Now we know how Santa Claus feels. Making these types of lists is not easy. But we checked it once, checked it twice, checked who was naughty and nice – the former outweighed the latter — and came up with our latest Capitol Weekly Top 100 list.
We’ve learned some lessons putting together this list and found some holes in our own knowledge of the major players in California politics. Here’s the most important thing we found: Assembling this list was an exercise in weighing egos, ideology and long-held assumptions with the reality of power. In the end, this list is about power.
This annual list is meant to be dynamic – with wild changes from one year to the next. We make no apologies: We want our readers to be able to look at this rundown and from it get a good sense of what is going on right now in the world of California politics, of who’s doing what to whom.
The list reflects a campaign season in full swing. But far more importantly, it reflects the transition under way in Sacramento, with a lame-duck governor whose influence is on the wane.
As with previous lists, we’ve excluded elected officials from our rundown. And in our review of last year’s roster, we decided to cut back on a certain category of power player – the power player with a big bank account who has the ability to impact state policy and politics with a single check. There are too many of these figures sprinkled throughout our state to put them all on this list. But we did make exceptions for those who have decided to use their financial resources to play major roles in California politics this year.
As always, we invite criticism – constructive or otherwise – with the list we’ve assembled. And we invite you to tell us, calmly and reasonably — or otherwise – who we missed and why they should be on our list next time.
This week, we’re publishing numbers 51-100 – the bottom half of our list. Next week, we’ll publish the second half, so be sure to stay tuned.
So, without further ado, the envelopes please…
51. Parke Skelton,
The Los Angeles-based Parke Skelton pops up everywhere all the time in legislative campaigns, but despite his success rate and his energy level, he flies under the radar of many political observers. In the cynical world of political campaigning, Skelton is something of a rarity: He’s a progressive Democrat with a high dose of ideological purity who has taken on chores for top Democratic leaders – including L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and former Assembly Speaker Karen Bass – but who also handles new contenders hoping to make their way up.
52. George Skelton
Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton gets covered with praise or hung in effigy, depending on his latest column, but virtually everybody who watches California politics reads him regularly. Partly, that’s because he works for the L.A.Times, which carries a cachet even in a world overrun by mouthy, Internet-based pundits. But mostly it’s because his passion for accuracy and analysis shine through in every column.
53. Dan Walters
For three decades, Dan Walters’ column has been a must-read for elected officials, staffers, lobbyists, the statewide political media and, last but not least, the public. Dan, who often uses his column to break stories, is a reporter’s reporter and happily takes on everyone, left and right, but mostly left, to the outrage of many Democrats. He pulls no punches, doesn’t lob soft balls to sweeten sources and happily sees politics as blood sport and high entertainment. Bravo.
54. Joe Edmiston, executive director, Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy
Every time we try to keep Joe Edmiston off the list, he keeps popping back on. Edmiston is one of the most influential people in California, a master bureaucrat, because he knows how to work political money and political power – which are often the same. He’s firmly lodged in his empire at the Conservancy, an empire based at least in part on land acquisition and regulatory maneuvering.
55. Peter Douglas, California Coastal Commission.
Peter Douglas, like Edmiston, is a master bureaucrat and a power to be reckoned with in the halls of government. Few people in California have made as many enemies as Douglas. At the Coastal Commission, enemies seem to spring from the ground, if not the sea – and you can chalk up another one for each decision that goes against an affluent property owner who wants an ocean view. But under Douglas’ management the Commission has earned an enviable national reputation as a coastal watchdog. And even governors are leery of messing with CC’s budget.
56. Nancy McFadden, senior vice president, Pacific Gas & Electric Company.
Nancy McFadden’s title is fancy – senior VP of PG&E and special adviser to the head of PG&E Corp. – but what she really does is direct PG&E’s state, local and federal government relations. That takes in a lot of political territory. A couple of years ago, she played a pivotal role to block an attempt by Yolo County residents to join the Sacramento Municipal Utility District. This year, she’s quarterbacking PG&E’s effort in Proposition 16 to make it harder for any locals to form their own utility district or hook up with an existing one. McFadden, a former top official in Gov. Gray Davis’ administration, doesn’t want to lose any ratepayers, and they’re spreading plenty of money around to both parties to enlist all the help they can get.
57. Rick Caruso, L.A. developer
Los Angeles developer Rick Caruso has proven his ability and willingness to play both sides of the political aisle. He has given money to Gov. Schwarzenegger and raised eyebrows when he decided to host a fundraiser for Democrat Jerry Brown. And if he plays his cards right, he just might be the next mayor of Los Angeles. Caruso is the latest in a line of moderate Republicans looking to forge a pro-business coalition to lead Los Angeles. In the meantime, Caruso is sewing the seeds for a run by spreading some of his significant political capital around.
