OAKLAND — California is about to come in from the cold.
After almost four years of President Donald Trump’s taunts as a state that’s "going to hell,” California is poised to be powerhouse with a Biden administration. California insiders say the home to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and the most lucrative Democratic ATM should have a major footprint when Joe Biden and Harris begin filling thousands of posts to serve in a new administration.
California is home to some of the nation’s leading universities and the globe’s most-recognized tech firms, and the stars of its biotech, alternative energy and environmental policy scenes had clout in Democratic administrations under Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. But that waned with a Republican White House that saw Trump frequently using the state as a whipping boy to criticize policies ranging from forest management and water to immigration and taxes. Now California is eager to regain its stature with personnel in the next administration as well as the influence it enjoyed in setting environmental, energy and tech policy.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is seeking another two years in the post, is certain to put her fingerprints on the new administration. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and her husband Richard Blum — a Biden fundraiser — and some of the party’s generous donors in Silicon Valley and Hollywood like attorney Joe Cochett, another Biden bundler, can leverage their influence to bend the new administration’s ear as it runs its talent search.
Biden isn’t new to government and has his pick of former aides and relationships with politicos going back decades when he looks to fill Cabinet posts and White House jobs, including those who end up in the VP’s office. But thousands of gigs in Washington are going to change hands — and Californians are plotting their way in.
Cassandra Pye, a former adviser to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, said there’s no shortage of eager candidates: "Think about all the people who worked for Kamala. There’s a cadre of folks who came out of her office as AG.”
The lobbying has already started, said tech insider Wade Randlett, a Democratic bundler for Biden in Silicon Valley. “We’re officially in the bum’s rush stage." Prospective candidates are calling up their contact lists, putting out feelers and hinting at their interest — directly or indirectly — to Harris insiders, top donors and those connected with past Democratic administrations.
After conversations with more than two dozen Golden State insiders, fundraisers and strategists, here are the Californians who may be in the mix:
Eleni Kounalakis: A former ambassador to Hungary in the Clinton administration and the first woman to serve as California’s lieutenant governor, Kounalakis boasts deep experience in both foreign policy and executive suites. She also played a key role for Harris, helping to round up donors and influential elected Democrats to back the senator’s case for Biden’s VP slot. In a recent interview with POLITICO, Kounalkakis said “I served my country and if called, I would never show shy away from serving our beautiful country again.”
Jeff Bleich: The Bay Area power attorney is a longtime friend of Obama, a former ambassador to Australia, and was an A-list campaign bundler for Biden. Bleich was also special counsel during the Obama administration and ran an unsuccessful campaign for lieutenant governor in 2018.
Ann O’Leary: Gov. Gavin Newsom’s chief of staff already boasts White House experience: she worked several roles in the Clinton White House, before becoming Sen. Hillary Clinton’s legislative director.
Rep. Karen Bass: The Los Angeles Democrat and head of the Congressional Black Caucus made it to Biden’s VP short list. She’s vetted and ready to go for an administration post — and she’s also on the short list to be Harris’ replacement in the Senate.
Meg Whitman: Some California Democratic heads would explode if Biden — as reported — even considers tapping the former GOP gubernatorial candidate for a Cabinet post. But Whitman has abandoned the GOP since her pricey self-funded 2010 gubernatorial run against Jerry Brown, and became an outspoken Biden supporter and fundraiser. The former CEO of eBay, HP, and now head of Quibi, the recently defunct streaming service, Whitman’s got executive and finance credentials as a global star and female business leader.
Jared Blumenfeld: Newsom’s secretary of environmental protection is at the forefront of the state’s trend-setting moves on climate change and environmental issues. He served in the Obama EPA as regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest.
Julie Su: As Newsom’s pick to be secretary for the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency, Su has won praise for her work tackling labor challenges, including efforts to enforce workplace health and safety laws and is viewed as a contender for Labor secretary.
