When I took over as editor of Capitol Weekly back in January, the first thing most people wanted to know was what kind of changes I was going to make.
My very honest response was that I wasn’t planning any major changes at all. To quote the old colloquialism, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t freshen it up from time to time. And with that thought in mind, welcome to the 15th edition of the Capitol Weekly Top 100 list.
Each Top 100 has its own unique challenges, and putting together this year’s list was no different. Because, let’s be real: this is a completely subjective process. There is no way we or anybody else can definitively say who the most influential hundred people are in the Capitol community. There is no quantitative way to make that judgement. Maybe we’re fools to even try, but color us foolish, because after all these years we’re still at it.
Acknowledging that, we went about this year’s process the same way we always do: Scores of conversations with people in and around the Capitol community. There were countless phone calls, Zoom calls and the rattling of many an ear. Much coffee was consumed. Lists were agonizingly put together, then torn down again and rebuilt, only to have the process repeat itself over and over, right up to the deadline for handing the copy to the printer. We reporters might complain about deadlines, but we definitely need them.
If you were one of the people who shared your thoughts with me, I offer my sincerest thanks. You all are lifesavers, and I owe you all big time. The next coffee – or maybe an adult beverage or two – is on me.
The result is a list we’re pretty happy with, though I know others might not be. I’m okay with that, because in addition to building a list that reasonably reflects a snapshot of the Capitol’s power dynamic at this point in time, I wanted to start an evolution in how we approach this project and to spark a healthy discussion about what it might look like in the future.
The foundation of that evolution has been developing for a while now. In recent years, the list has gradually become more diverse and dynamic, much like California itself. More than anything, we wanted this year’s effort to build on that foundation.
To that end, we made the conscious choice to include a greater number of chiefs of staff, policy experts, and consultants who often toil in obscurity but who make the wheels turn on a daily basis. For those people, we gave a lot of weight to their overall body of work in addition to their accomplishments in the previous year. That unto itself is a big departure from our norm.
There’s a good reason for this. While nobody doubts the power of a major third house player or a union or agency head, the ultimate success or failure of a bill or a policy initiative depends on a myriad of people in the process who, by virtue of their skill, determination and knowledge can also greatly influence that bill’s fate. We see you, we hear you, and we offer you all a tip of the hat.
Not that we forgot about the legion of uber-powerful members of the third house. Fact: a lot of them are still on this year’s list as well.
But even there we added some new names and faces.
And in acknowledgment of the reality that women are fast approaching parity with their male colleagues in the Legislature, for the first time ever this list acknowledges the role of candidate recruiters in the election process.
Speaking of parity, we beat the Legislature to the punch: this year’s list is majority female. It is the first time this has happened, but likely not the last.
In all, there are over 30 people on this year’s list who were not there last year. Most have never been on the list before. This is an extraordinarily high amount of turnover in a year where the administration hasn’t also changed, though the transition in the Assembly Speaker’s office was certainly the impetus for adding a few names to the mix.
Of course, picking something up means setting something else down. Some very familiar names from the recent past are not on the list this year. I hope those who don’t see their names understand it is nothing personal, or a devaluation of their clout. It is rather the result of a highly subjective process in which only a finite number of spaces exist, coupled with our sincere desire to make this list more inclusive. I’m sure I’ll hear from some of you, which is fine. I stand behind every pick and will gladly listen to your protestations should you feel compelled. But please remember there will always be another list next year.
Will this kind of turnover become the trend? I don’t know, but it was sure a lot of fun to hear the excitement in people’s voices when they told me about their colleagues or others they thought were worthy of our consideration. It was also interesting to hear from folks who often bluntly told me they thought the list had become stale and geared toward the same people year after year. To them, the list was too predictable. Worse, some expressed the belief that a place on the list was directly connected to advertising or other financial incentives for us.
A peek at our donor list should quickly disabuse that notion, but let me be crystal clear: If you are on this list, it is because I thought you earned it. End of story. Period.
There’s no way I can wrap this up without also expressing my sincere thanks to the Open California board, Capitol Weekly Executive Director Tim Foster, Open California board chair Molly Dugan and former Capitol Weekly editor John Howard, all of whom have patiently shepherded me through this process as I cast about like a newborn puppy. They not only indulged my desire to upend the apple cart, they also contributed a wealth of insights and knowledge along the way. They shared their contacts and connections, and most of all they made time for me. They listened to my perspectives and gave me their support and the room to work. I am indebted to them. They are all a joy to work with, so much so I intend to come back and do it again next year!
Editor, Capitol Weekly
1. Dana Williamson
Nobody has ever doubted Dana Williamson’s willingness to tackle the biggest jobs. Before stepping last fall into the hot seat that is being the governor’s chief of staff, she ran her own communications strategy firm, Grace Public Affairs. In that role, she established herself as one of the most respected and successful ballot measure campaign managers anywhere. So there is definite irony in her taking over as Gavin Newsom’s top lieutenant the same year that her most high-profile campaign ever – Proposition 27, the huge money ballot measure by DraftKings, FanDuel and others to establish online sports betting in California – got obliterated at the ballot box. But let’s take a breath here. Because if anyone deserves not to be judged on what most people would consider an anomaly, it’s Williamson. And as most people would attest, Williamson knows both politics and policy better than anybody. She spent six years or so as a senior advisor and then Cabinet Secretary for Gov. Jerry Brown, where she oversaw eleven state agencies. Williamson also previously served in the Clinton administration and as a key campaign strategist for both state Attorney General Rob Bonta and his predecessor, Xavier Becerra. She learned a lot of her craft at the side of the late Nancy McFadden, also one of the most respected chiefs the Capitol has seen. She’s a high-energy person, which is an absolute requirement for managing a job known for chewing people up and spitting them out. It is hard to fathom, but that might be even truer under Newsom than under Brown. Both are notorious sticklers for detail and famous for pushing their agendas as hard as is possible, though insiders have described the Brown experience as being very different than life in Newsomland. How so? Brown was the type to say “we’re going to do these three things really well and do them over and over and over again,” while Newsom is likely to say “we’re going to do these twenty-five things, etc.” That might explain why Williamson is Newsom’s third chief of staff since coming into office in 2018. Whether she is his last is yet to be seen, but insiders say there is nobody better suited to manage the pace, the policy and the politics of the job than her.
2. Ann Patterson
Patterson spent her first few years in the governor’s office as his legal secretary. It was rough timing as the state faced an almost overwhelming number of thorny issues, from U.S. Supreme Court rulings on guns and abortion to ongoing legal snarls with PG&E. She clearly proved her worth to Newsom, who named her acting Cabinet Secretary last summer when Ana Matosantos left the administration. By fall Patterson had the permanent job. Titles are not always a good indicator of who does what in Newsomland, so it’s hard to say how much legal advice she offers him these days. What we are sure of is that she has become one of his top advisors on multiple issues, is deeply involved in strategizing on most of them, and he listens to her. Speaking of PG&E, there are those who think she and the governor both have been a little too lenient on the utility, and she drew intense criticism from victims when she appeared at one of the company’s events in June, where she referred to the utility as “a good partner.” How that plays out going forward is yet to be seen, but there seems to be little doubt of her place in the governor’s inner circle.
3. Jim DeBoo
When DeBoo stepped down as Gavin Newsom’s chief of staff last winter, it was really unclear even to him what role, if any, he would have in Newsomland going forward. But, almost a year later, DeBoo continues to have major influence in and around the governor’s office. Few people know all the players and the process around the Capitol better than he does, and moreover, he is one of a very small number of people that everyone in the horseshoe trusts. Case in point: when the governor was pushing his infrastructure reform package through the Legislature, DeBoo was tasked with reaching out to lawmakers and outside advocacy folks to make sure everyone stayed on point with their messaging. And when the dust settled, the governor got most of what he wanted out of the deal. DeBoo has declined to get involved in any current political races, but we expect he’ll be knee deep into Newsom’s effort to get voters in 2024 to approve a $4.68 billion bond measure to reform the Mental Health Services Act.
4. Christy Bouma
The first time Christy Bouma made the Top 100 was way back in 2010 as the head of her own lobbying firm, Capitol Connection. She made the jump into the low numbers of this list last year as Newson’s legislative secretary, the chief liaison between the governor and the Legislature. In some ways it is a high-level sales job that requires getting lawmakers to buy into the governor’s agenda. That is often easier said than done, but Bouma has so far been successful, helping usher through several of Newsom’s big-ticket items, most notably his package of infrastructure reforms. Perhaps it is Bouma’s background as a school teacher that helps her manage such challenges. In her previous life as a lobbyist, she did the bulk of her work for the California Professional Firefighters, and she is a former president of the Institute of Governmental Advocates. Bouma also served two administrations on the Commission on Health and Safety and Workers’ Compensation. She has a Master’s Degree in computer science from Sacramento State.
5. Jennifer Siebel Newsom
Jennifer Siebel Newsom, married to Gov. Gavin Newsom and commonly referred to as “First Partner of California,” suffered through a burst of critical media attention last fall when she sobbingly testified at the sexual assault trial of disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. “It was a horrific experience. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone,” she later told an LA Times reporter. Not exactly the traditional role of a governor’s wife, but Siebel Newsom has spent much of her professional life dealing with the media-driven misperceptions of powerful women. As First Partner, she has denounced toxic masculinity and gender stereotypes, pushed for health care reform, gender pay equity and improved early childhood education. She breaks the mold in other ways, too: She’s a documentary filmmaker with an MBA from Stanford, a former film actor (Life, Mad Men), and a vocal abortion-rights advocate. She’s clearly an important advisor and confidant of her husband, and her steady rise in the Top 100 list reflects that. And if hubby Gavin actually runs for president, Jennifer is likely to prove a potent political asset.
6. Dee Dee Myers
As head of the governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development – “Go-Biz” in government patois – Dee Dee Meyers sits at a crucial intersection of business and politics. When she arrived in Sacramento, conspiracy-minded reporters immediately saw her as a point person for Gov. Newsom’s foray into national politics, a notion that Newsom’s advisors promptly pooh-poohed. But the suspicion lingers, and with reason: Throughout 2023, Newsom popped up in ads across the country as a Democrat ready to take on Donald Trump. Myers certainly has the resume: She handled communications for Warner Bros. for seven years, was Bill Clinton’s press secretary for two years, handled communications for both Michael Dukakis and Dianne Feinstein, and presumably has a fat Rolodex file of national players. In addition to running Go-Biz, Myers carries the title of “senior advisor” – an elastic term covering a lot of territory – and as Newsom’s national presence expands, Myers likely will serve as a trusted consiglieri. Myers and her husband, Todd Purdum, a Senior Writer for POLITICO and former New York Times White House reporter, have two children.
7. Jason Elliot
Officially, Jason Elliott is Gov. Newsom’s Deputy Chief of Staff, a title that doesn’t really define his importance to the governor. He has been close to Newsom for years and has been Newsom’s trusted point person on three critical hot-button political issues – homelessness, housing and improved treatment for the mentally ill – issues that were surpassed in media attention only by wildfires and climate change. Elliott and Newsom go way back, and a key reason is that Elliott is comfortable with both politics and policy, having served as senior advisor on Newsom’s gubernatorial campaigns and on his transition team, and was chief deputy cabinet secretary. He worked for Newsom when the latter was mayor of San Francisco and has been close to him ever since. He was one of Newsom’s earliest appointments after taking office in 2019, and has proven indispensable, regardless of his titles, which have included director of intergovernmental affairs. He has degrees from the Harvard Kennedy School and Columbia University, and he is married to Nicole Elliott, who heads California’s Department of Cannabis Control.
