The sad thing about the pandemic is that we’re actually getting used to it.
This is the third Top 100 list in the era of COVID-19 and – amazingly – our 14th overall. (There’s just no getting rid of us.)
Despite the obvious handicaps – mano-a-mano gossip sessions in coffee shops were jettisoned, for example, and it’s hard to hear people talking through masks, anyway – we think we managed to come up with a good list that meets our basic objectives: Depict the unelected political hierarchy reasonably faithfully, have some new faces, offer a few surprises and have fun.
The toughest part of the Top 100? First is figuring out the constellation surrounding the governor – the people and their functions, as opposed to their titles. This is particularly difficult in the current administration. Second is figuring out the lobbyists who, more than any other part of the Capitol community, including reporters and administration officials, truly know what’s going on. (Memo to news outfits: Somebody set up a lobbying beat and staff it.) Third is evaluating what you hear in a search for something approximating truth.
This year’s list also reflects changes out there in the real world.
The Supreme Court’s repeal of Roe v Wade, the surprise compromise reached on MICRA, the criminal allegations against a major California labor leader, changes in the cannabis market, retirements and departures – all are reflected on the Top 100. And the list is becoming more representative of Californians – 40% of the lineup are women, and representation of people of color is growing.
We couldn’t put this document together without the help of a whole lot of people, and I’m delighted to announce that many of them are even bigger gossips than we are, which is no mean feat. It’s amazing how closely people pay attention to other people’s business. A good thing, too, or we’d be out of luck trying to navigate the byzantine state political community.
In the end, the Top 100 is a compendium of informed chatter backed by a smattering of factoids, and bound in a rough linear and sequential order. It’s the only list we do, and one is enough.
It’s worth noting that there is a palpable, growing interest in the Top 100, and as we head into summer every year, we get more people calling or emailing us with suggestions and complaints. The same happens after the list appears, although the suggestions are fewer and the complaints more virulent. In fact, the only time we get angry outbursts even approaching the Top 100 is when we do polling, with questions emailed to thousands of voters.
We did the first Top 100 in 2009, and if you check back over the years, you’ll see that the list has evolved from a collection of two or three-line quickies to roughly 170 words each for a vignette with a thumbnail description, background and accomplishments. It’s more labor intensive now, certainly, but the Top 100 also has become more accepted in the Capitol community.
So, another year, another Top 100 in the bag. Thanks to all who helped us with it – the interviewees, the sponsors, the tipsters, and the hacks and flacks. We’ll hit you up again next year.
1 Jim DeBoo
It’s no surprise that the governor’s executive secretary – “chief of staff” in the terminology of normal folk – is No. 1 on our list. Jim DeBoo is a sort of renaissance man, the governor’s majordomo and the top administrative person in state government who handles politicos, bureaucrats and lobbyists, to name a few. The government’s flow chart alternately resembles a bowl of spaghetti or the opening credits of North by Northwest, but at the top of the mix is DeBoo, with one foot on the political side and the other on the bureaucracy. DeBoo is the governor’s principal manager and political adviser, a difficult task in the best of times. But DeBoo has the chops to do it: He was interim chief of staff to Assembly Speaker Pérez and worked for former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. He is entrepreneurial – heading DeBoo Communications – and he’s advised campaigns, private clients and others on how to get things done in Sacramento. He knows the Legislature and many of its members, and knows how to deal with reporters – a skill that often eludes chiefs of staff. He helped to decisively fend off a recall attempt against Newsom last year, but his political challenge this year may be even more interesting. His boss, Gavin Newsom, is being talked about as a potential presidential candidate in 2024, fueled in part by President Biden’s age (79), latest poll numbers and a favorability rating of a scant 30 percent. He’s flatly denied an interest in the presidency, of course, but Potomac Fever often spreads west – Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon both caught it – and Newsom, who faces little danger in his reelection this year, is watching national developments like a hawk. And DeBoo is there to help him watch. By the way, DeBoo holds a Capitol Weekly record of the single biggest leap in our Top 100 rankings – from 64th in 2020 to 1st last year, when he took over as chief of staff.
2 Ana Matosantos
Cabinet Secretary Ana Matosantos is a familiar name on this list, and for good reason. She headed the most important single office in the government, the Department of Finance, which has the task of writing a governor’s budgets and giving a thumbs up or thumbs down to money requests from the agencies. She held the post under Hollywood mega-star Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sacramento mega-cheapskate Jerry Brown, so she has appeared here frequently and she knows how government works. As cabinet secretary, Matosantos is responsible for riding herd on California’s vast bureaucracy, among other chores. With a state budget this year exceeding $300 billion, her fiefdom would seem pretty solid compared with the lean years she’s slogged through. But this may be the last time you see her on our list: She announced that she’ll be leaving on August 31. She’ll be missed.
3 Mark Ghaly
As we approach three years in the pandemic, California’s top health officer is juggling the state’s COVID-19 responses with the restive public’s demands that forced masking go the way of the dodo. Not easy. Mark Ghaly is the secretary of Health and Human Services, a Cabinet-level post at the tip of the state’s health bureaucracy and the principal health adviser to Gov. Newsom. Since the pandemic began, California has seen more than 10.3 million infections and 92,000 deaths. And it’s not like the pandemic is fading away: New reports show the spread of an aggressive and highly infectious subvariant, which means Ghaly has his hands full. He’s also riding point on the governor’s mental health care proposals, including the California CARE Courts, an effort backed by many mental health care professionals and others to help get mentally ill people, especially the homeless, into treatment. Ghaly 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.
4 Ann Patterson
If ever there was a year for the governor’s legal secretary, this is it. Apart from the usual chores of advising the governor on myriad state legal issues, two legal bombs exploded in June in less than a week: The U.S. Supreme Court repealed Roe v Wade and dramatically loosened restrictions on firearms. That puts abortions and guns at the top of the agenda as she works out how California, which favors tight controls on guns and is pro-choice on abortion, lives with the new SCOTUS decisions. Of course, none of her other legal issues have gone away – PG&E, wildfires, drought and housing, just to name a few – so she has a full-plate, indeed. Patterson, a graduate of McGeorge School of Law, was a partner at Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe, where she worked in the public policy unit. Husband Nathan Barankin is president of Oak Tree Strategies Group, a communications consultancy, and former chief of staff to Kamala Harris when she was state attorney general and U.S. senator.
5 Jason Elliott
Titles are always hard to figure out in the Newsom administration, and nowhere is that truer than with Jason Elliott, a senior counselor to the governor. He’s also been a chief deputy cabinet secretary, director of intergovernmental affairs, senior adviser, and more. But the bottom line is that he tackles difficult issues and advises the governor on how to respond, and his portfolio is expanding exponentially. His biggest challenges as we go to press are housing, homelessness and mental health care, issues that have dominated the state’s discussions this year, so he has his work cut out for him. Elliott, a graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School and Columbia University, has been with Newsom for years, working for him when Newsom was mayor of San Francisco and lieutenant governor. He is married to Nicole Elliott, director of the state Department of Cannabis Control.
6 Jennifer Siebel Newsom
The wife of the governor – referred to as the First Partner of California – is Jennifer Siebel Newsom, a documentary filmmaker, former actress and adviser to the governor. That makes her worthy of this list, without doubt, and we’ve moved her up from last year, based on a common theme of the people we talked to. She’s even more engaged now and committed on key issues, led by abortion rights, following the SCOTUS’ decision to repeal Roe v. Wade. “I’m outraged that girls will grow up in a country where girls and women will have fewer rights than my generation had,” she said in a widely viewed video. The governor consults her and pays close attention to her advice on an array of issues: early education, gender equity, toxic masculinity and childhood health care, among others. Siebel Newsom, who has an MBA from Stanford University, grew up in Marin County. As a filmmaker, she wrote and directed the documentary Miss Representation, which detailed the media’s flawed depiction of powerful women.
7 Dee Dee Myers
The governor’s senior advisers may wear several hats, and Dee Dee Myers is no exception. Myers has political chops, but she also directs the governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, or “Go-Biz” (catchy, eh?). Essentially, she’s a vigorous booster for California’s economic prowess – which actually exists, despite myriad woes that include homelessness and inflation – under the rubric “California Roars Back,” and business folk we’ve chatted with think she’s doing good work. Her value to Newsom, which presumably includes beating back raids by Florida and Texas vultures, goes far beyond “Go-Biz,” however. Myers has excellent Democratic contacts in D.C., and as Gov. Newsom is viewed as a potential presidential contender in 2024, Myers will be useful indeed if Potomac Fever strikes her boss. She was a spokesperson for Michael Dukakis and Dianne Feinstein, and she spent two years as Bill Clinton’s press secretary. She spent seven years as head of communications for Warner Bros. and helped with scripts for The West Wing. Myers’ husband, Todd Purdum, is a former staff writer at The Atlantic; they have two children.
8 Richard Figueroa
Being a health expert during a pandemic means you have a lot on your plate, and that’s certainly true with Richard Figueroa, who is a key health adviser to Gov. Newsom, responsible for sorting through the proposals of rival health interests. He works closely with Mark Ghaly (No. 3). In one way or another, Figueroa has been a significant figure in the administrations of three governors. Three years ago, Newsom named him acting interim director of Health Care Services, the sprawling agency that handles Medi-Cal programs. Figueroa worked as a Senate Insurance Committee consultant, then served as a legislative director in the Department of Insurance. He was deputy legislative secretary under Gray Davis and a deputy cabinet secretary under Arnold Schwarzenegger. His official title is Deputy Cabinet Secretary – an elastic term that covers a lot of territory, and the same one he had under Schwarzenegger – but his real role is to serve as the governor’s political brains on health-related politics and policy. Figueroa came to Newsom’s team from The California Endowment.
9 Lauren Sanchez
Lauren Sanchez is Gov. Newsom’s senior climate adviser, a position that didn’t even exist – either in title or substance – until relatively recently. Her title includes “senior” – a real stretch, since she’s only 32 years old – and she is the governor’s go-to political staffer on climate change. Sanchez, a Fulbright Scholar with a Master’s Degree from Yale, was a climate adviser to the Biden administration, and served as deputy secretary for Climate Policy and Intergovernmental Relations at the CalEPA. She also served on the Paris Agreement negotiating team. The Democrats view the politics of climate change as part of their home turf, and Sanchez is situated right at the epicenter. As the impacts of climate change become clearer each day Sanchez has the governor’s ear – in terms of both science and politics. Who knows, she may wind up back in D.C. if Newsom makes a presidential run.
