’s work has shown that he and his employers at Sacramento’s Capital Public Radio won’t settle for pedestrian daily coverage. Rodd’s investigation into California’s failed wildfire prevention efforts led to a $500 million increase in this year’s state budget— not bad for a day’s work as a journalist. Rodd found that the Newsom administration had grossly exaggerated claims about the state’s wildfire prevention efforts, leaving them far below what experts say is needed to prevent catastrophic fires (which Rodd continues to cover). After Rodd’s story appeared, a last-minute change to this year’s state budget followed, more than doubling the allocation for wildfire prevention efforts. Rodd is no one-trick pony: An earlier investigation revealed hundreds of millions in no-bid state contracts for pandemic response were awarded to large Newsom political donors. Rodd joined Capital Public Radio in May 2019 after working at The Sacramento Business Journal for two years. He previously worked as a freelance writer based in Los Angeles and Washington D.C.
93 Dana Williamson
Dana Williamson, a cabinet secretary in the Brown administration, has seen dramatic shifts since she left the Horseshoe to run her own firm, Grace Public Affairs. She served as a key political adviser to state Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who resigned in March to take an appointment in the Biden administration. In April, Gov. Newsom surprised many (including Sacramento mayor Darrell Steinberg, who was measuring the drapes in the A.G.’s office) by appointing then-Asm. Rob Bonta as Becerra’s replacement. Williamson, who managed Gov. Brown’s Yes on Proposition 57 (Criminal Justice Reform) campaign, was a perfect fit for the progressive, reform-minded Bonta, and is on tap as his campaign manager for the 2022 election. She has close ties to Smart Justice California (see No. 71) and gets at least some of the credit for the $1.6 million Bonta has raised in the three and a half months since his appointment. Speaking of close ties, in September she launched a supergroup of political pros – The Collaborative – that included none other than Jim DeBoo (see no. 1). Nuff said.
94 David Quintana
If David Quintana is known for one thing (aside from his trademark look: shaved head, stevedore’s shoulders and flashy suits) it is the splashy January power party known as The Bash (AKA Back to Session Bash) that he has organized each year since 2005. (Full disclosure, Capitol Weekly is a media sponsor of the Bash.) The Bash is Quintana’s baby, and each detail – from the cigar bar to the classic hip hop – is carefully selected by the man himself. With its six-figure budget and guest list of political all-stars, The Bash is unlike any other event in Sacramento – where else could you expect to find Lil Jon and Nancy Skinner on the same dance floor? This year’s event (moved to July, for obvious reasons) was comparatively subdued, and even an appearance by Oakland hip hop legend Too Short was less dramatic than it might have been pre-pandemic times. Oh yes, he is a lobbyist too, with a bevy of cannabis interests, several Indian Tribes and local-control housing orgs among his clients.
95 Greg Campbell
Greg Campbell spent more than 20 years as a leg staffer, much of that time at the top of the heap – in various leadership capacities through five speakerships. He is the only person to have been chief of staff to two successive Assembly Speakers (Toni Atkins and John Pérez) since the inception of the full-time Legislature, and has close ties to Jim DeBoo (see No. 1) from those days. Campbell left the building in 2015 to launch Campbell Strategy and Advocacy, a lobbying firm that quickly put together a top-tier client list heavy on utilities (PG&E), telecom (Comcast, Cox), and sports (MLB, NBA, PGA.) In 2013, Campbell underwent major surgery to remove a non-cancerous brain tumor, leading to an incident that has become part of his legend: The phone rang at his bedside; it was Gov. Brown, asking if there was anything he could do. Ever the political staffer, Campbell said, yes, sign my boss’ bill to expand Medi-Cal coverage.