8. Wade Crowfoot
As Gov. Newsom’s Secretary of Natural Resources, Wade Crowfoot is at the center of the debates over climate change, conservation, fire protection and water supply, among others. He’s no stranger to controversy and legal battles: In the historic fight over removing four Klamath River dams, Crowfoot was targeted in a lawsuit to block him from spending $250 million to do the deed. The program, much to the satisfaction of tribal nations but with opposition from some Siskiyou-area water users, is pushing forward anyway. Crowfoot’s role is a big deal: He has jurisdiction over 25,000 employees and 26 government departments, including such heavies as the departments of Water Resources, Cal Fire, and Fish and Wildlife. A former political director of the Environmental Defense Fund, Crowfoot advised Newsom when the latter was mayor of San Francisco. He also served as Gov. Jerry Brown’s deputy cabinet secretary and senior advisor, and he joined the Newsom administration in 2019 in an early round of appointments. Crowfoot, a product of the University of Wisconsin at Madison and the London School of Economics, grew up in Michigan, coming to California in the 1990s.
9. Joe Stephenshaw
The most powerful single office in California government is the Finance Department, which is largely unknown to the public but which holds sway over the budgets of state agencies. The department director is Joe Stephenshaw, and that’s about all you need to know. Each year his team writes the governor’s budget, then rewrites it in the spring to account for the most recent tax receipts. The latest spending plan, a $310.8 billion behemoth reflecting compromises by the governor and lawmakers, got through surprisingly quickly, despite warnings of delayed tax collections and a looming $30 billion shortfall. But the budget is part money and part politics, and Stephenshaw is versed in both. He served a decade staffing the Legislature, including roles as budget consultants to Assembly and Senate leaders, and as staff director for the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee. Before he went to the Legislature, he was a budget analyst for the Finance Department. Before Newsom named him Finance Department director in July 2022, he was the governor’s senior advisor on infrastructure and fiscal affairs.
10. Gayle Miller
This is Gayle Miller’s first time on the Top 100 list, but she is hardly a newbie to the Capitol. Miller has served numerous posts around the building, dating back to her days as a staffer with former Senate pro Tem John Burton. Much of that duty has been in the Senate, including as staff director for the Governance and Finance Committee and principal consultant for the Revenue and Taxation Committee. She was serving as Director of Policy in the Office of the State Controller when Gov. Gavin Newsom grabbed her for the Department of Finance in 2019. There she focuses on economic development, income inequality, and tax policy. More than that, she is a top lieutenant to DOF Director Joe Stepenshaw, and his proxy on over 100 boards and commissions. She is also a direct conduit to the governor. Originally from South Africa, Miller has undergraduate degrees from UC Davis in international relations and Spanish and a joint master’s degree in business administration from the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia Business School.
11. Kip Lipper
If there is an iconic figure in the Top 100, it’s Kip Lipper. He’s been around the Capitol for 48 years – half that time as a top aide to former lawmaker Byron Sher – and has long been viewed by friend and foe alike as the Senate’s premier environmental advisor. His influence routinely defines legislation targeting clean water, clean air, sustainable forestry, climate change, energy, container recycling, and more. He works out of a tiny, cluttered office at the tail end of the Senate’s administrative suite. “There’s no legislative staffer like him anywhere in the United States,” renewable energy advocate V. John White once told the LA Times. The latest battleground is the 53-year-old California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, the state’s bedrock environmental protection law that environmentalists and others use to block disputed projects – reservoirs and stadiums, for example. CEQA has been amended over the years, and this year Gov. Newsom urged a substantial overhaul. SB 149, key to his proposal, streamlined and speeded up CEQA. It got out, no surprise: Lipper was at the center of the fight.
12. Dustin Corcoran
The CEO of the California Medical Association, a powerful group representing some 50,000 doctors, is Dustin Corcoran, a familiar figure in the Capitol who’s been with the CMA for more than three decades. There’s always a high-stakes medical issue in Sacramento – last year it was MICRA – and this year is no different: It’s the overhaul of the Medical Board of California, which investigates and disciplines doctors. Critics say the board is secretive, ineffectual and nonresponsive to the public, and demand a litany of changes included in the bill, SB 815. Corcoran and the CMA oppose the bill, saying it would lower the standard of proof for disciplinary actions against doctors, hike licensing fees by 50 percent and allow a majority of the board to be members of the public, rather than medical professionals. It’s a major political fight, and Corcoran is right in the middle. Thus far, at least, he seems to have won. The bill bounced around in the Capitol and when last seen was bottled up in the Assembly. Stay tuned…
13. Lindsey Cobia
By title, Lindsey Cobia is the Executive Director of Gavin Newsom’s Campaign for Democracy PAC, the governor’s high-profile national campaign to push back against conservative agendas in red states…and just maybe set him up for a presidential run. Newsom has pushed $10 million from his campaign war chest into the organization, which will help pay for his travel to those states “where democracy is most under attack” to pick fights…uh, make his case that the GOP agenda “is un-American.” But as we’ve already said, titles in this administration don’t always capture the full scope of what an inhabitant of Newsomland actually does in that world. In addition to running the PAC – which, make no mistake, is a really big deal to the governor – Cobia also has a finger into many, many things going on in the horseshoe. So much so that the joke there is that she really is Newsom’s Swiss army knife. Sometimes that can rub some of the administrative staff the wrong way, but when it comes to anything political Cobia has Newsom’s confidence and his ear. And one more thing: If you want your phone call to the governor returned, she’s probably the one you need to go through.
14. Anthony York
Anthony York has solid journalistic chops – Salon, McClatchy, LA Times and, most important of all, Capitol Weekly – but in his current role he occupies what newsies traditionally call the “dark side.” He’s the governor’s top communications advisor, helping him navigate a media landscape characterized by hyperbole and gotcha. He’s invariably a participant in high-level meetings, we’re told, and as Newsom builds a national profile, York’s duties expand, too. He’s no stranger to national politics – he covered Bush-versus-Gore and the legal aftermath for Salon. He’s quoted, but not often, preferring instead to educate reporters behind the scenes. Okay, but what about Newsom’s lack of response to California reporters working their beats? An increasingly common complaint of reporters in Sacramento is the administration’s failure to readily answer inquiries, while currying favor with the national press. Reporters whine and nobody cares, but the whine is getting louder. Anthony isn’t the only York with a journalism background: His parents, recently retired and living in Sacramento, published the Malibu Times for years, and ran Capitol Weekly from 2005 to 2012.
15. Rick Rivas
This is one of the trickiest selections on this list. Rick is a V.P. with the American Beverage Association, and he has also worked as a consultant for Govern for California, the Bay Area-based group started by David Crane to act as “a permanent counter to special interest influence in the California State Legislature and on the statewide ballot.” Far more important, he is the younger brother of Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas, who emphatically refutes the idea that his brother will have undue influence on him. Okay, but in the same breath he will often note that his younger sibling is “a political genius” who has directed every campaign he has ever run. That would include tirelessly working behind the scenes last year to help Robert push then-Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon out of office, a historic takeover (coup?) that led to ferocious in-house fighting among the super majority Assembly Dems. Rivas eventually got his way, but only after a unique six-month waiting period that was almost as uncomfortable to watch as it must have been to be in the middle of. Will that behind the scenes influence continue? Stay tuned.
16. Liane Randolph
Almost 19 percent of all new cars sold in California in 2022 were electric, a big step towards Gov. Newsom’s goal to phase out new sales of internal-combustion passenger vehicles by 2035. At the heart of this effort is Liane Randolph, chair of California’s Air Resources Board, the powerful regulatory agency with a national and international profile. While the ARB’s fight against climate change takes on many forms – bans on gas-powered leaf blowers, new smog check rules for trucks – electric passenger vehicles are the centerpiece. (About half of all electric vehicles in the U.S. are registered in California.) Randolph, the first African American to head the ARB’s governing board, was appointed by Newsom in 2020. Randolph had been at the Public Utilities Commission since 2015, and before that, she was general counsel at the state Resources Agency. She was chair of the Fair Political Practices Commission, the state’s campaign watchdog, from 2003 to 2007.
17. Mark Ghaly
When the COVID-19 state of emergency ended in March after three years, one would think that California’s top health officer would at least take a nap. We doubt it. Dr. Mark Ghaly, the secretary of Health and Human Services and principal health advisor to Gov. Newsom, implements the governor’s mental health proposals, including California’s new CARE Courts, an effort to provide more individualized, community-based mental health care, scheduled to launch in some counties this fall. But he hasn’t left COVID-19 entirely behind. He continues to dispense advice about protecting vulnerable populations and talking about what the pandemic can teach us about health inequities. Ghaly, a primary care pediatrician, 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. He is married to Christina Ghaly, who directs L.A. County’s Department of Health Services.
18. Carmela Coyle
Carmela Coyle, president and CEO of the California Hospital Association, weathered the COVID-19 state of emergency and is now facing off against more existential threats to some of the more than 400 hospitals and health systems it represents: a lack of health care workers, hospital closures and bankruptcies, and increasing costs. The CHA plays an influential role in nearly every piece of major health care legislation in the Capitol; this year, it led the opposition to SB 525 – a union-backed bill that would raise wages for California’s hospital workers, and, critics say, would reduce the health care workforce – and successfully lobbied for increases to Medi-Cal reimbursement rates. 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.
19. Liz Snow
Robert Rivas’ COS Liz Snow is new to the Speaker’s office, but she a longtime veteran of the Capitol community. She built her bona fides outside the building as president of the powerful California Building Industry Association, with stints thereafter as the chief operations officer of the equally potent California Dental Association and Executive Director of the California Dental Political Action Committee. Before taking the position in the Speaker’s office, she served as chief of staff for years to Assemblymember Jim Wood, one of Rivas’s staunchest supporters. Steve O’Mara was the chief-designate during the six month waiting period for Rivas to take the gavel from Anthony Rendon, but folks close to the situation say he never really wanted the permanent job. With the need to get back to normal after months of tension, Snow’s calm demeanor and vast experience in the building made her an easy choice. And it is definitely a heavy lift – the Speaker always has a ton on their plate, meaning the chief has a full load as well, from personnel management to dealing with the media.
20. Jennifer Barrera
Jennifer Barrera, president and chief executive officer of the California Chamber of Commerce, commands the state’s most powerful pro-business political group. The chamber has the money and the resources to move legislation in the Capitol, nurture like-minded political candidates, shape campaigns and attend to the needs of business. The Chamber still maintains its “job killer” list of largely Democratic bills that, it contends, are throttling businesses and working folk. (According to CalMatters, only 7 percent of the bills that the chamber puts on the list are signed into law without significant changes that benefit businesses.) Barrera has been with the chamber for 13 years and knows it inside out. She worked on key chamber concerns and led the advocacy on labor, employment and taxation, serving as a senior policy advocate. (She was on the Top 100 list back then too.) Barrera earned a B.A. in English from California State University, Bakersfield, and a J.D. with high honors from California Western School of Law.