10 Ben Chida
Ben Chida is a new name on this list, but you might as well get used to him – he’s going to be around awhile. Chida, 35, currently (it may change before we go to press) is the governor’s Senior Policy Adviser for Cradle to Career, and in the flow chart he’s formally listed as a chief deputy cabinet secretary. His priorities are education, civil justice, foster youth and children’s data. Chida knows about work and education: He was a third grade teacher at P.S. 325 in New York City, and worked as a roofer while attending a continuation high school and community college for five years. He attended Orange Coast College (hear that, No. 33 and No. 71?) and he served as an adviser to then-state Attorney General Kamala Harris. Somehow, he found time to be an adviser to nonprofits on data privacy. He has a B.A. from UC Berkeley and his law degree from Harvard Law School. Wait, we’re not finished yet: He also has a teaching certificate from Pace University in childhood education. Whew …
11 Joe Stephenshaw
Joe Stephenshaw is the director of the Department of Finance, the office that writes the governor’s version of the state budget that is presented to the Legislature in January, then revised in May to account for the latest tax receipts. This is far from an accounting job, however. The Department of Finance holds the purse strings, and balances policy and politics in deciding who gets what. When you’ve got a $303 billion budget, this is a big deal. During the fall, the representatives of agencies head to Stephenshaw’s Finance team and, hoping for the best, present their wish list for the coming year. Stephenshaw is well-prepared for the job: He has been staff director for the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee since 2017, and he’s served in various roles in the Senate and Assembly as adviser and budget consultant to leadership in both houses. Stephenshaw is new to the governor’s office – he officially replaced the departing Keely Bosler only in July – but we broke our own rule and included him here anyway because how can you leave him out?
12 Kip Lipper
Kip Lipper is the Senate’s top environmental adviser, and in an era when climate change is at or near the apex of most political agendas, Lipper is one of the busiest people of the Capitol. He works out of a cramped office in the Senate executive suite that is even smaller than Capitol Weekly’s lavish digs, which isn’t easy. We’ve said it before, but it needs repeating: Water, fires, drought, oil exploration, sea level rise, environmental justice – you name it, and Lipper has his fingers in it. He also crafted the sleeper environmental bill of the year, adding wine and distilled spirits to the container recycling statute known as the “bottle bill.” He’s been in the Legislature for nearly four decades and served as chief of staff to Byron Sher – first in the Assembly, then the Senate – for 25 years. Sacramento mayor and former former Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg – one of many Senate leaders Lipper has served – called him “a force of nature.”
13 Dustin Corcoran
A major deal was reached this year – finally! – in California’s venerable Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, the statute known as MICRA, that has pitted California lawyers against doctors against insurers since the day it was enacted 47 years ago. Not surprisingly, the California Medical Association, headed by Dustin Corcoran, was a heavy hitter in the parley – along with some others on this list – and people should thank him: A MICRA measure won’t go before voters on the ballot in November, as originally planned, and that means an array of special interests won’t have to pony up millions of dollars for a ballot fight over an arcane issue. Apart from MICRA, the interminable pandemic and the need for masking, vaccinations and boosting – which the CMA aggressively supports – has taken up much the CMA’s attention. Corcoran, who has been with the CMA for 33 years, became its top executive in 2010.
14 Liane Randolph
Liane Randolph is chair of California’s Air Resources Board, the profoundly important and powerful regulatory agency with a national and international profile. The ARB was instrumental in unmasking Volkswagen’s rigging of diesel pollution data – over a half million vehicles had violated the Clean Air Act and VW was fined $2.8 billion in 2017. ARB’s rules on fighting air pollution are closely watched by other states, and to paraphrase an old Wall Street investment ad, “When the ARB talks, people listen.” Randolph, the first African American to head the ARB’s governing board, was appointed by Newsom in 2020 to replace the retiring Mary Nichols, a legend among environmental regulators. 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. Randolph has her work cut out for her: The governor has charged CARB with phasing out new internal-combustion passenger vehicles by 2035, and Randolph gets to figure out how to make that work.
15 Carmela Coyle
Nowhere has the immediate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic been felt more than in California’s hospitals. As of July 12, with yet another subvariant taking hold, COVID patients increased by nearly 28% over the previous two weeks, to nearly 4,300 patients, with about 453 in intensive care. And Carmela Coyle, president of the California Hospital Association, is right at the epicenter as this up-and-down cycle continues to batter their 400 hospitals and health systems. We’ve alluded to the roller coaster-like pandemic before in this list: According to the L.A. Times COVID tracker, the number of confirmed cases is now increasing at 100 a day. One report said 51% of California’s hospitals are in the red, compared with 40% before the pandemic. But if anyone can work through this, it’s Coyle. 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.
16 Andrew Meredith
Andrew Meredith is another new name on this list, heading the State Building and Construction Trades Council, or BCTC. The top-tier labor group is affiliated through local unions with 450,000 workers focused mostly – but not entirely – on large commercial and government projects. Meredith took over in January replacing the feisty Robbie Hunter, an Irish-born former steel worker who guided BCTC through widely publicized political battles big and small. We’re told that Hunter stays in touch with BCTC and is offering consulting advice, and is also working with the Western States Petroleum Association. Meredith was executive director of North State Builds, a coalition of California’s three northern-most affiliates of BCTC, and he operated a pre-apprenticeship program and a multi-county Political Action Committee, the North State Builds JOBS PAC. Although Hunter’s departure caught many by surprise, there was a months-long transition: Meredith was chosen president-elect last August and worked with Hunter until January. Meredith has served on the BCTC’s executive board for 12 years.
17 Brian Rice
Organized labor is a powerful political force in California, and one of the most important unions is the 30,000-member California Professional Firefighters, which represents firefighters in local districts across the state. The CPF’s president is the blunt-spoken Brian Rice, who earlier headed the Sacramento Firefighters’ Local 522. The CPF has traditionally been close to Democratic governors,
and is the go-to place when they need political help, such as when CPF took the lead in getting Jerry Brown’s budget-balancing Prop. 30 ballot measure approved, or when President Trump said California’s wildfires stemmed from its failure to “rake its forests;” or when Gov. Newsom misspoke on prescribed fires, and Rice immediately went to his defense. Last year, CPF noted that “all CPF priority and sponsored bills had been signed by the governor,” a fact due in part to Christy Bouma, CPF’s veteran lobbyist, who recently signed on as Newsom’s legislative secretary. (No. 20).
(Updated: Aug. 10, 2022)
18 Rusty Hicks
The California Democratic Party under the chairmanship of Rusty Hicks is getting back to normal. That is remarkable, really, given that Hicks’ predecessor, Eric Bauman, was forced out amid scandal, and the pandemic hit not long after he took over. Hicks directs the nation’s largest statewide party, with a whopping 10 million Democrats. CDP played an instrumental role in defeating the effort to recall Gavin Newsom, and it is also playing a major role in Newsom’s reelection and the battles for Congressional seats in the November general election. Hicks was the political director for then head of the L.A. County Labor Federation’s leader Maria Elena Durazo. When Durazo was elected to the state Senate in 2018, Hicks replaced her as leader. Hicks, who lives in Pasadena, served as California political director of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. He was born in Fort Worth, Texas, and attended Austin College, and came to California in 2003. He has a law degree from Loyola.
19 Erika Contreras
Erika Contreras is the secretary of the Senate, which means she’s the house’s chief administrator. She has virtually no public profile, but she is well known in the Capitol, not least because she 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, and was appointed Senate secretary in 2018 via a vote of the membership. A Senate secretary wears a lot of hats, and Contreras is no exception. She’s involved in politics and policy and answers to the Senate Rules Committee, the five-member panel that administers the house. She’s part personnel director, part adviser, part soother of wounded feelings, part go-between for an array of interests and lawmakers. Basically, the secretary of the Senate seems to get involved in everything and makes sure the house runs smoothly.
20 Christy Bouma
Christy Bouma is Gov. Gavin Newson’s legislative secretary, which means she is the administration’s point person on dealing with an often-balky Legislature – no easy job in the best of times. At the end of the day, a legislative secretary’s job is to persuade lawmakers to go along with the governor’s game plan. Bouma, who spent a decade as a school teacher in math and science, later headed her own lobbying firm, Capitol Connection, from 2008 to March of this year, when she joined Newsom’s team, replacing Angie Wei. Her lobbying activities included principal advocacy for the California Professional Firefighters. She is a former president of the Institute of Governmental Advocates, a group founded in 1974 to “promote and maintain high standards among its State-registered lobbyists-members in the conduct in their profession.” She served two administrations on the Commission on Health and Safety and Workers’ Compensation. Bouma has a Master’s Degree in computer science from Sacramento State.
21 Gabriel Petek
It’s hard to overstate the importance of Gabriel Petek, California’s Legislative Analyst, the nonpartisan fiscal adviser to the Legislature, filling an office that’s been around since 1941. First, lawmakers of both parties rely on the LAO for guidance on all things financial. Second, the LAO’s website is transparent, well-organized and detailed, giving the wider public an opportunity to follow the money in government. The LAO also analyzes the financial impact of ballot initiatives, makes sound economic projections, zeroes in on specific programs and – amazingly for many government offices – its team of analysts often respond helpfully (!) to public inquiries. Petek was hired by the Legislature, not the governor, so he’s happy to poke into the administration’s budgeting, an especially useful trait when you’ve got a $100 billion surplus. Petek, a product of Loyola Marymount, Harvard and the London School of Economics, served for two decades at Standard & Poor’s, including a stint as a primary analyst for public financing, where one of his chores was to analyze California.
22 Tracy Arnold
Tracy Arnold was appointed earlier this year as assistant director of the Department of Health Care Services, the state agency that supervises California’s mammoth Medi-Cal program, which serves about 13 million people, or one in every three Californians. It’s an enormous task, but Newsom found the right person: Arnold was Newsom’s chief deputy cabinet secretary for two years, and before that she was his director of research, a job that took in a lot of territory, including international trade, business development and economic empowerment – all of which take a front-row seat in the era of the pandemic. She spent a decade as a partner and senior adviser at Mercury Public Affairs, an international consulting firm, and before that she was head of the office that targeted jobs and economic growth in the office of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. She earlier worked in the state of Washington on China trade issues where her fluency in Mandarin probably came in handy.
