Another Top 100 list is history. That odd sound you hear is our vast editorial staff shrieking with joy as they collapse with exhaustion.
What started out as fun a few years ago has turned into hard work, but we think it’s worth it: The rundown is more complete, more detailed and more representative of the state power structure as we see it.
Of course, there’s blood on every line, and there’s plenty room for debate in each listing, not to mention the validity of the ranking.
There is scant methodology in this list except to talk to as many people as possible who follow state politics, pick their brains and compare notes. Then do it all over again. And again. We move numbers around, make slots for fresh faces, pour through news stories and talk to staffers, lobbyists, journalists, PR pros, board members – and after a while, to ourselves.
We also get lobbied, and this year it seemed to be more aggressive than usual.
But in the end, our list is highly subjective and I think that is one reason it’s an interesting read: Take the personality and uncertainty out and you’ve got zip. The ranking is entirely our own, and there are some names we had noted on early drafts of the list that got overlooked in the final cut (I can think of four as I write this). This list can never be perfect, but we hope that it is, as one of our friends described it, “within the margin of error.”
You’ll notice some changes this year.
First, and most dramatic, we commissioned drawings to depict the honorees this year. We love them and we hope you do to. Our thanks to Chris Shary, who performed the Herculean task of doing more than 100 drawings on deadline, all of them amazing. (Click on the names to see the drawings.)
Second, we decided to include a short take of names that were in the mix this year but just didn’t fit into the final tally of the Top 100 for whatever reasons. Several of these folks have been on the Top 100 before (and may be again) and some were new to us – but all of their names came up more than once in discussions for the list. OK, truth be told, we’re giving ourselves some wiggle room – number 100 just comes up way too quickly.
So that’s it. See you in 2016!
— John Howard
1. Anne Gust Brown
We keep trying to sneak someone else into the No. 1 slot — variety is the spice of life, consistency is the hobgoblin of mediocre minds, etc., etc. — but everyone we talk to about this list says flatly, “Forget it!” Anne Gust Brown is a major force in the administration and her husband’s political life. She’s a strategist, a fundraiser, a manager, an organizer, a gatekeeper and the wife of a cerebral, restless, crotchety, Jesuit-trained governor who has embraced his latest cause — reducing greenhouse gases — with zealous devotion. The political rebirth of Jerry Brown is a remarkable tale, far more interesting than the story of his first governorship 40 years ago. Anne Gust played a crucial role in that rebirth, in his campaign for attorney general and, in 2010, his return to the governorship after a decades-long hiatus. Politics is a big part of their personal lives: They met in 1990 when Brown was head of the state Democratic Party and she was an attorney who represented him in a case pro bono. They started dating and the rest is history, as they say (we say it, too). She is a product of Stanford and the University of Michigan law school and was a ranking executive at The Gap. She left the company in 2005 to help run Brown’s A.G. campaign and has been close to him ever since.
2. Nancy McFadden
Gov. Brown’s chief of staff is Nancy McFadden, a lawyer and a veteran of politics and policy, who served eight years in Bill Clinton’s administration, was deputy chief of staff to Al Gore and served as a senior adviser to former Gov. Gray Davis. She is a politics junkie with a lot of smarts, two ingredients needed to run the governor’s inner sanctum in the Capitol, the “Horseshoe.” Before coming back to government, McFadden worked for PG&E as a political strategist — seemingly, an odd fit. But she’s back at the center of government and her fingerprints can be found on just about every major piece of policy ginned up by the administration.
3. Mary Nichols
The words “Mary Nichols” and “environmental regulation” are virtually synonymous in California, and with good reason. First, she is the chair of the Air Resources Board, arguably the most important air-quality regulatory agency in the country, and that includes the U.S. EPA. Secondly, she has been a top environmental regulator in California, off and on, over the past 40 years — serving Brown 1.0, then Gray Davis, then Arnold Schwarzenegger, and now Brown 2.0. In between and around these various stints, she held gigs that included serving with the U.S. EPA and teaching at UCLA. With the governor taking an increasing role in the battle against global warming, Nichols, a former NRDC attorney, is in the catbird seat to ratchet down on carbon emissions and administer the controversial cap-and-trade auctions that are as beloved by environmentalists as they are despised by industry. In the latter, she’s even got the Pope to worry about — he doesn’t like cap-and-trade auctions. Nichols has been seriously smacked only once — when she drew fire for her investments in energy companies. But following media reports, she placed her holdings in a trust.
4. Diana Dooley
Diana Dooley wears several hats: She is an adviser to the governor on health issues. She’s the cabinet-level Health and Human Services secretary. She’s the chair of the board that governs Covered California, the agency that was created to put the federal health care reform law, the Affordable Care Act, into effect in California. She also was Gov. Brown’s first appointment as governor in 2010, and she worked for Brown decades before when he was governor the first time around. Before joining the administration, Dooley headed the California Children’s Hospital Association and prior to that she was general counsel and vice president of the Children’s Hospital near Fresno. She served Brown during his first years as governor as legislative secretary and special assistant from 1975 to 1983. But prior to her appointment in 2010, Dooley was little known to the wider public, although many in health care community had predicted her appointment weeks before.
