1. Susan Kennedy, Chief of staff, Arnold Schwarzenegger
Unlike last year, this year’s choice for the top position was not a slam dunk.
The list on the whole reflects the waning influence
of the Schwarzenegger administration and a cast of
power players behind the new candidates for statewide
office. But ask the state political players – lobbyists, staff members, consultants and reporters
– about who should be Numero Uno, and the same answer
keeps coming up – Susan Kennedy. Her role? She manages the state. She
has redefined the job of chief of staff and remains
the bottleneck through which most Capitol decisions
are made. The big question about Susan: When will she leave to become a lobbyist?
2. Joe Nunez, California Teachers Association
It may seem odd to place the head of the CTA toward
the top of this year’s list, considering we’re entering a budget season where education is expected
to take a major hit. But there is still no single interest
that wields as much power as CTA, and with election
season coming up, that clout is increased dramatically.
Just ask any Democrat running in a contested primary
3. Maria Elena Durazo, Los Angeles County Federation
In the wake of the death of Miguel Contreras, there
has been much talk about the diminished clout of “the fed.” But after losing a battle over gaming compacts, Durazo
has forged alliances with major developers to push
a plan to build a new NFL stadium through the Legislature,
and is teaming with the business community to get a
change to the state’s term limits law on the November ballot. With close
ties to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Durazo
has maintained the clout of her organization inside
4. Mary Nichols, chairwoman, California Air Resources
There is no California regulatory agency more powerful
than the CARB or which has a greater national and international
reputation. The November election could become a direct
challenge to Nichols’ clout – between the governor’s race and the ballot measure that would slow down
California’s greenhouse gas remissions law, AB 32. But for now, the shrewd and deft Nichols remains
the paragon of the increasing power of the state bureaucracy
in this era of term limits.5. Steve Merksamer, partner, Nielsen Merksamer Parrinello,
Mueller & Naylor
As head of the first of the Capitol’s superfirms, Merksamer remains a go-to person for Republicans and major players inside
the Capitol. His firm casts a wide political net and
advises an A-list clientele on law and politics. Merksamer, who
was chief of staff to former Gov. George Deukmejian
and has been a political force in Sacramento since
the 1970s, balances politics and policy.
6. Gale Kaufman, Kaufman Campaign Consultants
This is an even year – Kaufman’s time to shine. As political consigliore to the California
Teachers Association and the top Democratic consultant
on all things initiative-related, Kaufman remains a force inside the Capitol
and among some of the Democratic Party’s largest political players. This year, she’s taking on PG&E’s Proposition 16 and girding CTA for a fight to repeal corporate tax
cuts in November.
13. Mac Taylor, Legislative Analyst
7. Jeff Miller, Capitol Advocacy
The omission of Miller from last year’s list was a mistake. We admit it. But this year, Miller’s name rose toward the top. As a lobbyist for Capitol
Advocates, which won the Top Big Lobbying Firm honors
in our survey of legislators last year, and – more importantly – as chief finance officer for the California Republican
Party, Miller’s influence is unavoidable in Republican circles. As
one source put it, when donors are discussing how to
move $1 million checks into the state politics, Miller is
the one they contact.
8. Michael Peevey, President, California Public Utilities
This list is always a reminder for us about how power
has shifted in California. In a world of term limits
and high legislative staff turnover, institutions like
the Public Utilities Commission only grow in power.
Sure, Peevey has had his setbacks – losing the appointment of Rochelle Chong and tangling
with the administration over renewable energy. But
the fact that he feels empowered to continually challenge
both the legislative and executive branches of government
shows just how much power he wields. He chooses his
weapons well and doesn’t shrink from a good fight
9. George Soares, Lobbyist, Kahn, Soares & Conway, LLP
Soares is the premier agricultural lobbyist in California,
and in a state with the nation’s highest farm receipts, that’s saying something. Fruits, nuts, water, milk, apples,
avocados, dates, cotton, flowers, kiwifruit, blueberries,
biodiesel – Soares has ‘em all. His creation of the astroturf Latino Water
Coalition pushed water development policy – at least, for a while – and Soares is at or near the center of every substantive
water discussion in the state.
10. Anne Gust Brown, wife of state Attorney General Jerry
Every time the role of political spouse as advisor
is redefined, someone comes along to take it to another
level. Mrs. Brown, the former COO of The Gap, is a
force in her own right. She is the top adviser and
aide to her husband, the attorney general and Democratic
gubernatorial standard-bearer. And her influence is increased by Brown’s insular style and lean campaign apparatus. Nobody
knows who exactly has Jerry’s ear, but everybody knows that Anne Gust Brown does.