21. Erika Contreras
Erika Contreras is the secretary of the Senate, the non-partisan chief administrator and parliamentarian, responsible for more than 150 Capitol staffers and much of the logistics of the upper house. She has virtually no public profile, but is well known in the Capitol, and is the first Latina to ever hold the office and the first woman to hold the post in a century. Contreras, a UC Santa Barbara graduate, was born in Aguascalientes, Mexico and raised in the San Fernando Valley. She has worked in the Capitol in various staff positions since 2003, including as chief of staff to former state Sen. Ricardo Lara (now insurance commissioner) and was appointed Senate secretary in 2018 via a vote of the membership. She’s involved in politics and policy and her staff serves the Senate Rules Committee, the five-member panel that administers the house. One source in the building described Contreras as “the COO of the Senate” who has modernized the chamber with an eye toward gender equity and diversity…and someone who works hard to keep members from putting their fingers into light sockets.
22. Susan Santana
AT&T has long maintained a major lobbying force in the Capitol, not only with its own in-house players, but with other prominent advocates hired to flood the zone when big bills are up for votes and amendments. Those include others on this list and that’s where Susan Santana comes in: Santana is AT&T’s lobbying director in Sacramento. She’s no longer a registered lobbyist herself, but she deploys the forces. AT&T’s advocacy role is perhaps best known for its sponsorship of the Speaker’s Cup, the golfing get-together that raises money for Democrats, although its influence is felt in myriad ways throughout the Capitol. Her official title is Vice President, California Legislative Affairs, for AT&T and she replaced AT&T’s long-time point-person Bill Devine, for years a well-known figure in the Capitol. Santana has a real by-her-bootstraps backstory, going from bagging groceries in Chula Vista to UC Berkeley and then on law school at UCLA. She joined AT&T in 2007, where she lobbied congress in DC for 10 years before coming to Sacramento.
23. Nick Hardeman
Nick Hardeman is chief of staff to Senate Leader Toni Atkins, a San Diego Democrat who earlier served as Assembly speaker – and Hardeman was her top staffer there, too. As with many people on this list, Hardeman is virtually unknown to the general public although he’s been in the Capitol for more than 20 years. His core responsibility – similar to the chiefs of staff of all electeds – is to push the boss’s legislative agenda, which takes tact, force and wily cajolery. He is a significant force in the Senate, where he serves as the leader’s eyes and ears on the electeds and their staffs, coordinates messaging and spots political issues and defuses them, if necessary. Note that while the Democratic Caucus in the Assembly has been rife with drama the past year, the Senate’s Dem contingent appears to be sailing smoothly, and Hardeman deserves some of the credit for that. More than one capitol insider calls him the best chief in the building.
24. Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher
Personally, this has been a tough year for Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, the head of the California Labor Federation and a former state lawmaker. Her husband, Nathan Fletcher, announced he was seeking treatment for stress and alcohol abuse after a government employee filed a lawsuit against him for sexual harassment and assault. Days later he resigned as a San Diego supervisor and dropped out of a state Senate race that had looked like his to lose. Professionally, Gonzalez Fletcher – perhaps the most visible labor advocate in California – appears to be doing just fine. The Cal Labor Fed is thriving: It is affiliated with 120 unions that have a combined membership of 2.1 million workers, including the United Farm Workers, which Gonzalez Fletcher brought with her when she took over as head of Cal Labor Fed last year. The daughter of an immigrant farm worker and a nurse, Gonzalez Fletcher has degrees from Stanford, Georgetown and the UCLA law school. Before the Assembly, she was the CEO and secretary-treasurer of the San Diego and Imperial County Labor Council.
25. Tia Orr
Tia Orr, a veteran labor activist and government relations expert, is the executive director of the 700,000-member SEIU California, a sprawling workers’ group with a strong presence in the Capitol and each of California’s 58 counties. SEIU’s 17 local unions include university employees, school janitors, social workers, government employees, health care workers and others, a broad reach that assures SEIU a seat at the table in California’s labor issues. Orr, the first African American to serve as SEIU California’s executive director, was confirmed in the position last year following a turbulent period at the union. Her predecessor, Alma Hernandez, stepped down after being accused of tax and embezzlement charges (she later pleaded guilty to two counts and was sentenced to eight hours of community service). Orr had served 16 years as SEIU’s government relations director, a pivotal position that coordinates lobbying, before the governing board named her to the executive director’s position. Before joining SEIU, Orr worked in the Legislature for the late Mervyn M. Dymally, longtime Chair of the Legislative Black Caucus.
26. Teri Holoman
If we had to rank California interest groups in terms of their political influence at the California Capitol, the California Teachers Association would be at or near the top of the pyramid. In Sacramento, CTA’s ground commander is Teri Holoman, associate director for government relations, which means she coordinates the 310,000-member CTA’s aggressive lobbying presence. Capitol buzz suggests that CTA’s clout has diminished in recent years, but there’s little evidence. Few doubt that CTA has faced severe challenges in recent years: The pandemic, SCOTUS’ Janus ruling limiting public unions’ fee collections and the 2019 departure of the 19,000-member California Faculty Association were clearly blows. But those wounds have apparently healed, as shown in the 2022 election cycle, when 38 of 40 CTA-backed candidates made it through the primaries and won heavily in November. Holoman, formerly Jerry Brown’s appointments secretary, is an ally of Gavin Newsom. She was a district director in the office of Assemblymember Karen Bass and a campaign political director of the state Democratic Party in 2004. Full disclosure: Holoman serves on the board of Open California, the publisher of Capitol Weekly.
27. Viviana Becerra
Becerra brings an incredible set of skills to the table in her job as chief of staff to Attorney General Rob Bonta. A short list of the programs she oversees in the AG’s office includes: the Office of Communications, Office of Native American Affairs, Office of External Affairs, Community Awareness, Response, and Engagement Team, and the Office of Legislative Affairs. She is also a critical conduit to the governor’s office. It isn’t surprising that she has been granted this much juice: she also previously served as chief of staff and legislative director to then-Assemblymember Bonta before he took the AG job in 2021. During that time she was also the lead staffer on numerous key legislative efforts, from ending the uses of for-profit private prisons in immigrant detention and expunging criminal cannabis convictions to overtime pay for farmworkers. Given her boss’s ambition, who’s to say she won’t someday be chief of staff for a California governor? A Sacramento native, Becerra is the daughter of Mexican immigrants. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from the University of California, Santa Barbara.
28. Alice Busching Reynolds
Amazingly, Alice Busching Reynolds isn’t a household name, but she probably deserves to be. She is the president of the California Public Utilities Commission, the powerful, San Francisco-based regulatory body with jurisdiction over the state’s huge investor-owned utilities and natural gas operations, railroads, telecommunications, private water companies, and much more. Such hot-button political issues as PG&E’s bankruptcy battle and net metering come within the PUC’s purview, as do more arcane topics such as its June study into heat pumps. Reynolds was one of Newsom’s most important appointments, replacing Newsom trouble-shooter Marybel Batjer, who stepped down two years ago. Reynolds served former Gov. Jerry Brown as chief counsel, climate advisor and a top CalEPA enforcer, and spent a decade in the state attorney general’s office, specializing in coastal resources, environmental access and public trust lands. Before joining the AG’s office, Reynolds was in private practice in San Francisco. She has a bachelor’s degree from Stanford University and a law degree from Santa Clara University School of Law.
29. Lia Lopez
The job of the Chief Administrative Officer for the Assembly Rules Committee is one that requires equal amounts finesse and political acumen, and a definite knowledge of carrots and sticks. In addition to overseeing the administrative business of the Assembly, the committee assigns bills to the various other committees, oversees staffing and budget issues for those panels and approves office space for the Committee members and staff. It’s a big job, but one that has had minimal turnover for the last few decades: John Waldie had the position for 17 years, while Debra Gravert held it down for almost another decade. Enter Lia Lopez, who took over for Gravert last December. But it’s not her first rodeo either – she has been working in the Capitol since 1997 and was Gravert’s deputy chief. It’s also something of a family business. Her father also worked in the Legislature, and Lopez has been in and around the building since she was a little girl. She holds a master’s degree in public administration and degrees in political science and history from UC Davis.
30. Jason Sisney
The Assembly’s top budget advisor is Jason Sisney, who is the go-to person for anybody following the money and tracking policy funding. He is the principal budget negotiator for the Assembly Democratic Caucus and the Speaker, which means that he deals with the Senate and Newsom administration over which programs get money, and how much. Speaker Anthony Rendon stepped down in July after the second-longest tenure in that position, but word is that Sisney isn’t going anywhere. Like a number of state government’s fiscal experts, Sisney served at the Legislative Analyst’s Office where he spent 12 years as a nonpartisan examiner of budgets and spending. 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.
31. Chris Woods
California’s budget is something of a crap shoot, and nobody knows that better than Chris Woods, the top budget advisor to Senate Leader Toni Atkins. Until the ultimate state budget is finalized and approved, the spending document is really four variations on a theme – rival versions in the Assembly, Senate, Legislative Analyst and governor’s Finance Department. Woods’ task is to make sure the Senate’s priorities are covered, no easy task in the cut-throat world of the Capitol. The budget isn’t a checkbook, it’s a statement of political priorities, and finding money to back the priorities is the whole ball game. But somehow Woods manages to do it. California’s roller-coaster budget depends greatly on tax revenue from the wealthy, and one year’s surplus turns into the following year’s shortage which is what’s happening now. One year, you have $100 billion in extra dough, and the next you’re running $30 billion short. Woods has undergraduate and Law School degrees from UC Davis.
32. Jodi Hicks
Jodi Hicks is the president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California — Planned Parenthood’s largest state organization – and she is among California’s foremost advocates for abortion rights. She and her organization denounced the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Dobbs case that reversed the landmark Roe v Wade decision of 1973, and she championed efforts to ease the impact of that decision on California. In fact, California doubled down on its commitment to reproductive care. In November 2022, voters approved Proposition 1, which bars the state from interfering with a person’s access to abortion and the use of contraceptives. Although best known for her abortion advocacy, Hicks was also a key player in reaching a political compromise on California’s Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, or MICRA, resolving a fight that endured for decades in the Capitol. A veteran lobbyist, she earlier was the legislative director for the National Organization for Women and a vice president of government relations at the California Medical Association. Full disclosure: She’s a board member of Open California, the publisher of Capitol Weekly.
33. Rusty Hicks
Rusty Hicks, a veteran union organizer and political activist, is the chair of the California Democratic Party, and in a predominantly blue state, that’s a big deal. One reason California is so blue, of course, is because of people like Hicks.He took the reins of the nation’s largest state party – 10 million members — amid scandal after the forced departure of predecessor Eric Bauman. Hicks exemplifies the tight connection between labor and Democrats in California. He was the political director and former leader of the LA County Labor Federation, and he was the California political director of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. When the county Labor Federation’s leader, Maria Elena Durazo, was elected to the state Senate in 2018, Hicks replaced her as leader. Hicks, a lawyer 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, and came to California in 2003. His law degree is from Loyola.