5. Joe Nunez
Joe Nuñez is the executive director of the 325,000-member California Teachers Association which, in our view, remains the single most influential political entity in the state, in terms of protecting its membership, spending political money and advancing legislation. CTA’s clout is nothing new, nor is the level of the attacks against it, but the pitched battles appear to be gaining in intensity. Next year’s statewide ballot could prove crucial, for example, if a measure to curb unions’ ability to raise political cash goes before voters. Nuñez, who spent 20 years as a teacher, ran the CTA’s lobbying operation for a decade before taking the executive director’s job, which heads a 435-member staff. Nuñez’ successor as government affairs chief has big shoes to fill, so we’ll get to him next year, a major election year. Whether it’s because of pensions, teachers’ tenure, curriculum, influence or legislative clout, the CTA is the labor group that Republicans love to hate. One rumor abuzz in the Capitol: The CTA’s clout is slipping — this from some Democrats and Republicans — but nobody gave chapter and verse.
6. Mac Taylor
The Legislature’s nonpartisan fiscal adviser eyeballs the budget, of course, but Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor also looks at the fiscal impacts of ballot initiatives and ballot propositions — a very big deal, especially as 2016’s crammed statewide ballot looms and everyone will demand solid, balanced information. The LAO gets bipartisan praise — unusual in this town — and tells lawmakers, as well as the public, where the dollars are going. It’s a daunting gig, but Taylor’s got lots of help from a staff that does nothing but follow the money 24-7. We can’t put five dozen LAO people on our list, however, so Taylor’s the pick. The office is nearly unique in government in that it has relatively little turnover and — wait for it — its reports are clearly written and usually accompanied by graphics. It doesn’t get better than that for followers of government. As a matter of fact, the LAO experts are probably the closest thing government has to real reporters — a comparison that probably irritates both sides.
7. Dana Williamson
As the governor’s cabinet secretary, Dana Williamson coordinates California’s sprawling government bureaucracy, keeps ranking officials on point and translates policy into action. Williamson has a pivotal position in state government, although its importance in the Capitol is matched only by its obscurity to the public. Earlier, Williamson was public affairs director at PG&E when Nancy McFadden, another PG&E refugee, encouraged her to join the administration. Williamson’s political chops go back years: Before becoming cabinet secretary in 2013, she served as a senior adviser to Brown, and she was a deputy communications director and deputy political director for former Gov. Gray Davis.
8. Robbie Hunter
There is a picture of Robbie Hunter perched on a girder 39 floors above a Los Angeles street, a photo that inevitably gives a viewer a queasy feeling in the pit of the stomach. But Hunter looks as relaxed and casual as if he were walking in a park. That photo from decades ago says it all: Hunter, a veteran ironworker, is the “real deal,” as a number of people described him to Capitol Weekly. The Ireland-born Hunter — his brogue emerges when he’s excited — is head of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, which is affiliated with 160 unions representing 350,000 skilled construction workers. He’s an old-school union labor chief who leads the troops by example, and he has quickly made a reputation for himself as a major player in California politics. By turns charming and pugnacious, Hunter moves political money around, picks fights, backs big projects, punishes enemies and supports friends — he and Gov. Brown are on the same page for high-speed rail, for example. By the way, his great-grandfather helped build the Titanic.
9. Felicia Marcus
Nobody ever said being chair of the State Water Resources Control Board was going to be easy, and it’s a good thing, too — because it’s not. Felicia Marcus is at the center of the state’s response to California’s historic drought. She is the drought regulator, the governor’s point person on mandatory cutbacks, the head of the state office that says who can use what and how much. Quite a combo. She’s been on the water board since 2012 and before that, she was western director of the Natural Resources Defense Council (Brown clearly likes the NRDC; see No. 3 on this list). She’s definitely got her water chops: She also sat on the Delta Stewardship Council for two years, was president of the L.A. Public Works Board and spent eight years as the Region 9 administrator of the EPA. All we can say is good luck.
10. Janet Napolitano
If you’re a connoisseur of resumés, Janet Napolitano’s is a stunner. As president of the 10-campus University of California, she leads a world-class organization with 10 campuses, five medical centers, 238,700 students and 198,300 employees. Before that, she was secretary of the sprawling Department of Homeland Security and before that, she was governor of Arizona. (Time magazine named her one of the nation’s top five governors.) Wait, there’s more. She graduated summa cum laude from California’s Santa Clara University and she holds a Phi Beta Kappa key. As a former governor, she went head-to-head with Jerry Brown early in 2015 on the university’s budget, threatening to raise tuition unless the state came across with more funding. No one blinked — at least publically — but Napolitano got additional dollars. Brown and the Legislature now know they are dealing with a tough and savvy political operative. Stay tuned.