58. Darius Anderson, Platinum Advisors
When Gray Davis was recalled in 2003, insiders believed the role of insider-lobbyist Darius Anderson would be diminished. But Anderson, now based in San Francisco, remains a major force in the lobbying world, in part because of his close relationship to Susan Kennedy, who served Davis in a top position and is Schwarzenegger’s chief of staff. He’s also a major land developer, and he has lobbied CalPERS on behalf of a client who landed a $25 million investment. The CalPERS role raised eyebrows because the client, Markstone Capital, was founded by a businessman who stepped down after pleading guilty to pension fraud in New York. (Update: This week, Anderson agreed to a $500,000 fine in connection with the New York influence-peddling investigation.)
59. Scott McDonald, Woodward McDowell
Scott McDonald is a key political strategist for Woodward McDowell, the Burlingame-based communications firm that seems to be involved in every major business-driven push against or around environmental rules. For one thing, he is an architect of the AB 32 Implementation Group, which despite its title is critical of California’s landmark greenhouse gas emissions law. McDonald played a role in the most important environmental legislation of 2009, which gave L.A.-area air-quality regulators the right to resume distributing air-emission credits. That plan, denounced by environmentalists and fought in court, was viewed as a major victory for business.
60. Jay Hansen, legislative director of the Buildi
ng and Construction Trades Council
Jay Hansen is the BCTC’s political point man and is in the top tier of players representing organized labor – a key position in any year, but especially critical this year in the high-stakes gubernatorial election where labor is all but certain to play a decisive role. Hansen, who has powerful political antenna, is at or near the center of every major labor-linked political strategy decision in California.
61. Harvey Rosenfield, Consumer Watchdog
Harvey Rosenfield – attorney, consumer advocate and thorn in the side of insurers from California to Washington, D.C. – is a former Nader’s Raider who now heads Consumer Watchdog, the Santa Monica-based group that goes after insurance companies and others on behalf of consumers. Rosenfield, whose group has a hefty dose of trial-bar funding, is a major California political player and a deft handler of the media. He wrote Proposition 103, the landmark ballot initiative that voters approved in 1988 to outlaw discriminatory practices by the insurance industry.
62. Brian Kelly, policy adviser to Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg
When it comes to the power players in “the building,” Brian Kelly is at or near the top of everybody’s list. The detail-driven Kelly used to handle transportation issues specifically, but he has since branched out to become the Senate leader’s top policy person.
63. Rick Simpson, adviser to Assembly Speaker John Perez
In the world of term limits, senior Capitol staffers become more important. And staffers like Rick Simpson, who has been in the Assembly dating back to Willie Brown’s speakership, has been a fixture in the Building for more than two decades. And good thing, too. He’s one of the only people left who actually understand the state’s increasingly complicated system of education finance, which makes up about half of the state’s overall general fund budget.
64. Jeff Kightlinger, general counsel and chief executive officer, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
In the world of water politics, Jeff Kightlinger is a major player but he could walk unrecognized down a corridor in the state Capitol. The MWD – also known as the Met – is the water wholesaler for almost all of Southern California, and that means that Kightlinger is at the center of power over California’s single most important commodity. His decisions and recommendations affect nearly half of California’s population.
65. Jason Kinney, partner, California Strategies
There is perhaps no better example of the next generation of California political powerbrokers than Jason Kinney. With close ties to several top Democrats, including Gavin Newsom and Darrell Steinberg, Kinney remains close to Democratic power in Sacramento. Kinney also advises some of the Capitol’s most influential interests, including AT&T and numerous healthcare clients. But as a political adviser rather than a registered lobbyist, we’re never quite sure exactly what he’s up to or who he’s representing.
66. Mark Macarro, Pechanga Band of Lusieno Indians
Macarro was the face that helped sell tribal gaming to California voters more than a decade ago. He became the spokesman for the Proposition 5 and Proposition 1A campaigns., which helped change tribal and California politics forever. While tribal issues have ebbed in importance inside the Legislature, Macarro and Pechanga remain active in state and local politics, and are still a viable political force.
67. Richard Milanovich, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.
Orgainzed labor’s influence is well documented. So when new compacts for some of the state’s largest gaming tribes came before the Legislature a couple of years ago, many Democrats were forced to decide between two sets of loyal friends. It is a testament to the power of tribes like Agua Caliente that the compacts were ultimately approved, over the wishes of many big wigs in the labor movement. And the show of force remains a reminder that Agua Caliente, and its chairman, is that rarest of Capitol breeds -a reservoir of political power at its disposal.
