Governors, legislators, and other political figures constantly tour the state Capitol, but behind that constant rotation is a more or less permanent cadre of men and women who provide vital continuity.
Senior bureaucrats and legislative staff and veteran lobbyists from thousands of interest groups are the custodians of institutional knowledge. While politicians groom themselves and plan their next career steps, they do the real work of drafting laws and administrative regulations, settling disputes if they can, and setting the stage for their bosses’ public revelations.
By chance, two of the oldest members of the cadre died within hours of each other last week. His passing represents, in a sense, the end of an era in which Capitol Hill politics were less about ideological whistling and more about camaraderie and practicality.
Allan Zaremberg, who led the California Chamber of Commerce for 23 years, and Rex Hime, who represented the California Commercial Property Association for 37 years, resigned in 2021 but only enjoyed a few months of retirement before succumbing to health problems.
Both men began their political careers as Republican political advisers in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the two political parties were virtually even in terms of political influence.
Zaremberg was a lawyer in the Justice Department when his boss, George Deukmejian, was elected governor in 1982. He joined the new administration and became one of its legislative liaisons, continuing in that role for Deukmejian’s successor, Pete Wilson. , before moving. to the Chamber of Commerce about 30 years ago. Zaremberg took over as president and CEO in 1998.
Hime, also a lawyer, worked in the Ronald Reagan administration before becoming a top adviser to Mike Curb after his election as lieutenant governor in 1978. He had also been a member of the legislative staff before joining the Commercial Property Association of California, the political arm of the commercial industry. real estate industry – mid 1980s.
As the two transitioned from political staffers to lobbying for business interests, they were able to rely on their Republican connections, particularly in the governor’s suite, to help protect their clients’ interests. Yet over the last two decades of their careers, the influence of the Republican Party plummeted into irrelevance, while the Democrats became dominant, making their jobs infinitely more difficult.
They were forced into a defensive mode, rejecting the efforts of their ideological rivals to enact laws and regulations that the companies considered onerous or harmful. But they both largely succeeded. They picked their fights carefully, cultivated pro-business Democrats and, above all, maintained their own credibility as honest brokers for the interests they represented.
One of Zaremberg’s most effective tools was the house’s annual list of “job-killing” bills that the business community considered onerous, a tactic pioneered by his predecessor as CEO, Kirk West. In the quarter century since it began, roughly 90% of bills bearing the epithet have passed in the Legislature, usually without formal votes, were amended enough to escape the list, or were vetoed by governors.
Both men also took leadership roles in bipartisan campaigns for statewide ballot measures.
Hime, who served for a time on the University of California Board of Regents, was a leading figure in promoting several bond issues for the construction of schools and universities.
Zaremberg and the chamber were major players in passing Senate Bill 1, a 2017 gas tax increase to repair deteriorating roads and highways, opposed by leading Republicans, and winning passage of voters when the measure was challenged through a 2018 ballot measure.
Since his death, Zaremberg and Hime have been widely praised as good guys who pursued their clients’ interests with good humor and credibility. The applause is well deserved.
About the Author
Dan Walters has been a journalist for nearly 60 years, spending most of those years working for California newspapers. He began his professional career in 1960, at the age of 16, at the Humboldt Times. For more Walters columns, go to calmatters.org/comment.
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