Politics & Government

Looking back: How 2013’s Californians to Watch fared

Six people made The Bee’s 2013 Californians to Watch list a year ago. Before we embark on our 2014 list on Wednesday, it’s time to look back at how things went for those we spotlighted last year.

Angie Wei

Legislative director,

California Labor Federation

Unions racked up wins in the 2012 legislative elections, and the California Labor Federation’s Angie Wei viewed 2013 as a year of opportunity to advance labor’s agenda at the Capitol.

Wei, the federation’s acting chief of staff and legislative director, led the federation’s efforts this year on legislation increasing the minimum wage and eliminating enterprise zones. Both bills passed and were signed into law.

“I think that working people had a banner year in the Legislature this year,” Wei said.

But a major labor-backed bill to force Wal-Mart and other large businesses to pay a penalty if employees use Medi-Cal fell well short of approval. Many business-friendly Democrats voted no or abstained.

Wei said the federation will continue working on the health care bill in 2014.

– Jim Miller

Rob Lapsley

President, California

Business Roundtable

Rob Lapsley went into 2013 anticipating an uphill slog for the interests he represents as president of the California Business Roundtable.

Republicans – typical allies of the two dozen large employers that make up the group – held virtually no power as Democrats took a two-thirds supermajority in both houses of the Legislature, giving them wide latitude to raise taxes and repeal tax breaks.

Still, Lapsley managed to wrangle several successes out of the Legislature by influencing moderate Democrats to temper the more liberal side of their party.

At the end of session, Lapsley’s group successfully pushed for amendments to a bill regulating hydraulic fracturing that removed the oil industry’s opposition – and environmentalists’ support – and was ultimately signed by the governor. Keeping a broad bill to overhaul the California Environmental Quality Act from advancing was another accomplishment for the group.

A significant defeat for the Business Roundtable this year was the passage of Assembly Bill 10, which will raise minimum wage to $10 an hour by 2016.

The Roundtable launched a new initiative in 2013 called the California Center for Jobs and the Economy. The center’s goal is to serve as a clearinghouse of economic data that can be sorted by region, county and legislative district.

– Laurel Rosenhall

Ann Ravel

Former chairwoman, Fair Political Practices

Commission; member, Federal Election Commission

Ann Ravel could hardly have had a better year.

As chairwoman of the California Fair Political Practices Commission, she gained attention for focusing the agency on high-profile cases. That included the FPPC’s probe of a network out-of-state groups that funneled money into California to support a 2012 ballot initiative to weaken the political influence of labor unions and oppose Gov. Jerry Brown’s effort to raise taxes.

The investigation put Ravel’s mark on California’s initiative wars and afforded her attention in Washington. President Barack Obama nominated her to the Federal Election Commission, and the U.S. Senate confirmed her nomination in September.

In October, Ravel announced a settlement in the out-of-state donor case, including a $1 million fine against two Arizona-based groups, the largest ever levied by the FPPC for a campaign violation.

The FPPC during Ravel’s tenure increased the number of agency-initiated investigations, including prosecutions of money laundering and conflict-of-interest cases.

“If you don’t have the ability and the gumption to actually enforce your laws that are significant and go to the heart of the trust prior to an election, then you might as well not be in business,” Ravel said in September.

– David Siders

John A. Pérez

Assembly speaker

In November 2012, ebullient California Democrats were at a historical high point. They had secured two-thirds majorities in both houses of the Legislature, a booming affirmation of Democratic might.

Amid the celebration, Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez had a more sobering task.

His caucus could now pass new taxes or place constitutional amendments on the ballot without Republican input. But Pérez, cognizant of the risk of overreaching and alienating voters, preached a message of moderation.

As it turned out, the supermajority played a minimal role in 2012. While Democrats sent plenty of legislation to Gov. Jerry Brown, including heavily disputed measures to raise the minimum wage, regulate hydraulic fracturing and offer driver’s licenses to immigrants in the country illegally, those bills passed with simple majorities.

Now the clock is running out on Pérez’s time in the Legislature. He terms out at the end of 2014 and has announced a run for state controller. A series of special elections have the Assembly humming and have again given Democrats a two-thirds majority, so the speaker’s window to establish a supermajority legacy remains open.

– Jeremy B. White

Peter V. Lee

Executive director,

Covered California

In a state celebrated for its technology smarts, Peter V. Lee declared last year that he wanted to make enrolling in health insurance as easy as buying a book on Amazon.

So there was considerable discomfort when California’s health insurance exchange stumbled out of the block, mired by unspecified Web and phone delays.

Lee and his team at Covered California soon recovered.

Midway through its first enrollment period running through March 31, California is leading the nation in sign-ups after averting the kind of prolonged technical snafus and public-relations setbacks that have dogged other states and the federal government.

While some health policy experts expected more robust enrollment, Lee has likened the progress to being in the first of a nine-inning game.

As for endeavoring to perform like a top online retailer, Lee said internal surveying has been promising, with large majorities of consumers saying the website is easy to use.

“We are quite confident as we go into the next half of open enrollment – starting in January – that we will continue to see this momentum as friends tell friends,” he said.

– Christopher Cadelago

Bruce Blanning

Executive director, Professional Engineers in California Government

Like so many other California state employee union leaders, Blanning entered 2013 with a contract set to expire at midyear while Gov. Jerry Brown was signaling that raises weren’t coming – at least in the immediate future.

Blanning, who has a reputation as a tough negotiator willing to hold out to the bitter end, waited two months after the state engineers’ contract expired in July before coming to terms with the administration.

The two-year deal announced over the Labor Day weekend moves toward eliminating promotional examinations for a relative handful of lower-level job engineer classes and provides incentive bonuses for a few hundred State Water Project employees. As with earlier agreements Brown reached with other unions, the new engineers’ contract increases allowances for business travel expenses.

And like other union agreements negotiated over the summer, the engineers’ deal includes a deferred raise – a 3.3 percent increase that kicks in the final day of the contract, July 1, 2015.

– Jon Ortiz