11. Allan Zaremberg, President, California Chamber of
During the Schwarzenegger administration, the chamber
has been the de facto political arm of the governor’s office. Jerry Brown made clear early on he was not
willing to cede the business community to Republicans,
and ultimately forced Zaremberg to back down
over recent TV spots funded by the Chamber. Zaremberg’s future clout depends in some measure on the outcome
of the governor’s race, but if a Republican wins in the fall, the chamber
may once again be the training ground for a future
gubernatorial administration. But Zaremberg is adept
at wooing new governor’s regardless of party: Few in the Capitol have forgotten how Zaremberg built
an alliance with former Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat
and Brown’s former chief of staff.
12. Maria Shriver, Wife of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger
It’s always been hard to quantify Shriver’s influence over state politics. That Shriver, a Democrat,
has wielded influence over her husband’s governance, is clear, and that alone makes her an
important political force. She also has maintained
a role in hiring top administration officials. While
her political expertise is uncertain, her ability to
raise money for worthy projects and her networking
skills are world class. Add to that the cachet of the
Kennedy family and you have quite a package. And as
she prepares to leave the life she never wanted for
herself, her role of trusted adviser is still an important
Under Taylor’s leadership, the legislative analyst’s office has taken a more aggressive stand – and not just on number crunching. The LAO has challenged
the governor’s authority to implement environmental regulations
and suggested the Legislature defund efforts to enact
those regulations – and that’s just for starters. The LAO has quickly adapted its
voluminous analyses to the online world, revamped its
media strategies and plays a greater role than ever
in responding to lawmakers’ requests. In a world where the budget is everything,
the analyst’s office is more important than ever. And Taylor seems
all too willing to engage.14. Bev Hansen, Partner, Lang, Hansen, O’Malley and Miller
Hansen has parlayed decades of legislative experience
– both as a staffer and an Assemblywoman – into a career of wielding serious political clout.
She was whispering in the ear of Republican leaders
looking for concessions as part of a budget deal, and
is often called in to help close on the major legislative
issues of the year. Her firm’s clients read like a laundry list of some of the most
powerful interests in the state, including utilities,
local governments, gaming interests, health plans – and even some labor clients. 15. Kip Lipper, environmental consultant, state Senate
For years, Lipper has been the legislative staff’s top strategist on all things environmental. Lawmakers
used to jokingly ask whether a bill had been “Lipperized” – and they still say that, only no longer in jest. Lipper
has had his fingers in every major piece of environmental
legislation of the past decade, whether it involves
water, air quality, land use or energy. Regardless
of the house of origin, he’s drafted, written, rewritten, negotiated, shot down,
pushed through, or hijacked virtually every significant
bill that’s crossed his radar. 16. Joe Caves, Conservation Strategy Group
Like Lipper, Joe Caves is largely unknown to the public.
But Caves, too, exerts a profound influence on environmental
policy. Caves’ expertise is figuring out funding sources for environmental
projects and convincing voters to support them. His
latest effort is the $11.1 billion water bond in November. Caves is part policy
maker, part politician, part negotiator, and he’s at the center of most of the big money environmental
deals in the state.17. Aaron Read, lobbyist, Aaron Read & Associates
The fancy high-rise office looking down on the Capitol? Check. A track
record that began before many Capitol staffers were
born? Check? A powerful client list that includes cops,
docs and local government? Check. Read would have been
on this list years ago, and if his ability to assemble
talent around him is a guide, Read and his firm will
be on this list for years to come.
22. Henry Gomez, confidante to Meg Whitman
18. Kevin Sloat, principal and founder, Sloat Higgins
Jensen & Associates
A riser on the list, Sloat appeared twice in our lobbyist
awards last fall—getting nods in the categories of “best-connected” and “most likely to cross party lines.” His 13 year-old firm has the kind of client list you have to scroll
down, twice, to get to the bottom of. Along the way
you’ll find tech giants (Cisco), powerful tribes (Yocha Dehe Wintun), even a National Hockey League team, the San Jose
19. Willie Pelote, Sr., assistant director, American
Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees
In the midst of budget cuts, labor is in lots of people’s crosshairs. Pelote got in a tiff with one of his
own union locals a couple years back when they hired
their own private lobbyist. Yet Pelote ranked as one
of our top liberal crusaders in last year’s poll of the best lobbyists. Now he moves into our
top 20 of movers and shakers in the Capitol, after not even
making the top 100 a year ago. What changed? Pelote has become an increasingly
staunch advocate for the rights of labor in the editorial
pages, a pain in the side of the Schwarzenegger administration
in their fights for furloughs and worker concessions,
and a gatekeeper for labor support for Democratic candidates.
