Gale Kaufman has been inducted into the American Association of Political Consultants’ hall of fame, one of three women to have ever been recognized by the national organization, which called the California-based politico “a true trailblazer” who has gained “notoriety for her decisive victories on prominent statewide ballot initiative campaigns.”
Kaufman, who founded the Sacramento-based Kaufman Campaign Consultants in 1987, said she was “thrilled” with the announcement.
“It’s a tremendous honor,” Kaufman said. “I’ve worked on hundreds of candidate campaigns and probably more initiative campaigns, so it’s an honor to be recognized by the only professional organization of political consultants in the nation for the body of work that I’ve done through my business and my career.”
Kaufman is known for taking on hard-fought political battles in California, including thorny labor rights campaigns and the 2016 ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana. She led the campaigns against former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2005, when he called a special election and sought ballot measures to extend to five years the probationary period for teacher tenure, to require union workers’ consent before contributing dues to political campaigns, to limit state spending and alter the way California draws political boundaries.
The special election was bruising and at the time, one of the most expensive in the state’s history. Voters rejected all four propositions.
Public employee unions, including the California Teachers Association, which Kaufman has represented for most of her career, vehemently opposed the union dues initiative.
“That was a banner year. There was an awful lot of money being spent on both sides, and there was a tremendous amount of energy,” she said. “It was one of the best organizing efforts I’ve ever seen.”
The political consulting group referenced Kaufman for her “extensive experience in grass-roots organizing” and political campaign strategy, winning numerous independent expenditure and ballot initiative campaigns over the past three decades. Each year, the organization recognizes political consultants whose “careers and activities can serve as inspirations to us all, especially to students and young professionals looking for examples of leadership, longevity and accomplishment.”
“Since 1998, there hasn’t been a California electoral cycle with ballot propositions that Kaufman hasn’t played a significant role,” the organization said in a statement.
Other inductees include the late Allan Hoffenblum, an eminent political operative known for his creation of the California Target Book, who died in 2015. Democratic strategist Paul Tully, who died in 1992, was also recognized posthumously. Richard Viguerie, a conservative political strategist who runs the online Tea Party publication ConservativeHQ, was also inducted this year.
Kaufman has led the campaigns of high-profile current and former legislators, including former Assembly Speaker and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu and Antonio Villaraigosa, the former mayor of Los Angeles who is running for governor in 2018.
Kaufman acknowledged that she got her start during a time when women were not largely represented in the field.
“There weren’t any other women I knew who had a business like I was trying to create, so that was a bit of a challenge. I take on issues I care deeply about, and I look for challenges,” she said. “That is the thing I love about every single campaign I’ve worked on – the challenge.”
Kaufman declined to say what she’s working on at present, but she said she’s looking to 2018.
“It’s the governor’s race, and there will be a lot of other statewide races,” she said. “These days, at a time when politics is very ugly, those of us who are progressive Democrats are not always feeling the best. This recognition was a bright moment for me.”