34. Jason Kinney
Jason Kinney has been a ubiquitous force in Sacramento’s political industrial complex since relocating here in 1997 to work as a mouthpiece for then-Assemblyman Don Perata. After stints in the Assembly, Senate and Governor’s Office, he launched his own firm and helped build the Democratic wing of juggernaut public-affairs concern California Strategies before launching Axiom Advisors with Cassie Gilson (No. 35) and Kevin Schmidt in 2019 after co-directing Gavin Newsom’s gubernatorial transition. Since then, Kinney has grown Axiom’s communications practice with respected superflack Molly Weedn (spokesperson for last year’s successful Props 1 and 31) to include CMA, Centene, Clean Energy, Cruise, CTIA, Planned Parenthood, Garmin, Hard Rock International, Los Angeles Clippers and the NFL.
35. Cassie Gilson
While her business partner Jason Kinney (No. 34) gets more buzz (good and bad), the best-kept secret weapon at Axiom Advisors is Cassie Gilson, the Stanford-trained lawyer turned savvy lobbyist and policy negotiator, who remains the only female Managing Partner among the top grossing lobbying firms in Sacramento. Since founding the firm with Kinney and Newsom alum Kevin Schmidt in 2019, she has overseen the firm’s impressive growth trajectory (including adding political brand name/former Assemblywoman Autumn Burke) while leading advocacy efforts for clients as diverse as Meta, L’Oreal, Nestle, Orsted, SunPower, California Building Industry Association and the Nature Conservancy. 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.
36. 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. LPA’s 28-member staff includes people well-known in the Capitol community – Cassandra Pye and Nancy Heffernan, for starters. Founder Donna Lucas was a press handler during Gov. George Deukmejian’s successful gubernatorial effort, did a great job and never looked back. She later served as deputy chief of staff for strategic planning and initiatives for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and chief of staff to First Lady Maria Shriver, to whom she remains close. Donna Lucas has been on our list since its inception and has some of the deepest roots in the capitol that we know of: Her mother – also Donna – worked in the office of Sen. Earl Desmond, where she met future husband, AP reporter Joe Lipper. Her brother Kip Lipper (No. 11) is the Senate’s top enviro expert, and her husband Greg Lucas is California’s State Librarian. Top that.
37. Mark McKenzie
If a piece of legislation has a fiscal component it is going to end up at some point in one of the legislative appropriations committees. In the Senate, that means your bill is going to come into contact with Senate Appropriations Committee Staff Director Mark McKenzie. While the Assembly Appropriations Committee has seen some turnover in recent years, McKenzie has been in his job for a very long time and isn’t planning to go anywhere any time soon. That is a big deal as the already-outsized power and influence of these two committees has only grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, with the Committee chairs being considered by many to be the two most powerful non-leadership members in each house. McKenzie’s current boss, Sen. Anthony Portantino, has been particularly adept at using his committee to move major policy – or in some cases, to bury it – and McKenzie is the man who quarterbacks everything through the process. Get on his bad side at your own peril.
38. Gabriel Petek
Gabriel Petek, as unknown to the general public as he is influential in the Capitol, is a key player in California government. He is the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst, which means he provides an unvarnished examination of all things fiscal, including the governor’s budgets, ballot initiatives and policy measures. His staff at the 82-year-old Legislative Analyst’s Office, or LAO, sits in at nearly every stage of the interminable state budget fights, and lawmakers of both parties heed his advice. Like the old EF Hutton ad, “When Gabriel Petek talks, people listen.” Whether there is an astounding $100 billion surplus (like last year) or a potentially devastating $30 billion shortage (this year), Petek is at the center of the discussion. He’s hired by the Legislature, not the executive branch, which means he has no problem punching holes in a governor’s spending plan. Petek has degrees from 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.
39. Brian Rice
The California Professional Firefighters, headed by Brian Rice and representing 30,000 local firefighters across the state, is a potent political force in Sacramento. Firefighters tend to be well-paid, well-organized and politically savvy, and when pro-labor Democratic governors need a political assist – which is often – the CPF steps up. The outspoken Rice rose through the ranks and headed the Sacramento Local 522 for 12 years. He is no stranger to political fights, such as when he smacked President Trump, who said California’s wildfires were the result of flawed forestry management and threatened to withhold federal aid. Rice, in comments that drew national attention, denounced Trump’s statement as “disgraceful” and “uninformed political threat aimed squarely at the innocent victims.” A major goal of CPF, although it has drawn scant public attention, is the first-house passage of AB 40, which would cut the length of time that firefighters are required to wait in hospital hallways while emergency patients they’ve transported are being treated. The issue – firefighters call it “wall time” – has simmered for years. This year, it appears poised to emerge from the Legislature.
40. Rob Lapsley
We always think of Rob Lapsley, an Air Force veteran, as one of the last of the “real Republicans” – courtly, silver-haired, staunchly pro-business and articulate. He heads the California Business Roundtable, a nonprofit research and advocacy group, founded in 1976, and it’s a good fit. He’s got the political chops: He is the former political director of the California Chamber of Commerce, and he served as chief of staff to Bill Jones, the Republican secretary of state from 1995 to 2003 and one of the last GOP statewide officeholders in an increasingly Democratic state. The CBRT says it includes senior executives from major companies, which have a “combined workforce of more than half a million employees,” so it is a potent business voice that frequently weighs in on legislation in the Capitol, whether it involves rent control, changes to Proposition 13 of 1978, cash bail or potential limits on CEO salaries.
The Roundtable doesn’t have as high a public profile as the Chamber of Commerce or the National Federation of Independent Business, but within the state Capitol it commands significant attention.
41. Mary Kennedy
The Public Safety Committees have become some of the most closely watched of any in the Legislature, mostly this year in the Assembly,
where arguments over legislation dealing with fentanyl abuse and human trafficking have at times made the Committee seem like a circular firing squad. Meanwhile, the Senate side has shown no such dysfunction. At lot of that credit goes to Committee Chief Counsel Mary Kennedy, another long-time policy professional who quietly but firmly oversees the functionality of that unit. She is the arbiter of who writes the analysis of each bill that comes before the Committee. She then helps to shape it as it goes through the process and gives the final recommendation on its viability to be heard to the committee chair. In that regard, every Senate leader since John Burton has heavily relied on her calm demeanor and good judgement on public safety issues. So, as with Mark McKenzie (No. 37), get sideways with her at your own risk.
42. Kimberly Rodriguez
Kimberly Rodriguez is the policy director for Senate Leader Toni Atkins, which means in theory she is responsible for coordinating her boss’s legislative efforts, managing an 11-person staff of consultants for the Senate’s Democratic Caucus and drumming up support in the Senate for Atkins’ legislative package. We say “in theory” because as anyone who works for leadership knows, it is never just about that person’s agenda. The pro Tem is expected to also support the wants and wishes of the rest of the Senate caucus, and to help keep everything moving forward. That unto itself is a huge task – there are something like 1,600 bills introduced in the Legislature every two-year session. It’s a lot to keep track of, but she handles it all with aplomb. Like all top jobs in the Capitol, hers is a mix of politics and policy, and very few are as adept at navigating the various potholes and roadblocks that come with it better than Rodriguez, who has worked in the Capitol for more than two decades.
43. Aaron Read
Aaron Read is a regular on the Top 100 list, and we make no apologies. He is something of a Capitol institution, and Aaron Read and Associates has a successful track record that crosses party lines and changing administrations. His firm does lobbying, political strategy, market analyses, procurement, and campaign advice, among other services. His clients include Comcast NBC Universal, the automobile manufacturers, the California Hospital Association, the dental hygienists, professional government engineers, Dun & Bradstreet, 3M, Matson Navigation, and many others. Read founded his firm in 1978, which is before many of our readers were born (not the editors, though), and he has been part of – and survived – myriad political battles over the past 45 years. Before he set up his own firm, Read’s lobbying activities went back to Gov. Ronald Reagan’s era. We’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: This firm poses a dilemma for the Top 100. 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.
44. Michael Pimentel
California’s public transportation sector was hit hard by the pandemic. Ridership is still down at pretty much every system across the state, and the fiscal support the feds dished out for the three years of the pandemic is over. And with California facing a $30-plus billion budget deficit, Gov. Newsom was poised to pause billions of dollars in infrastructure upgrades for the industry. Lawmakers instead rejected that and committed another $1.1 billion from the state’s cap-and-trade program, bringing the total outlay for public transportation to $5.1 billion over the next four years. Michael Pimentel, executive director of the California Transit Association, was a big part of the reason why. Pimentel worked tirelessly with the governor and lawmakers to hammer out a deal that kept the systems working while also satisfying lawmakers who wanted the industry to be more accountable. Thinking about who his members are (spanning from BART and MUNI to smaller rural agencies like Arcadia Transit), it was an even tougher fight to align interests in need of those dollars. Not many of us thought they’d pull it off, but they did.
45. Janus Norman
One of the many lessons to emerge from the pandemic is the dire need to extend high speed Internet service to every nook and corner of California. Gavin Newsom and lawmakers have committed $6 billion over the next several years toward building greater broadband infrastructure, but with the state’s budget fortunes taking a downturn this year, getting there – even with copious financial help from the federal government – has become more challenging. As the president of the California Broadband and Video Association (CalBroadband), Janus Norman represents the interests of many of the biggest communications providers in the state and country, and thus works with lawmakers and the governor to craft policies that work for everyone. It can be a Herculean task, but Norman has the bona fides: before coming to CalBroadband he was the top lobbyist for years at the California Medical Association. He has also been 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.
46. Fiona Hutton
LA-based communications expert Fiona Hutton wasn’t on the earliest editions of the Top 100 list, which were heavily weighted toward Sacramento locals. Her omission – or rather the response to her omission from people in the know who couldn’t believe we’d left her off – made us realize that we needed to broaden our scope, and she’s been on the list ever since. Hutton’s nonpartisan public affairs firm, Fiona Hutton and Associates, has an eclectic client list; top clients have included Sutter Health, State Water Contractors, California State Parks Foundation, Health Net, Los Angeles Department of Water & Power and Comcast among others. The firm has been involved in some of the most closely watched issues at the State Capitol, including health access and equity, energy/grid reliance, drought/climate, sustainability, and infrastructure and handles everything from reputation management to issue advocacy to legislative drills and regulatory challenges. Hutton currently serves on the boards of directors for the California Chamber of Commerce, Ojai Valley Land Conservancy and, full disclosure, on the board of Open California, the nonprofit, nonpartisan publisher of Capitol Weekly.
47. Lance Hastings
There are over 35,000 manufacturing firms employing a total of 1.2 million people in California. Many of them look to the California Manufacturers & Technology Association and its CEO and President Lance Hastings to advocate for them in the Capitol, pushing an agenda that revolves around tax incentives, apprenticeship programs, and pro-growth proposals. That makes the CMTA popular with both Republicans and pro-business Dems, i.e. the so-called “Mods.” In recent years, Hastings has pivoted the CMTA to more visual and digital storytelling, sharing positive messaging about the role of manufacturing in a state that is trying to implement major changes in how it builds, well, everything. If California is going to meet its ambitious emissions goals, manufacturing is going to have to play a major role in getting there, which means Hastings will too. Before he went to CMTA, Hastings, a graduate of Sacramento State, was a vice president for national affairs for MillerCoors and worked in the U.K. for SABMiller.
