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Part II: Capitol’s 100 Best & Brightest (we also think they’re overlooked)

By on August 25, 2014
Sacramento State Capitol is proud to share Part II: The Capitol’s 100 Best & Brightest.

It’s well-known that in Sacramento, those who crow the loudest end up on the most powerful list. With our “Best of the Capitol” list, we wanted to do something different. We wanted to recognize the people who are too often overlooked.


Maybe that’s the wrong word for PR purposes.  When we published Part I, we were less interested in producing yet another “Best Of…” list. That’s one reason why you won’t find rankings or numbers. We were more interested in giving some long overdue credit to some well-deserving people. We wanted to draw attention to the professionals – at every level – who consistently do a good job and contribute to the Capitol community but don’t seem to get enough credit for their hard work.

As far as we’re concerned, the people on this list are among the Capitol’s 100 Best and Brightest. So, instead of getting too hung on the name, let’s just take a moment to appreciate some pretty great people.

Capitol’s 100 Best & Brightest: Part II presents the Capitol’s 100 best, brightest and most indispensable people in California politics. Listed in no particular order. For Part I, click here.

Becky Warren, Mercury Public Affairs

Becky Warren has transitioned from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s deputy communications director to managing director of one of Sacramento’s top public strategy firms. At Mercury Public Affairs, Warren leads statewide and national public affairs campaigns for Fortune 10 companies as well as some of the most well-know tech start-ups. She’s one of the Capitol’s hardest-working professionals, and easily one of the most effective behind-the-scenes political operatives in the state. We’ll share a secret: many of the front page stories you read about the Capitol have Becky’s fingerprints all over them.

Bill Wong, Democratic Consultant

A well-respected Democratic operative, Bill Wong is responsible for more than a few member’s successful entry into politics. “Wong has a determination and follow through rarely seen in California politics,” one well-respected lobbyist shared with us. His time in the building, most recently as the chief of staff to Assemblyman Anthony Rendon, has been complimented by a successful consulting business. A committed and active member in the Asian Pacific Islander community, a humble and gracious colleague and a man who puts his family above all else – Bill Wong is an example to follow.

Board of Equalization Member Michelle Steel

Michelle Steel

Michelle Steel

Board of Equalization member Michelle Steel is the state’s highest-ranking Republican elected official. She’s the highest-ranking Korean American elected official in the country. She’s the state’s top Republican woman, and easily one of the state’s best GOP fundraisers. And the only thing most insiders know about her is who she’s married to. Don’t get us wrong: we also love and adore former CA GOP Chairman and current RNC Committeeman Shawn Steel. But, it’s Michelle Steel who too often gets overlooked. We’ve seen Michelle’s work firsthand at the Board of Equalization (Full disclosure: we worked for her at BOE). That’s how we know she recovered tens of millions of dollars in refunds for taxpayers. In her own right, Michelle Steel is one of the state’s most effective Republican elected officials and a true tax fighter.

Brandon Castillo, Bicker, Castillo & Fairbanks

With over 15 years in the business, Brandon Castillo brings extensive experience as a political strategist and campaign manager directing successful ballot initiative and public affairs campaigns on behalf of a broad range of clients. What most people will tell you about Brandon – he works hard, and without an ego. That’s allowed him to create a very successful business, flying under the radar at times, and keeping friends close on both sides of the aisle. Even if you were opposite Brandon in a big campaign, you’d still want to hire him on your next project. That’s hard to find in this business.

Bryan Blum, California Labor Federation

Bryan is a rare breed. He’s got one of the toughest jobs in politics… since the union movement isn’t always “moving” in the same direction on a variety of issues. Bryan makes it look easy as he’s turned in success after success. You won’t see his name in lights, and that’s fine with him. As one Democratic insider put it, “Those who know how shit really gets done, know that it’s Bryan who has done the hard work. Just ask Steve Glazer.” Oh, snap!

Camille Wagner, Office of Governor Jerry Brown

Did you notice that only the bills Gov. Jerry Brown wants on his desk – make it to his desk? Credit Gov. Jerry Brown’s savvy legislative affairs team for controlling the legislature’s output. Since 2011, the true star of Brown’s relationship with the legislature has been Camille Wagner. In 2013, the governor promoted the University of Notre Dame grad to Chief Deputy Legislative Affairs Secretary. Wagner’s been impressing Republicans and Democrats ever since her days as a Senate fellow. She has spent time working in the both the State Senate and State Assembly. Wagner was legislative director for California Assemblymember Steven Bradford from 2009 to 2011 and a legislative aide for California State Senator Christine Kehoe from 2005 to 2009. As one person put it, she’s “a good human being.”