20. Dave Low, California School Employees Association
Organized labor does not speak with a single voice.
But Low speaks for more than just school employees.
He is a tactician and trusted voice among much of the
state’s divided labor family, and helps guide union resources
to political campaigns around the state.
21. Jon Ross, lobbyist, KP Public Affairs
Ross represents some of the largest lobbying clients
in the state. From Google to the mortgage bankers association,
Ross is a trusted insiders voice for some of the state’s largest political players.
Meg Whitman has hired a lot of advisers. She’s hired a lot of Schwarzenegger people, and a lot of
Pete Wilson people. But Henry Gomez may be the only
Whitman person on the campaign. Gomez is a personal
aide de camp for Whitman, dating back to her time at
eBay. And while others may be more seasoned political
tacticians, no adviser is more trusted inside the Whitman
circle than Gomez.23. Steve Burns, Chevron
As the main political decision maker for oil giant
Chevron, Burns is often a key voice, particularly in
Republican circles, when it comes to policy decisions.
But Burns is also a divvy operator, willing to engage
in backroom shuttle diplomacy with political rivals,
to help minimize some of the inevitable political skirmishes.
24. Bob White, partner, California Strategies
If White is lower on our list than he was last year,
it’s only because he’s surrounded himself with such an impressive team of
Capitol insiders. White gets bonus points for conceiving
of the prototype of the new power firm. Why register
as a lobbyist when you can be a consultant? The pay
is better and the disclosure laws are nil. Just because
their name doesn’t show up on the lobby ledger much, make no mistake: White’s influence inside the Capitol, along with his firm’s influence, is felt in all corners of the Capitol.
25. Rick Claussen, Goddard Claussen
It’s initiative season, and that means go time for Rick
Claussen. While Claussen has had some mixed results
with initiative campaigns on the governor’s behalf, he’s taken on Rob Reiner and nurses, and was able to pass
legal reforms on behalf of the business community.
In 2008, he helped deliver a victory for Schwarzenegger on
the arcane issue of redistricting reform. Claussen
and company will have to defend that issue in November
as Democrats launch a full assault on Proposition 11.
26. Ed Manning, lobbyist, KP Public Affairs
Manning has been in the middle of some of the biggest
deals in the Capitol in recent years. Whether it was
helping to forge coalitions with environmentalists
over a major piece of regional planning legislation,
or being caught in the cross currents of the state’s water battle, Manning has solidified his role as
a major policy expert with an ability to work across
party lines and among disparate interests.
27. Shari McHugh, McHugh & Associates
On our list of best small lobbying firms, voted on
by lawmakers, the firm of husband and wife team Shari
and Gavin McHugh came up time and time again. The firm
represents major players in the business world, including
the California Manufacturers Association and California
Credit Union League, and a number of health care clients.
A former insurance industry lobbyist, McHugh continues
to be a strong voice on insurance, financial and healthcare
issues in the Capitol.
28. John Latimer, Capitol Advocacy
Sometimes, losing an election can be the best thing
to ever happen to you. Just ask John Latimer. After
losing a primary race for Assembly in 1998, Latimer, a former Assembly staffer, registered as
a lobbyist and became a major power broker during the
Gray Davis years. Over the last decade, Latimer and
his firm have risen to the top of the Capitol’s lobbying ranks.
29. Joe Lang, Partner, Lang Hansen O’Malley & Miller
With some of the state’s mega-lobbing firms, it’s hard to know exactly who to place on the list. Lang’s firm is clearly one of the heavyweights in Sacramento.
With close ties to both Republican and Democratic leadership,
Lang and his firm are well positioned to remain influential
in the Capitol for years to come.
30. Jim Earp, Chairman, California Alliance for Jobs
Earp has become the governor’s builder. Whether it’s infrastructure bonds or a water deal, Earp and his
members have pushed for new construction jobs throughout
the Schwarzenegger administration. Earp was a leading
force in the fight for new infrastructure bonds. Earp
also serves as vice-chairman of the California Transportation Commission,
which helps dole out all those transportation bond
dollars. 31. Angie Wei, legislative director of the California
Labor Federation, AFL-CIO
Wei, a lobbyist, is charged with protecting labor against
the periodic onslaught of anti-worker legislation in the Capitol, which mean she engages
in almost perpetual warfare with major, well-heeled business interests. But she’s suited to the task: In any discussion of California’s power players, Wei’s name invariably comes up. The Cal Labor Fed is an
umbrella group representing some 1,200 unions with more than 2 million members.
