Politico – Jamie Court’s tactics are finally working



DAY IN COURT: Jamie Court is on the ascent.

The president of advocacy group Consumer Watchdog, long dismissed as a Sacramento gadfly, has chalked up some significant policy wins as the costs of climate change have started hitting people’s pocketbooks.

Court, a lawyer who’s been at Consumer Watchdog since 1994, has railed for years against high consumer costs for medical care, car insurance and container recycling. It’s earned him a reputation as a complainer for hire, willing to tilt at anything that can earn his group intervenor fees.

But he’s found recent success on climate policy, from oil drilling to gas prices to wildfire insurance. He calls himself an “accidental climate activist.”

“It is the biggest thing, and it affects everything,” Court said of climate change. “It just intersects with everything, unfortunately, and so we have to be in on it.”

He’s employing the same hard-nosed tactics as always: releasing a secret recording of a lobbyist on a plane; jumping from hot-button issue to hot-button issue; and being willing to issue blistering statements to the media.

Lobbyists on the other side of his issues scoff at his modus operandi.

“Most people see him as a paper tiger,” said Steve Maviglio, a longtime Democratic strategist whose clients include insurance trade groups. “They’re laughed at in the Capitol because one day they’re an expert on recycling, the next day, they’re experts on medical malpractice, and the next day, they’re experts on insurance.”

Another key to Court’s current success is his relationship with Gov. Gavin Newsom. Court said the two exchange late-night emails on priority topics, and he said he feels like the governor has acknowledged his requests.

Court asked Newsom to call a special session on gas price gouging (Newsom did). He asked the governor not to call a state of emergency over the property fire insurance crisis (Newsom did not, although he did issue an executive order in support of Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, one of Court’s foes). And Court also asked Newsom to veto a late-session bill last month that would have watered down last year’s gas pricing law (Newsom did).

That’s a change from Court’s antagonistic relationship with former Gov. Jerry Brown, whom he attacked over his use of donations from energy companies and his aides’ alleged conflicts of interest.

He credits his closeness with Newsom to his longtime CW board member, nursing labor organizer RoseAnn DeMoro, being one of the first people to endorse Newsom for governor during his first run.

“It’s a limited channel, but when I need it, it’s there, and it’s helped,” Court said.

The formula is mostly working, so Court’s planning to keep up his climate work. He’s hoping to advance bills next year to charge oil companies for health problems near drilling sites and to require insurers to stay in the state.

He’s also keeping a close eye on Lara, who’s developing rules to boost coverage for fire-prone regions by letting insurers raise rates.

“We slowed him down,” Court said of Lara. If he “goes too far,” he said, he’ll sic Newsom on him: “I’m hoping that he might be able to pull Lara back from the abyss.”

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