68. Rose Ann DeMoro, California Nurses Association
The nurses have built the reputation of being one of the most aggressive labor groups in the state. Since taking an aggressive stance against the 2005 special election in California, CNA has remained a loud, progressive voice inside the world of labor. As they build a national organization, CNA is no longer just a bunch of rabble-rousers. They’ve followed up their energetic campaigns with real money in recent years, and DeMoro has been at the heart of the effort.
69. David Quintana, California Tribal Business Alliance
Almost from scratch, Quintana has helped build the California Tribal Business Alliance into a force in Capitol politics. Conceived as a coalition of tribal governments that took a less combative approach to issues of sovereignty, Quintana’s propensity for deal making has miffed some who have gotten in his way, but he has steadily grown the power and influence of CTBA inside the Capitol.
70. Adam Mendelsohn, partner, Mercury Public Affairs
For the last three years, Mendelsohn has been the political arm of the Arnold Schwarzenegger operation. This year, in that capacity, he is girding for three more battles – the fight to change the state’s primary system, and the battle to save the governor’s greenhouse gas law and redistricting initiative. In the meantime, Mendelsohn has laid the foundation for a firm to live on after the Schwarzenegger meal ticket leves down, forging a bipartisan alliance with former Speaker Fabian Nuñez to prepare Mercury for the next phase.
71. Liz Snow, California Building Industry Association
Mea culpa, mea culpa. Among the many things we heard about last year’s list was the fact that we overlooked Snow’s influence in California politics. Since then, Snow has left her perch as the head of the California Dental Association PAC to perform the same job for CBIA. While the PAC may not have the same reach as the dental PAC, its resources are not insignificant. And with Snow at the helm, the safe money is on Snow raising the PAC’s profile in the years to come.
72. Bill Burke, chairman, South Coast Air Quality Management District
Bill Burke is proof of an increasingly true axiom in state politics – more and more power is moving to the permanent bureaucracy. Through his positions on the California Coastal Commission and South Coast Air Quality Management District, Burke remains a clandestine but unmistakable force in the Capitol. Whether it’s getting a bill jammed through the Legislature to extend his term on the air board or orchestrating an 11th-hour deal involving air emission credits, Burke may not be a visible presence in Sacramento, but his fingerprints are all over the place.
73. Deborah Gonzalez, California Dental Association
Gonzalez was the Capitol’s policy guru for Republicans, arguably since her time in Speaker Curt Pringle’s office. Gonzalez left the Capitol last year to take over the political operations of the California Dental Assocaition, one of the state’s most active PACs, as was evidenced in the recent fight to elect Bill Emmerson to the Senate. Whether or not Gonzalez will have the influence and control over the PAC that her predecessor, Liz Snow, had remains to be seen, but if past experience is any guide, we wouldn’t bet against her ability to remain a powerhouse in state politics in her new position.
74. Yvonne Walker, president SEIU Loca
In California and nationally, SEIU remains an organization in the throes of transition. Amid the turmoil, Walker serves as head of the largest state employee union — an increasingly difficult task as the state continues to wrestle with deep budget deficits. Walker and her union have led the charge against the governor’s furlough plans, and remain a visible symbol of labor’s continued power in the Capitol.
75. Tom Hiltachk, managing partner, Bell, McAndrews and Hiltachk
Republican legal guru Tom Hiltachk is one of a handful of political attorneys in the state who are players in that world where law and politics come together. He’s the legal adviser to the California Republican Party, he regularly challenges Democrats before the Fair Political Practices Commission, and he fights Democrats’ ballot initiatives – for starters. He advises GOP office holders and political contenders. With partners Chuck Bell and Colleen Andrews, Hiltachk is a potent GOP force.
76. Dan Weitzman, Democratic fundraiser
As the top fundraiser for both Senate leader Darrell Steinberg and Speaker John Perez, Weitzman remains the main conduit between the Capitol Democrats and the donor community. While fundraising among members is less centralized than it used to be, Weitzman has retained his importance and influence through three consecutive speakers.
77. Richard Mersereau, policy director, Assembly Republican Caucus
Leaders may come and go, but Richard Mersereau, it appears, is here to stay. As the policy director for the Assembly Republican Caucus, Mersereau has served as the loyal opposition as the revolving door spins in the Republican leader’s office. While Democrats have held a comfortable majority in the house for years, Mersereau has kept Republicans on task and on message with a deep knowledge of policy and a work ethic celebrated by his colleagues.