48. Melanie Moreno
As staff director of the Senate Health Committee, Melanie Moreno has a hand in pretty much any health bill that lands in the Senate. Health care is always a huge issue in the Legislature, and lawmakers have long relied on her attention to the little details to get bills right. That sway was less evident when Richard Pan, a pediatrician, was chairing the Committee, but then every chair isn’t an actual medical doctor. Current committee chair Sen. Susan Talamantes Eggman is far more dependent on Moreno’s ability to get into the weeds on health-related bills. It’s a big deal, too, because Talamantes Eggman is leading the way on one of the biggest health reforms in years: updating the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, which has set the boundaries for more than a half century on institutionalizing our fellow Californians suffering from severe mental health disorders. Eggman is also carrying the legislation on the governor’s proposed realignment of mental health services, an effort some have likened to trying to build the plane while it’s already in the air. If so, Moreno is one heck of a co-pilot.
49. Rex Frazier
The insurance industry has long wielded political clout in Sacramento, and the biggest single reason is the Personal Insurance Federation of California, headed by lawyer Rex Frazier. PIF has a select membership of the industry’s heavy hitters – Farmers, State Farm, Mercury, Progressive, Liberty Mutual, Kemper and Nationwide. Few people like insurance companies, and the Legislature is dominated by Democrats, many of whom favor the insurers’ arch enemy – trial lawyers. Frazier’s difficult and primary task is to protect his members from punitive legislation and, on the flip side, build support for them. Frazier, a shrewd strategist, does that by marshaling PIF’s resources on behalf of business-friendly lawmakers of both parties while targeting opponents. He set up a 10-member political action committee called PIFPAC – which Frazier chairs – that meets at least three times a year to decide how to help fund candidates. Frazier, the former top counsel for the Department of Insurance, 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.
50. Josh Fryday
Relatively unknown to many in the Capitol community, Chief Service Officer Josh Fryday is the man tasked with overseeing one of Gavin Newsom’s passion programs – California Volunteers. But that’s not all. Underneath that umbrella are also #CaliforniansForAll Youth Corps, AmeriCorps California and Californians ForAll College Corps, which collectively will soon be able to distribute a force of volunteers larger than the Peace Corps into California communities. The various programs they will implement include working to employ underserved youth as tutors and youth mentors, or to work on issues like food insecurity and climate action projects. The Newsom administration has invested approximately $3 billion in programs to recruit new teachers, and the governor thinks programs like College Corps will bolster that effort. A lot. It also gives him a major positive talking point to take with him as he goes around the country on the presidential campaign he allegedly has “sub-zero interest” in waging. Fryday is a former U.S. Navy officer and former mayor of Novato. He received his law degree from UC Berkeley.
51. Flo Khan
Floreine “Flo” Kahn is the deputy vice president of state advocacy for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, AKA PhRMA. In her role, as PhRMA’s Sacramento point person, Kahn directs the organization’s lobbying operations. And what an operation it is. PhRMA contracts with six lobbying firms – Fernandez Jensen Kimmel Shue Government Affairs, The Apex Group, the Capitol Strategies Group, Heyworth Government Affairs, Noteware Government Relations and Gladfelty Government relations – and spent more than $340,000 on lobbying in just the first quarter of 2023. Kahn has a long history in the pharmaceutical business, having previously handled state government affairs in the West for AbbVie and, before that, working for Vertex Pharmaceuticals and Bristol-Myers Squibb. When Kevin McCarthy was the Assembly Republican Leader, Kahn served as his deputy chief of staff, where she worked on energy, water and workers compensation issues. She is a political science grad from UC Berkeley.
52. Minnie Santillan
Politics is a family business in the Rubio family, with Susan Rubio serving in the Senate and sister Blanca Rubio holding office in the Assembly, the first sisters to be elected to the Legislature. A third sister, Sylvia, lost a run at the Assembly in 2020. Minnie Santillan is chief of staff for Blanca, a member of the so-called “new Democrats,” or as they are more commonly known now, “the Mods.” This group of pro-business Dems has become a force inside the Legislature, and Santillan has an outside role in what does and does not make it onto their legislative agenda. In short, if you want to get your issue on that list, Santillan is the person to talk to. It is a role she has filled before in her previous job as chief to Assemblymember Henry Perea, and friend and foe alike considers her a very shrewd tactician with more than her share of moxie. She has handled multiple Assembly, Senate and congressional campaigns up and down the valley, served as a consultant to former Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez and as chief consultant to the Latino Legislative Caucus.
53. Dan Dunmoyer
Dan Dunmoyer is the president and CEO of the California Building Industry Association, a leading voice of home builders, contractors, architects and designers in Sacramento. As such, Dunmoyer finds himself at the red-hot center of the debate over housing and homelessness in California. In arguably the hottest issue in California today, Dunmoyer is a steady, consistent voice for eliminating red tape and top-heavy bureaucracy. Previously, Dunmoyer worked for a decade as president of the Personal Insurance Federation of California and was deputy cabinet secretary for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger from 2006 to 2008. He has two degrees from USC: a bachelor’s in poli sci and a master’s in public administration. Little known fact: Dunmoyer is the son of a small home builder from SoCal, making his position with the CBIA seem almost preordained.
54. Margie Estrada
One of the bigger changes around the Capitol in recent years has been the growing power of the Judicial committees. This has been a particular case in the Senate, where the committee has had such luminaries as John Burton, Bill Lockyer and Adam Schiff as chair. As chief counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee for the last seven years, Margie Estrada has to oversee all the bill analyses, which is a key factor in getting bills heard. While Margie is politically to the left of the current chair, centrist Sen. Tom Umberg, he leans on her and cares deeply about her opinion on almost every bill. As one source told us, “you cannot deal with the Senate Judiciary Committee without fully taking stock of Margie Estrada.” As such, she has been referred to as “the Kip Lipper of legal issues in the Capitol.” She earned a bachelor’s degree in rhetoric from UC Berkeley and her law degree from UCLA. She has also been principal consultant to former Senate pro Tems Darrell Steinberg and Kevin de León.
55. Nancy Drabble
Nancy Drabble had a big 2022, helping to work a deal on MICRA – the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act California – that avoided what promised to be a bruising and very expensive ballot measure campaign. As the executive director of the Consumer Attorneys of California, she helped bring doctors, lawyers, insurers and other stakeholders together on the deal, which seems like a miracle unto itself. Drabble also had a huge hand in stopping an initiative to cap lawyers’ contingency fees at 20 percent and another effort to deregulate legal practices. But then crafting big, complex bargains is kind of her forte. Shortly after coming to CAOC she was a key behind the scenes player in the 1987 “napkin deal,” the now-legendary bargain between lawmakers and the tobacco industry crafted over a dinner of pot stickers and roast duck at Frank Fat’s restaurant. A native of Los Angeles, Drabble obtained her law degree from UC Berkeley. She served a stint with “Nader’s Raiders,” led by consumer advocate Ralph Nader, before coming to CAOC in 1986.
56. Paula Treat
With 43 years in the game and counting, Paula Treat is an institution around the Capitol. Her shop was one of California’s first woman-owned contract lobbying firms, and its longevity is a testament to the energy, passion and intellect she brings to the table every day. She is still a one-person operation, though at times it seems like there surely must be a dozen of her working the halls of the Capitol. In recent years her efforts have garnered major dollars for plastic recyclers, a mandate on recycled content in plastic bottles, protections for tribal sacred sites, a 20-year extension to a moratorium on new cardroom licenses, big wins by DaVita against unionization and, well, you get the picture. It hasn’t all been a cakewalk, however. Treat has also been open about the sexual harassment she experienced at the hands of the late Assemblymember Lou Papan, the Rules Committee chair and a former FBI agent. Papan intimidated many of his colleagues, but not Treat, who revealed her story in the midst of the Capitol’s #wesaidenough movement.
57. Mike Belote
Lobbyist Mike Belote is another longtime standard bearer around the Capitol, with over four decades of experience to bring to the table. And that’s any table, because Mike has been at all of them. He is the immediate past president of California Advocates, one of the true heavyweights in the Capitol community. Established over fifty years ago, Cal Advocates’ client roster lists almost 90 entities, including the likes of Apple, Delta Airlines, Verizon, the American Beverage Association, General Motors, Coca-Cola, RV Industry Association, the California Judges Association, and UC’s Hastings College of Law, among many, many others. Belote has long represented the Judges and Hastings, two groups that as a lawyer himself are near to his heart. He’s also noted around the region for his 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.
58. Doug Herman
What if you ran a mayoral campaign where your opponent burned through $100 million dollars, outspending your candidate by about 11 to one? Moreover, the strategist for the opposition is Ace Smith (no. 69), one of the most successful campaign strategists in California history. Given all that, you’d probably expect to get your hind quarters kicked. Last year, however, Doug Herman of the Strategy Group’s LA office was the one doing the kicking. His stewardship of Karen Bass’ Los Angeles 2022 mayoral campaign upended Democrat (or Republican, depending on who you ask) billionaire developer Rick Caruso’s megabucks bid to lead the City of Angels, making her the first female mayor of the nation’s second largest city. This was of course not Herman’s first rodeo. He was previously the lead mail strategist for the Obama for America campaigns in 2008 and 2012, and played a lead role in defeating 2012’s Proposition 32, which would have barred unions from using payroll-deducted funds for political purposes. Herman has also been an advisor to the likes of former LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and former Assembly Speaker John. A. Pérez.
59. Mark Weideman
Mark Weidman, a lobbyist, consultant and political strategist, touts himself as having “decades of experience representing some of the nation’s most sophisticated and politically powerful clients,” and it’s not hyperbole. The current client list of his firm, the Weideman Group, includes AARP, Blue Shield of California (where he once served as an officer), the California Lawyers Association, the California State Council of Service Employees and Mooretown Rancheria, among dozens of others. An attorney, Weideman received his B.A. from UC Berkeley and a law degree from UC Hastings College of Law, and also once served as an officer of AT&T California. In recent years, he is perhaps best known for his work in helping Blue Shield take the lead on California’s COVID-19 vaccination program, a decision that caught some in the Capitol community by surprise, but makes sense when you look at the players involved. Blue Shield President and CEO Paul Markovich has long been an ally of Gov. Newsom, and Weideman enjoys the trust of the administration.
60. John Latimer
Is there anything in the Capitol community John Latimer hasn’t done? He worked in the Legislature as a staff chief and as a consultant on several committees. He managed a number of lawmakers’ political campaigns. He even ran for the Assembly himself in 1998, although he didn’t win. But he clearly bounced back quite nicely, establishing his own powerhouse lobbying firm, Capitol Advocacy, which currently boasts more than 80 clients and 11 other staff lobbyists, not including himself. Capitol Advocacy’s current client list is a who’s who of powerful, influential, name-brand special interests, including Broadcom, the California Retailers Association, the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association, DoorDash, Jack in the Box, Los Angeles County, Lowes, MetLife, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Northrop Grumman, PG&E, PepsiCo, T-Mobile, the Universal Music Group and Yum! Brands, the company behind KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and the Habit Burger.
61. Yana Garcia
Another newbie to the list, Yana Garcia is the first Latina to ever lead the California Environmental Protection Agency. A native of Oakland, Garcia lived in Mexico during the heyday of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), where she developed a passion for advocating for environmental justice. And her power to do just that now is pretty broad – CalEPA oversees three departments, two boards, and one office, including the State Water Resources Control Board, the Air Resources Control Board, Cal Recycle, and the Department of Pesticide Regulation. California has always led the nation on environmental protections, and Garcia intends to keep it that way. She has said that her top priority is to focus on policies that work for everyone, including the most vulnerable Californians, both environmentally and economically. She is also bullish on water quality and access. It’s a task that requires a lot of interaction with a wide multitude of players, from the state and federal government to local officials. Previous to being appointed CalEPA secretary, Garcia was Special Assistant to Attorney General Rob Bonta.
