Two California political stalwarts are lost and their deaths have been mourned in the state capital

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Two California political stalwarts are lost and their deaths have been mourned in the state capital

There is a constant turnover of governors, legislators, and other political figures, but there is also a more or less permanent cadre of men and women who provide vital continuity in the state Capitol.

The keepers of institutional knowledge are senior bureaucrats, legislative staffers, and veteran lobbyists for thousands of interest groups. Legislators and bureaucrats do the heavy lifting behind the scenes while their bosses preen and plot their next moves in public. They write laws and rules, resolve conflicts (if possible), and prepare announcements for their superiors to make.

It’s just a coincidence that two of the longest-serving cadre members died within hours of each other last week. Their passing marks the end of an era in which politics in the Capitol was characterised by more bipartisanship and less ideological dog whistling.

Both Allan Zaremberg, after 23 years as president of the California Chamber of Commerce, and Rex Hime, after 37 years as a representative of the California Business Properties Association, retired in 2021 but only lived a few months longer due to terminal illnesses.

When the two parties were relatively equal in power in the late 1970s and early 1980s, both men began their political careers as Republican political aides.

Attorney Zaremberg worked for the Justice Department under George Deukmejian, who was elected governor in 1982. About 30 years ago, he joined the Chamber of Commerce after serving as a legislative liaison for the new administration under both Deukmejian and Wilson. In 1998, Zaremberg became president and chief executive officer.

Hime, who is a lawyer as well, served in the Reagan administration before becoming Mike Curb's most trusted advisor after the latter was elected lieutenant governor in 1978

Hime, who is a lawyer as well, served in the Reagan administration before becoming Mike Curb’s most trusted advisor after the latter was elected lieutenant governor in 1978. Before joining the California Business Properties Association (the political arm of the commercial real estate industry) in the mid-1980s, he worked as a senior legislative staffer.

As the two made the transition from political staffers to lobbyists, they were able to rely on their Republican connections, especially in the governor’s suite, to advance their clients’ interests. However, the Republican Party’s influence collapsed during the last two decades of their careers as Democrats rose to power, making their work exponentially more challenging.

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They had no choice but to take a defensive stance as their ideological opponents fought to pass legislation that would have had a negative impact on businesses. Yet, both were generally fruitful. They were very selective in the battles they chose to engage in, fostered relationships with Democrats who were friendly to business, and, most importantly, managed to keep their reputations as trustworthy middlemen intact.

After Zaremberg took over as CEO, he continued a strategy first implemented by his predecessor, Kirk West, who was known as “job killer” legislation. About 90% of the bills labelled “dead on arrival” have either died in the Legislature (often without a formal vote) or been sufficiently amended to avoid the list (or been vetoed) in the quarter century since the list’s inception.

Both men were also instrumental in statewide ballot initiatives that received support from both major parties.

Hime, who sat on the UC Board of Regents for a while, was instrumental in passing a number of school and university building bond measures.

Senate Bill 1, a gas tax increase to repair deteriorating roads and highways that was passed in 2017 despite opposition from most prominent Republicans, and was upheld by voters in a 2018 ballot initiative campaign led in large part by Zaremberg and the chamber.

Since their passing, Zaremberg and Hime have been remembered as likeable guys who enthusiastically advocated for their clients. All of the praise is well deserved.

Daniel Harrison

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