Cassie Gilson is president and managing partner of Axiom Advisors. (Photo by Terence Duffy)

Women in Leadership: Cassie Gilson

Our annual salute to extraordinary women who are shaping our future

Back Article Mar 3, 2021 By Sena Christian

This story is part of our March 2021 Women in Leadership issue. To subscribe, click here.

Cassie Gilson

President and managing partner, Axiom Advisors

As a private-practice attorney at a large San Francisco law firm, Cassie Gilson felt, “It was the right table but the wrong seat at the table.” A client suggested she move to Sacramento and work for him as a lobbyist. “It was really a leap of faith to change careers, to go from practicing law to lobbying, and then moving to a city where you knew no one,” Gilson says of relocating in 2001.

In January 2019, Gilson founded Axiom Advisors, making her one of the only women who are managing partners at the top lobbying firms in Sacramento. She oversees a staff of about 10 employees, and her firm represents 60-70 clients on issues such as land use, housing, energy, alternative transportation, climate change, health care, education, privacy and consumer protection, and the sharing economy. Clients include the California Building Industry Association, SunPower, Honeywell and Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California.

Gilson was raised in the Bay Area and earned her bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan University in Connecticut and a law degree from Stanford Law School. She was policy and program director for the San Francisco-based California Council for Environmental and Economic Balance, and then on the legal staff of the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Clinton White House. She worked as an attorney at Landels, Ripley & Diamond as well as Farella, Braun + Martel in San Francisco in the 1990s. After moving to Sacramento, Gilson lobbied on and off and did a stint as senior policy adviser to former Gov. Gray Davis before launching Axiom Advisors. 

Gilson — who has a personal and professional commitment to conservation — spends significant time negotiating on environmental policy solutions and the implementation of climate change legislation, attempting to protect the state’s progressive regulatory values while supporting economic growth and private-sector innovation. This balanced framework resonates throughout her work, she says. “When you represent clients that aren’t from California or used to California, being able to counsel them about what’s possible here and how best to think about their policy and their business in the context of the political landscape here is really vital to success.”

One of Gilson’s proudest accomplishments is her involvement with a group of women lawyers and advocates in 2017 to pass Senate Bill 500, legislation that protects victims of sexual extortion over the internet. “California’s extortion laws were adopted well before the internet, and this legislation updated them to allow prosecutors to go after a particularly pernicious kind of cyber criminal who coerces — often teens and young women — to hand over explicit digital images and the like,” she says. “I often lobby on issues at the intersection of technology and law, and being able to work with a phenomenal group of women and pass a law in this space that will protect young women was particularly gratifying.”

“Don’t let fear stop you from trying new opportunities, value your own instincts and feel confident in your decisions. Also, stretch more!”

Despite Gilson’s accomplishments, she says evolving to “own my space at a table” took time. She recalls working with a group of lobbyists who were older men on legislation involving the California Environmental Quality Act; they ignored her strategic advice on “an issue that I felt like I had considerable expertise. … We came out the other end (successful), and I realized that my approach and my thought process, my strategy was right and, in many instances, was more astute. It took that experience to teach me, ‘Oh, wait a minute, I really do know quite a bit about certain things and have talents to bring to the table.’” 

Now she has the seat she wants, negotiating on critical issues that directly affect business and quality of life throughout the Golden State. Gilson also sits on the Sacramento Valley Conservancy board of trustees and the Lower American River Conservancy program advisory committee.

“My liberal mother sometimes says, ‘How can you be a lobbyist?’” Gilson says. “My answer to her is always that individuals matter, and on most big pieces of legislation you can often point to a person or a couple of people who really were able to thread the needle and bring it all together or achieve the goal that (they) were working toward.”

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