32. Dustin Corcoran, CEO of the California Medical Association
Corcoran was tapped as in January, but he was the real
power in the CMA long before that. A 12-year veteran with the group, Corcoran made his mark
as a lobbyist under the guidance of the late Steve
Thompson. He helped pass CMA-supported bills relating to tobacco use, emergency
medicine, access to care—the list goes on. He has also turned CMA into a force
in election politics, intervening with independent
expenditure committees on behalf of Democrats and Republicans
33. Tony Russo, President, Apex Strategies
Russo has worked as a Republican campaign strategist
for some of the state’s most respected consulting firms. But it is his connections
to the state’s business community, and its donor base, that places
him on our list. With deep connections to the Irvine
Company, his former employer, and the Chamber of Commerce,
as well as the Republican Party, Russo is another behind-the-scenes rainmakers for Republicans.
34. Jack Kavanagh, Rough & Tumble
In this world of blogs, feed readers and Twitter, it’s hard to keep up. In fact, many of us don’t. And in this increasingly fractured media world,
the power of the aggregators becomes that much more
pronounced. For more than 15 years, nobody has done it better when it comes to
state news than Jack Kavanagh. Rough and Tumble is
still the first stop for most political insiders who
want a quick rundown of what’s happening in California. And for many reporters,
if you’re not on Rough and Tumble, it’s almost as if you don’t exist.
35. Tom Adams, chairman of the board, California League
of Conservation Voters
The CLCV’s board is quite a group – Ann Nothoff, Steve Blank, Maria Elena Durazo and Joe
Dunn also serve – and running the show is Tom Adams, who people in the
political and policy worlds say is a major Capitol
force. Under Adams, the CLCV is an activist, grass-roots research and campaign group that knocks on doors
to raise money and goes to bat for candidates it likes
– and fights those it doesn’t. It’s annual scorecard is a prized for its analysis of
environmental votes, and it maintains a full-court lobbying presence in the Capitol.
36. Ed Roski, chairman and CEO, Majestic Realty
Two years ago, we didn’t even know who Ed Roski was. Now, we know him as the
guy who can help move Democrats to suspend the California
Environmental Quality Act, and as a savvy political
operator who has forged alliances with labor leaders
and prominent Democrats. Now, Roski is teaming with
labor groups to push for a change to the state term-limits law. Maybe he liked that taste of political
rough and tumble last year.
37. Jeff Randle, Randle Communications
Randle has been around California politics for more
than 20 years. As a veteran of the Pete Wilson and Arnold
Schwarzenegger campaigns, he has risen among the ranks
of trusted insiders to Republican governors. And if
there are bonus points for being there early, Randle
gets them for being the first consultant Meg Whitman
reached out to. It was Randle who prepared the op-research dossier against Whitman to test her political
mettle, and he continues to be active in the day-to-day operations of the Whitman campaign.
38. Frank Schubert, president of Schubert Flint Public
Schubert has a quarter century under his belt as a
political consultant, but he may be forever known as
the driving force in passing Prop. 8 in 2008. Even opponents concede he ran an effective, disciplined
campaign to pass the ban on same-sex marriage, making him the go-to guy for red causes in this blue state. He’s also the only person to be named twice by the American
Association of Political Consultants as the country’s most valuable public affairs professional.
39. Elaine Howle, State Auditor
Think you’ve got a lot on your plate? Howle’s office is overseeing much of the federal stimulus
money coming into state, taking a look a lot of California’s technology spending, conducting a controversial audit
on the family court’s system, and putting together the citizens commission
that is supposed to rewrite Assembly and Senate districts.
A tough-minded public bureaucrat at heart, Howle has her finger
in a lot of the big political battles now going on.
40. Nettie Sabelhaus, Senate Rules Committee
Sabelhaus is responsible for vetting all appointees
that come before the Senate Rules Committee. In that
role, she is the first line of defense for the Senate
leader and can help quietly orchestrate the demise
of an appointee who she feels is not fit to serve,
for one reason or another.