23 Mark Ghilarducci
It’s hard to believe that there was a time when California didn’t have catastrophic wildfires every year, but those days are long gone. Now, we seem to have them all the time, even in the winter, and that’s where Mark Ghilarducci comes in. He’s the head of state Office of Emergency Services, and while wildfires aren’t the only disasters on OES’s plate – don’t forget earthquakes, floods, drought, pandemic and mudslides – they are among the most visible and terrifying. Gov. Jerry Brown appointed Ghilarducci OES director in 2013, and Gov. Gavin Newsom kept him on. Ghilarducci has been dealing with disasters professionally for years: He was a deputy state fire chief, a deputy OES director, a coordinating officer in FEMA under Bill Clinton and board chair of the California Earthquake Authority. Ghilarducci is a UC Davis graduate in science, and graduated from Harvard’s Kennedy School program for senior government executives.
24 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 more than 20 years. 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. Bottom line, 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. Over the past few years that has been an increasing challenge, what with climate change, the pandemic and assorted education issues, among the hurdles. But Hardeman, who began his Capitol career as a Senate fellow, can do it all.
25 April Verrett
There are so many iterations of the Service Employees International Union, better known as SEIU, that it takes a scorecard to keep them straight. Many of their leaders are on our list – rightly, too, because their clout can be translated into votes – and that brings us to April Verrett. She is the president of the 400,000-member SEIU Local 2015 – the largest SEIU local in the United States, much-less California. In June, she was elected secretary-treasurer of SEIU International, which represents two million members. In politics, some top officials are sometimes described as “the real deal,” and that clearly applies to Verrett. From Chicago’s South Side, Verrett was raised by a grandmother who was a locker room attendant for the Chicago Park District. Verrett worked as an organizer and health care executive in Illinois, Indiana, Kansas and Michigan, and has chaired SEIU’s national organizing committee. She is based in Los Angeles.
26 Anthony York
Anthony York is a sort of renaissance man and has the resume to prove it. His latest role is senior communications adviser to Gavin Newsom, which means he advises the governor and top staff on dealing with the media. York was a key spokesman for the California Medical Association from 2019 to 2021, and president of his own Grizzly Bear Media from 2014 to 2021. He was a reporter with the Los Angeles Times from 2009 to 2014, and – wait for it – the editor of Capitol Weekly from 2005 to 2010, where he was instrumental in getting the Top 100 going. (If you don’t like the Top 100, send York your cards and letters. He’ll be delighted to get them). He was Washington correspondent for Salon.com from 1999 to 2003, associate editor for California Journal from 1998 to 1999 and a reporter for McClatchy Newspapers/Capitol Alert from 1997 to 1998. He’s got family journalism chops, too: His dad, Arnold, who published the Malibu Times, was publisher of Capitol Weekly from 2005 to 2012.
27 Jason Sisney
Speaker Anthony Rendon’s top budget adviser is Jason Sisney, who is the go-to person for anybody following the money and tracking policy funding in the Assembly. He is the principal budget negotiator in the Assembly, which means that he is the person who deals with the Senate and Newsom administration over which programs get money, and how much. When it comes to hammering out a final state budget, there are several tracks – the governor, the LAO, the Senate and the Assembly. Like a number of state government’s fiscal experts, Sisney served at the Legislative Analyst’s Office (see No. 21). Sisney spent 12 years there 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.
28 Chris Woods
Jason Sisney’s opposite number in the Senate is Chris Woods, who is Senate Leader Toni Atkins’ top budget adviser. For a budget expert, the times are Dickensian – it really is the best of times and the worst of times. The interminable pandemic is hanging on, in spades, but the budget’s revenues are stratospheric, which means that Woods is a relatively happy camper. The state budget this year had a reported $100 billion in unanticipated revenues, nearly twice that of last year, and three times the year before. But Woods has been through flush times before, and he knows the extra dough rests on the tax payments of a handful of billionaires and a smattering of millionaires; it could disappear overnight. The toughest part of Woods’ role isn’t accountancy, it’s finding ways to get funding for Democratic programs, which he manages to do, despite the political crosscurrents in the upper house. Woods has undergraduate and Law School degrees from UC Davis.
29 Carrie Cornwell
Carrie Cornwell is chief of staff to Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, and in the world of the Capitol that’s a big deal. Cornwell’s job, of course, is to manage the speaker’s staff. But she does a lot more than that: She is the point person for the speaker’s legislative program, pushing his priorities and fighting proposals he opposes. She deals with the flock of lobbyists who target the Capitol, she’s first among equals of the staff chiefs of the individual electeds and she or her office handle the regular Monday morning briefings that coordinate all the members’ staffs. She has strong political antennae – no surprise there – and she gave valuable advice when a coup attempt against Rendon sputtered this year. Cornwell served for nine years as chief consultant to the state Senate’s Transportation and Housing Committee and, then on the Assembly’s version of that same committee. She was chief of staff to former state Schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson when he was in the Assembly and, later, as a state senator. She came to the Capitol as an Assembly fellow and has degrees from Princeton and UCLA.
30 Jodi Hicks
It was a year of triumph and tragedy for Jodi Hicks, the CEO and President of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California. First, the tragedy: The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the half-century old decision that guaranteed a woman’s right to an abortion. Abortion rights and women’s health are at the core of Planned Parenthood’s mission, and nowhere is that more important than California, home of the country’s largest Planned Parenthood state organization. Expecting the worst, she launched efforts to prepare for the impact of the ruling long before it was announced. The triumph came with the compromise agreement on the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, or MICRA, which has been a fierce bone of contention among doctors, lawyers, insurers and health providers for decades. Hicks played a key role in the final deal. Hicks has an impressive resume, including stints as the legislative director of the National Organization for Women in California and VP of Government Relations at the California Medical Association. Full disclosure: She’s a board member of Open California, the publisher of Capitol Weekly.
31 Tia Orr
Tia Orr is the first African American – and only the second Latina – to serve as executive director of SEIU California, the 700,000-member labor organization with 17 local unions and representatives in each of California’s 58 counties. The group represents health care workers, school and university employees, government employees, janitors and social workers, among others. Orr has been with SEIU California for 16 years, mostly as government relations director, but last year, she was named acting executive director following the departure of Alma Hernandez, who was accused of tax and embezzlement charges and faces trial In Sacramento. Before joining SEIU, Orr worked in the Legislature for the late Mervyn M. Dymally, longtime Chair of the Legislative Black Caucus. She is the mother of three, and earlier in her life she worked as a caregiver and a security officer.
32 Debra Gravert
Debra Gravert is the chief administrative officer of the Assembly Rules Committee, the powerful panel that assigns bills, approves office space, decides staffing and runs the day-to-day operations of the house. Gravert, part watchdog and part political operative, is that committee’s top executive, which means she deals with everything from personnel to politics to policy on a daily basis. As tough as the gig is, there’s not a lot of turnover here – Gravert’s predecessor, Jon Waldie, had the job for 17 years before Gravert came aboard in 2014. She twice ran for election to the Assembly from a Sacramento-area seat. Before she 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.
33 Kimberly Rodriguez
Kimberly Rodriguez, who has worked in the Capitol for more than two decades, is the policy director for Senate Leader Toni Atkins, which means she coordinates Atkins’ legislative efforts, manages an 11-person staff of consultants for the Senate’s Democratic Caucus and helps navigate the obstacles of the Senate to win support for her Atkins’ legislative package. Like all top jobs in the Capitol, no matter what the formal description, Rodriguez’ task is a mix of politics and policy, plus keeping track of the crucial changes and amendments leading up to the final version. It’s not like there isn’t a lot to do here: Up to 1,600 bills are introduced during a two-year session – legislators in both houses are limited to 40 bills each – and Rodriguez has her work cut out for her. Not only does she have to keep a close eye on Atkins’ bills, she has to track the Democrats’ legislative efforts and keep them moving.
34 Aaron Read
Aaron Read has been lobbying in Sacramento since before many of our readers were born and has been on this list every year. We’ve suggested kicking him off, but absolutely nobody thinks that’s a good idea, so Aaron Read and Associates stays. Rightly, too. His client list includes Dun & Bradstreet, 3M, Matson, the CHP officers’ credit union, PORAC, the government’s professional engineers and the Water Foundation, among others. He’s not handling AT&T anymore – he was close to AT&T’s Bill Devine, who retired – and since Jan. 1 has been lobbying for AT&T’s competition, Comcast. ARA, founded in 1978, handles campaign strategy and execution through a sister firm, Marketplace Communications, now in its 10th year. The entity advises candidates on everything from political positioning to ringing doorbells and walking precincts. As we’ve said before, this firm poses a dilemma: Why list just Read? Why not the other lobbyists in the firm, such as Randy Perry, Patrick Moran, Terry McHale, Steve Baker and Jennifer Tannehill? We don’t know either.
35 Teri Holoman
The California Teachers Association is very near the top of the tree of the powerful entities that hold sway in California politics, and Teri Holoman is one of the reasons why. The CTA has 310,000 members and a lot of money, and they play a decisive role in selecting candidates for public office and are ferocious in blocking the ones they don’t support. There have been challenges: Many people are leaving the profession and the pandemic has thrown school districts into confusion regarding masking and other rules. But primary election victories demonstrated CTA’s enormous clout: Thirty-eight of 40 candidates favored by the CTA in congressional and legislative contests are heading to November. Holoman, who earlier served as Jerry Brown’s appointments secretary, is the CTA’s associate executive director, which means she coordinates the CTA’s lobbying forces in Sacramento. The CTA has Newsom’s ear if it needs it – and often does, as shown by his move last year to tighten controls over privately managed charter schools. Full disclosure: Holoman serves on the board of Open California, the publisher of Capitol Weekly.
36 Lorena Gonzalez
It feels odd putting Lorena Gonzalez on the Top 100. A pro-business Republican lobbyist once told us that she was the “most effective lawmaker” in Sacramento, but since this list does not contain elected officials, we skipped over her during her eight, productive years in the Assembly. But now she heads California Labor Federation, which is affiliated with 120 unions and 2.1 million members. For Gonzalez, who was the most stridently pro-labor voice in the Capitol until she resigned her seat in January, it was an obvious fit. The daughter of an immigrant farm worker and a nurse, Gonzalez rose to earn degrees from Stanford, Georgetown and the UCLA law school. Before she went to the Assembly, she was the CEO and secretary-treasurer of the San Diego and Imperial County Labor Council. Among a plethora of legislative victories, she pushed for the $15 minimum wage and authored legislation to get more independent contractors classified as employees. She is married to Nathan Fletcher,
a San Diego County supervisor.