62. Steve Maviglio
When we last left Steve Maviglio, he was doing the communications for Robert Rivas in his attempt to unseat Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon. You might have heard by now that Rivas was successful there. A lot of people have given the lion’s share of the credit to the new Speaker’s brother, but don’t discount the role Maviglio played. Maviglio is wicked smart, relentless, straightforward, and definitely strategic. He also had other victories in addition to the Rivas campaign. He worked with Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) on restoring funds in the budget for foster kids and with StubHub & Vivid Seats on cracking down on Ticketmaster monopoly practices. (Because Taylor Swift, right?) In DC, 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. He is also the spokesperson for the likes of the California Hydrogen Council, the American Beverage Association, and Californians for Retirement Security.
63. Joe Lang
Joe Lang is the managing partner of one of the Capitol’s most successful and well-known lobbying firms, Lang, Hansen, Giroux and Kidane. The firm boasts so many power players, in fact, that two others who have their name on the shop – Bev Hansen and Bob Giroux – have made the Top 100 before while the fourth name on the marque, Awet Kidane, is described as a rising star in Sacramento. You don’t get any more big time than that, and Lang sits at the head of the table. Lang, Hansen, Giroux and Kidane’s client list is three-dozen strong, and includes Advantage Capital, the California Academy of Eye Physicians & Surgeons, E&J Gallo Winery, the Hilmar Cheese Company, Hollywood Park Casino, Intuit, the Los Alamitos Race Course and the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams. Lang began his political career on the staff of the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee and was the principal consultant who oversaw major legislation reorganizing the Health Services Agency and restructuring horseracing in California.
64. Brian Brokaw
Brian Brokaw is something of an institution in the San Francisco political establishment and the Capitol community in general. A Democratic strategist and consultant, Brokaw forged ties to Gov. Newsom while working on the Prop. 64 campaign to legalize marijuana in California; he managed an IE backing Ed Lee for San Francisco mayor in 2011 and helped Kamala Harris run for California Attorney General in 2010 and 2014, and for the U.S. Senate in 2016. He’s now working as a consultant, alongside Nathan Barankin and Dan Newman, to a super PAC supporting Rep. Barbara Lee, as she attempts to secure Dianne Feinstein’s seat in the U.S. Senate. His firm, Brian Brokaw Consulting, has worked with The California Endowment, the Sierra Club, the California Nations Indian Gaming Association, the California Professional Firefighters, Google and the Oakland A’s, among others. Full disclosure: Brian serves on the board of Open California, the 501c3 that publishes Capitol Weekly, and his dad, Barry, was a regular on this list for years.
65. Kevin Sloat
Kevin Sloat is the principal and founder of Sloat Higgins Jensen & Associates, one of Sacramento’s top lobbying firms, established in 1997. The firm’s client list is long and impressive, including Accenture, Anheuser-Busch, Chevron, DirecTV, the Dish Network, McDonald’s, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, PG&E and the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation. Sloat cut his teeth in the administration of Gov. Pete Wilson, when he worked as the governor’s legislative secretary and top aide. He supervised legislative operations in 81 state departments in the Executive Branch (so managing a list of four-dozen clients really is no sweat for him). Sloat is also recognized as an expert on the state budget and the legislative process, and even once served as a chief of staff in the Legislature. In other words, Sloat and Co. can offer clients a unique perspective, given Sloat’s experience in both the Executive and Legislative branches of California’s government, befitting Sloat Higgins Jensen & Associates’ motto on its website, “Let’s get you to where you want to go.”
66. Soyla Fernandez
Soyla Fernandez, a principal at Fernández Government Affairs was first on the list a decade ago, and maybe we should have had her here more often since. She has a very broad complement of heavyweight clients, including SoCal Edison, Anheuser Busch, Coca Cola, Accenture, 21st Century Alliance, the California Chamber of Commerce, Verizon, Sysco, the casino giant Graton and the Los Angeles County Transportation Authority to name just a few. Which explains how her firm is in the Top 20 of lobbyist billings again this year through the first quarter. But her reach goes well beyond that. Prior to hanging out her own shingle, she was an associate at Manning, where she represented clients in the areas of brownfields liability reform, water supply legislation, Proposition 50 funding, Cigarette Tax Stamp Funding and Procurement, tribal compacts, energy, and various issues relating to land use and development. She has also previously received gubernatorial appointments to the Business, Transportation, and Housing Agency and the Technology, Trade and Commerce Agency, and was a senior consultant to the Assembly Budget Committee and former Assembly Speaker and LA mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
67. Carrie Gordon
It is hard to fathom that the California Dental Association has been around since 1870. We don’t know if it has always had this much bite (see what we did there?), but the 27,000-member organization definitely is one of the more effective trade groups in the game. One of the reasons is Chief Strategy Officer Carrie Gordon, a savvy political veteran who keeps a low profile but is well known among anyone inside the Capitol community. She had a big role in the MICRA negotiations last year, and could also lay claim to victories in “all of CDA’s priority asks” in the 2022-23 state budget, including a $50 million for dental patients with special needs, and $10 million for dental student clinical rotations. The CDA went into this year looking to force more consumer protections on dental insurers, particularly wiping out loopholes that allow denial of coverage and increased costs. The fate of those measures is yet to be determined. Gordon earned her bachelor’s degree from Cal Poly and an MBA from UC Davis. She’s been with CDA since 2001.
68. Anthony Wright
Health Access California executive director Anthony Wright has spent most of his professional life working to gain more people access to quality health care, and his fingerprints can usually be found on any progressive healthcare-related legislation that emerges from the Capitol. In a country as stratified as this one on that issue, it is almost always an uphill battle. Which is what makes his last few years even more impressive. Wright finally saw the decade-long push to expand Medi-Cal coverage to people aged 26 to 49, regardless of immigration status, succeed. He helped lead the effort to set up an Office of Health Care Affordability, and he lobbied successfully for affordability assistance that greatly or completely negated larger than normal rate hikes for the 1.7 million policyholders who obtained coverage through Covered California. This year’s budget also includes assurances that the majority of funds raised from the tax penalty for not having coverage goes back into a fund to specifically lower health care coverage costs for consumers. Wright is from the Bronx and graduated magna cum laude from Amherst College.
69. BearStar Strategies
One of the conundrums we run into every year is how to determine which one, two or three folks from a powerhouse organization to put on this list (also known as the Aaron Read & Associates Dilemma). Such is the case with Bearstar Strategies, which features three of the most powerful and successful campaign strategists in the game: Ace Smith, Juan Rodriguez, and Sean Clegg. All have been on this list at various times, and for good reason. The trio are all trusted campaign voices in Newsomland, as they are for some other folks you might have heard of: Jerry Brown, Alex Padilla, Kamala Harris, Xavier Becerra, Holly Mitchell and Tony Thurmond to name just a few. After deep consideration we opted to break our own rule and put the trio on here as a unit. Oh yeah, we should note that Bearstar had an uncharacteristic loss last year when client Rick Caruso spent over $100 million in the LA mayors’ race only to get trounced by Karen Bass. Win some, lose some.
70. Scott Wetch
Ask people around the Capitol about lobbyist Scott Wetch and you are likely to hear words like arrogant, insufferable, intimidating and perhaps others not fit for a family list like this one. But here’s the catch – in the same breath those folks will also acknowledge that he is damned good at his job. More to the point, he doesn’t care one bit what people think about him. His entire focus is on his clients, most of whom come from the trade unions. They love him, maybe because he’s as rough and tumble as any of them. But Wetch also has a number of big business clients, including Verizon, Amazon and PricewaterhouseCoopers. Word has it he was also a big player in getting the governor his CEQA exemption package this year, which presumably could pay bigger dividends down the road. Wetch, a third generation native of Sebastopol, started in the Capitol as an intern over 30 years ago. He was a policy consultant there for 11 years before starting his lobbying career in 2001. In addition to lobbying, Wetch is a commissioner with the California State Athletic Commission.
71. Kurt Oneto
Kurt Oneto leads Nielsen Merksamer’s government law section, where he specializes in statewide ballot measures and is a recognized expert in initiative and referenda law. He’s served as counsel and legal strategist to more than 60 ballot measures in California and more than a half a dozen other states. He works primarily – but not always – on measures backed by business interests: For example, in 2018 he wrote Proposition 12 on behalf of the Humane Society, and in 2022 wrote Proposition 30, which was endorsed by the California Democratic Party and supported by several prominent environmental groups. Last year he led the successful referendum qualification efforts against both AB 257 and SB 1137, and then successfully sued the state to prevent it from temporarily enforcing AB 257 while the signatures were being counted. He was part of the litigation team that successfully defended Proposition 22 in the First District Court of Appeal earlier this year; and just last month, on behalf of CalChamber, successfully sued the California Privacy Protection Agency (CPPA) over its implementation of the Prop. 24 (2020) privacy regulations.
72. Sue Parker
Breaking barriers isn’t new to Sue Parker, the Chief Clerk of the Assembly. In 2020, she became the first woman to ever hold that position in California, and previous to that she was the first female to be the Assistant Chief Clerk. Before that, she was the Assembly’s first female Reading Clerk. Are you picking up the trend here? And make no mistake, the Chief Clerk position is a big job. Parker is the Parliamentarian of the chamber, meaning she is responsible for publishing the official documents of the House, keeping all the bills, papers, and records of the proceedings of the Assembly, engrossing and enrolling bills, providing members with analyses of bills on third reading, amending legislation, and publishing the bills, journals, files, and histories of the lower house. In that role, Parker has pushed for the greater use of technology to make the bill process more efficient and modern. We can certainly see why. Parker started her career as a Senate Fellow.
73. Catherine Reheis-Boyd
Catherine Reheis-Boyd is the president and CEO of the Western States Petroleum Association, aka WSPA (“whis-puh”), which encompasses California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Arizona. Basically, her job is to keep oil refineries and their workers in business, which makes fighting California’s efforts to scale back the oil industry her business. Reheis-Boyd has been with WSPA for more than three decades, rising to president and CEO in January 2010. Her portfolio at WSPA includes overseeing legislative and regulatory issues associated with transportation fuels policy, air and water quality, climate change, renewable fuels, alternative energy issues and crude oil and natural gas production – essentially every issue facing the oil industry today, which is fitting, given that she’s worked in the oil industry overall for nearly four decades. Reheis-Boyd has her bachelors in Natural Resources Management from Cal Poly and pursued postgrad studies in environmental engineering at USC. Fun fact: Reheis-Boyd worked her way through college as a bricklayer.