78. Moira Topp, lobbyist, Sloat Higgins Jensen and Associates
Topp cut her teeth inside the Capitol — both on the legislative side and inside Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration. After a stint as the Chamber of Commerce’s lobbyist on transporation and environmental issues, she joined the super firm of Sloat Higgins Jensen, one of the top billing lobbying firms in the state. The firm’s client list reads like a who’s who of Republican interests and local governments, with a few major businesses thrown in for good measure. And when it comes to anything involving environmental or transportation policy, Topp is inevitably in the thick of the fight.
79. David Townsend, Townsend Raimundo Bessler and Usher
Townsend has carved out a niche helping business-friendly Democrats and some not so Democrat-friendly businesses over the years. But he has used that leverage as the Democrats’ middle-man to carve out a heck of a business for himself. Currently, Townsend is leading PG&E’s efforts to limit the expansion of publicly owned utilities on the June ballot. Townsend is also a consigliare for Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson and numerous other pols throughout the state.
80. V. John White, executive director, Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies
If it involves energy, any kind of energy, V. John White, either knows about it, has something to do with it, or is lobbying for or against it. His specialty is renewable and alternative energy, and as California expands its renewable portfolio, “V. John” is at the center of the action.
81. Barry Broad, lobbyist, Teamsters Public Affairs Council, and others
If there were extra points for literary prowess, Broad would shoot to the top of this list. As it stands, Broad is a constant in the labor community — but not always in lock step with Democratic Party insiders. With clients ranging from the Teamsters to podiatrists to scientists to jockeys, not to mention several powerful public employee unions, Broad is often an outspoken voice on key Capitol issues. He’s also finishing up a second novel, a follow up to “Eve of Destruction”— reportedly dreamed up while he was sitting through a particularly boring legislative hearing.
82. Lisa Gasperoni, adviser to Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg
As Darrell Steinberg’s political brain, Lisa Gasperoni has one of the Capitol’s most thankless jobs. Senate Democrats face up to four tough races in the fall — two seats that they will have to defend, and two more they will try to snatch from Republicans. Gasperoni has had to build an operation without much of the big labor money that Senate Democrats have banked on in the past, not to mention what promises to be a challenging environment for Democrats this fall.
83. Alice Huffman, president, California NAACP
Huffman has maintained her influence as the keeper of one of the most coveted political endorsements in the state. As head of the state NAACP, Huffman has weighed in on a variety of issues from public power to redistricting, and has shown a willingness to buck the party line in the process.
84. Jim Brulte, partner, California Strategies
As a former Republican leader of both the Assembly and the Senate, Jim Brulte continues to play the role of informal adviser to a number of politicians around the state. As part of the California Strategies super firm, Brulte wields power quietly and, at times, remotely. But with the ear of some of the state’s top Republican politicians, plus a reputation as a deal-maker among Democrats, Brulte is one of the few pols who has retained influence after his legislative power has gone.
85. Roger Salazar, partner, Acosta/Salazar
Since joining forces with Andrew Acosta in 2005, Salazar and his firm have steadily risen up the ranks of Democratic consultants and strategists. A veteran of the Gray Davis administration and the Clinton White House, Salazar now is the “outside” communications consultant for Speaker John Perez, and for a new labor-backed independent expenditure committee that has pledged millions to help Jerry Brown.
86. Paula Treat, lobbyist, Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians
As the chief lobbyist for the Pechanga Band and director of their political action committee, Treat continues to wield influence inside the building. But beyond just her client list — which also includes Edison International, Treat’s institutional knowledge — not to mention her ability to spin a good political war story — gives her influence beyond her clientele.
87. Amy Brown, partner, DiMare Van Vleck and Brown
With a background in local government issues, Brown has become one of the Capitol’s top voices on retirement and pension issues. Her firm boasts a diverse client list that includes business giants like Safeway, the California Medical Assocaition, local water boards, Indian tribes and local governments.
88. Soyla Fernandez, lobbyist, Fernandez Government Solutions
Somehow, when the end of session comes around, Soyla Fernandez seems to be everywhere. As a solo operator in her own lobbying firm, Fernandez’s clients include Capitol giants like Southern California Edison and Verizon.
89. Jeanne Cain, executive vice president, California Chamber of Commerce
Jeanne Cain is the chairwoman of the multibillion-dollar State Compensation Insurance Fund and she’s the executive vice president of the California Chamber of Commerce. She wears other hats as well, but those two are enough: She knows the Capitol landscape and she’s been a business-friendly warrior on any number of political issues over the past decade. Her tenure at SCIF hasn’t been without controversy: She’s riding herd on a widely reported internal investigation involving the actions and potential conflicts of past executives. SCIF is
probably the largest, most obscure entity in state government. The cliché, “powerful but obscure” applies here.