11. Allan Zaremberg
Allan Zaremberg is president of the California Chamber of Commerce, arguably the state’s most important business advocacy group and, through Jobs PAC, a powerful political force that seeks the election of business-friendly lawmakers in both parties. Zaremberg, a lawyer and a protégé of former Republican Gov. George Deukmejian, has been close to Republican and Democratic governors alike. The latter include Gov. Jerry Brown — much to the surprise of many in the Capitol. Zaremberg’s ability to develop relationships with governor’s varying political stripes — from Pete Wilson to Gray Davis to Arnold Schwarzenegger to Brown — is the reason he’s survived as the Chamber chief.
12. Bill Devine
AT&T’s chief lobbyist is a sort of role model for what special interests want when they go shopping for lobbyists in Sacramento. He has been a fixture around the Capitol for years, and is one of the many people unknown to the general public who have outsized Capitol influence. Bill Devine calls lawmakers by their first names, is a prodigious fundraiser for some of them and gives bear hugs in Capitol corridors. He is also one of the most aggressive — dare we say ruthless? — and powerful lobbyists in Sacramento. (Some would eliminate the “one of the” qualifier.) If the legislation has anything to do with regulating communication, AT&T is there in the gregarious, knowledgeable and rumpled Devine. Backed with buckets of AT&T money, Devine almost always wins. And the annual fund-raising golf outing in Pebble Beach — the Speaker’s Cup — has become something of a Capitol institution.
13. LaPhonza Butler
During the first quarter of 2015, Butler’s California State Council of Service Employees, affiliated with the Service Employees International Union, spent nearly $365,000 on lobbying, making it the third-largest spender for the quarter. And in an era of shrinking union membership, the SEIU can boast of having more than 700,000 members, ranging from janitors to college professors. The sheer volume of money and members over the years has made the Council a major Sacramento player. Butler’s latest victory was the budget restoration of hours for home-care workers after a 7 percent cut. It’s a one-time measure; Butler vows to make it permanent. As president of the California SEIU State Council, Butler will have a major influence on where the union will stand on candidates and initiatives. (Pension reform, anyone?)
14. Lou Paulson
As head of the 30,000-member California Professional Firefighters for the past decade, Lou Paulson is the go-to guy for Democrats in crucial ballot fights. He headed up the coalition that blocked Republican and anti-union efforts to cut into the ability of labor to raise political money — and he may do the same thing next year if another anti-union measure makes the ballot. Paulson is in solid with the administration, in part because he also played a pivotal role in getting the governor’s temporary tax hikes approved to balance the budget. CPF is involved in a lot of fights, but one of its strengths is that almost everybody – the public, the lawmakers, the kids in school – love firefighters. But that seems to evaporate each year at budget time when politicians look for places to cut or when pension critics emerge — and that’s when CPF starts girding for battle.
15. Dan Reeves
Dan Reeves is not a familiar name to the public, but he is well-known in the Capitol, which is where it counts. He is the chief of staff to Senate Leader Kevin de León, which means he does just about everything, from riding herd on legislation to personnel issues to handling political fallout to protecting the boss to making sure the trains run on time. Reeves was de León’s chief of staff before de León was elected leader, and the two are close — an important fact, given the pressures and politics of the Capitol. De León had something of a rocky start when he took over last year, including dozens of administrative staff layoffs and complaints that he got rid of the Oversight office and purged the top staff of a Senate committee that earlier smacked down one of his favored bills. But he’s weathered those hiccups and is poised to get a major environmental protection package through the Legislature – and Reeves is an important reason for the smooth sailing. Reeves, a 20-year veteran of the Capitol, knows pressure: He was former Sen. Carole Migden’s chief of staff.
16. Michael Cohen
Michael Cohen is new on the list, but clearly he belongs here. Cohen is the director of the Department of Finance, which means he and his staff write the governor’s budget, decide where and how the state handles its money and grant — or reject — the constant requests from the departments for more funding. The job is a mix of accounting, politics, management and schmoozing. It also requires a grasp of detail, as reporters see every year when the governor asks Cohen to handle a particularly arcane question at the budget briefing. The Department of Finance is commonly viewed as the most powerful agency in government because it controls the purse strings. That’s probably true, although it seems lately that the ARB ranks way up there, too. But whatever the pecking order, Cohen is at Ground Zero at the intersection of money, politics and policy. The Capitol has no West Wing, but Cohen’s office near the L Street entrance is down the hall from the governor’s — a useful proximity. One big advantage for Cohen: He’s got H.D. Palmer to handle communications with the media and assorted other troublemakers.
17. Angie Wei
Job titles and functions change over the years, even at the same outfit, but whatever her title, Angie Wei is at the political heart of the California Labor Federation. She’s chief of staff to Art Pulaski, the head of the Cal Labor Fed, which is affiliated with some 1,200 unions representing 2.1 million workers. She’s been legislative director, political strategist, campaign coordinator, and more, and she seems to be working 18 hours a day. Despite the Labor Fed’s size, Wei and her allies see themselves as underdogs because business interests engage in greater political spending than labor. But labor’s ability to call out the foot soldiers in elections helps even things out, as does pushing for labor-friendly legislation in the Capitol among supportive Democrats. Those supporters usually – but not always – include Gov. Brown, there are assorted stresses within the labor movement. And that’s where Wei comes in. She also serves on the California Commission on Health, Safety and Workers Compensation.
