Bill Cavala, RIP


cavalaCalbuzz was saddened to learn of the death on Dec. 26 of Bill Cavala, and extends our sincere condolences to his family and his countless friends in California’s political community.

The dean of the Capitol’s consulting corps, the 66-year old Cavala was old-school, a warrior who played politics as a contact sport, and with honor.

In our dealings with him, Cavala inevitably shunned the limelight but was always direct, honest and straight. At once a fierce partisan and an urbane professional, he combined the instincts of a street fighter, the policy smarts of a poli sci professor and the war game wisdom of a Jedi knight.

As LAT columnist George Skelton told Calbuzz:

Cavala was all-politics, all the time and a fun, bright, candid guy to bounce ideas off and argue with, who never got emotional about any of it, a consummate, movie character pro whose deep belief was in electing Democrats. And he had an encyclopedic memory of the last 45 years in Sacramento. He’s one person who truly will be “‘truly missed.”

In recent years Cavala enjoyed a busman’s holiday, offering insightful analysis over at California Progress Report. In one of his last posts, “Bored Pundits Seek To Stir Up More Competition In Contest For Governor,” Cavala used trademark plainspokenness and unalloyed candor in jibing at the silliness of some political writers spinning speculations about increasingly unlikely late-entry gubernatorial candidacies:

Mayor Gavin Newsom’s decision to drop out of the race for the Democratic nomination for Governor of California has forced the state’s pundits to face the uncomfortable fact that they are stuck with a field of Poizner, Whitman, Campbell and Jerry Brown. “Stuck with” because most observers find these people uninteresting as a group.

Poizner and Whitman are “moderates” on social issues (that means they are pro-choice) and hard-line and coo-coos on economic interests. Not satisfied with opposing tax hikes, both have taken extremist positions in an effort to attract support from the dominant conservative wing of the GOP…

The bankruptcy of their positions – the two frontrunners for the GOP nomination – has been well documented by the older pundits of the state. But having said that, and called them liars to boot, what more is there to say?

It’s notable that despite his hard core partisanship, Cavala was the rare  operative whose passing brought authentic expressions of respect and sorrow from friends, allies and political foes alike.

“Although we were on opposite sides of most issues, Bill Cavala was always a professional,” former Senate Republican leader Jim Brulte told Capitol Alert. “He was a fierce adversary, but a polite and honorable man.”

Fellow Democrat Richie Ross recalled not only Cavala’s professional skill but also his personal discretion, and his non-political passions: “Bill taught me a lot about campaigning, he knew a lot about baseball, and he was good at keeping secrets.”

Gale Kaufman, one of a generation of consultants who learned from Cavala, summed it up best:

Bill was the consummate pol. He loved what he did, shared his knowledge with anyone who asked for help, and did it with an incomparable style all his own. I loved him, he was a true mentor and friend.

Rest in peace, man.


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There are 2 comments for this post

  1. avatar Pete Carrillo says:

    I did not know Bill well- but over a thirty year period I remember him as a “no frills” type of guy who just got things done in a quiet, but effective way. He treated everybody the same- as human beings! RIP Bill

    Pete Carrillo

  2. avatar Mark Paul says:

    What I loved about Bill was that he was willing to share his wisdom with you whether you asked for it or not.

    I first met Bill in 1982 or ’83 when I was a still-wet-behind-the-ears editorial page editor in Oakland. I had written a piece that pissed on some long-forgotten piece of legislation limiting campaign contributions and expressed skepticism about the possibility of controlling the effects of political money. Bill cold-called me and insisted I make time for him to correct my wrong-headedness. I didn’t know him from Adam, but flattered that anybody in Sacramento had read something of mine, I agreed.

    He trucked down to Oakland and we had one of those conversations that only Bill could carry on—full of practical knowledge, poli sci evidence, love of the political game, and generosity toward a young hack he could have just as easily ignored.

    I wish now we’d had more of those talks than we did. But I wish even more that we had more Bill Cavalas in our politics. He knew how to play the game.

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