Carol Dahmen, Comcast

Carol Dahmen, a longtime political communications and media relations professional, runs the political marketing for Comcast. Dahmen is responsible for growing political advertising and government-funded program revenues for the cable giant. A former chief deputy director of communications to Governor Gray Davis, she also spent time working in communications “crisis mode” for Secretary of State Kevin Shelley. When she isn’t busy tweeting, the self-described “post partisan California political hack” devotes time to the executive board of the American Association of Political Consultants.

Cathy Reheis-Boyd, Western States Petroleum Association

In a state controlled by Democrats, why don’t we have an oil severance tax in California? Cathy Reheis-Boyd. As president of the Western States Petroleum Association, Reheis-Boyd helps “Big Oil” avoid big problems with an unfriendly legislature. An industry that left-wing politicians love to hate has managed to survive its public policy fights because ofthe successful lobbying of Reheis-Boyd’s team at the Western States Petroleum Association, whose members include BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil.  Her achievements are impressive, especially given the industry-killing potential of AB 32.

Cynthia Bryant, California Republican Party

Cynthia Bryant

Cynthia Bryant

The California Republican Party has a pulse, and Cynthia Bryant’s the reason. Tapped by Chairman Jim Brulte to serve as the party’s executive director and chief operating officer, Bryant’s been successful in “Rebuilding, Renewing, Reclaiming” the state’s Grand Ole’ Party. Don’t take our word for it. One Democratic operative praised Bryant’s work, “She’s done a great job so far.” What else would you expect from a former Director of the Department of Finance? Bryant, who got her start at Russo Marsh + Rogers, worked for both the Senate and Assembly Republican Caucus before being stolen away by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for his legislative affairs unit, Office of Planning and Research and finally Department of Finance. Remember back in the day when Arnold was successful at moving legislation? That’s when Bryant was his chief deputy legislative affairs secretary and served as one of the lead negotiators for Schwarzenegger’s landmark Workers Compensation reform.

Deanna Johnston, California Nurses Association

Deanna Johnston, who began her political career as an organizer with the California Nurses Association, made a tour through the building before returning to her home.  Now, the Legislative and Community Advocate at the California Nurses Association, Johnston splits her time between political activities and lobbying on behalf of labor. A member of the 2005-2006 Senate Fellowship class, she also spent time in the building as a legislative consultant for Senator Alex Padilla. People in the know describe her as “a star of the labor movement.”

Deborah Gonzalez, Assembly GOP Caucus

As chief of staff to the Assembly Republican Caucus, Deborah Gonzalez has made the state’s minority party relevant on policy. We expect nothing less from a former Curt Pringle staffer, who worked in the building when Republicans were the majority party. (To all you Capitol hipsters, that’s not irony. Republicans really were the majority in the not-so-distant past.) Considered “a policy wonk with a keen political eye,” Gonzalez worked for the California Dental Association prior to returning to the building. A former Chief of Staff to former State Senator Chuck Poochigian and Policy Director for former Speaker of the Assembly Curt Pringle, Deborah’s also got the academic credentials with a JD from McGeorge School of Law.

Ed Mendel,

If you know anything about California’s public pension systems, you’ve read the brilliant and insightful reporting of Ed Mendel. The brains behind, Mendel’s weekly columns frame the public debate and mainstream media coverage of the California Public Employees Retirement System and the California State Teachers Retirement System. Those two pension systems hold “two of the world’s largest investment portfolios.” Mendel, who spent nearly three decades covering California politics for numerous outlets, including the San Diego Union-Tribune, makes the complex topic of pensions accessible to the general public and math-challenged reporters. Pension payments are already affecting the financial decisions of state and local governments. Mendel’s work – tracking California’s two biggest pension systems – is a true public service.

Elizabeth Ashford, Attorney General Kamala Harris’ office

Attorney General Kamala Harris, one of the biggest stars in the California Democratic Party, tops everyone’s short list to be the next Governor or U.S. Senator. That’s amazing considering, just four years ago, Harris beat Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley by less than 100,000 votes. Much of the credit for the A.G.’s meteoric rise goes to her cosmopolitan chief of staff Elizabeth Ashford. A former consultant to the United Nations and Conservative Party in the United Kingdom, Ashford has worked as a communications deputy for both Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Governor Jerry Brown. She runs a tight ship over there at the AG’s office, and she’s also beloved by her loyal staff.