18. Yvonne Walker
Walker is a former legal secretary and U. S. marine who now heads the largest public sector union in California and one of the largest in the country. Her Service Employees International Union Local 1000 represents 95,000 state employees – the biggest bargaining unit of state workers. Its affiliate, the California State Council of Service Employees, was 2014’s second-largest lobbying spender, at $5.9 million. Under Walker, who was comfortably re-elected last May, the union has formidable political clout, and is not afraid to use it; Local 1000 boasts that 80 percent of the candidates it endorsed won in the last election cycle. It’s not entirely about money; if boots on the ground are needed, Walker and her thousands are close to the top of the list of who you’re gonna call.
19. Tom Steyer
He made his millions running hedge fund Farallon Capital, leaving the firm in 2012 to become even more active in politics and environmental protection, giving at least some credence to the oft-used description of him as the “billionaire environmentalist.” In 2012, Steyer spent $22 million to back Proposition 39, which voters overwhelming approved, to close a $1 billion corporate tax loophole. He spent nearly $74 million backing candidates and causes in 2014, according to Forbes magazine, with $67 million of it going into his super PAC, NextGen Climate Action. For at least two years, Democrat Steyer has been rumored to be interested in any number of political offices, and the latest buzz is that he is eyeing a run for governor in 2018. But the Steyer fortune hasn’t all been spent on politics. He and his wife, Kat Taylor, have contributed millions to energy research at Stanford. There are few sure things in California politics, but the closest thing to one right now is that the idealistic, deep-pocketed Steyer is going to be a presence for years to come. He’s got money, but he’s also got good political chops – one of his key advisers is Chris Lehane, who has advised a number of national and state leaders, including Bill Clinton.
20. Eric Bauman
Eric Bauman is a first-tier political player in L.A. Democratic politics, and no wonder: He’s chair of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, for starters, and in an area where more than a fourth of California’s voters live, that’s a big deal. He’s headed the L.A. branch of the Assembly Speaker’s Office of Majority Services, a key post, and he’s a senior adviser to Speaker Toni Atkins. Some believe he’s got ambitions to be chair of the statewide Democratic Party after the current chairman, John Burton, departs in 2017, but that’s for you to say and we couldn’t possibly comment. Next year is a major election year in California, from president on down, so Bauman will be busy. Presidential elections invariably have better turnout than state elections, but the election last November marked the lowest turnout ever for L.A. County for a general election, a disgrace. L.A. is safely Democratic — that’s Bauman’s main concern, after all – but it would be nice to have L.A. voters engaged and energized.
21. Scott Wetch
Scott Wetch, a former legislative staffer who rose through the ranks during a 24-year Capitol career, struck out on his own years ago to begin a lobbying career. His firm, Carter Wetch and Associates, is a go-to advocate for the pipe trades, electrical workers unions, utility workers and sheet-metal trades, among others. Wetch, who the L.A. Times described as “shrewd and intimidating,” also has a blue-chip roster of clients that includes Verizon, the California Dental Association, GTech and the L.A. Turf Club, and he even represents a number of the top lobbying firms around town who have hired him as their lobbyist. During his time in the Capitol, Wetch was a key aide to top figures including David Roberti, Jack Scott and Mike Thompson, and was consultant for several committees, including Senate Housing and Assembly Insurance. Wetch gained wide attention several years ago for winning what Capitol Weekly called “one of the oddest most passionate political fights” in which he spearheaded a bill over the opposition of the nurses to allow school employees to administer medication to students caught in epileptic seizures. His I Street offices are four blocks from the Capitol in a building he shares with the Building and Construction Trades Council.
22. Gale Kaufman
Even in off-election years, Gale Kaufman is busy getting ready for the next election cycle, and we assume that she’ll be busy in 2016, when a jammed statewide ballot looms. Like the Boy Scouts, Kaufman’s motto is “Be Prepared,” and the advance spade work she does on campaigns one year pays off the next. Kaufman has handled some six dozen campaigns, including the destruction of the core of former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ballot plans – a feat that earned her the title of Campaign Manager of the Year from a group of international political consultants. She handles Democratic candidates and labor campaigns and she is the Democrats’ No. 1 ballot measure warrior for the California Teachers Association’s ballot fights – of which there are many. She engineered the 2012 defeat of Proposition 32, a business and Republican-backed effort to block unions’ ability to raise campaign cash, a fight that still resonates in California.
23. Kip Lipper
Senate staffer Kip Lipper is the Capitol guru on the environment, and one way or another he has a say-so on virtually every piece of environmental legislation that emerges from The Building. When he gets done with a bill it’s been “Lipperized” – which means the deal’s been cut and he’s given it the stamp of approval. There are few in the Capitol who wield such influence over their policy specialty, but Lipper is part of the institutional fabric of the place. Also, this is important: He’s got a messy office, which we like. Lipper was a long-time aide to former Sen. Byron Sher, a deal-cutting icon to environmentalists, whose name graces the auditorium at the CalEPA headquarters at 10th and I. Lipper analyzes legislation, brokers agreements, serves as the Senate’s environmental hardball player and does myriad chores. This year, with Senate Leader Kevin de León’s environmental package on the front burner, Lipper is working long hours.