37 Donna Lucas
If Lucas Public Affairs, LPA, was a law firm, it would be described as “white shoe,” meaning venerable and respected. Since it is primarily a communications and strategy firm, maybe it is more aptly described as “blue chip.” LPA is a necessary stop for many hoping to figure out the byzantine world of the Capitol. Founder Donna Lucas has been on our list since its inception, and she is the highest-ranking nongovernmental communications expert on the Top 100. Her 26-member staff includes people well-known in the Capitol community – Cassandra Pye and Nancy Heffernan, for starters. Lucas was a press handler during Republican Gov. George Deukmejian’s successful gubernatorial effort, did a great job and never looked back. Lucas, who is married to California State Librarian Greg Lucas, earlier worked for and with other firms, and for the last 16 years has headed her own outfit. Lucas also is a member of the executive committee of the California Chamber of Commerce.
38 Jason Kinney
Jason Kinney appears to be everywhere at once, in touch with a lot of moving parts. The Capitol is his home turf and, amazingly, he seems to know everybody’s business – not just that of his own clients. A former communications man and speechwriter for Gray Davis, Kinney struck out on his own, working first with California Strategies; A few years ago, he founded Axiom Advisors along with Cassie Gilson (no. 51) and ex-Newsom staffer Kevin Schmidt. Axiom Advisors is doing just fine, adding former Assemblywoman Autumn Burke and staffer Molly Weedn along the way, and boasting a hefty client list that includes Facebook, Netflix, AT&T, Centene, CBIA, CMA and the National Football League. He was in the spotlight last year after the governor attended Kinney’s birthday party at the posh French Laundry eatery, and was photographed without his COVID mask – contrary to what he had been urging the public. The flap ultimately appears not to have hurt Newsom much, and for people who watch these things it was a clear indicator that Kinney was on the inside.
39 Jennifer Barrera
When we last visited Jennifer Barrera, she was executive vice president of the California Chamber of Commerce. Now, she is president and chief executive officer, replacing Allan Zaremberg, who had held the position for years. Politically, the Chamber is California’s most potent pro-business political group, and it has the money and the resources to move legislation in the Capitol, nurture like-minded political candidates, shape campaigns and keep an eye on the needs of business, especially big business. The Chamber still maintains its “job killer” list of largely Democratic bills that, it contends, are throttling businesses and working folk. Overseeing all these activities, and others, is Barrerra, who has been with the outfit for 12 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. 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.
40 Jared Blumenfeld
California’s environmental regulator is Jared Blumenfield, head of the California Environmental Protection Agency, and a major force in state – and national – environmental policy. Blumenfield, a gubernatorial appointee, goes way back with Newsom and knows his way around the political battlefields, state and federal: He served as Newsom’s environmental chief during the latter’s stint as mayor of San Francisco, and before that, Blumenfield earlier served Mayor Willie Brown. Blumenfield also served as general manager of S.F.’s Parks and Recreation Department, and on the governing board of the Treasure Island Redevelopment Authority – an important job in The City. Blumenfield spent eight years as a Pacific Southwest regional enforcer for the U.S. EPA, with jurisdiction over several states – including California – a number of islands and 148 Native American tribal nations. He most recently captured attention for announcing the New River Improvement Project, a long-stalled cleanup effort of the polluted New River that flows from Mexico into California. Delays over the cleanup have dragged on for years, but Blumenfield’s announcement notes that new budget funding would be available, so, fingers crossed.
41 Wade Crowfoot
Protecting California’s vast resources during a period of drought, wildfires, climate change and an interminable pandemic, is a daunting task, and Wade Crowfoot, California’s Secretary of Natural Resources, is the man on the hot seat. Natural Resources is one of the “superagencies,” although you don’t often hear that term used much anymore. He has jurisdiction over 26 entities with thousands of employees – including Cal Fire, the Conservation Department, the sprawling Water Resources Department, Fish and Wildlife and the California Tahoe Conservancy, to name a few. Crowfoot was a deputy cabinet secretary and senior adviser to Gov. Jerry Brown, and was a deputy chief of Brown’s Office of Planning and Research. Before that, Crowfoot was the political director of the Environmental Defense Fund, and he earlier advised Gavin Newsom when the latter was San Francisco mayor. Crowfoot’s appointment as Resources Secretary was one of the governor’s earliest major actions.
42 Marcie Frost
The largest public pension fund in the nation is the $440 billion California Public Employees’ Retirement System, and the top executive at CalPERS is Marcie Frost, who rides herd on a sort of vast nation-state that serves two million retirees and their families and draws intense international attention because of its impact on global markets. Frost has her work cut out for her: The fund reported a $29 billion loss in assets in July – its first loss since the Great Recession. The news chilled CalPERS members who rely on the fund, although the fund overall has thrived mightily. CalPERS’ recent move to sell off about $6 billion in assets went nearly unnoticed in California media but was big at Bloomberg. There’s been a certain amount of turmoil there – a chief investment officer who left in 2018 was followed by one who resigned in 2020, and another CIO has been on board since earlier in the year. Frost came to CalPERS in 2016. Earlier, she was the top executive at Washington state’s retirement system and served in Washington Gov.
Jay Inslee’s cabinet.
43 Dana Williamson
Energetic, experienced and well-regarded, Dana Williamson runs her own communications strategy firm, and is obviously good at it. Proof? This year, Williamson is the campaign manager for the ballot initiative backed by out-of-state gambling interests to establish online sports betting in California. This is Proposition 27 – supported by DraftKings, FanDuel and others – that would also raise money for homelessness and mental health care programs, two of the hottest social concerns in California. It may wind up as the highest-spending campaign on the ballot; initial estimates put it at $100 million. She also is the key strategist for state Attorney General Rob Bonta’s election campaign – as she was for Bonta’s predecessor Xavier Becerra. Speaking of close ties, Williamson was a former business associate of Jim DeBoo, who is No. 1 on our list. Our only complaint about Williamson: She rarely returns our phone calls. Oh, well.
44 Alice Busching Reynolds
Alice Busching Reynolds stepped into some big shoes when the governor appointed her president of the California Public Utilities Commission: This is the powerful entity that regulates everything from trains to telephones to investor-owned utilities, and much more. Reynolds not only filled one of California’s most important regulatory positions, she replaced Marybel Batjer, a near-legendary veteran Capitol troubleshooter with a deep knowledge of Sacramento, who stepped down in 2021. Reynolds is no neophyte either. She served three years as Newsom’s senior adviser on energy, and before that she served Jerry Brown in his final two terms as governor, including such roles as climate adviser, chief counsel and a deputy enforcer at the CalEPA. Reynolds also served a decade as a deputy attorney general, in which her specialties included, public trust lands, coastal resources and environmental access. Reynolds holds a bachelor’s degree from Stanford University and a law degree from Santa Clara University School of Law.
45 Flo Kahn
Floreine “Flo” Kahn is the point person in Sacramento for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, otherwise known as PhRMA. It’s an important political force in Sacramento, although it generally keeps a low profile unless its interests are threatened – as in 2016, when it spent $110 million to defeat an attempt (Proposition 61) to allow cheaper drugs to be imported. Kahn, a deputy vice president, is the person who directs PhRMA’s lobbying game. PhRMA has hired six firms, according to the state, and she has spent about $1.1 million since last year lobbying on dozens of bills. Khan earlier handled state government affairs in the West for AbbVie, and before that she worked at Vertex Pharmaceuticals and Bristol-Myers Squibb. She served as a deputy chief of staff to then-Assembly GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy, where she worked on such key issues as energy, water and workers’ compensation. She’s a UC Berkeley graduate in political science.
46 Dan Dunmoyer
The California Building Industry Association is the principal voice in Sacramento representing home builders, contractors, architects, designers, and more, and CBIA’s head is Dan Dunmoyer, who is at the center of the high-pitched debate over housing and homelessness. It’s a case he likes to make: California is strangled by red-tape and a top-heavy bureaucracy. In Sacramento, new housing construction might cost $300 per square foot; Less than 120 miles away in Reno, Nevada, it’s $150 per square foot. That puts Dunmoyer squarely in opposition to so-called NIMBY bills, which seek to limit the incursion of more housing into some neighborhoods. Dunmoyer served for a decade as president of the Personal Insurance Federation of California was a deputy cabinet secretary for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger from 2006 to 2008. Dunmoyer holds an M.A. in public administration and a B.A. in political science from USC.
47 Henry Perea
Henry Perea handles West Coast Government Affairs for Chevron, which means he supervises the company’s lobbying efforts, which are extensive. Perea, a former lawmaker, is based in Sacramento, but his territory his vast and he is considered a significant power player in the capitol, where fossil-fuel producers aren’t always treated gently. Perea, known as a “business friendly” Democrat when he was in the Legislature, is a much better fit here than others might be. After five years in the Assembly, Perea abruptly resigned in 2015 and went to PhRMA, but two years later he left to go to work for the Western States Petroleum Association, where he helped manage the association’s lobbying effort in Sacramento. From there, he went to Chevron, where he leads California lobbying efforts.
48 Lance Hastings
The California Manufacturers & Technology Association has been around since 1918, and its current leader is Lance Hastings, a devout admirer of companies that make interesting things. Who can blame him? The CMTA’s recent twitter feed featured everything from Fender guitars to Jelly Bellys to artificial intelligence to paper. Their legislative agenda – tax incentives for manufacturing, solid apprenticeship programs, pro-growth proposals – did well, although one of its most important bills of the year, AB 1679 to ease kinks in the supply chain system, was being held in committee was we went to press. 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.
49 Mike Belote
Lobbyist Mike Belote is the immediate past president of California Advocates, one of the most respected lobbying and association management firms in the Capitol community. It was established over fifty years ago, and its roster on the secretary of state’s official website shows more than 87 (!) clients. Their half-dozen lobbyists include familiar names – Belote, Dennis Albiani (president of the firm), Faith Borges, Cliff Costa and Anthony Molina. The clients include Apple, Bayer US, the California Judges Association, Coca-Cola, RV Industry Association and UC’s Hastings College of Law, among many, many others. Belote is a lawyer – via McGeorge School of Law and UC Berkeley – and has long represented the Judges and Hastings. He’s heavily involved in philanthropic activities, and recipients include such groups as the Volunteers of America, the Public Legal Services Society at McGeorge, and My Sister’s House, an organization focused on domestic violence and trafficking in the Asian Pacific Islander community. Full disclosure: Belote serves on the board of Open California, publisher of Capitol Weekly.