Emily Pappas, Lehman Levi Pappas and Sadler

When we asked Capitol insiders for the Capitol’s best lobbyist, Emily Pappas, a partner with Lehman Levi Pappas and Sadler, topped several lists. Republicans and Democrats respect how “Pappas has fought her way to the top while keeping a great attitude.” As the legislature increasingly kicks decisions to state agencies, Pappas’ expertise at the regulatory level helps her deliver big wins for product manufacturers in the agricultural, technology, energy and food processing sectors. For those clients, a victory at the regulatory level can make the difference between big profits and bankruptcy. We aren’t surprised at Emily’s persuasive skills, which she honed working in the White House, the U.S. Embassy in France, the Governor’s Office and State Senate.

Evan Goldberg, California Secretary of State’s office

Evan has been in-and-around Democratic politics since the late 1980’s – and Bowen’s point person since 1992. Since the news broke of Bowen’s fight with depression, it’s become even more clear how important Goldberg is to the Secretary of State’s office, a 450-employee state agency. Goldberg leads the department while overseeing several major elections-related programs, including the launch of California’s online voter registration system. He plays an instrumental role in setting elections-related policy for California, making the agency significantly more transparent, working with state lawmakers, and improving service to millions of people who interact with the office each year. When you want an answer from the Secretary’s office, it’s Evan who you call. He’s known to be one of the hardest-working and committed staffers in Sacramento.

Evan McLaughlin, Office of Asm. Lorena Gonzalez

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez hasn’t even  finished a full term in the State Assembly. Yet, she’s already established herself as one of the state’s most effective lawmakers. Getting retweets from the official White House Twitter account no less. The bills that Gonzalez authors aren’t meaningless resolutions or technical changes either. The San Diego Democrat introduces controversial measures that expand the rights and protections of workers. Gonzalez wouldn’t be successful without the help of her loyal chief of staff, Evan McLaughlin. The pair worked together at the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, AFL-CIO, a federation of 135 local unions representing 200,000 workers in the San Diego region. From 2008-2013, McLaughlin served at Gonzalez’s chief deputy at the Labor Council, handling a mix of legislative and political duties. Prior to his work with Gonzalez, McLaughlin was an ace reporter at the Voice of San Diego, one of the country’s leading nonprofit news websites.

Everett Rice, Office of State Senator Mimi Walters

The best political staffers make it seem like they don’t exist. They support their boss in such a way that draws attention to the elected official, not the staff member doing the work. That’s Everett Rice, who day-in and day-out makes his boss, State Senator Mimi Walters, look good. A policy consultant on pensions and regulatory reform, Rice also serves as the Senator’s communications director and press secretary. Although he’s always worked for conservative members, Rice has won over fans on the other side of the aisle, in part, because he’s a man of character.

Gwyn Bicker, Bicker, Castillo & Fairbanks

“She is a rock star,” said one Capitol insider. Another partner at Bicker, Castillo & Fairbanks to make our list, Bicker is an expert at crafting and implementing a winning message for her corporate and government relations clients. The former Managing Director of Public Affairs in California for Burson-Marsteller, the world’s largest public relations firm, Bicker has helped manage a long list of winning initiative campaigns, including No on Proposition 90, No on Prop. 82, Yes on Proposition 55, and Yes on Proposition 1A, the largest statewide school bond in the nation’s history.

Jacob Roper, Office of State Controller John Chiang

Jacob Roper, the smart, no-nonsense press secretary to State Controller John Chiang, is one of the hardest working staffers around. Roper would be our first choice for press secretary on any all-star political team. As one of his former colleagues put it, “He accomplishes the work of three people every day and does it well.” Chiang’s press shop not only delivers speedy responses, but always has the information you’re looking for. We hear that Roper was one of the key players behind Chiang’s public payroll website, The website publishes public employee payroll data for hundreds of thousands of public employees in California and has become an important tool for citizen watchdogs and members of the press. Not every government agency is in a rush to hand over their books, and Roper’s one of the people who hounds agencies until they comply.