74. Jennifer Fearing
Jennifer Fearing had quite the 2022, when she led a team of women environmental policy wonks on a successful quest to pull an initiative from the November ballot in exchange for a legislative deal that set historic new restrictions on single-use plastics. That legislation, Senate Bill 54, is arguably the biggest recycling reform in the state’s history. But she didn’t abandon her usual focus on animal protections. She also helped score millions in state funding for animal shelters, sea otter rescue, and other animal welfare movements. So how do you top all that? You don’t really, but Fearing has hardly checked out. She’s currently knee-deep in the California Nonprofit Equity Initiative, an effort to improve the state’s relationship with nonprofits. The effort, backed by more than 400 nonprofit and community leaders statewide, and led by CalNonprofits (a long-time client) – includes seven bills changing contracting for nonprofits. Six of those bills have passed unanimously thus far. She also had a big role in the governor’s CEQA reform package, ensuring – what else – that the changes didn’t do harm to disadvantaged communities, public process, and the environment.
75. Danny Curtin
The California Conference of Carpenters has emerged as a key player in the Housing conversation, marking out more nuanced positions that sometimes put them at odds with their labor compadres the State Building and Construction Trades Council. The pragmatic approach is not new territory for Carpenters’ head Danny Curtin, who wrote in a 2007 Sac Bee op ed: “Labor has lost sight of a fundamental political maxim: Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” That attitude helped Curtin develop a good working relationship with Republican governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a relationship which rankled many in Labor at the time. Curtin, of Sacramento, has served as director for the California Conference of Carpenters since 2001 and previously held the same position from 1992 to 1999. From 1999 to 2001, he served as chief deputy director for the Department of Industrial Relations. Prior to that, Curtin was a legislative advocate for the California Conference of Carpenters. He also serves on the State Compensation Insurance Fund Board of Directors, the Economic Development Commission, and the Industrial Welfare Commission.
76. Ed Manning
Ed Manning is a partner at the powerhouse lobbying firm KP Public Affairs, where he’s worked for 17 years. And for many of those years, he’s been on this list. An attorney, Manning specializes in environmental, energy, water and resources issues, lobbying on behalf of homebuilders and developers before CalEPA, the Air Resources Board and the California Water Board. He works in gaming issues, representing the California Cardroom Alliance, which represents roughly one half of the gaming establishments in California (the other half being tribal casinos). Oh and he’s also worked on construction defect reform, energy infrastructure and transportation infrastructure issues, too. Before he was a full-time lobbyist, Manning was a partner in the LA law firm Weston, Benshoof (which is now part of Alston & Bird), where his practice fittingly focused on environmental, resource and land-use law. Like his partner Jonathan Ross (No. 78), Manning helped lead KP as it transitioned from its old brand name, Kahl Pownall.
77. Lynn Valbuena
When it comes to powerbrokers in California’s tribal community, there is no overlooking Lynn “Nay” Valbuena, the chairwoman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, one of the tribes at the center of last year’s ballot measure fight to stop sports betting from coming to the Golden State. For decades, Valbuena has held numerous elected and appointed positions within San Manuel’s tribal government. She was the tribe’s first housing commissioner and held several officer positions on the Tribal Council. She is now serving her fifth term as tribal chair. She also serves as the chair of the Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Indian Nations, a position she’s held for nearly three decades. Previously, she served as vice chairwoman of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association, secretary for the National Indian Gaming Association, as a delegate to the National Congress of American Indians and as a trustee for the National Museum of the American Indian, which is part of the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.
78. Jonathan Ross
Jonathan Ross is another influential member of the KP Public Affairs team, joining his partner, Ed Manning (No. 76), on this list. Ross leads KP’s technology practice and is touted as “a key voice on virtually all issues impacting Silicon Valley.” Among his brag-worthy accomplishments: Ross was the first outside lobbyist retained by Google, back in 2006. His tech clients have also included Cisco, Airbnb and Lyft. Oh yeah, and he also represents five large national accounting firms (PWC, KPMG, EY, Deloitte and Grant Thornton) as well as financial services clients, including Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and the California Mortgage Bankers Association, and also NBC Universal, the California Restaurant Association and the Hertz Corporation. Whew – that’s a lot. Ross helped start KP’s predecessor firm, Kahl Pownall, and, along with Manning, helped the firm transition to its current incarnation, as KP Public Affairs. Ross started his lobbying career with the San Francisco law firm Landels, Ripley and Diamond.
79. Jim Wunderman
Jim Wunderman, once called the “Bay Area’s most connected man,” is the president and CEO of the Bay Area Council, a policy and advocacy organization representing about 330 of the largest businesses in the area. Since Wunderman became CEO 2004, the council has led or partnered on numerous ballot measure campaigns that have secured tens of billions of dollars for transportation, affordable housing, early education, climate resilience and healthcare. Wunderman is also a gubernatorial appointee as chair of the Water Emergency Transportation Authority, the Blue Ribbon Transit Recovery Task Force, Too Small to Fail Advisory Council, California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy, California Stewardship Network, California-China Trade and Investment Advisory Board, Fisher Center for Real Estate & Urban Economics, Sierra Energy, and TMG Partners. Previously, Wunderman worked for Dianne Feinstein when she was mayor of San Francisco, and as chief of staff to SF Mayor Frank M. Jordan. He’s a political science graduate of San Francisco State and holds an associate’s degree in business administration from Kingsborough College, City University of New York.
80. Kristin Bertolina Faust
Jess Unruh once famously said that money is the mother’s milk of politics. If that’s true, then shouldn’t there be more fundraisers on this list? After all, big money fundraisers like Bertolina Faust spend a lot of time with the elected officials they work for, and whether they are good at their job or not can make or break a political career. We clearly thought she was worthy back in 2021 when she was No. 98 on the list, and there was a good reason for it then and now. Bertolina Faust is a Democratic fundraiser and strategist who founded BB&G, a Sacramento-based fundraising and political consulting firm, in 1999. Their current client roster includes over 25 elected officials and committees including Lt. Governor – and aspiring governor – Eleni Kounalakis, the state senate Democratic Caucus and Governor Newsom’s successful defeat of the recall. Faust also worked with U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla on his successful 2022 Senate run. While she is Newsom’s top overall fundraiser, we should offer shout outs to Newsom’s Bay Area and LA money people, Stephanie Roumeliotes & Ryan Baukol.
81. David Pruitt
This is just David Pruitt’s second time on the list, having first joined the Top 100 last year. A fundraiser and strategist, he’s worked in politics for more than a quarter century, starting as a capitol staffer, then moving to the Los Angeles County Medical Association and later the California Medical Association. About a decade ago, he founded David Pruitt Consulting. Today his firm represents a laundry list of big-time Democratic clients, including Speaker Robert Rivas, Assembly Appropriations Chair Chris Holden and Assembly Majority Leader Eloise Gomez Reyes (just to name a few). Pruitt is credited with masterminding the strategy that raised $20 to $25 million in each of the last couple of election cycles to produce the 60-member Assembly Democratic supermajority. If he keeps raising money at that rate for the majority party in California, there’s little doubt he’ll be on this list again.
82. Karen Getman
Karen Getman is a political attorney knowledgeable about the intricacies of political and campaign finance law, which is why powerful Democrat politicians come to her for counsel in droves. Gov. Gray Davis named her the first women chair of the California Fair Political Practices Commission in 1999 after she had been an attorney in Joe Remcho’s political law firm. As FPPC chair she toughened enforcement campaign disclosure laws and worked to simplify some of the agency’s rules. After her four-year term ended, she returned to Remcho’s firm, around the time when the political legend died in a helicopter accident in 2003. The Remcho law firm merged with another Democratic political law firm in 2020; Getman was named the first managing partner of Olson Remcho. Getman boasts an undergrad from Yale and a law degree from Harvard, where she also served as editor-in-chief of the Harvard Women’s Law Journal.
83. Mandy Isaacs-Lee
Mandy Isaacs-Lee is the founder and principal of Omni Government Relations, which we were delighted to see sports a quote from Yoda on its homepage: “Do or do not. There is no try.” Isaac-Lee’s been a rising star in Sacramento for a while. She was recognized on the National Association of Asian Pacifics in Politics and Public Affairs’ “40 Under 40” list in 2016, when she was with Platinum Advisors. Now she’s working for herself and some big-time clients have signed with her: Tesla, CVS and Kaiser. Widely respected in the Capitol community for her work as a lobbyist, Isaacs-Lee is also an LGBTQ activist and serves on the executive committee of the board of Equality California. Isaacs-Lee got her start as a legislative staffer, serving as a consultant to then-state Sen. Alex Padilla and as legislative director for Assemblyman Roger Hernandez. She also served as vice president of government affairs for the California Retailers Association, giving her a wide portfolio worthy of a Jedi knight.
84. George Skelton
Look, what more can be said about George Skelton? The man’s a legend, having covered government and politics for 60 years. He’s been with the Los Angeles Times since 1974 and is arguably the premiere political columnist writing about Sacramento. His columns, written with authority, precision and an eye towards context and history, are simply a must read in the Capitol community. Skelton has a viewpoint, of course, but he clearly uses his columns the way a grizzled journalist would – not to push his own agenda, but to enlighten readers up and down the state, and to hold California’s powerful accountable. A curmudgeon in the most endearing sense of the word, Skelton nonetheless captures the essence of California politics and the Capitol community with a freshness and vibrancy of someone still very much enamored by his beat, which is amazing for a guy who’s been doing this for so long. Skelton’s old school Capitol press corps, and yet remains relevant in every way possible today.
85. Andrew Antwih
Andrew Antwih is a partner in the lobbying firm of Shaw Yoder Antwih Schmelzer and Lange, which currently boasts about 90 clients (which is a lot, even for a firm with 11 lobbyists). Antwih spent nearly 13 years as a legislative staffer, with almost half of that time as chief consultant to the Assembly Transportation Committee. So it’s no wonder that his claim to fame as a lobbyist is as an expert in transportation, with clients including an array of transit districts, transportation authorities and regional rail authorities. Antwih sticks to what he knows, and he knows transportation policy, an issue that seems to pop up in a major way at least once in every legislative session, whether it’s expected or not. Antwih began his career in the Legislature in 1994 as a Senate Fellow, after he graduated with a bachelor’s in government from Pomona College. He also did a stint as Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa’s Chief Legislative Representative for the City of Los Angeles before becoming a lobbyist. Antwih is married to CTA’s Teri Holoman (No. 26).
86. Shari McHugh
Shari McHugh is a partner in the lobbying firm of McHugh Koepke Padron, which is also composed of her husband Gavin and partners Dawn Koepke and Naomi Padron. For a four-person shop, McHugh Koepke Padron carries a sizable client load of around three dozen, including several insurance interests, the CCPOA, the Warner Music Group, the Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Association, Shell Oil and the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians. The firm was started by her husband in 2000; Shari joined in 2003, after serving as senior vice president of the Coalition of California Insurance Professionals and senior vice president of the Professional Insurance Agents, which is where the firm draws its insurance expertise, obviously. McHugh also worked as the senior vice president of PIA and served as a legislative aide for Melendez Associates. She graduated from Sac State with a bachelor’s in political communication and government.
87. Francisco Silva
For almost two decades, Francisco Silva was the California Medical Association’s general counsel and senior vice president of legal affairs, economic services and health policy. He left last spring to take over as the President and CEO of the California Primary Care Association, which represents almost 1,400 non-profit health organizations across the state. Those facilities collectively treat over 7 million patients a year, many of them low income. He’ll get to prove his worth to them this year as the CPCA is just one of many health groups jockeying for their portion of an $11.1 billion state infusion into the Medi-cal system. With the state now allowing unauthorized immigrants to get Medi-Cal coverage, it will be even more critical for CPCA to be heard amidst the shouting. A first generation American whose parents immigrated from Mexico, Silva got his bachelor’s degree at Santa Clara University, UCLA School of Law, and USC Marshall School of Business and holds both a JD and an MBA.