50 Rex Frazier
The insurance industry’s clout in Sacramento is probably best exemplified by the Personal Insurance Federation of California, headed by Rex Frazier, a canny political strategist who has a major say-so on how the industry’s political support is spread around. He also negotiates with lawmakers and rivals to gain benefits to his industry, as he did this year to win auto rate adjustments that they had been seeking for years. As trade associations go, PIFC is small but its individual members are big – including State Farm, Farmers, Mercury, Chubb, Liberty Mutual and Progressive. Frazier also heads something called PIFPAC, a coalition of about 1,500 State Farm agents and employees. Frazier’s first job is to protect his members, and he does that in part by supporting political candidates of either major party who he thinks will give his industry a fair shake. Frazier has graduate and undergraduate degrees from the University of Chicago, a law degree from McGeorge School of Law and has served there as an adjunct professor.
51 Cassie Gilson
Cassie Gilson, the only managing partner among Sacramento’s top five contract lobbying firms, co-founded and manages Axiom Advisors, which has grown dramatically in recent years. Her colleague Jason Kinney (No. 38) gets a lot of the attention, but Gilson is crucial to the firm’s operation – something that Kinney readily acknowledges. A Stanford-trained lawyer, Gilson emerged as a go-to advocate on housing issues, maneuvering the building industry, affordable housing developers and Facebook (with its billion-dollar California workforce housing commitment) to get policymakers to “yes.” She also has attracted a star-studded portfolio of renewable energy concerns to the Axiom roster. Gilson is a presence on tech issues. Like Kinney, Gilson worked in the Gray Davis Administration.
52 Anthony Wright
Healthcare activist Anthony Wright had a good year, and in an era of crises big and small, that’s saying something. First and foremost, Wright’s decade-long push to expand Medi-Cal to cover – in addition to others already included – people aged 26 to 49, regardless of immigration status, was fulfilled. Wright heads Health Access California, which seeks to expand access to good quality health care, and he has spent most of his professional life advocating on the issue. Wright co-chaired #Health4All with the California Immigrant Policy Center and helped lead the effort to set up an Office of Health Care Affordability. He also successfully advocated for affordability assistance in Covered California and Medi-Cal. He was active in the discussions that led to the creation of Covered California, the state’s version of the Affordable Care Act, and his fingerprints are usually all over any progressive healthcare-related legislation that emerges from the Capitol. He’s been with Health Access since 2002. Wright is from the Bronx and graduated magna cum laude from Amherst College.
53 Mark Weideman
A lobbyist, strategist and consultant, Mark Weideman is definitely plugged in. He has served as an officer of Blue Shield of California and of AT&T of California, and his eclectic client list includes the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, Blue Shield of California (no surprise, there), Electrify America, BHP, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the NRDC Action Fund and the California Chiropractic Association, among dozens of others. Last year, Weideman did the heavy lifting in the Newsom administration’s decision to have Blue Shield take charge of the COVID-19 vaccination program – a major move in the depths of the pandemic and it remains in force this year. The decision caught the Capitol by surprise, but perhaps it shouldn’t have: Blue Shield President and CEO Paul Markovich is a long-time ally of Newsom, and Weideman is trusted by the administration. Weideman, an attorney, has a B.A. from UC Berkeley and a law degree from UC’s Hastings College of Law.
54 Susan Santana
AT&T has long maintained a major lobbying force in the Capitol, not only with its own in-house players (Matt Moretti, for one) 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 not 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 Senior Vice President, Legislative Strategy, 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 maintained a lower profile than her predecessor, which may partly be due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has curtailed gatherings, mano-a-mano meetings and fundraisers. Santana worked in D.C. lobbying congress for AT&T before coming to California.
55 Nancy Drabble
California voters will be delighted to learn that a high-stakes November ballot initiative involving the decades-old medical malpractice law won’t be on the ballot, after all. Nancy Drabble is one of the reasons. She’s the executive director of the Consumer Attorneys of California, which was known for decades as the California Trial Lawyers Association until it changed its name in 1995. She helped warring parties – doctors, lawyers, insurers and others – come to a compromise on the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, or MICRA. Drabble and her team were deeply involved in the negotiations and, as one of our trusty sources told us, had a “really, really, really good year.” Over time, the deal raises the 47-year-old $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages in malpractice cases and ultimately pegs it to inflation – something lawyers have demanded for years. But the changes happen gradually, and the parties – all of whom have deep pockets – get to avoid another bruising, costly ballot battle. Drabble, a UC Berkeley graduate, came to CAOC in 1986 after a stint with “Nader’s Raiders,” led by consumer advocate Ralph Nader.
56 Fiona Hutton
A lot happens in Sacramento, behind the scenes and publicly, but Fiona Hutton consistently manages to navigate the political maze and figure out what’s going on. Hutton’s nonpartisan public affairs firm, Fiona Hutton and Associates, has an eclectic client list built up over the past two decades; FHA’s raft of top clients have included Sutter Health, State Water Contractors, California State Parks Foundation, Health Net, Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, CalCannabis and Comcast among others. FHA, with offices in L.A. and Sacramento, has been involved in some of the most closely watched issues at the State Capitol, such as the pandemic, health access and equity, energy/grid reliance, drought/climate, sustainability, and infrastructure. The firm handles everything from reputation management to issue advocacy to legislative drills and regulatory challenges. She currently serves on the boards of directors for the California Chamber of Commerce, Ojai Valley Land Conservancy and, full disclosure, on the board of Open California, the nonprofit, nonpartisan publisher of Capitol Weekly. Hutton received her B.A. in political science from San Diego State University.
57 Paula Treat
Paula Treat, who established one of California’s first woman-owned contract lobbying firms, is energetic, persuasive, well-informed and remarkably productive. When last we visited Treat, she had a handful of clients. Now she has 17, and the list continues to expand – and all this, amazingly, in her one-person lobbying operation. Clearly, she’s impressing a lot of people, including us. She appears to have had some solid victories this year, but we can’t describe them because we go to press before the session ends on August 31. Treat weathered the pandemic, working extensively out of her home, but has since opened an office in Sacramento. The personal tribulations of lobbyists – like most people – usually remain unknown. But during the #MeToo movement that swept the Capitol, Treat publicly detailed the harassment she experienced at the hands of the late Assemblymember Lou Papan, the Rules Committee chair and former FBI agent, who intimidated many of his colleagues. She spends her spare time with her hubby and their flock of Jack Russell Terriers: Baxter, Rita, Chloe and Hope.
58 Kevin Sloat
Kevin Sloat is a familiar figure in the Capitol community and has been for decades – even though he keeps a relatively low profile. He developed his political chops during Gov. Pete Wilson’s administration when he was legislative secretary and a top aide to the governor. He’s used his experience and contacts to build a formidable lobbying operation. His client roster includes such major players as Anthem Blue Cross, BMW, California State University, Chevron, the state Chamber of Commerce, PG&E and the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, among dozens of others. Sloat, known in the Capitol for his expertise on the state budget, also served as a chief of staff in the Legislature and knows the Capitol up and down. He founded his firm in 1997.
59 Joe Lang
Joe Lang’s lobbying firm – Lang, Hansen, Giroux and Kidane – is well known in the Capitol, the result of advocating successfully, and repeatedly, for big-ticket clients which include the California Business Roundtable, FedEx, the Retailers Association, the Trucking Association, and more. With a top firm like this that has several stars, it’s hard to just pick one person out of the bunch. Partner Bob Giroux has been on this list before, as has Bev Hansen; Awet Kidane has been described to us as a rising star and we’ll see more of him in the future. Lang began his political career at the staff of the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee, a near-legendary panel with authority over gambling, booze and horse racing – and, amazingly, the National Guard. He was principal consultant and oversaw major legislation reorganizing the Health Services Agency, restructuring horseracing in California and improving California’s disaster preparedness. He later served as liaison between the state Assembly and California’s congressional delegation. He launched his lobbying firm in 1984. Lang has also taught politics at San Francisco – a class we’d like to take.
60 John Latimer
John Latimer worked in the Legislature as a staff chief and consultant on various committees, but his early experience also involved campaign politics, which is a bit unusual on this list. He managed a number of lawmakers’ campaigns, and in 1998 he made his own bid – he actually ran for state office, a fairly unique attribute on this list. He ran for an Assembly seat in 1998, didn’t get it, and then went out and set up his own lobbying firm, which now has ten lobbyists, plus him. Together they handle a flock of clients that includes American Airlines, 7-11, Broadcom, the California Retailers Association, H&R Block, Jack in the Box, Pepsico, T-Mobile, Verizon, and others – many others.
61 Gale Kaufman
The words “campaign strategist” and “Gale Kaufman” are synonymous in Sacramento, and with good reason: She usually wins, and she leaves clients who have a lot of dough – The California Teachers Association, for example – well satisfied. There was a wrinkle this year, however. She was all set to handle one of the biggest battles of the year, the November ballot initiative dealing with MICRA, when a compromise was reached between an array of deep-pocket interests and the measure was yanked from the ballot. That left her in the lurch, but not to worry: She’s also handling the “no” side of another ballot measure – she didn’t say which one – and all’s well. Meanwhile, her campaign consulting firm, Kaufman Strategies (formerly Kaufman Campaigns) is in the fray with assorted IEs and outside labor consultancies. Her campaign victories – for both lawmakers and ballot measures – are too lengthy to detail here, but two stand out: She led the charge to defeat a quartet of ballot measures pushed by Arnold Schwarzenegger during his governorship, and she successfully led Jerry Brown’s budget-balancing initiatives.
62 Steve Maviglio
Communications strategist Steve Maviglio is at the top of the tree in California political messaging, for two reasons: He’s smart and he’s relentless. He’s also straightforward – unusually so, for a hired gun – and when he pitches a story, he lays out the conflicting forces. He’s had some victories over the past two years: He worked on the Blue Shield vaccine rollout, got more in the state budget for hydrogen fueling infrastructure and anti-gun violence prevention programs, and worked with the California Cattle Council, a client, on droughts and fires. He also works with the Sacramento Press Club. In D.C., 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. In addition to his pro-public pension work, he’s doing communications for Assemblymember Robert Rivas, who is making a run to depose Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, a drama that likely will play out in the coming months. Stay tuned.
