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She is geared up to help manufacturing

Dorothy Rothrock, who speaks for 800 large and small firms, is a tough but well-liked lobbyist.

December 09, 2007|Marc Lifsher | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Critics call Dorothy Rothrock an "ideologue," but the epithet doesn't bug the Sacramento business lobbyist a bit.

"I think she's more ideological than practical," says Lenny Goldberg, a veteran proponent of higher corporate taxes and lower residential electricity rates who often jousts with Rothrock at the state Capitol.

But if being an ideologue means being "somebody who has ideals," then the vice president of the California Manufacturers and Technology Assn. says she pleads guilty as charged: "I do believe what I believe."

Those bedrock positions -- that manufacturers need lower taxes, reduced regulation and cheaper energy to grow and create jobs -- make Rothrock a formidable but well-liked advocate in the often rough-and-tumble politics of the Capitol.

"She's passionate without being argumentative," says V. John White, an environmental and clean-energy lobbyist who often spars with Rothrock over bills in the Legislature and government regulations. "She does her homework and avoids repeating hot-button canards."

Rothrock is chief lobbyist for the manufacturers association, representing about 800 large and small makers of products as diverse as computer chips, cement and soy sauce.

She leads five professional advocates who buttonhole lawmakers on key business issues such as taxes, energy, insurance, safety and wage-and-hour regulations.

The 90-year-old organization generally is considered the second-most powerful business group in Sacramento, eclipsed only by the 16,000-member California Chamber of Commerce. Though it calls itself bipartisan, the association is closely aligned with Republican lawmakers, who receive the bulk of contributions from its small political action committee.

"Dorothy's been a real find," says Brett Guge, a vice president for California Steel Industries Inc. in Fontana and the manufacturers' board chairman. "She knows how to strike a balance working with both sides of the aisle, mostly in a male-dominated group of people."

Rothrock's effectiveness is considered crucial to maintaining a healthy business climate for her members in a state known for fostering cutting-edge companies and pioneering entrepreneurs but also for its high operating costs and government red tape.

"It's one of the most challenging regulatory environments in the world," she says.

Rothrock, 52, a native Oregonian who worked as an attorney and administrator for a Portland-based electricity utility before moving to Sacramento, learned in a hurry just how challenging California can be.

As a newly minted manufacturers lobbyist, she had been on the job just a few months when an energy crisis in the winter of 2000 and 2001 slammed the state with rolling electrical blackouts. Energy bills soared, creating political pandemonium in the statehouse.

"It was trial by fire. Everyone was in a complete panic and everything was being done on an emergency basis," Rothrock recalls. "It wasn't a good way to learn how to be a lobbyist."

The pressure was enormous as Rothrock tried to balance long hours at the Capitol with being a single mother with a 15-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter at home. Being a woman in the world of lobbying wasn't as difficult as being a single mother, she says.

Rothrock says she depended on "the whole neighborhood" as a support system and dealt with her stress with yoga exercises and clearing the living room to dance to 1970s disco records.

Rothrock learned quickly how to play defense. Business, particularly manufacturers that need reliable supplies of moderately priced electricity and natural gas, immediately got blamed for backing a star-crossed 1996 electricity deregulation law.

They wanted deregulation so they could buy cheaper power directly from generators and not be captive customers of more expensive state-regulated utilities such as Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

But California's complex deregulation didn't work out as planned. The jury-rigged hybrid dreamed up by business lobbyists, lawmakers and then-Gov. Pete Wilson turned into a Frankenstein: an unstable power market that fell prey to exploitation by energy traders and unexpected outages.

The 2001-to-2003 energy crisis hammered large businesses with steep electricity bills, Rothrock says. By the time the crisis ebbed in late 2003, they were paying a lot more for power than their counterparts in other states.

Fears of even higher future rates and expensive regulation fueled Rothrock's second big energy policy challenge: California's landmark global warming law of 2006. Her manufacturers association and the state Chamber of Commerce led the fight against a formidable proponent: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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