24. Dustin Corcoran
The California Medical Association, which serves about 40,000 physicians in various specialties, is the doctors’ political arm in Sacramento. It had a pretty good year, too. First, the CMA took the lead in pushing through a boost in Medi-Cal reimbursements, which had been at the top of the CMA’s priority list. Second, it beat back an attempt to expand the “scope of practice” by allowing nurse practitioners to perform a number of chores without the supervision of a doctor. Third, it successfully advocated for a bill requiring mandatory vaccinations for school children, an issue that generated enormous controversy. The governor signed the bill as soon as it reached his desk. The CMA’s chief executive is Dustin Corcoran, who joined CMA in 1998 and rose through the ranks under the stewardship of the late Steve Thompson, a popular and effective Capitol lobbyist. Corcoran served on the association’s political PAC to boost membership and was part of the lobbying team with Thompson. After some internal wrangling, Corcoran became CEO in 2010.
25. Dave Low
Dave Low, the executive director of the California School Employees Association, has been at the CSEA for 34 years and knows the issues of his outfit backward and forward, top to bottom. He’s also CSEA’s governmental relations director, which means he holds sway over communications and lobbying for an entity that represents 200,000 classified employees at public schools, community colleges and the state universities. CSEA is the largest union of school classified employees in the country — it also represents some sworn peace officers. Low has done it all: union organizing, local campaigns in San Francisco and San Mateo, Personnel Board hearings, grievances, arbitration, contracts, bargaining and, of course, service as a union rep and union steward. He’s also headed Californians for Health Care and Retirement Security, which has taken the lead in the fight against rolling back public pensions.
26. Jim Earp
Jim Earp wears two hats and both fit pretty well. For one thing, he has been a member of the powerful California Transportation Commission, which decides major road projects and sets the priority schedule to pay for them. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed him originally, Jerry Brown reappointed him to a term that ends in 2019 – when Brown leaves office. Two, Earp heads a group called the Alliance for Jobs, which represents about 1,700 construction companies and some 50,000 unionized workers. The Alliance targets lots of jobs and big projects, which translates into a lot of dough and political clout. Earp inevitably squeezes out a place at the table when it comes to deciding which infrastructure projects get approved and how much they’ll cost – a critical skill when lawmakers and the governor appear poised to spend money. The Alliance also has pushed for bond financing for an array of infrastructure projects, and his group played a major role in the big-dollar discussions over air-quality rules for diesel equipment. By the way, Earp is pronounced “AARP,” as in the retirees’ group, not “Earp,” as in the gunslinger.
27. Aaron Read
Longevity counts for a great deal in lobbying, and that’s one reason why Aaron Read’s firm seems to be part of the institutional memory of the Capitol community. Aaron has around forever – well, almost; he’s been in Sacramento since Reagan was governor. Doing a good job for clients helps, too, as does having lobbyists like Randy Perry, Steve Baker, Jennifer Tannehill, Terry McHale and Pat Moran on the staff. Read’s client list reflects his wide net, including such diverse groups as the California Association of Highway Patrolmen, the funeral directors and PG&E. He formed Aaron Read & Associates back in 1978, when some of today’s legislators were in diapers. ARA received $9.83 million in 2013-14, ranking fifth among the top lobbying firms.
28. Elaine Howle
State Auditor Elaine Howle watches the state’s handling of money, recommends improvements in efficiency and serves as the Legislature’s eyes and ears in the vast bureaucracy. Howle has a regular list of audits that she executes automatically on the big state agencies, but she also has audits assigned by the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, an obscure but significant panel that meets in the Capitol to give Howle her marching orders. Howle, with voter approval, took the lead in setting up the independent commission that ultimately created the new Assembly, Senate, Board of Equalization and Congressional districts. That put Howle at the center of the hyper-partisan political disputes over redistricting – an unusual position for someone accustomed to audits, performance reports and fiscal reviews. But she carried it off.
29. Greg Campbell
As Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins’ top aide, Greg Campbell is at the top of the Assembly’s pecking order and that’s not unfamiliar turf, since he also was chief of staff to former Speaker John Pérez and he’s been in the Capitol for more than 20 years. Campbell has the responsibility to meet the politics and policy agendas of the speaker, execute the speaker’s will, keep out the riffraff, spot holes in legislation and resolve the needs of rival interests – and lawmakers – in key bills. We’ve said that the chief of staff is part political operative, part employee manager, part soother of the caucus and part communications strategist. The chief also needs to have good political antennae and head off political storms before they get out of control.
30. Joe Lang
When the discussion turns to lobbyists, one name that always pops up is Joe Lang – and it comes from his fellow lobbyists. Lang, with decades of Sacramento experience, heads one of the Sacramento’s major lobbying firms — Lang Hansen O’Malley and Miller Governmental Relations. The firm had revenues of $5.7 million in 2014, ranking second among the top 10. During the second quarter of 2015, Lang’s firm was ranked third, with revenue of $1.3 million. Like many of his colleagues and rivals, Lang came to heavy-duty lobbying after time as a legislative staffer, serving as principal consultant to the Assembly’s Governmental Organization Committee. The firm maintains a low-key but dignified website, with photos of the Capitol and the historic Senator Hotel building, where the firm is conveniently located across the street from the Capitol. Lang’s blue-chip operation has listed a wide variety of clients over the years, including utilities, local governments, gaming interests and health plans, among others.