63 Carrie Gordon
The California Dental Association is unusual in that it’s involved in any number of major issues yet has a relatively low profile among the general public. The 27,000-member outfit is highly effective, and one of the reasons is Chief Strategy Officer Carrie Gordon. This year, the CDA claimed 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 budget also backed CDA’s plans for expanding Medi-Cal benefits. Gordon’s duties include overseeing CDA’s lobbying and political program, which has its own challenges in the era of a pandemic. A boost in Medi-Cal reimbursements keeps California, which was once 49th out the 50 states, up to the middle of the pack. We noted last year that Gordon represented CDA in the MICRA coalition – she and her CDA colleagues celebrated the April MICRA revision that headed off what promised to be a costly ballot measure fight
64 Kurt Oneto
Kurt Oneto heads the government law section at Nielsen Merksamer, a venerable and prestigious political law firm that has had an impact in California for decades, which means Oneto writes ballot initiatives, mostly measures backed by Republicans and business interests. And not only in California: Oneto has written some 60 ballot measures in California and a half dozen other states. One of those truly stands out, California’s Proposition 22 of 2020, in which Uber, Lyft and their allies spent some $200 million to successfully beat back an effort to assure app-based employees certain job benefits. He’s also handled clients with business before state agencies involved in licensure disputes, administrative enforcement actions, procurements, tax issues and regulatory hearings. Before joining Nielsen Merksamer, Oneto worked for the California District Attorneys Association and interned for the California Senate and United States House of Representatives. He attended the University of California, Berkeley where he was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate with a degree in Political Science. He received his law degree from the UCLA School of Law.
65 Scott Wetch
Lobbyist Scott Wetch is most closely identified with his array of organized labor clients – plumbers, electrical workers, sheet metal workers, among others – but his client lineup also includes some major corporate names, including Verizon, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Amazon, PricewaterhouseCoopers and the California Dental Association (see No. 63). His four-lobbyist shop, located in the headquarters building of the State Building and Construction Trades Council, has more than 40 clients – about a fourth of them union locals – and all seem to be pleased with Wetch, who has been in the business for 20 years and is considered one of the most effective and aggressive advocates in the Capitol. Several lawmakers and rivals have described him as intimidating, but Wetch makes no apologies. Wetch, a third-generation native of Sebastopol in Sonoma County, has been in and around the Capitol for more than 30 years, first serving as a Senate intern while a student at Sacramento State. He became a legislative staffer, then launched his lobbying career in 2001.
66 Linda Darling-Hammond
Her name is not widely recognized by the general public, but Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the State Board of Education, is well-known indeed to educators, not only in California but across the country. California’s state education bureaucracy is sometimes, rightly, described as byzantine – we also have a Department of Education and a state schools superintendent – but Darling-Hammond deftly navigates the shoals and reefs. The board sets academic standards and curriculum for California’s K-12 educational system, which serves about 6 million students. If anyone was qualified for this gig, it’s Darling-Hammond. She’s a professor in education at Stanford University, the founding president of the nationally known Learning Policy Institute, and at Stanford founded the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education. She started out as a public school teacher and founded a pre-school and high school. Darling-Hammond has a B.A. from Yale, and her doctorate in education from Temple.
67 Mark Macarro
It’s been a very, very busy year for tribal leader Mark Macarro and it’s going to get a lot busier – and more expensive. Macarro is the long-time Chair of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, and is a key backer of Proposition 26, the November ballot initiative that allows tribes to conduct sports wagering, roulette and dice games, and allows
on-site sports wagering at four race tracks. But a rival initiative, Proposition 27, backed by international gaming conglomerates, proposes online sports wagering, setting up a multimillion-dollar campaign spending showdown in November. Macarro, who has been Pechanga Chairman for 27 years, is no stranger to political fights over gambling, which have consumed much of the past decade. Thus far, he and his allies have emerged on top. Macarro grew up in Colton and has a B.A. in political science from UC Santa Barbara. His father, Leslie Macarro, was a Pechanga tribal member and a correctional peace officer killed in the line of duty in 1988; His great-grandfather, Juan Macarro, served as tribal chairman for Pechanga Band during the first decade of the 1900s.
68 Rob Lapsley
Rob Lapsley knows business and politics, and he’s a strong advocate for traditionally Republican pro-business concerns, including lower taxation, less regulation and prudent spending. Much of his career has been spent fighting repeated efforts to weaken or eliminate the property tax-cutting Proposition 13 of 1978. Lapsley, courtly and silver-haired, has headed the California Business Roundtable, a nonprofit group that targets research and strategy, since 2011. Before that he was political director for the California Chamber of Commerce, with whom he continues to maintain close ties. An Air Force veteran and a former special assistant to the U.S. ambassador in Spain, Lapsley served as chief of staff from 1995 to 2001 to former California Secretary of State Bill Jones, one of California’s last Republican statewide officeholders.
69 Catherine Reheis-Boyd
The president and CEO of the Western States Petroleum Association is Catherine Reheis-Boyd, who heads a five-state operation – California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Arizona. Her fundamental goal is to keep refineries producing and the workers working, while fending off the inevitable political efforts in any of the states – but mainly California – that might interfere with either. WSPA (pronounced “whis-puh”), which has been around since 1907, is a significant force in deciding government policy; It represents thousands of workers, a hefty slice of state revenues, and exerts leverage in the Capitol. Most of its operations are in California: It notes that its companies pay out $26 billion in wages and benefits here, and $21.6 billion in local and state taxes. For Reheis-Boyd, it’s been something of a roller-coaster ride. In 2020, California oil production was cut sharply because of the pandemic and other issues. This year, gasoline prices soared at one point to above $7 per gallon. Reheis-Boyd, who has been with WSPA for more than 30 years, rose through the ranks to become the top executive in 2011.
70 Craig Cornett
If you were to rank people on this list based upon their knowledge of state finances, Craig Cornett would be close to the top. He was the Senate’s top budget adviser, the Assembly’s top budget adviser, and he served several years in the Legislative Analyst’s Office, the nonpartisan budget adviser to the Legislature. But for the past five years, Cornett has headed the 71-year-old California Association of Health Facilities, representing 800 skilled nursing facilities and 500 intermediate care facilities throughout the state, with their patients largely developmentally disabled. This is a daunting task, given the restrictions and health threats surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. CAHF’s facilities serve about 370,000 patients annually. (By the way, CAHF’s principal spokesperson for years was Deborah Pacyna, a former TV reporter who hung up her own public affairs shingle in April of this year.) Cornett received his Master of Public Affairs degree from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin and his B.A. from Washington and Lee University.
71 Paul Mitchell
Digging deep into the California electorate and coming up with data showing often-surprising truths is Paul Mitchell’s forté, and he does it right. You learn more about California election trends reading him than any other person we can think of. Mitchell is the vice president of Political Data, Inc., known as PDI, and he’s the owner of Redistricting Partners, which has been very busy indeed since our last Top 100 list, with Paul closely tracking the independent redistricting commission that drew the maps for this year’s elections. PDI, had been a bipartisan purveyor of campaign data for 30 years,
but last year went Democrat-only. Mitchell uses the state’s voter registration file to pose email survey questions to thousands of voters – a move that usually means that we’ll get dozens of calls from irate readers demanding to know how their voting data has been breached. (Memo to all: It hasn’t. Voter registration is a public record.) Mitchell is married to Jodi Hicks (No. 30), the head honcho at Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California.
72 Jennifer Fearing
Jennifer Fearing led a team of women environmental wonks to put together a legislative deal pulling an initiative from the November ballot in exchange for new precedent-setting restrictions on single-use plastics. Lawmakers overwhelmingly passed the compromise she helped craft, Senate Bill 54: Near unanimous in the Assembly, 29-0 in the Senate. Fearing’s efforts prompted shoutouts from Senators Ben Allen and Bob Hertzberg and Assemblywomen Luz Rivas and Laura Friedman. Fearing’s role in the plastics deal makes clear that she’s expanded beyond her historical focus on animal protection (though plastic pollution impacts animals, too). She also helped score $50 million in state funding for animal shelters, $3 million for sea otter rescue, tens of millions for the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing over the last year, and successfully championed a new beaver restoration program. Aside from the animals, she helped deliver COVID sick leave relief funding for nonprofits and has her sights on more funding for California’s museums and a prohibition on deep sea mining.
73 Ed Manning
Lobbyist Ed Manning has been at KP Public Affairs for 17 years, and he’s been on this list for many years, too. KP is always a top earner in the lobbying world and Manning is clearly one of the reasons why. He lobbies on major energy issues, wildfires, water, and on behalf of homebuilders and developers, and that naturally leads to his lobbying efforts before the CalEPA, the Air Resources Board and the California Water Board. Before becoming a full time lobbyist Manning was a partner in a Los Angeles law firm, Weston, Benshoof (now part of Alston & Bird) where his practice focused on environmental, resource and land use law. Like his partner Jon Ross (No. 74) Manning helped lead KP in transitioning from its prior incarnation as Kahl Pownall.
74 Jonathan Ross
We’re starting to think of Jonathan Ross as part of the duo of Manning and Ross. Sounds like a vaudeville team. But both are on our list and in close proximity, and deservedly, too. Ross, like Manning, is at KP Public Affairs, and his focus includes finances, money and technology. He handles such fiscal heavyweights as Citigroup, the California Mortgage Bankers Association and Morgan Stanley. When Google was searching for a lobbyist years ago, they hired Ross — a move that led to his hiring by other technology leaders, including Cisco and Airbnb. Ross started his lobbying career with the San Francisco law firm of Landels, Ripley and Diamond, which he left in 1996 to help start Kahl Pownall, the predecessor firm to KP Public Affairs. As the firm’s principal adviser to the California Restaurant Association, Ross has his work cut out for him. That group’s members have been – and continue to be – hammered by the pandemic, and they need all the help he can provide to get back up to speed.
75 Juan Rodriguez
Juan Rodriguez, one of the Democrats’ top political consultants, came out of Los Angeles, where he cut his teeth handling a 2003 school board race. He later joined up with former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, first as an intern and then serving five years as the mayor’s director of state relations. Rodriguez also served as an interim chief of staff to then-state Attorney General Kamala Harris, and later handled her winning U.S. Senate campaign. In 2017, Rodriguez joined forces with Ace Smith, Sean Clegg (No. 81) and Laphonza Butler at what became SCRB Strategies – a firm that has changed its name and personnel several times over recent years and is currently operating (sans Butler, who is now head of EMILY’s List) as Bearstar Strategies. Rodriguez was a senior adviser to Gavin Newsom on his 2018 campaign for governor, and played a key role in helping Democrat Newsom beat back the recall. For that, he won the 2022 Campaign Manager of the Year Statewide, from the American Association of Political Consultants.