88. Mark Macarro
Mark Macarro is the long-time Chair of the influential Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, which was a leader in the fight against bringing sports betting to California last year. Macarro was first elected tribal chairman in 1995. His great-grandfather, Juan Macarro, served as tribal chairman for Pechanga Band during the first decade of the 1900s, and his father, Leslie Macarro, was a Pechanga tribal member and a correctional peace officer killed in the line of duty in 1988. Under Macarro’s leadership the Pechanga Band built its Pechanga Resort Casino, one of the most successful – and certainly well-advertised – tribal casinos in California. The Pechanga Band under Macarro has also tried to act as a leader among various California tribes, attempting to unify a group of sovereign nations that is often quietly at odds with each other.
89. Yvonne Wheeler
The explosive scandal after the release of a secretly taped meeting between Los Angeles Federation of Labor leader Ron Herrera and three LA City Council members last year did more than just cost Herrera his job. The tape, filled with racist comments, created space for Yvonne Wheeler to be unanimously elected the Fed’s new president, making her both the first Black woman to hold the position and a serious power player in LA politics. Why? Because the LA Fed has over 300 affiliated union and labor organizations that represent more than 800,000 members, making them the second largest central labor body in the nation. That kind of oomph most definitely makes her a player on the statewide level as well, as indicated by her quick election to the executive council of the California Labor Federation, steered by Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, No. 24 on this list. Wheeler, who has a long track record in the labor movement across the last 30 years, is widely regarded as a consensus builder. It’s a strength she’ll need as she seeks to rebuild trust among union members.
90. Jacob Mejia
Jacob Mejia is the public affairs director for the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, which is so influential in California that he’s not the only Pechanga Band leader on this list. (See tribal chairman Mark Macarro at No. 88.) Mejia was deeply involved in the ballot fight to keep sports betting out of California last year. The guy also wears several other hats, including serving as the executive director of the Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Indian Nations and (full disclosure) he’s a member of the Board of Directors of Open California, the nonprofit publisher of Capitol Weekly. Mejia is known for his deep knowledge of tribal issues and for being approachable, an attribute that’s served him well communicating on behalf of the tribes to the general California public. Mejia studied government at Claremont McKenna College.
91. Ashley Zavala
One of three reporters on the list this year, Ashley Zavala of KCRA has rapidly built a reputation as what some of us call an “oh sh*t” reporter. Because as one staffer told me, if you see her in the hallways of the Capitol heading toward your door, your first thought is “oh sh*t.” Zavala has become that reporter, the one who doesn’t soft-pedal questions or shy away from tough subjects. She regularly breaks stories that put lawmakers on the spot, and it’s fair to say a lot of folks in the building don’t like her. But she is undoubtedly effective. She has famously butted heads with Assemblymembers Mia Bonta and Reggie Jones-Sawyer, the latter of whom once refused to speak to reporters if she was there, sparking a near mutiny among the scribes. Given her knack for political reporting, it might be surprising that Zavala’s first jobs out of the Columbia School of Journalism program were in sports. She previously covered the Capitol for Nexstar Media Group’s seven California channels, and is the president of the Capitol Correspondents Association of California.
92. Erin Niemela
Another lobbyist with a very broad client base, from giants like JP Morgan, Sony, StubHub, Salesforce, Hewlett Packard, Owens Corning and eBay to the small town of Apple Valley California… all of which helped quietly but firmly plant Niemela Pappas & Associates in the top 10 of lobbyist billings in the first quarter of this year. Like most members of the third house, she started out working the building, including a stint as chief of staff to former Senate pro Tem Don Perata. Her woman-owned firm has been growing a lot in recent years, and she can claim expertise in a variety of different areas. As sources told us, Niemela is considered to be one of the true up and comers in the third house, and is likely to be on this list in years to come.
93. Paul Mitchell
Paul Mitchell is Sacramento’s pollster extraordinaire. A lover of data and electoral maps, Mitchell is known for uncovering California election trends and communicating them in an engaging way that real people can understand them. (It’s a seriously important skill. Election data can be boring.) He’s the vice president of Political Data, Inc., AKA PDI, and owner of Redistricting Partners, where he tracks the work of California’s independent redistricting commission. For 30 years, PDI had gathered and analyzed campaign data for both parties but went Democrat-only in 2021. Mitchell is also known to use the state’s voter registration file to send email survey questions to thousands of voters. Full disclosure, Mitchell is married to Jodi Hicks, No. 32 on this year’s list and an Open California board member.
94. Laurel Rosenhall
Laurel Rosenhall first made this list in 2020 when she was covering the Capitol for CalMatters, but not since. That was a mistake, and so would be leaving her off this year’s list. Rosenhall has been one of the Capitol’s best reporters dating back to her start with the Sacramento Bee in 2002. As a reporter, she had a different kind of “oh sh*t” aura than someone like Ashley Zavala (No. 91). Always calm. Not confrontational, but certainly relentless. We recall watching her drive one elected’s press person to near apoplexy over the details on some issue (sorry, just what issue we don’t recall), calmly ignoring his anger until he provided the information she needed. Unflappable to say the least. Now as the LA Times Sacramento bureau chief, she oversees the coverage of the Capitol and all the various machinations of state government. To be fair, she is blessed with some great reporters – Taryn Luna and Hannah Wiley come to mind, not to mention the irrepressible George Skelton (No. 84) – but they all get their marching orders from Laurel. And that absolutely matters in this town.
95. Rebecca Wachsberg
Nobody would probably like to put “herder of the cats” on their resume, but as sources inside the Capitol told us, that could aptly describe one of the many vital things Rebecca Wachsberg does. Formally, she is chief of staff to Sen. Mike McGuire, whose boundless 24/7 Energizer Bunny disposition – and obvious desire to succeed Senate pro Tem Toni Atkins when she terms out – often puts him in the middle of, well, everything going on in the Senate. She regularly works with two others on this list – Nick Hardeman (No. 23) and Kimberly Rodriguez (No. 42), both with Atkins – on strategizing the most difficult policy and political issues, and frequently backstops them at any number of committee meetings and working groups. In short, if they can’t be there, Wachsberg will be, and then she will go about herding those aforementioned cats to all get onto the same page. A veteran of local government, Wachsberg was a deputy county administrator for Sonoma County, where she worked with McGuire when he was a County Supervisor. She has a law degree from UC Davis.
96. Susan Jensen
Susan Jensen has come a long way since being the California Nations Indian Gaming Association’s (CNIGA) first full time staff person all the way back in 1998. Since then she has been something of a jack of all trades, serving as the public relations coordinator, director of communications, and deputy director of operations before being elevated to executive director in 2016. She has since been instrumental in developing a strong presence for CNIGA at the Capitol, and as the popularity and profitability of Native Californian gaming operations has grown, so has CNIGA’s membership. The group now boasts 50 members, up from 33 when Jensen took over, making it the largest regional tribal gaming association in the U.S. There’s plenty of credit to go around there – CNIGA Chairman James Siva has a claim as well – but nobody who knows will cast doubt on Jensen’s power and influence in the tribal gaming sphere. She’s been instrumental in fights over online sports wagering, an extension of a moratorium on new cardroom licenses and protecting tribal sovereignty on a number of issues.
97. Marie Liu
It says a lot when someone who should know calls you “the Kip Lipper” of what you do, but that’s exactly how a lot of people see Marie Liu. For more than two decades, Liu was a policy consultant to leadership in both chambers, most recently as the top environmental policy advisor for the Speaker of the Assembly on a wide swath of environmental issues including wildlife, waste and recycling, public lands, coastal resources, air quality, toxics, and climate. Previously, she has been a consultant in the Senate for the Natural Resources and Appropriations Committees, and a legislative aide for two former Senators. During her time in the Speaker’s office, sources tell us “Anthony Rendon absolutely relied on her guidance throughout his tenure.” We’re told she was also instrumental in crafting SB 54, last year’s megadeal on recyclables that somehow brought together a small army of stakeholders in agreement on major recycling reforms. Liu is actually taking her talents outside the building now, becoming the new California director of the Energy Foundation, where she’ll work on their mission to transition us to a clean energy economy.
98. Krista Pfefferkorn
Few people know the building better than Krista Pfefferkorn. And it’s safe to say the 20 years she already had in the building were a necessity before taking on her latest task seven years ago: chief of staff to Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco. Anyone who thinks it’s easy to manage a high profile and controversial member like Wiener has clearly never done the job. Wiener has been out front for years on housing bills that challenge California’s notorious NIMBYism, and on LGBTQ discrimination, which has made him a lightning rod for death threats from nutcases up and down the state. That deeply impacts her staff, adding a layer of management most chiefs do not have to think about – extra security, more hand holding in the office, etc. Oh, and the legislation itself. None of this will change anytime soon, unless of course the 6’7 Senator runs to replace SF political icon Nancy Pelosi… but that’s another story. If that happens, he’ll owe a big debt to his very calm but influential chief of staff.
99. Susannah Delano
You might have noticed there are more women serving in the Legislature right now than in previous years. A lot more. And Susannah Delano and Close the Gap are a big reason why. Twenty of the 50 women in office right now came through the Close the Gap recruiting process, including 10 from last November’s record class of 11. To be clear, there are other recruiting organizations out there, such as Emerge and California Women Lead. We chose Delano because her group’s main goal from its inception in 2013 has not been just to elect more women, but to achieve gender parity in the Legislature by 2028, and there’s been no wavering or vacillating. Given their success last year, what once seemed to be a lofty goal now seems more than realistic. Delano has been instrumental in that success streak since coming on board as executive director in 2018. And, though most folks don’t know it, she’s been CTG’s sole full-time staffer for most of her time with the organization.
100. Becca Prowda
Becca Prowda has one of the more unique jobs in the Newsom administration – Chief Protocol Officer. And what does such a person do? Among other things, Prowda coordinates all of the governor’s dealings with the California Protocol Foundation, which collects donations from businesses and private individuals to pay for the governor’s travel and other expenses, theoretically to ensure that taxpayers don’t foot the bill. But it’s more than that. Prowda also handles engagements with the U.S. Department of State and any visiting dignitaries. Niche? Absolutely. But is it really, for a governor who so clearly wants to have a huge national profile, if not run for the presidency? As with the Cal Volunteers program, these are things that matter a lot to Newsom, and Prowda makes that train run on time. It also doesn’t hurt that she’s been Team Newsom since his mayoral days and that her husband is a big time philanthropist, (Daniel Lurie, heir to the Levi Strauss fortune) who at press time is pondering his own run for mayor of The City.
The print edition of the 2023 Capitol Weekly Top 100 Book is available for $10 per copy, plus shipping, while supplies last. Email: email@example.com or call 916 444 7665 X100 for details.
Correction: this story was edited on August 16 to correct the spelling of a name; to clarify that Brian Brokaw works for a pac supporting Barbara Lee, not for Lee herself; to correct David Pruitt’s client list.
Correction: this story was edited on August 16 to clarify that during her time at the Department of Justice Yana Garcia was AG Rob Bonta’s Special Assistant (advisor) on Environment (Land Use, and Natural Resources).