Will the Kabatecks find brotherly love at the California Capitol? Don't bet on it

Brothers John and Brian Kabateck both trace their political coming-of-age to the "Reagan Revolution" of the 1980s. But that's where the similarities end.John was in high school in Glendale, and remembers posing for a class picture wearing a hat with the word "Reagan" emblazoned across the front. Brian was in college at the University of Southern California, and recalls hiding his increasingly liberal world view from their conservative Republican parents.As the brothers launched their careers, diverging political philosophies propelled them farther in opposite directions. John came to Sacramento to work for Republican Gov. Pete Wilson. He went on to work for business groups and other GOP politicians. Brian stayed in Los Angeles and built a successful practice as a plaintiff's lawyer, suing banks, insurers and drug companies – traditional Republican allies. He became involved with an attorneys group known for supporting Democratic candidates.Their professional rivalry now lands in the state Capitol, where the brothers will be at odds in the upcoming legislative session, each trying to influence lawmakers from opposite ends of the ideological spectrum. John, 44, represents the business lobby as executive director of the California chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business. Brian, 51, represents traditionally liberal interests as the new president of Consumer Attorneys of California."The core of it is we were both raised to fight for the little guy, to give those in need a voice. We just have different constituencies, and maybe sometimes a little different interpretation of that," John said.His older brother – buoyed by an election that put a Democratic supermajority in both California houses and handed victories to 27 of the 29 candidates his group supported – is less diplomatic about it."As I like to say, my brother's nickname in the family is 'loser.' Like, how'd those elections go for you?" Brian joked last week with Democratic Assemblyman Roger Dickinson of Sacramento.It was one of many wisecracks Brian made about family politics as he visited lawmakers in the Capitol on the day they were sworn in. Several politicians approached him with backslapping hugs and thanked him for his group's support. Brian gripped a special pass allowing him onto the Assembly floor for the swearing-in ceremony.When he told Democratic Assemblyman Tom Daly of Anaheim that his brother is a Republican business lobbyist, Daly asked if they would be wrestling in the hallway."No," Brian said, "because I'd kick his ass."John has his own choice words to describe the situation: "I was in Sacramento for 21 years before Brian showed up. A-hole."Their groups will probably clashBrian Kabateck is going into the new legislative session with a good deal of sway. His attorneys' organization spent $4 million on legislative races this year (93 percent of which went the group's way) and another $250,000 supporting Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown's successful effort to increase taxes.John's record this cycle is weaker. His business organization spent less than $45,000 on legislative races and scored just two victories among the seven candidates it backed. And John campaigned against Proposition 30 – a point his brother enjoyed rubbing in when the pair saw the governor a few days after the election.It was at the ceremony in San Francisco where Brian was installed as president of the trial lawyers group. He made sure Brown got a word with his brother."I got to watch John eat crow in front of the governor," Brian said. "That was so much fun."The fun continued at the Thanksgiving table of Brian's Pasadena home. In front of 30 guests, Brian gave John a framed picture from the ceremony – of the two of them arm in arm with the governor."It was all in good spirits," John said. "We are gracious when it comes to these kinds of things.


You win some, and you lose some."Whether the politesse will carry over to the upcoming legislative session remains to be seen. Both brothers said their relationship should create new opportunities for trial lawyers and the business lobby – traditionally rival factions – to find common ground. They said concern about cuts to court funding is an area in which they are likely to agree.But their groups will probably clash on a number of issues that crop up under the dome: labor laws, environmental regulation, tort reform, and legislation that caps how much can be paid out in cases of medical malpractice."While they are close and they are brothers, I don't anticipate a lot of brotherly love in uniting on a legislative agenda for their organizations," said Beth Miller, a GOP consultant who has known John since the early 1990s when they worked together in the Wilson administration.Pair may find middle groundBrian's friend and business partner Mark Geragos, a criminal defense lawyer whose clients have included Michael Jackson and Winona Ryder, described the brothers as "yin and yang."But, he said, he won't be surprised if John and Brian find ways to cooperate in the Capitol."It will be very difficult for them to not get slapped on the hands by their mother at some point if they fight too acrimoniously," Geragos said.Their mother, Glady, choked up with pride during an interview and passed the phone to her husband, Jack. He emphasized how much their sons have in common despite political differences."Honestly, their personality traits, their values and their high ethical standards are virtually the same," Jack said. "They're both highly motivated to succeed but in a very respectful manner with relation to other people."The brothers' respective organizations did cooperate last year on legislation meant to curb frivolous lawsuits against businesses over disability access. Senate Bill 1186 was a bipartisan effort by then Sen. Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento.Steinberg said he was hopeful the Kabateck brothers would bring that kind of harmony to their advocacy in the statehouse."In politics, it's most fun and sometimes most productive when you have unexpected pairings," Steinberg said."There could be some interesting synergy when it comes to finding that elusive middle ground on some issues," he added. "But it's the wrestling thing I'm going to look out for." © Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved. Order Reprint