Kirk West, Longtime California Business Leader, Passes Away at 79

Kirk West

Kirk West

SACRAMENTO, CA — Kirk West, who served as CEO for the California Chamber of Commerce from 1986 –1997 has passed away.  He was 79.

“Kirk was a special person,” said CalChamber president and CEO Allan Zaremberg. “He showed us all that being gracious, humble and respectful is the perfect recipe for success.”

For two decades Kirk was the leading voice for business in California.   He served as chief executive of the California Taxpayers’ Association, from 1974 to 1982, and as Governor George Deukmejian’s Secretary of California’s Business, Transportation and Housing from 1983 – 1986 before taking the helm of CalChamber.

Under West’s leadership, CalChamber initiated its long-running Job Killer program, identifying and leading opposition to the worst anti-business legislation.

Zaremberg recalled West fondly as an important mentor who was the antithesis of a micromanager, “Soon after I joined the Chamber, I found that we were right in the middle of a dispute between Governor Wilson and Speaker Willie Brown. I sought Kirk’s sage counsel and direction. After several minutes of deep thought, he wheeled around in his chair and announced, “That’s why I hired you!”

In a recent tribute, former Governor Pete Wilson, reflecting on a long-ago conversation with West as Wilson considered a run for Assembly, said “I remember vividly and gratefully the Saturday morning in Sacramento when you dispensed not only practical wisdom about how to win and then make a useful difference in the Assembly, but also the hilarious observations and impressions you provided of some of the more pompous and self-important senior members of both parties.”

West is remembered as a leader who took the California business community to new levels of political sophistication and influence. He helped broker legislative deals on workers compensation, civil liability, and transportation finance.  In addition, West established the infrastructure for and oversaw multimillion-dollar efforts to turn back anti-business ballot initiatives to raise taxes or increase regulation.

West began his political career in Sacramento in the early 1960s on the staff of Assemblyman Don Mulford, the Republican caucus chairman, and later worked for Minority Leader Bob Monagan. Kirk also worked as a deputy director of the Department of Finance under Governor Ronald Reagan until he was recruited as chief deputy State Controller under Houston Flournoy.

West was born of Christian missionary parents in China in 1937. He would proudly regale listeners that “I was the largest baby born in Shangdong Province in 1937.” On a trade mission to China in 1988 with Governor Deukmejian, West arranged a reunion with his childhood nanny.

West was mentor to generations of Sacramento policy and political professional and is remembered as one who led by example, was generous in delegating responsibilities and spreading credit.

He is survived by his wife Kathleen, his children Sarah, Jennifer and David, and by many grandchildren. Services are pending.

The California Chamber of Commerce (CalChamber) is the largest broad-based business advocate to government in California.  Membership represents one-quarter of the private sector jobs in California and includes firms of all sizes and companies from every industry within the state.  Leveraging our front-line knowledge of laws and regulations, we provide products and services to help businesses comply with both federal and state law.  CalChamber, a not-for-profit organization with roots dating to 1890, promotes international trade and investment in order to stimulate California’s economy and create jobs.  Please visit our website at www.calchamber.com

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