Karin Caves, a fixture in Sacramento politics who advised powerful California lawmakers and governors since the late 1980s, died early Thursday. She was 63.
The news of her death surprised her friends in the Capitol and beyond. She began her latest assignment as the communications director for the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration in October.
She was diagnosed with the illness that took her life only a month ago, her friends said.
She's volunteered and worked for political campaigns since the early 1980s, including Gary Hart’s 1984 presidential campaign. She built her career in politics while raising sons Morgan and Jeffrey.
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“She was really good at her job. Mostly, though, I will remember Karin for being smart, funny, full of personality and really proud of her two sons,” said Nick Maduros, director of the tax department.
Caves was communications director for former Attorney General Bill Lockyer when he was president of the state Senate in the 1990s, and she operated her own consulting firm from 1998 to 2013.
She returned to full-time government work in 2013 when she joined the office of Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles.
Caves worked at the Health and Human Services Agency from 2014 until she joined Maduros’ department last year.
“She was a consummate communications professional who was curious, diligent and honest. She will be deeply missed,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Diana Dooley.
Caves’ last job put her in charge of communications for a new state department that the Legislature created to replace the Board of Equalization. The Board of Equalization had been criticized in recent state audits for nepotism, for allowing its elected leaders to redirect staff for events that appeared to be political and misallocating tax revenue.
Maduros wrote in a staff message that Caves had an “outsized impact” with a new communication plan for taxpayers, as well as with a morale-raising department newspaper.
A recent issue highlighted an Ethiopian immigrant who works 16 hours a day at two jobs, one at the tax department and another at a hotel, to support his family while also taking online classes. The story cheered the department’s security staff, who liked seeing a spotlight on one of their colleagues.
“Karin was always willing to roll up her sleeves in service to her fellow Californians and this administration. She will be missed,” said Gov. Jerry Brown.