Politics & Government

Californians to Watch in 2015

Here are seven Californians to watch in the new year as chosen by The Sacramento Bee’s Capitol Bureau.

1. Janet Napolitano

In November, University of California President Janet Napolitano broadsided Gov. Jerry Brown with a threat to raise tuition by more than a quarter over the next five years unless UC receives more money from the state. Her move launched one of 2015’s most contentious budget battles, if the heated debate over state funding and the university’s cost structure that followed is any indication.

Napolitano has the confidence of top university officials like Regent George Kieffer, who said her previous leadership experience as Homeland Security secretary made her just the sort of fearless political advocate UC needs after years of disinvestment from the state.

2. Jodi Remke

Jodi Remke was appointed California’s top political watchdog this spring as a series of scandals unfolded in the state Capitol. As Remke takes the mantle as chair of the Fair Political Practices Commission, however, she says she’s mostly focused on beating bureaucracy at the agency.

3. Kristin Olsen

For Assembly Republican leader Kristin Olsen, Nov. 4 was only the beginning. California Republicans climbed out of a historic low point this election. They unseated Democratic incumbents for the first time in 20 years.

Olsen, of Modesto, acknowledged that the blueprint for where to spend money, from targeting vulnerable Democrats to picking up additional “opportunity seats,” had been drafted before she assumed power. But she will have a key role in protecting those gains by building up the party’s financial resources and helping decide where to deploy them in 2016.

4. Alex Padilla

The secretary of state’s campaign-finance disclosure system is old and confusing, businesses complain about filing delays and a federally required computerized voter registration list is years behind schedule, contributing to a national survey recently ranking California second-to-last in election administration.

Alex Padilla said fixing all three will be early priorities after he takes office as California secretary of state.

5. Antonio Villaraigosa

Since leaving office in 2013, the former mayor of Los Angeles had been dividing time between Los Angeles and the East Coast, where he was on a self-imposed “timeout, a time to reflect.” But Antonio Villaraigosa is now back in California full time, and is widely expected to run for governor in 2018.

6. Kevin McCarthy

Eight years ago, then-Assemblyman Kevin McCarthy was leading fellow Republicans in Sacramento, clawing for relevance in a Capitol dominated by Democrats. Now McCarthy is the second most powerful member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

“From my perspective, he’s a guy who learns quickly,” said Rep. Devin Nunes, a Republican from Tulare. “Let’s face it, it’s not very often you see someone rise so quickly to be the majority leader without having a lot of skill.”

7. Joe Nuñez

Joe Nuñez is the first Latino executive director of the powerful California Teachers Association. The 61-year-old product of public education and long-time teacher-activist is confronting a new year brimming with tensions born of politics and plenty.

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