31. Donna Lucas
Communications strategist Donna Lucas of Lucas Public Affairs worked as a campaign press aide and learned the insides of the Capitol during George Deukmejian’s administration. She learned her lessons well: She has developed into a major communications force and is a go-to person for companies and people — State Fund, Chevron, Maria Shriver (Lucas was Shriver’s chief of staff), assorted businesses, health care issues, etc. — looking for communications advice in the Byzantine world of Capitol politics. She’s also connected: Her brother is top Senate staffer Kip Lipper (see No. 23), a gatekeeper for major environmental legislation in the Capitol, and her husband is State Librarian Greg Lucas, formerly the Sacramento bureau chief of the San Francisco Chronicle and who was, by far, the best-sourced newsie in the Capitol. Donna is the chair of the Public Policy Institute of California, and serves on the board of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the California Chamber of Commerce. When we decided in 2012 to see if Capitol Weekly could survive as an online nonprofit, our first call was to Donna, who served on our board.
32. Charles Munger Jr.
He likes bow ties and suspenders, has been described as courtly and seeks to answer fundamental questions about the universe. He also wants to bring the Republican Party back to relevance in California. He is Charles Munger Jr., an immensely wealthy Palo Alto physicist who was the party’s biggest single benefactor in 2014, spending more than $11 million on behalf of candidates he favored, including Latino, female and moderate ones. He is an example of an emerging breed in California that is making itself felt — the wealthy idealist determined to make a difference. Munger was a chief financial backer of 2010’s Prop. 20, which put the drawing of congressional districts in the hands of citizens, rather than legislators. He spent $13 million on that. And in case you’re wondering where all that money comes from, his billionaire father, Charles T. Munger, is Warren Buffet’s business partner. Enough said.
33. Debra Gravert
Debra Gravert knows the Assembly well, and that’s a good thing: She’s the chief administrative officer of the Assembly Rules Committee, the panel that has jurisdiction over such things as staffing, office space, hiring rules, employment practices, etc., and which serves as the heart of the house. Gravert got the prized gig last year following the retirement of Jon Waldie, who held the job for 17 years. The CAO really is part personnel manager, part political operative and part watchdog and Gravert fills the bill. She twice ran for election to the Assembly from a Sacramento-area seat, and before got her latest job she served as a chief of staff to Assemblyman Jim Frazier, an Oakley Democrat, and headed the staff of the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee.
34. Dorothy Rothrock
If there’s one person whose name always comes up when you are talking about experts in business regulation, it’s Dorothy Rothrock, the president of the California Manufacturers and Technology Association. Rothrock succeeded CMTA’s retiring leader Jack Stewart for the top job, and she’s a good fit. She knows the Capitol inside and out, having spent years as the CMTA’s point person on politics, regulation and lobbying. Much of her task is to oppose business-unfriendly changes to the work place and efforts to increase costs on companies. CMTA represents some 30,000 companies and 1.5 million employees. Numbers count in the Capitol and those are big numbers.
35. Rex Frazier
Rex Frazier is the president of the Personal Insurance Federation of California, a trade group that represents only a handful of insurers but which includes such heavy hitters as State Farm, Allstate, Mercury and Farmers. Frazier, a political aficionado by temperament, is a lawyer by training and a professor at the McGeorge School by inclination. His job is to make sure that PIFC protects its own, usually by battling any number of consumer groups fighting to whack his companies. He does that by moving political money around to back candidates who are helpful — or at least not hostile — to his industry. With Democratic majorities in both houses, that also means that Frazier takes careful aim at the moderates – a target-rich environment. Frazier is not often quoted in news accounts but he is well-known in the Capitol as a first-tier player and shows up on just about everybody’s dance card.
36. Mona Pasquil
Mona Pasquil, the governor’s appointments secretary since 2011, has a sensitive, difficult, crucial job at the heart of the administration – she vets the people who want jobs in the administration, gives ‘em the go-ahead, and sometimes must fire people who have to go. She is responsible for vetting and making recommendations on hundreds of appointments — a task ripe for disastrous repercussions down the road if it’s not done right. But Pasquil has a long record of political expertise, ranging from chief of staff to Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi, deputy political director for John Kerry’s presidential campaign, California political director for Al Gore’s presidential campaign and western political director for the White House Office of Political Affairs under President Bill Clinton, among others. And unless you’re a political junkie beyond all reason, you probably didn’t know that when Garamendi left to run successfully for Congress, Pasquil briefly served as California’s first Asian, female, lieutenant governor.