Jamie Mori, Office of State Senator Anthony Cannella

A longtime Republican staffer, Jamie Mori is a fixture in the Capitol community. Mori spent years with Republican Senator Mark Wyland throughout his time in the Assembly before moving over to Senator Anthony Cannella’s office. Mori has been with Cannella’s office in both a staff and fundraising capacity since he was elected. Once considered a target member, Cannella can rest easy after Mori raised a substantial war chest that assures his victory this cycle.

Jim Kjol, Office of State Senator Andy Vidak

State Senator Andy Vidak represents a +17 Democratic district that Obama won by nearly 20 points. Yet, this year, the seat’s rated “Lean Republican” by A good campaign team can win a special election, and Vidak’s team was brilliant in 2013. But, for a target to win re-election, you need a savvy chief of staff to make sure that every move, every expenditure, every vote, is perfect. That’s Jim Kjol’s speciality.  Previously, chief of staff to Sen. Joel Anderson, Kjol’s operation is a political work of art. As a target, Vidak’s been under the microscope, and that just means more people admiring Kjol’s operation. Oh and in the process of securing Vidak’s reelection, Kjol’s also helped establish the Central Valley lawmaker as the legislature’s leading critic of high-speed rail.

Joel Fox, Fox and Hounds Daily

Joel Fox

Joel Fox

Known in his capacity as president of the Small Business Action Committee, Joel Fox also runs one of the state’s top political blogs, Fox and Hounds Daily. We’re loyal readers and occasional contributors to Fox’s site, the only place to find daily commentary on “the confluence of politics and business in California.” Fox worked for the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association for 19 years, including more than a decade as its president, but you won’t see a right-leaning bias at Fox and Hounds. Of course, people have trouble comprehending that a non-partisan business blog can exist. There are red sites and blue sites, Republican blogs and Democratic blogs. Go read Fox and Hounds and tell us which box it fits in. We’re not sure when Joel finds time to sleep. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Speaker Bob Hertzberg and Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa have all tapped Fox , at one time or another, to serve on good government commissions. He also teaches a graduate course at Pepperdine University and is the author of the well-reviewed book, Lincoln’s Hand.

John Bovee, Capital Development Strategies

John Bovee, considered by many to be “the best Republican fundraiser in the business,” doesn’t just raise money for candidates, he also educates new members and candidates on the finer points of fundraising ethics. One lobbyist’s comment on Bovee, “He has a moral approach to the business that I respect.” The President and CEO of Capital Development Strategies, the GOP fundraiser got his start  in 1979, working for two Kern County Supervisors. Since that time, Bovee’s been involved in more than 300 local, state and federal campaigns, with an all-time win record of 86%. Not bad for a Cal State Bakersfield history grad.

Jonathan Wilcox, Multiplicity Media

Jonathan Wilcox’s op-eds are poetry. Once the leading speechwriter for Gov. Pete Wilson, Wilcox gets calls from California’s top Republican politicians and business executives when they have something to say, but don’t know how to say it. Wilcox, the best wordsmith in the state, turns their ideas into featured pieces for the Sacramento Bee, Investor’s Business Daily, National Review and Los Angeles Daily News. As much as we love Jonathan’s writing, he’s also one hell of a communications strategist – with a special knack for crisis communications. When he isn’t delivering documentary-style productions for his clients at Multiplicity Media Productions, Wilcox shares his tricks of the trade with students at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication.

Jose Hermocillo, APCO Worldwide

Jose Hermocillo, managing director of APCO Worldwide’s Sacramento office, is one of the state’s best PR strategists. He’s been sharing his communications expertise with corporate, labor, nonprofit, and government clients for nearly thirty years. In times of crisis, he’s the first call for many corporations, especially top companies in the manufacturing, health care, retail and energy sectors. And he’s so effective – you’ll hardly ever notice him. Sacramento Magazine, which named Hermocillo to its best of list in 2008, described him as “the power behind state and local power for more than three decades.”

Karen Stapf Walters, California State Board of Education

Karen Stapf Walters has a dual role as the executive director at California State Board of Education and Gov. Jerry Brown’s point person on education. In 2013, Brown tapped the former teacher and legislative aide for the state’s most influential education post. An expert on education, no one in California has a better understanding of all facets of the education system. Prior to joining the state board, Stapf Walters effectively managed the political affairs of the Association of California School Administrators. Prior to her work at ACSA, Stapf Walters was director of the Education Seminar Programs for the Institute for Fiduciary Education from 1996-98.