90. Charles Munger
Perhaps nobody is causing more heartache for Speaker Nancy Pelosi than Charles Munger. The Stanford scientist and son of the Vice-Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway has made it his mission to take drawing Congressional districts out of the hands of the Legislature. He has dedicated millions to qualifying a measure for the November ballot to do just that. Congressional Democrats, fearing their incumbency threatened, have responded in kind with millions of their own.
91. Scott Wetch, partner, Carter Wetch and Associates
Wetch is the go-to person for the pipe trades and electrical workers unions, among a host of other clients. His unions have gone contrary to many other powerful labor groups on key issues like the implementation of the state’s greenhouse gas law. Wetch was also instrumental in holding Democrats’ feet to the fire on the recent fight over renewable energy standards, despite intense pressure from the governor’s office. Wetch was also hired by developer Ed Roski to help earn support from labor-friendly Democrats for a plan to build an NFL stadium in Los Angeles County.
92. Donne Brownsey, Sacramento Advocates
Brownsey is a Capitol trailblazer. A former Capitol super-staffer for Senate Democrats, she became one of the first women to run her own lobbying firm, she joined forces with Barry Brokaw’s Sacramento Advocates. Brownsey was in the thick of last year’s water negotiations and represents a host of diverse clients inside the Capitol.
93. Maggie Linden, Ogilvy Public Affairs
After serving three different Assembly Speakers, Linden was recruited by Ogilvy to help build their Sacramento practice. For the last several years, Ogilvy has kept busy fighting off ballot-box efforts to require minors to notify their parents before receiving an abortion. Ogilvy has also been at the center of the effort to promote the state’s new redistricting law, which is facing a possible repeal at the ballot box this November.
94. Dan Morain, senior editor, Sacramento Bee
Morain’s resignation from the Los Angeles Times left a gaping hole in the Capitol press corps. He had carved out a niche as the best reporter on politics and money in the state, and handled tribal gaming and a host of other issues. After a brief experiment as a PR flack, Morain is back with the Sacramento Bee as a columnist. His columns are still anchored in solid reporting and as he continues to find his voice as a columnist, his influence in the state will only increase.
95. Mike Madrid
Over the last several years, Madrid has quietly helped make local government a force in statewide politics. Madrid helped build the battle plan for what became Proposition 1A, which limited the state’s ability to take revenues earmarked for local governments. This year, the League of Cities and other locals are back to renegotiate the deal they made with the voters, asking for a stronger wall around local government dollars.
96. Karen Skelton, Dewey Square Group
Skelton made her mark in Washington as a confidant to Al Gore. But as the head of Dewey’s California operation, Skelton has built a practice with close ties to First Lady Maria Shriver. The firm also has close ties to the state labor federation, thanks to Steve Smith, another Dewey principal who brings hard-nosed California campaign experience to the firm.
97. Christy Bouma, Capitol Connection
Bouma is a force in labor politics, which makes her a force inside the capitol. As the chief advocate for the California Professional Firefighters, Bouma has been in the center of some of the major fights inside the Capitol in recent years. And as election season ramps up, the influence of the firefighters is only going to increase. As head of her own firm, Capitol Connection, Bouma also works on behalf of the school employees association and Altria.
98. Jodi Hicks, California Medical Association
When Dustin Corcoran was promoted to CEO of the California Medical Association, Hicks took control of the governmental affairs shop of one of the most powerful associations in the state, and is the first woman to hold the post, which makes her a key player in state politics. Hicks and her team wield influence over a variety of healthcare issues inside the Capitol.
99. Haim Saban, investment banker
The creator of the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers once said he was a “one-issue guy” when it came to politics. Who knew that issue was redistricting? Saban, a former member of the UC Board of Regents, has been a consistent Democratic donor, but rose to mega-donor status this month when he chipped in $2 million at the behest of Congressional leaders to fight changes in the state’s redistricting law.
100. Kassy Perry, Perry Communications
Perry’s firm remains one of the top PR firms in California politics. The firm’s bread and butter is representing companies and organization involved in health care — including PhRMA, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Merck — which is sure to continue as a top issue in coming years. Their highest profile recent effort, however, was not related to health care: They came in at the last minute to try to help save the failed No on Proposition 8 campaign. But no one seems to be holding that against them.