37. Anthony Wright
As the executive director of consumer group Health Access, Anthony Wright is the point person in the effort to expand health care to people who don’t have it now or who don’t have enough of it. A native of the Bronx – not many of those in Sacramento, by the way – and a magna cum laude graduate of Amherst College, Wright has been at Health Access for 13 years. Among other issues, he claims as victories his group’s role in pushing through the first-in-the-nation laws to ensure timely access to care and to stop hospital overcharging of the uninsured. Inevitably, Wright is most visible at budget-writing time, when health care programs face the knife and he struggles to make his voice heard. Usually, someone is listening.
38. Danny Alvarez
Danny Alvarez is the Secretary of the Senate, a fancy title that can be better described as personnel manager and institutional administrator, with a hefty dose of politics tossed in. Alvarez, who came from the Legislative Analyst’s office to the Capitol nearly three decades ago, worked on the Assembly Ways and Means Committee staff, then served as consultant public education to the Appropriations Committee. Basically, Alvarez is supposed to make sure that staffing runs smoothly and there are no problems – which isn’t always possible. It’s a gig fraught with headaches, as the recent scandals of the Senate sergeants made clear.
39. Rusty Hicks
Maria Elena Durazo has left, and the person on the hot seat in the L.A. County Labor Federation is Rusty Hicks, a young, energetic union official who is on the rise in the world of L.A. labor. He’s viewed as a first-rate advocate and deft organizer, but on one major issue – exclusions to the minimum wage — he’s walking a tightrope. A citywide minimum wage was approved in Los Angeles (to $15 an hour by 2020). Hicks, head of the Raise the Wage coalition, wanted a provision to allow companies that engage in collective bargaining to be able to pay below the minimum wage. Those are fighting words to some, and “caused a backlash rarely seen in this pro-union city and upended perceptions of labor’s role in the fight to raise pay for the working poor,” according to one news reporter’s account.
40. Art Pulaski
Art Pulaski, who joined a union as a teen-age meat cutter, has headed the California Labor Federation for 18 years, and before that he was the top executive at the San Mateo Labor Council for 12 years. As head of the California Labor Federation, Pulaski helps shape the labor movement through his organization that represents more than 2.1 million workers in 1,200 unions. The Labor Fed is a sort of umbrella group, not a union, but it has the ability to organize action, staff phone banks, walk precincts, call statewide meetings and keep the troops focused. As executive secretary treasurer and chief officer of the Labor Fed, Pulaski is a power to be dealt with by any governor – and Brown’s no exception. Brown’s support among labor is strong, in part because there are no heavy hitters out there on the horizon who would be better for organized labor than Brown. But Brown said a governor sometimes needs to “knock heads,” and so far Pulaski’s forces appear relatively content.
41. Daniel Zingale
Daniel Zingale is the California Endowment’s “Man in Sacramento,” serving as Senior VP of Policy, Communications and Public Affairs. If that title seems broad, well, it is – but it fits the 360 degree view of health that defines the Endowment’s efforts. Air Quality? Health. Water quality? Health. The neighborhood surrounding you? Health. From diabetes awareness ads to Safe Streets community programs to the HealthyCal.org site, the Endowment’s (and Zingale’s) influence is everywhere in the statewide discussion of health and healthcare. Full disclosure here: The Endowment has been a financial supporter of Capitol Weekly. Zingale came to the Endowment in January 2009 after a stint as a Special Adviser to Gov. Schwarzenegger – an odd fit for a lifelong Democrat – where he was regarded as a linchpin in negotiations between the Legislature and the governor on healthcare legislation. A Sacramento native, Zingale has been a human rights and healthcare reform activist for over 25 years.
42. Brian Kelly
The cabinet-level Secretary of Transportation is Brian Kelly, who had been groomed for the job, served in the post on an interim basis and finally got it after a long-developing reorganization was completed. One of results of this revamp is that Kelly is the point man for Gov. Brown’s high-speed rail project, which is finally getting started – maybe – after years of legal fighting. Kelly’s umbrella agency also has Caltrans under in its jurisdiction, which means roads and the Bay Bridge project – two thorny topics in an era of crumbling infrastructure. Kelly has been an important Capitol player for years, well known in the Senate as a go-to person with a broad policy portfolio. He was fresh out of college when he began working for the Democratic Caucus in 1994. He was only there a year before he moved along to work as a consultant and negotiator for the next four democratic Senate leaders. He didn’t leave the Legislature until 2012.
43. Catherine Reheis-Boyd
Catherine Reheis-Boyd is the president of the Western States Petroleum Association, a group whose “Big Oil” members include Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP and many more. That means they are engaged in any number of high-profile battles with environmentalists over such things as fracking, air pollution, and greenhouse gases. Reheis-Boyd and WSPA beat back the oil severance tax proposal – a victory for WSPA members – and they mostly won the fracking fight because the bill Brown signed in 2013 fell far short of an outright ban. Her oil company members clearly are political powers in their own right, but WSPA is the glue that helps keep them on message. WSPA also has deep pockets when it comes to lobbying and routinely gets into the top tier of special-interest spenders. In 2014, WSPA was No. 1 among lobbyist clients, paying $2.85 million in fees.