Kate Brandenburg, The Brandenburg Group

In January 2014, Katherine Brandenburg started her own firm, The Brandenburg Group. “After so many years, it was about time to go out and try something on my own,” the veteran lobbyist who spent 23 years at the Flanigan Law Firm told the Sacramento Business Journal. We admire people who take risks. It takes real guts to go out on your own, especially when you already have a sterling reputation. From what we can tell from lobbying disclosure reports, the decision has paid off for the former Deukmejian staffer and West Coast lobbyist for the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries. We’re not surprised by Brandenburg’s continued success. Anyone who can turn metal theft into a hot topic and explain the complexities of hazardous waste management can lobby about anything.

Kathay Feng, California Common Cause

Kathay Feng

Kathay Feng

Whenever there’s a question of political ethics, reporters turn to California Common Cause’s executive director Kathay Feng. A central player in California’s redistricting reform movement, Feng’s work paid off with the creation of the Citizens Redistricting Commission. “This was my epiphany—for all of the work we were doing to encourage folks to vote, it didn’t make a lick of difference if the game was rigged from the very beginning,” she said of the experience.  Before joining Common Cause in 2005, she headed the Voting Rights and Anti-Discrimination Unit at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, where she fought for voting rights and civil liberties. Feng is committed to restoring public trust in government.

Laphonza Butler, SEIU CA

The buck starts and stops with Laphonza Butler. You don’t get to be head of the SEIU California by being a shrinking violet. She’s tough but personable, which is an odd mix. She makes her decisions solely by what’s important to her membership and what’s good for the union, which makes her a top notch union leader. She knows when to use her political strength and when to compromise, which makes her the political leader that she is. She’s the head of the next generation of union leaders – and one to watch in a field dominated by men.

Micah Grant, Senate GOP Caucus

A man who readily admits his success comes from a loving family and faith in God, Micah Grant is a man of real character. A Los Angeles transplant, Micah moved north to attend UC Davis on a track scholarship. His focus was on communication, his speciality at the California Republican Party. Grant then moved over to the Senate Republican Caucus as a communications consultant. Grant’s work ethic, loyalty and passion are unparalleled. As one Republican put it, “He genuinely respects his colleagues, values his friends, and has his priorities in order – Micah Grant is a man going places.”

Michael Feinstein, Green Party of California

If there’s one third party candidate that has the potential to break through and win an election under California’s Top 2 Primary, it’s the Green Party’s Michael Feinstein. Ironic: considering Feinstein has been one of the biggest critics of an elections system that is largely killing off the state’s minor parties. This year, Feinstein along with the Peace and Freedom’s C.T. Weber were active players in all election-related legislation. Unlike most minor party candidates, Feinstein understands politics and knows how to win. A co-founder of the Green Party of California, Feinstein has an ability to persuade voters of all political stripes and build a broad-based coalition — while staying true to his principles. A former Santa Monica mayor and city councilman, Feinstein is once again running for a seat on the most progressive city council in the state. If he wins in November, Feinstein could easily be a contender for the State Assembly, State Senate, or even Congress. As Republican registration continue to decline, Democrats may need to shift their attention to the Green Party’s threat from the left.

Michelle Matheson, AimPoint, Inc.

Michelle Matheson is the owner of AimPoint, Inc., a top-notch political, non-profit, and PAC fundraising company. Matheson runs AimPoint along with her equally-impressive husband, Justin. But, we’re impressed by Michelle’s work to encourage more women to get involved in politics. When she isn’t working long hours escorting candidates to meet and greets or overseeing fundraising events, Michelle finds time to train and mentor people who are just getting their start in politics.

Molly Parnell, California Republican Party

“The Renaissance woman of Republican politics,” Molly Parnell keeps the California Republican Party financially solvent. Parnell cut her teeth as the deputy, and later chief finance director for the California Republican Party. While managing the party’s finances, Parnell also opened her own fundraising business and has taken on some of California’s top GOP elected officials, including Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff.

Natalie Bruton-Yenovkian, Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones

Natalie Bruton-Yenovkian is, according to one Capitol insider, “the energizer bunny of California politics.” An activist in the Armenian community, the right hand for Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, and a successful business owner in her own right, we are told that Natalie averages about 4 hours of sleep a night. A charming and popular professional, Yenovkian is respected on both sides of the aisle by both members and staff. She is also a talented entrepreneur, having owned and operated several successful businesses ventures over the years.