76 Brandon Castillo
Brandon Castillo has secured a historic position of sorts in California politics: His firm – Bicker, Castillo and Fairbanks – took the lead communications role in pushing the passage of the state’s most costly ballot initiative, the $224 million Proposition 22 of 2020; BCF’s clients spent more than $200 million of that. Castillo has been on the Capitol scene for some 20 years, and has been involved in dozens of initiative campaigns; His firm’s website boasts a “better than a 95% success rate.” This year, Castillo and his team – Gwyn Bicker and Kathy Fairbanks – are back at the high-stakes table, supporting the tribal sports-betting initiative, Proposition 26, and opposing the online gambling initiative backed by FanDuel, DraftKings and others, Proposition 27. Casino.org says combined spending is expected to reach $200 million; Already just four committees have raised a reported $184 million for or against the measure. Before Bicker, Castillo and Fairbanks was founded in 2001, Castillo was a manager of public affairs for Burson-Marsteller, a major public relations firm.
77 Lynn Valbuena
An example of the power of Tribal leaders in California politics: In April, Lynn ‘Nay’ Valbuena was elected to her fifth term as Chair of the powerful San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, replacing Chairman Ken Ramirez. Back in December, Ramirez, along with the heads of three other tribes, launched a Ballot Initiative effort to legalize sports betting in Indian Casinos, the “Age-Verified Tribal Online and In-Person Sports Wagering Regulatory Act.” The effort put San Manuel at odds not only with the Sportsbook-backed Prop. 27, but also with the Pechanga-led Tribal coalition promoting Proposition 26. A month after taking office, Valbuena announced that San Manuel was sidelining that effort, and in July, contributed $25 million to the Prop. 26 campaign. These moves are no surprise to those familiar with Valbuena: she is known as a peacemaker and savvy player in the world of Tribal politics, traits which have contributed to her longevity as leader of the Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Indian Nations (TASIN), where she is currently serving her 27th year as Chairwoman.
78 Jacob Mejia
Anybody with an involvement in casino-owning tribes is finding 2022 an especially challenging year, and that is certainly true of Jacob Mejia, the public affairs director at the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians. Mejia, a key strategist and the official spokesperson for Proposition 26, the November initiative that seeks to put sports betting in the jurisdiction of tribal casinos and a few horseracing tracks, is a familiar face to those who closely follow tribal affairs. Mejia, who is as cool under pressure as anybody we’ve seen in the frenetic world of Sacramento politics, wears several hats; he is also the executive director of the Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Indian Nations (TASIN), and, full disclosure, he’s on the Board of Directors of Open California, publisher of Capitol Weekly.
79 Jim Wunderman
Jim Wunderman was once described as the “Bay Area’s most connected man,” and it’s easy to see why. Wunderman heads the business-friendly Bay Area Council, which has been around since 1945 and represents some 330 of the largest businesses in the area. The politically savvy Wunderman is part cheerleader for business, part statistician and part analyst as he confronts crises that have hit the Bay Area – the pandemic, affordable housing, homelessness and new construction, among others. The perception that people are fleeing his turf may be true: UC says new arrivals dropped 45 percent from March 2020 to September 2021, while departures rose 21 percent. A bright spot: New residential construction is coming back, about 4,500 units this year, although it is below pre-pandemic levels. Overall, the area’s profile is astonishing: Its GDP is $925 billion and one out of every two residents 25 years or older has at least a B.A. degree. Wunderman, a graduate of San Francisco State, majored in political science.
80 Nick Rowley
We’ve mentioned the revision of the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA) a number of times so far: Others involved in that deal may have better numbers on this list, but without attorney Nick Rowley there would have been no deal. Rowley authored and partly funded the Fairness for Injured Patients Act – a ballot initiative that, if passed, would have raised the longstanding $250,000 cap on medical malpractice claims to over $1 million. He, along with the Consumer Attorneys of California and Consumer Watchdog, used the threat of a costly ballot fight to help bring opponents to the negotiating table. Rowley and CAOC’s Craig Peters hammered out an outline of the deal with the California Medical Association and Californians Allied for Patient Protection by late March; On April 27, Assembly Bill 35, a newly gut-and-amended MICRA compromise, was introduced. The bill was signed by Gov. Newsom on May 23, ending one of the longest-running political battles in state history. While many hands were involved in crafting the agreement, everyone we spoke to credited Rowley as a motivating force and key player at every step.
81 Sean Clegg
Veteran political strategist Sean Clegg played a key role in the decisive defeat of the attempt last year to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom, one high-profile example of his campaign success. This year, he was adviser to billionaire developer Rick Caruso, a political neophyte who spread his money around and who will face Karen Bass in November in L.A.’s mayoral race runoff. Clegg is a founding partner of BearStar Strategies (formerly SCRB), and has worked alongside such well-known strategists as Ace Smith, Dan Newman and Juan Rodriguez (No. 75). He wears a lot of strategic hats – he’s handled TV, online, direct mail, and even outdoor advertising for such clients as Vice President Kamala Harris, Newsom, then-Attorney General Becerra, Sen. Alex Padilla, and others, plus an array of ballot initiatives. People who have worked with him on campaigns describe him as extraordinarily energetic and well-organized. He’s a UC Berkeley graduate and a former deputy mayor of L.A.
82 Andrew Antwih
Andrew Antwih spent nearly 13 years as a legislative staffer, nearly half that time as chief consultant to the Assembly Transportation Committee, and it was from that period that his reputation as a top transportation expert grew in the Capitol. Not surprisingly, his firm – Shaw Yoder Antwih Schmelzer and Lange – has an array of clients that include transit districts, counties (including Sacramento), transportation authorities, regional rail authorities, and the like. Transportation is a lot more than cars; It involves infrastructure, carbon emissions, construction, routing, environmental controls and politics – definitely politics. A South Los Angeles native, Andrew began his career in the Legislature in 1994 as a Senate Fellow, shortly after graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Government from Pomona College.
83 George Skelton
Few journalists know California politics better than L.A. Times columnist George Skelton. He’s a regular on this list, and deservedly so. He writes with concision and assurance, and he goes his own way, paying little heed to how others are pontificating. He doesn’t use his columns to push his political views – whatever they are – and doesn’t hesitate to offer a spanking or kudos to those who deserve it. And sometimes his columns clearly state the obvious – not as easy as one might think. Recently, he wrote that Gavin Newsom was “moving into position to possibly run for president, regardless of what he says or tells himself.” Obviously true, we think, but you’d be amazed how many newsies, pundits and others discounted a Newsom run as out of the question. Newsom, we’re told, reads Skelton regularly, and as the election cycles move forward you can bet he’ll be watching him even more closely. He worked at various papers, including the defunct Sacramento Union, and went to the Times in the 1970s, where he covered politics and polling, among other issues.
84 Karen Getman
Karen Getman is a political attorney whose clientele is a veritable Who’s Who of Democratic political power in California. She has deep knowledge of the arcane intricacies of political and campaign finance law, including the quagmire of regulations originating in the 1974 Political Reform Act, which created the state’s campaign finance “watchdog,” the California Fair Political Practices Commission. Named by Gov. Gray Davis as the first woman chair of the FPPC in 1999, she had been an attorney in the legendary Democratic political law firm founded by one of her mentors, Joe Remcho, a prominent legal adviser to top Democratic politicians, who died tragically in a helicopter accident in 2003. She returned to the Remcho firm as a partner after a four-year term as FPPC chair – during which she toughened enforcement of campaign disclosure laws and worked to simplify some of the byzantine FPPC rules. In 2020, the Remcho firm merged with another powerhouse Democratic political law firm, with Getman as the first managing partner of Olson Remcho.
85 Shawnda Westly
Shawnda Westly is President of Westly Consulting and is currently serving as the Political Strategist for Smart Justice California and the California Professional Firefighters. She also serves as an appointee to the State Personnel Board and is a former member of the CalPERS Board. Westly has worked effectively with Smart Justice California to boost legislative and constitutional candidates who support progressive criminal justice policies – traditionally a tough sell in the otherwise liberal Golden State. Her return to the California Professional Firefighters political team stems from a long-term relationship dating back to her very first job in Sacramento in 1999. Westly is the former Senior Strategist and Executive Director of the California Democratic Party under Party Chair John Burton from 2009 to 2017. She is known for her strategic mind and ability to forge coalitions and has worked in progressive and union politics for more than 25 years. She lives in Sacramento with her 9 year old, Max. In addition to her professional life, she fiercely advocates for patient safety in her volunteer time.
86 Arnie Sowell Jr.
Arnie Sowell Jr. is the Executive Director of Nextgen Policy, the California-based nonprofit launched by billionaire Tom Steyer to advocate for progressive policies in the Golden State. Steyer (a habituè of this list for several years) has increasingly turned his focus to the national picture and relies on key advisors like Sowell to direct Nextgen’s efforts in California. Sowell oversees a huge portfolio; Nextgen Policy advocates on an array of issues ranging from Climate Change to Income Inequality to Housing to Food Insecurity. Sowell’s background – two decades in the California State Assembly where he served as Policy Director for five Speakers – gives him the chops to effectively direct the organization’s significant spending in the state.
87 Greg Campbell
Greg Campbell is a very familiar name in the Capitol: He started out as a legislative staffer and rose through the ranks. As far as we know, he was the only person in over half a century to serve two successive Assembly speakers (Toni Atkins and John Pérez) as chief of staff, a remarkable achievement in the hyperpolitical world of the Capitol. In fact, he worked in the Legislature under five speakers. Campbell has close ties to Newsom’s chief of staff, Jim DeBoo (No. 1), from when both worked in the Legislature. He launched his own lobbying and communications firm a few years ago, Campbell Strategy and Advocacy, which has picked up a raft of clients, including PG&E, Comcast, Cox, and top-drawer sports interests, such as Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the Professional Golfers Association. Campbell holds degrees in political science, rhetoric and communications from UC Davis.
88 Jeff Randle
Jeff Randle, deputy chief of staff to former Gov. Pete Wilson, has built an enviable record in business, political strategy, marketing and communications during the past two decades. He is CEO and president of his 21-member firm, Randle Communications, and his eclectic client base includes such heavy hitters as the California Hospital Association, the Realtors Association, CalPERS and Golden 1, among others. Randle trends Republican, and has developed solid contacts over the years with House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy. He has a political gene from way back: In 2003, Randle was political director of the successful recall campaign of Arnold Schwarzenegger to dump Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, and seven years later he was a strategist for GOP gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, who lost. His firm, by the way, is often ranked as one of the “Best Places to Work” in local media.
89 John Norwood
People have referred to John Norwood as the “dean of insurance lobbyists,” and no wonder. He started his firm in 1977 and began representing the Independent Agents Association. Norwood Associates, a small firm, now has a flock of powerful insurers far too long to list here, as well as business players like Comcast, MasterCard, Churchill Downs and ADP. The two-person firm – John’s daughter Erin works with him – currently has 19 clients. One of the secrets of lobbying, he once noted, “is not so much killing bills, but getting them amended… so that they do not adversely interfere with the way our clients do business.” He had a big win when Norwood lobbied on behalf of the entire insurance industry successfully to have all licensed insurance agents exempted from the labor bill, AB 5. He also helped block SB 927, which targeted compensation disclosure between insurance agents or brokers and clients.