44. Rob Lapsley
Rob Lapsley, who was chief of staff to former Secretary of State Bill Jones, is the president of the California Business Roundtable, a nonpartisan, pro-business group that is much smaller than the Chamber of Commerce but with similar goals. The Roundtable, comprised of senior executives from around the state, seeks a better business climate and includes improvements in infrastructure and public education as a way to get there. The group also favors easing regulations and a tax overhaul – common themes of most business groups – but the Roundtable also has a strong research component, in part to serve as a basis for any legislation it may support, and seems to eschew the marketing rhetoric of “job killer bills” so favored by the Chamber. Lapsley, an Air Force veteran, is a former vice president of the Chamber and ran JobsPac, the Chamber’s powerful political arm and independent expenditure committee.
45. Nettie Sabelhaus
It’s hard to characterize Nettie Sabelhaus, who is sort of a utility infielder in the “Horseshoe,” the governor’s executive offices in the Capitol. When she worked in the Senate, she vetted appointees for the Rules Committee, one of the most sensitive jobs in the Senate, for 13 years. Her job title now is “special adviser to the governor on appointments.” That means she does appointees, of course, but personnel in the Horseshoe also may have specific policy areas, and Nettie’s include prison issues. People who should know say Sabelhaus makes significant decisions involving corrections – a surprise to us – and that her influence goes far beyond appointments. Sabelhaus’ political resume is solid: She served the late U.S. Sen. Alan Cranston as a legislative aide, coordinated the Senate Fellows Program for seven years and served as deputy director of the Center for California Studies at Sacramento State.
46. Jim Brulte
Running the California Republican Party cannot be easy. The state GOP is losing registrants to the decline-state-crowd (so are the Democrats, but the Reeps are hurting more), the state is solidly blue, with Dems holding a 44 percent to 28 percent edge and it shows no inclination to change. All of the top statewide offices are held by Democrats. But Brulte, the former leader of both the Assembly and state Senate and a canny strategist, has brought stability to the party and some local legislative victories. As we’ve said before, he knows what makes winning campaigns and he knows how to convince donors to pony up – Charles Munger Jr. is a significant example.
47. Deborah Gonzalez
When top Republican Assembly staffers Deborah Gonzalez and Richard Mersereau were purged late last year, it came as quite a shock to Capitol watchers. Both were viewed by Reeps and Dems alike as stars in the Capitol, and both were veterans of the politics and policy wars of the building. But Gonzalez, an attorney who also has a degree in political science, was quickly tapped to be chief of staff to Senate GOP Leader Bob Huff of Diamond Bar, a position similar to her role in the Assembly for the GOP leader in the lower house. Gonzalez has served as chief policy and fiscal director for Assembly GOP Leader Mike Villines, was chief of staff to former Sen. Charles Poochigian and was policy director for former Assembly Speaker Curt Pringle, who later became mayor of Anaheim.
48. Dan Morain
If you like California state politics, there aren’t many better gigs than Dan Morain’s — editorial page editor and columnist at the Sacramento Bee. Morain came to the Bee in 2010 from the L.A. Times, and clearly the Times’ loss was the Bee’s gain. His columns reflect his reporting, not just opinion, and that’s why fellow reporters read him. That’s why they read him when he was at the Times for 27 years, when Morain tracked politics and fundraising in the classic follow-the-money fashion, and that’s why they read him now when he writes on everything from George Shultz to Michael Peevey to labor to Tom McClintock, and more.
49. Bob White
The avuncular Bob White is the head of California Strategies, which seems to have communications people, strategists and lobbyists everywhere, not just in Sacramento but across the state. White is a San Diego guy who hooked up early with Pete Wilson, and served as Pete Wilson’s chief of staff when Wilson was governor during the 1990s. White earlier had served Wilson in a similar capacity when Wilson was in the U.S. Senate. White’s firm has ranking people from various administrations and a lot of familiar faces. Those include Jim Brulte, the former GOP leader of both houses of the Legislature and now the head of the state Republican Party, and Garry South, a Democratic campaign guru with more races than we can list here; Winston Hickox, Carol Whiteside, Rusty Areias, Steve Larson, B.B. Blevins, Jason Kinney, Jack Flanigan, etc., etc.
50. Kevin Sloat
One might think that a lobbyist’s political affiliation would be a deciding factor in advocacy. But it’s not necessarily so, and partisanship takes a back seat to the needs of the client. Effectiveness trumps the party label and ideology. Veteran lobbyist Kevin Sloat proves the point. The firm of Sloat Higgins Jensen is a major force, with close ties to former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, but which has expanded far beyond that. His list of about 40 clients includes the California Chamber of Commerce, Anthem Blue Cross, Pacific Gas & Electric, Anheuser-Busch, the California Trucking Association and DirecTV, among others. He had a tough time last year, getting socked with a $133,500 fine from the Fair Political Practices Commission for violations of the rules governing gift-giving to elected officials, but he’s dealt with that, his client base doesn’t appear to be dented and he is moving on. Sloat’s partners – Maureen Higgins and Kelly Jensen – clearly belong on this list as well, but first we’ll have to kick Kevin off to make enough room.