Obituary: Former lawmaker Tom Hannigan

Tom Hannigan and his daughter Erin, a Solano County supervisor. (Photo: Erin Hannigan Facebook page)

Tom Hannigan, a major legislative leader, director of California’s Department of Water Resources and an avid marathon runner, has died of natural causes. He was 78.

Hannigan, a Marine Corps veteran who fought in the Vietnam war, is the father of Solano County Supervisor Erin Hannigan, who announced his death on her Facebook page.

The tall, quiet, self-effacing Hannigan, a Democrat, was a key lawmaker in the state Capitol, serving four years as chair of the powerful Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee. He then served as majority leader, the No. 2 position under then-Speaker Willie Brown. The latter move, engineered by Brown, caught people by surprise.

Tom Hannigan. (Photo posted on Facebook by Erin Hannigan)

Hannigan, according to a 1988 profile in the California Journal, was “the antithesis of the flashy, glib, self-promoting speaker. Not only that, over the past few years Hannigan has been one of Brown’s more frequent critics and a man often mentioned as the one legislator with enough stature to one day lead a coup d’ caucus against Brown’s speakership.” Hannigan held the job for nine years.

After doing tax policy, Hannigan had told Brown he wanted a change. “”My bill load was narrowly focused,” he told the California Journal’s A.G. Block.”I woke up to the fact recently that everything I was doing was in the tax area, and I want to do things in other areas.” He added that his role as majority leader included being “the guy in the crosshairs” for disgruntled Democrats who had a bone to pick with Brown – and many did.

The lanky, laconic Hannigan drew respect from both Democratic and Republican members – although it wasn’t unanimous. “He’s one of the most partisan members of the Democratic caucus,” one GOP lawmaker grumbled. But former Assembly GOP Leader Pat Nolan said Hannigan was “respected by everybody in the Legislature. He’s a straight arrow – honest and straight forward.”

Hannigan, who served 18 years in the Assembly, was termed out in 1996.

After the Assembly, Hannigan was appointed director of the Water Resources Department, a vast, high-profile agency with operational control over much of California’s water system and infrastructure. Hannigan, appointed by former Gov. Gray Davis, served as DWR director from 1999 through 2003, the year that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor following a bitter recall election that ousted Davis.

Hannigan was the mayor of Fairfield for two of the four years he served on the City Council (1970-74), and served as chairman of the Solano County Board of Supervisors for two of his four years before winning a seat in the Assembly, the Fairfield Daily Republic reported.

Hannigan frequently ran in marathons, the Daily Republic reported, “with more than a dozen marathons to his credit, including three Boston Marathons.”

Thomas Michael Hannigan was born May 30, 1940, in Vallejo. The family moved to Fairfield when he was in second grade. He attended St. Vincent Catholic School in Vallejo and graduated in 1958. He earned a bachelor’s degree in business from Santa Clara University in 1962, the Daily Republic reported, where he met his future wife, Jan. They were married for 43 years when she died in 2006.

Hannigan remarried in recent years and is survived by his wife, Karen, who had a daughter from a previous marriage. He is also survived by seven grandchildren, and his nieces and nephews.

The late Tom Hayden, the 1960s student firebrand who later was elected to the California Legislature, had respectful words for Hannigan – a rarity for Hayden.

“Tom Hannigan is the Gary Cooper type,” Hayden once said. “He’s strong, silent and fair, the kind of person people trust and turn to. When Tom Hannigan speaks, members know they will get considered judgments from someone with no axe to grind.”


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