41. Bill Devine, lobbyist, AT&T
Sometimes the sign of being effective is that nothing
happens. While the fervor over telephone deregulation
has died down, AT&T remains a powerhouse in the Capitol, and Devine is
still their voice. They are major lobbying spenders
and campaign contributors, and the fact that they haven’t had a major attack from inside is a testament to
their ability to pull the levers of power when needed.
42. Phil Isenberg, Delta Stewardship Council
Phil Isenberg served as mayor of Sacramento before
going to the Assembly in the 1980s, then left to become a lobbyist with A-list clients, an adviser to governors and, most recently,
a member of the Delta Stewardship Council, the body
that will shape crucial water policy for the fragile
delta as well as statewide. Isenberg, a cross between
a hyper-kinetic policy wonk and a skilled player of political
has a skill prized by reporters and politicians: He’s able to take a difficult subject and describe it
in straightforward terms. This is especially useful
at the 11th hour when the negotiations get hot and heavy. And
Isenberg is usually there.
43. Donna Lucas, Lucas Public Affairs
Donna Lucas, like a number of top communications specialists,
started in the Capitol, then left to open up her own
shop. Clients followed suit, and Lucas now is one of
a handful of the top PR strategists in town. She’s also part of a local power family: Her brother, Kip Lipper, is a Capitol player in environmental
legislation and her husband, Greg Lucas, the former
bureau chief of the San Francisco Chronicle, directs
California’s Capitol, which offers an erudite and inside look
at state politics.
44. Craig Cornett/Chris Woods, budget directors, Sen. Darrell Steinberg
and Speaker John Perez
Budget. Budget. Budget. We know it’s a cop out to put both Cornett and Woods on the list
together, but in this partisan world we live in, we
figured it was not fair to split the baby. And it gave
us room to put one more person on the list. If it triple
flips, is a revenue accelerator or is sold as ‘revenue neutral’ you can bet it’s got Cornett and/or Woods’ fingerprints on it.
45. Lenny Goldberg, Lobbyist, California Tax Reform Association
& The Utility Reform Network
Lenny Goldberg is a feisty, lone-wolf who spends most of his time in an uphill battle
against corporate tax loopholes on one hand and utility
companies on the other. He has been involved in so
many Capitol negotiations related to the state budget
and taxes that it’s difficult to keep track. He loses some and wins less,
but one thing is clear: Over the past two decades Goldberg has emerged as
the Democrats’ conscience on tax policy.
46. David Crane, senior adviser, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger
Nobody’s job description is more nebulous or amorphous inside
the Horseshoe than David Crane. He is the governor’s guru on public/private partnerships, and seems to be in the center
of all the big end-of-session policy discussions. Outside of Susan Kennedy,
Crane is among the most trusted of Schwarzenegger’s advisers and continues to keep his hand in all sorts
of projects and legislative schemes.
47. Doug Herman, The Strategy Group
Herman is the political brain of John Perez. As we
all get familiar with his leadership style, it appears
Perez likes to surround himself with people he trusts,
and feels comfortable bestowing with delegated authority.
If that’s true, when it comes to politics, Herman is certainly
the speaker’s guy.
48. Dorothy Rothrock, vice president of government relations,
California Manufacturers and Technology Association
Dorothy Rothrock, an attorney with a sure feel for
politics, communications and government, is the point
person for the CMTA, a business group that represents
some 30,000 California companies with 1.5 million employees. In Capitol speak, “government relations” means “protecting your turf,” and Rothrock does exactly that. She is an aggressive
advocate of business-friendly legislation and is the public face of the
CMTA on key issues. She’s been at CMTA for a decade.
49. Jon Fleischman, FlashReport
Jon Fleischman wears two hats – one as an official of the California Republican Party
and the other as editor and publisher of the FlashReport,
the Web site that plays a major role in reflecting
– and shaping – Republican policy. Although viewed as a must-read for the GOP cognoscenti and insiders, Fleischman
has steadily broadened the content of the site and
regularly links to stories mainstream reporting, and
he often is the first to break major stories affecting
Republicans, such as the Mike Duvall scandal.
50. Jerry Roberts and Phil Trounstine, CalBuzz
Perhaps it says more about our world that the top media
impresarios on our list are online-only. With CalBuzz, former Chronicle editor Jerry Roberts
and former Gray Davis flack/Mercury News political editor Phil Trounstine certainly
seem to be having fun. They also provide a much-needed, left-of-center political counterweight to Fleischman. But more
than that, they have a sense of humor, and their reporting
and punditry reflect a sound institutional knowledge
-- a valuable commodity in the transitory Capitol world.