Mary Nichols: The outgoing chair of California’s Air Resources Board is widely respected in the environmental community, has served on the board under four governors and is an alum of the Clinton era EPA, giving her solid odds to lead the federal agency under Biden.
Arun Majumdar: During the Obama administration, the Stanford University professor led a new agency within the Energy Department focused on high-risk, high-reward approaches to renewable energy. Majumdar earned the respect of Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill and became a sought after figure at the intersection of finance and energy, potentially giving him a shot at energy secretary.
Xavier Becerra: The California attorney general, a Sacramento native, has sued the Trump administration more than 100 times on behalf of the state and is among top contenders to be a possible Senate replacement for Harris. But as a 12-term congressman representing Southern California, Becerra is a seasoned Washington veteran who is also viewed as having strong potential to land in the Justice Department or Homeland Security Department.
Rep. Mark Takano: The Southern California Democrat, who is both LGBTQ and Asian, serves as chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, where he’s been a staunch advocate for historic legislation on veterans health care.
Rep. Raul Ruiz: Ruiz is the rare member of Congress with frontline health care experience who could end up at the Health and Human Services Department. Born in Mexico, the son of farmworkers who worked the fields of Coachella Valley, Ruiz went on to graduate from Harvard Medical School and became an emergency room physician in his own community before being elected to Congress in 2012.
Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia: Both LGBTQ and Latino, Garcia’s star has risen quickly in California since he became the mayor of California’s third-largest city. He’s also on the shortlist for the Senate seat to replace Harris.
Michael Tubbs: He became mayor of Stockton at 27, and has been viewed as a rising star in the party. He is currently trailing in his reelection bid, with vote counting still ongoing, but political observers say he should have opportunities in Washington if does lose.
Rep. Katie Porter: A member of the House Financial Services Committee, Porter has become a viral sensation with her brutal cross-examinations of financial bigwigs testifying before Congress. But Porter holds an Orange County seat flipped from the GOP in 2018, and party leaders will be loathe to subject that vulnerable seat to a special election.
Linda Darling-Hammond: The Stanford professor, appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom to head the California State Board of Education, has been named by Education Week as one of the nation’s top influencers of education policy. She served as education adviser to Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, and was seen as a possible contender for education secretary in the Obama administration.
Rep. Jimmy Gomez: The Southern California congressman, who now represents the 34th Congressional District once represented by Becerra, is viewed as a possible candidate as U.S. trade representative. The member of the House Democrats Trade Working Group earned praise for his role as a negotiator who secured more robust labor provisions in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
Alejandro Mayorkas: A former California U.S. attorney and son of Cuban-Jewish refugees has been widely viewed as one of the country’s top attorneys. He was tapped by Obama to be director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, before being promoted to deputy secretary of the Homeland Security Department. As the Obama administration’s highest-ranking Cuban American, Mayorkas in 2015 took the lead on a landmark agreement between the U.S. and Cuba.
Eric Garcetti: The Los Angeles mayor has a strong personal relationship with Biden, was on the VP selection committee, and an early Biden endorser. He’s got potential as transportation secretary under Biden, but recent stories about alleged sexual harassment by his top aide Rick Jacobs — where critics said Garcetti was slow to react — have appeared to have tarnished his chances, for now.
Rep. Jackie Speier: Progressive groups are already talking up the Bay Area Democrat for a variety of roles, noting her expertise on national security issues. Speier has been outspoken against so-called enhanced interrogation practices civil liberties group describe as torture and has called for tougher oversight of the National Security Agency and increased protections for whistleblowers. Speier told POLITICO last week she is “ready to serve,” if called.
Leon Panetta: The former head of the CIA has held several top-shelf posts throughout the Clinton and Obama administrations, including defense secretary and White House chief of staff, and remains one of the most respected and experienced Democrats with executive experience in the country. Asked about a possible Biden administration appointment recently, Panetta joked that his wife Sylvia has decreed that “only if they move Washington to the Monterey Peninsula. would I consider it.”