96 Shari McHugh
McHugh Koepke & Associates — made up of Shari McHugh, spouse Gavin, and partner Dawn Koepke — is a small but potent lobbying firm. They have a lengthy client list that includes a number of insurers: Hartford; the National Association of Insurance & Financial Advisors of California; and the Pacific Association of Domestic Insurance Companies. McHugh has a history with the insurance industry. She served as senior vice president of the Coalition of California Insurance Professionals and senior vice president of the Professional Insurance Agents. But MKA also counts UBER, CCPOA, the American Beverage Association, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States and the Shell Oil Company among their many clients. The firm was started in 2000 by Gavin McHugh; spouse Shari joined in 2003. Together, they contributed a section on small lobbying firms to a new book on the lobbying profession, A Practitioner’s Guide to Lobbying and Advocacy in California, which was published in 2020.
97 Bob Giroux
The lobbying firm of Lang, Hansen, Giroux & Kidane (formerly Lang, Hansen, O’Malley and Miller) is a Sacramento powerhouse (see No. 59). Bob Giroux’s name was added to the shingle a few years back, although he’s been with the firm since January of 2006. Giroux carries with him a deep knowledge of both the legislative and political process, earned during 22 years in the capitol (11 years in each house) where he served as an adviser to leadership in both the Assembly and Senate. While at the Assembly Giroux was senior consultant to the Ways & Means Budget Subcommittee responsible for the budget of Caltrans, the California Highway Patrol and the DMV. That transportation expertise earned him an appointment to the board of the High Speed Rail Authority. Giroux has an interesting background: He grew up as an Air Force brat and worked at NASA before getting into politics.
98 Kristin Bertolina Faust
A question that has dogged this list for over a decade: What to do with the fundraisers? It’s a given that the state’s top political fundraisers are in close proximity to the elected officials they work for, and the money they raise — or don’t — can make or break a political career. But at the end of the day, how much direct influence do they have on politics and policy? We’ve never come up with a good answer, so some years we’ve had several fundraisers on the list, and others, none. This year we have one: Kristin Bertolina Faust, a Democratic fundraiser and strategist who founded BB&G, a Sacramento-based fundraising and political consulting firm, in 1999. Over the last 20 years, the firm has grown to include partners Rhianon See-Barnato and Angie Georgoulias. Their current client roster includes over 25 elected officials and committees including Lt. Governor Eleni Kounalakis, the state senate Democratic Caucus and Governor Newsom’s bid to defeat the recall. Faust is also working with U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla for his 2022 Senate run.
99 Mandy Lee
A newcomer to this list is Mandy Lee, the founder and principal of Omni Government Relations, where she represents a small but potent client list that includes household names like TESLA, CVS and Kaiser. She may be new to the Top 100, but we aren’t the first to recognize her achievements; The National Association of Asian Pacifics in Politics and Public Affairs included her on their “40 Under 40” list back in 2016 when she was still with Platinum Advisors. Prior to signing on with Platinum she was Vice President of Government Affairs at the California Retailers Association, the trade association that represents a wide swath of retail sellers in the world’s fifth largest economy. Lee is also an LGBTQ activist, and is on the Board of Equality California. Like many top lobbyists, she got her start as a legislative staffer, serving as a Consultant to then-state Sen. Alex Padilla and as Legislative Director for California Asm. Roger Hernandez.
100 Alexei Koseff
Fodder for national pundits, ambitious Republicans and a Saturday Night Live skit, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s attendance at a maskless birthday party for lobbyist Jason Kinney (see No. 65) at The French Laundry was the game-changing California politics story of 2020, thanks to San Francisco Chronicle reporter Alexei Koseff. It provided fuel for the Newsom recall effort, gave bragging rights to Capitol insiders who attended and made “French Laundry” synonymous with Capitol excess and Newsom’s nagging do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do problem. Koseff, a Stanford University graduate who came to the Chronicle in 2019 after five years in the Sacramento Bee’s Capitol Bureau, has covered all things state government. (Some may recall Koseff as the first reporter to actually attend the annual post-session junket for legislators and lobbyists in Hawaii – and take pictures.) Koseff is president of the Sacramento Press Club, which launched its first statewide political journalism competition this year under his leadership. When he’s not doing journalism, he’s a trained dancer and member of local dance crew Boogie Monstarz.
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