90 Michael Romano
Michael Romano is the founder and director of the Three Strikes Project at Stanford Law School, which seeks to amend or reverse the most unjust criminal sentences under the law. Since 2006, the effort has overturned 18 life sentences. In 2019, Gov. Newsom appointed Romano as chair of California’s new criminal law and policy reform committee, the California Committee on the Revision of the Penal Code. The Committee was formed to study the state’s Penal Code and recommend statutory reforms and improvements – notably alternatives to incarceration that encourage rehabilitation of offenders. Romano and co. dug into the task with zeal; Less than two years later, CalMatters reporter Byrhonda Lyons noted that the committee had already pushed through more than half of its recommendations. “Six of the committee’s proposals resulted in passed legislation sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom, who signed all the bills.” By any measure, Romano has had a significant impact on California, credited with helping reduce sentences for over 22,000 people.
91 Brian Brokaw
Democratic strategist and consultant Brian Brokaw has built an enviable book of business, advising an array of clients ranging from public officials, global tech firms and sports franchises to Native American tribes. He is a political adviser to Gov. Gavin Newsom; he forged a bond with the future governor while working on the Prop. 64 campaign to legalize marijuana in the state. Newsom is just one of Brokaw’s many connections to the San Francisco political establishment: He managed the IE backing Ed Lee for San Francisco mayor in 2011, and served as campaign manager for Kamala Harris’ successful runs for California Attorney General in 2010 and 2014, and served as an adviser on her winning 2016 Senate bid and her 2020 Presidential campaign. Full disclosure: Brokaw serves on the board of Open California, the 501c3 that publishes Capitol Weekly. Speaking of Brokaws and Capitol Weekly, Brian’s father Barry was a regular on this list for years, and brother Nick was a Capitol Weekly intern 15 or so years ago.
92 Rob Stutzman
Longtime campaign consultant Rob Stutzman is a charter member of the “Never Trump” wing of the Republican Party, much more Meg Whitman than Larry Elder. Opposing current Republican orthodoxy has probably cost him business from the right wing of the party, but his services remain in demand from more moderate conservatives who believe they can win in California – a tough sell, as his clients Michael Schellenberger and Anne-Marie Schubert found out this year. Schellenberger, who challenged Newsom for the governorship, received 3% of the vote; Schubert finished fourth in the Attorney General’s race. Though those clients didn’t make it out of the Primary, Stutzman will be hard at it through November: He’s working with Californians for Tribal Sovereignty and Safe Gaming, a ballot measure committee opposing Proposition 27, the sportsbook-backed initiative that seeks to legalize mobile sports betting in the state.
93 Randall Hagar
Randall Hagar, legislative advocate for the Psychiatric Physicians Alliance of California, has quietly, for decades, played a key role in complex policy and legislative efforts to reform California’s notoriously patchwork system of mental health care. It’s a subject generating intense political interest as the state’s mental health and homelessness crisis plays out visibly on the streets, and it’s a top concern of voters. Politicians are paying attention, with a spate of new programs, laws and huge state funding increases. The father of a schizophrenic adult son, Hagar learned painfully and firsthand about the state’s badly broken system, and has been active in mental-health advocacy groups, advising families, providers and public officials on local and state policy and legislation. It’s been a long slog, aimed at better treatment, early intervention – and reforming an intractable 1967 law that was intended to prevent civil rights abuses, but has too often resulted in severely mentally ill Californians cycling through jails, hospital ER’s and dying on the streets.
94 David Pruitt
This is fundraiser/strategist David Pruitt’s first time on this list, but he is no newcomer to Capitol politics. He has over 25 years in the political arena, starting as a capitol staffer and later moving to the Los Angeles County Medical Association, and then the California Medical Association, where he spearheaded efforts to elect CMA’s preferred candidates. Ten years ago he founded David Pruitt Consulting, and has built a firm that represents a long list of powerhouse Democratic clients including: Speaker Anthony Rendon, Assembly Appropriations Chair Chris Holden, Assembly Majority Leader Eloise Gomez Reyes, Assembly Budget Chair Phil TIng, Assembly Health Committee Chair Dr. Jim Wood, Insurance Committee Chair Tom Daly, State Senator Maria Elena Durazo, the Assembly Democratic Caucus, the California Legislative Black Caucus, and the California Legislative Latino Caucus. Pruitt masterminded the finance strategy that raised $20-25 Million in each of the last two election cycles that produced a historic 60-member Assembly Democratic supermajority. His advice and fundraising prowess have helped Anthony Rendon become the longest serving Speaker since Willie Brown.
95 David Quintana
There are a lot of “characters” on this list, but lobbyist David Quintana is perhaps the most like something dreamed up by a TV screenwriter. Following a 10-year stint in the Air Force, Quintana found himself working as a nightclub bouncer. After a particularly unruly shift, Quintana thought, “I’m not a dumb guy – why am I dealing with all these boneheads?” A degree from UC Davis and a J.D. from Boston College followed, and by 2004 he was the Political Director for the nascent California Tribal Business Alliance. In 2005 he introduced The Back to Session Bash (now just “The Bash”), the annual standing-room-only power party that features a mix of political heavyweights, hip hop stars, and Quintana as ringmaster. (Full disclosure, Capitol Weekly is a media sponsor of The Bash.) His client list features a bevy of cannabis interests, Indian Tribes and local-control housing orgs. With his party, podcasts, and an imposing physique honed by three hours a day in the gym, Quintana cuts a unique path in California’s Third House.
96 Courtni Pugh
The past year was a mixed bag for veteran campaign strategist Courtni Pugh. As part of the team effort to defeat the 2021 Recall of Gov. Newsom, she helped score a 23 point blowout win. But, as the top advisor for Kevin De León’s campaign for mayor of Los Angeles, she got thumped: De León managed less than 8% of the vote, coming in a distant third behind frontrunners Karen Bass and Rick Caruso. Pugh doesn’t shy away from uphill battles; She also backed De León in his unlikely effort to unseat incumbent U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein in 2018 and worked on Mike Bloomberg’s ill-fated 2020 presidential campaign after future VP Kamala Harris folded her tent. The former executive director of SEIU Local 99, Pugh is a seasoned political organizer and brings a wealth of experience to her campaigns. One public affairs strategist described her as a go-to person for Democratic campaigns, essential for getting endorsements and helping navigate party machinery.
97 Mandy Lee
Mandy Lee, the founder and principal of Omni Government Relations, is a relative newcomer to this list, first appearing on last year’s edition. She may be new to the Top 100, but we weren’t the first to recognize her achievements; The National Association of Asian Pacifics in Politics and Public Affairs included her on their “40 Under 40” list back in 2016 when she was still with Platinum Advisors. Lee is widely respected by her fellow lobbyists, and her firm represents a small but potent client list that includes household names like TESLA, CVS and Kaiser. Prior to joining Platinum she was Vice President of Government Affairs at the California Retailers Association, the trade association that represents a wide swath of retail sellers in the world’s fifth largest economy. Lee is also an LGBTQ activist and is on the Board of Equality California. Like many top lobbyists, she got her start as a legislative staffer, serving as a consultant to then-state Sen. Alex Padilla and as Legislative Director for Assemblymember Roger Hernandez.
98 Shari McHugh
McHugh Koepke & Associates – made up of Shari McHugh, spouse Gavin, partner Dawn Koepke and lobbyist Naomi Padron – is a small but potent lobbying firm with a lengthy client list heavy on insurers, plus many other familiar names like UBER, CCPOA, and, as of last year, Warner Music Group. (Does that mean that they technically represent Madonna, Gucci Mane and Hobo Johnson?… The mind boggles.) The firm was started in 2000 by Gavin McHugh; spouse Shari joined in 2003. Prior to joining MKA, she served as senior vice president of the Coalition of California Insurance Professionals and senior vice president of the Professional Insurance Agents. This was a busy year for MKA, with partner Dawn Koepke involved in the deal that passed SB54, sidelining an impending plastic waste ballot initiative at the very last minute. With so many clients, and a lot of bills, managing the workflow is key; McHugh and co. seem to do it effortlessly – an impressive feat for a firm with a lobbying team that would fit comfortably in a Fiat 500.
99 Amy O’Gorman Jenkins
Cannabis is big business in California, with the former black market industry generating close to $1 billion a year in state tax revenue. As big as it is, the ‘official’ cannabis market has never done the numbers projected prior to legalization in 2016. And, sales are down, dropping 7% the first quarter of this year. Most observers ascribe lagging sales to the thriving – untaxed – underground market that still makes up a majority of sales. This year, the state responded to pleas from the industry, and the 2022-23 California Budget includes a major tax cut on cannabis producers, eliminating the cultivation tax on growers, and capping the excise tax at 15% for three years. The move is a big win for the legal market, and for lobbyist Amy O’Gorman Jenkins, the state’s preeminent pot lobbyist. Prior to opening her own firm in 2018 she was a senior policy director at Platinum Advisors, where she advocated on behalf of the California Cannabis Industry Association. Before all that, Jenkins was chief of staff to state Sen. Lou Correa.
100 Tal Kopan and Joe Garofoli
Tal Kopan was the Washington D.C. correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle (she’s now at the Boston Globe), and Joe Garofoli is the Chronicle’s senior political writer. Together, they did good this year – real good. On April 14, their Chronicle story on questions about U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s mental state was published in a 3,000-word epic that carefully documented the issue, explored the political ramifications and cited comments from Feinstein’s fellow senators, as well as staff members and observers. Not surprisingly, given the sensitivity of the subject, the comments were largely unattributed. But it was clear that Feinstein’s mental acuity raised serious concerns. In December 2020, the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer wrote about Feinstein’s missteps, while a week later a Washington Post opinion piece raised similar issues. But the Chronicle’s piece was far more comprehensive, balanced and persuasive, and, as far as we could tell, resonated more deeply in the California political community.
The print edition of the 2022 Capitol Weekly Top 100 Book is available for $10 per copy, plus shipping. Email: [email protected] or call 916 444 7665 X100 for details.
Want to see more stories like this? Sign up for The Roundup,
the free daily newsletter about California politics from the editors of Capitol Weekly.
Stay up to date on the news you need to know.
Sign up below, then look for a confirmation email in your inbox.