Phillip Ung, California Forward

Phillip Ung, director of public affairs at California Forward, is committed to good government. That means setting aside political parties and ideology in order to embrace all ideas that make government better, more ethical and accessible to the public. For several years, Ung worked at California Common Cause, where he established himself as one of the state’s leading voices against corruption. Considered by the Sacramento Bee to be “one of the capitol’s most active political ethics and campaign-finance watchdogs,” Ung’s now helping California Forward come up with new ways to reform government. Prolific on Twitter, Ung’s one of’s “25 Twitter Accounts to Follow for the 2014 California Elections.”

Ray Sotero, Office of State Senator Ted Lieu

Ray Sotero is a press release-issuing machine. The communications director for Sen. Ted Lieu always manages to land major national media interviews for his boss. Prior to Lieu’s office, Sotero served as communications director for Sen. Jenny Oropeza, then-chair of the Senate Majority Caucus. Sotero’s also one of those ace political operatives who has spent time working as a reporter. In Sotero’s case, he has worked for newspapers in three states, including the Idaho Statesman, Modesto Bee, Fresno Bee, Sacramento Bee and USA Today.

Rhys Williams, Office of Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg

Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg’s office could have – and probably should have- hit the spam button on our emails a long time ago. But, Rhys Williams, Steinberg’s tenacious press secretary, refuses to cede any ground, including us nut-job bloggers. Williams always delivers quick responses to our hostile questions.  We’re not the Los Angeles Times or Sacramento Bee. Nevertheless, both Williams and Mark Hedlund, Steinberg’s communications director, have treated us with the same level of respect as those outlets that buy ink by the barrel. We appreciate it, but we also think it’s smart communications work. It’s been a tough year to be a spokesperson for the California State Senate. In our book, Steinberg’s team has been “diamonds.” What? Too soon?

Rose Kapolczynski, Rose Kapolczynski Consulting

Rose Kapolczynski

Rose Kapolczynski

For years, Rose Kapolczynski has guided Sen. Barbara Boxer to victory after victory after victory after victory. It won’t come as a surprise that more than a few Republican political consultants consider Kapolczynski to be “the most influential and respected progressive political consultant on the West Coast.” For three decades, Rose has been “changing attitudes, changing the conversation, changing the world.” She’s also a member of the Board of Directors for the American Association of Political Consultants, which named her the Public Affairs Professional of the Year in 2008.

Sandra Lowe, California Teachers Association

Sandra has spent most of her political life with the California Teachers Association, and with good reason. Her passion for protecting the rights of the classroom teacher runs deep. While many other staff members at the CTA get a lot of public credit, it’s Sandra who does the hard day-to-day work with the local unions, the candidates, and state allies to get the job done. She’s universally well respected, and like many at CTA, a bit feared. She’s a solid ally if you are on the same side, and she’s especially adept at mixing the social with the political. But cross her? She’ll remember.

Scott Syphax, Nehemiah Corporation

For the last seven years, Scott Syphax has served as president and CEO of the Nehemiah Corporation, which promotes homeownership and economic development for under-served communities. The organization that started with a $5,000 loan from a Baptist church has helped more than 325,000 families become homeowners. It’s no wonder why local, state and national political leaders have come to rely on Syphax’s expertise on urban development projects and mortgage assistance programs. “Syphax’s name is gold in Sacramento,” one public affairs consultant told us. An influential leader in the Sacramento business and non-profit community, Syphax also hosts Studio Sacramento, an award-winning weekly series produced by KVIE that asks the tough questions of state and local political leaders.

Senator Jim Beall

Senator Jim Beall, one of only two State Senators to make our list, is a Democrat’s Democrat. Beall carries bills that help foster care children, low-income families, and people with disabilities. Last year, Beall took on the cause of sexual abuse victims who were seeking more time to file a lawsuit against organizations that harbored abusers. We appreciate Beall’s openness and responsiveness – he’s always willing to share his thoughts on big legislative fights. We disagree with him on some issues but we respect his vote. There’s no question: Beall always votes his conscience.

Senator Mark Wyland

Senator Mark Wyland

Senator Mark Wyland

A true public servant, Senator Mark Wyland is the last of old school legislators. If there’s one lawmaker we’re sad to see forced out by term limits, it’s Wyland. Always a rock solid conservative vote and friend of taxpayers, Wyland’s true passion is education. And that’s one area where he’s always been overlooked. He’ll talk your ear off about education, especially civics education. More people should listen to Wyland’s ideas for how to fix our schools.

Steven Greenhut, U-T San Diego

Steven Greenhut, California columnist for the U-T San Diego, is the best journalist in the state. Bar none. Other newspaper reporters and bloggers commonly play catch-up to Greenhut’s first-rate reporting and thought-provoking pieces. Greenhut’s coverage is always fair, but he also has a point of view, especially on redevelopment and law enforcement. Author of the book, Abuse of Power: How the Government Misuses Eminent Domain, Greenhut is the country’s leading expert on redevelopment abuses and set the stage for the elimination of redevelopment in California. He’s also changed minds about cops. For years, Greenhut’s OC Register columns exposed the abuses, excessive salaries and misconduct of law enforcement. Those columns, published in the state’s most conservative county, usually inspired a round of hate mail. But, it also changed GOP minds about law enforcement. Orange County’s reaction to the brutal Kelly Thomas murder demonstrates a real shift in Orange County’s opinion of law enforcement. That change was the result of Greenhut.

Sylvia Tang, Office of Assemblyman Paul Fong

A model of loyalty and professionalism, Sylvia Tang is among the best in the Capitol. Currently serving as a chief of staff to Assemblyman and Asian Pacific Islander (API) Caucus Chairman Paul Fong, Tang is described as “the glue that holds the API Caucus together.” Coordinating events, maintaining relationships with the third house community and serving as an example for staff on how to get things done – Tang is the role model for effectiveness. Said one operative, “Tang’s a game-changer in Democratic politics.” A reserved and compassionate professional, she commands respect from both members and staff alike.

Tenoch Flores, California Democratic Party

Tenoch Flores is a rare breed. As one Capitol insider put it, “He’s a hardworking, lightning fast, quick-witted, ridiculously smart communications director – who doesn’t have an ego. Better yet, he’s in it for the cause and actually enjoys the work.” Flores’ past gigs include Senator Barbara Boxer’s office, the ACLU of Southern California and Fenton Communications. Now in his third campaign cycle as communications director for the California Democratic Party, he doesn’t often take credit for that work, believing the organization and it’s chairman always come first. He has turned the state party communications around from 2009, when some grumbled that there was no social media presence to speak of. And you know his job isn’t easy. One of his first weeks in the office, CDP Chairman John Burton tasked Tenoch with obtaining a correction for the most unusual reasons.

Tom Scott, California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse

As the executive director of California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, Tom Scott tracks the most absurd lawsuits in California and the steady stream of bills that make lawsuit abuse a multi-billion dollar problem. Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse is a force in the debate over legal reform, and they’ve done it despite being substantially outspent by the state’s trial lawyers. A frequent contributor to and Fox and Hounds Daily, Scott’s commentaries quickly find their way into talking points for Republican lawmakers and political candidates. CALA also keeps an eye on the legal fees rung up by local governments. In August, a report by California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse found that 12 California school districts had rung up $125.6 million in legal fees over three years. An active Folsom Republican, Scott won’t hesitate to call out Republicans when they ditch their tort reform talking points for trial lawyer campaign funds.

Tom White, Office of Assemblyman Ian Calderon

It’s been a tough year for anyone named Calderon. Especially if you’re a first-term legislator that’s done nothing wrong. We’re incredibly impressed with how well Asm. Ian Calderon has continued to serve his constituents – despite all the headlines. He deserves to make our list in his own right, but he’s being looked over– and not in a good way. Instead, we’ll focus attention on Ian Calderon’s stellar chief of staff, Tom White, who also served as Charles Calderon’s chief of staff during his second stint in the State Assembly. White’s steady, reassuring leadership is helping Ian establish his own name. There’s no doubt that White’s wisdom and guidance has kept Ian focused on his job of representing the 57th Assembly District. Look at Ian Calderon’s schedule, he’s as busy as ever. Following the scandal, our first instinct would have been to run away to a remote Croatian island. Ian Calderon only redoubled his effort of working his district, adding more community events to his calendar.



About John Hrabe

John Hrabe spends his time traveling the world as a freelance journalist. When he isn’t on an international flight, John writes about state and national politics for,, Huffington Post and the editorial pages of the Orange County Register. John’s most recent high-profile investigation uncovered the questionable labor practices of Goodwill Industries, the nonprofit organization famous for its secondhand clothing stores.

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