Treasurer Bill Lockyer announces retirement

With his announcement Monday that he is leaving public office in January 2015, State Treasurer Bill Lockyer ends 40 years as a lawmaker and statewide office holder.


“I need to do something different that’s challenging and interesting,” Lockyer told Capitol Weekly in announcing he won’t seek the job of controller in 2014 for which he’s raised $2.2 million as of January, state campaign reports show.


His departure boosts the chances of State Board of Equalization Member Betty Yee, the other declared Democrat in the controller’s race. It does the same for a higher profile Democrat who might choose to run with Lockyer out.


During the last several years, Lockyer’s personal life has received more focus than his work as treasurer.


The addictions of his wife Nadia, a former Alameda County supervisor, led her to resign from the seat her husband worked tirelessly to elect her to. The two are attempting to reconcile.


If there’s one thing that should be said of Lockyer’s remarkable political career, which began in 1968 on the San Leandro Unified School District board, it’s this:


Thanks for everything, Adele. The State of California is in your debt.


As an East Bay Assemblyman for 10 years, a senator for 15 years  — the Senate’s leader for four of them — attorney general for eight years and treasurer for seven years, the restless and obsessively inquisitive Lockyer has been a thoughtful policy maker, zealous protector of First Amendment rights and an artful negotiator with a gift for finding common ground.


Both former Senate GOP Leader Jim Brulte, now head of the state Republican Party, and Republican Gov. Pete Wilson praise Lockyer’s skill at consensus building.


Lockyer “stands out in the crowd of state legislators for his work ethic, his intellect and his problem-solving skills,” the San Francisco Chronicle succinctly said endorsing him for attorney general in 1998.


Several laws the 72-year-old Oakland native wrote directly affect every adult Californian. The guaranteed four-hour window for deliveries or repair services is one. Limiting jury duty to one day of service each year — unless impaneled.


With 1986 legislation, Lockyer created the San Francisco Bay Trail, a pedestrian and bicycle trail that will eventually be 500 miles long and ring the bay. More than 330 miles of trail have been completed.


A long-time non-eater of vegetables, Lockyer is one of the signatories of the so-called ‘ Napkin Deal,” a 1987 tort liability compromise between some of the Capitol’s most powerful interests: doctors, trial lawyers, insures, manufacturers and the tobacco industry.


The parties had reached a conceptual agreement with Assembly Speaker Willie Brown and Lockyer, then chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. They retired to the famed Capitol eatery, Frank Fat’s, to celebrate.


It was Lockyer who memorialized the deal’s key points on a cloth napkin.


While a state lawmaker, Lockyer earned a law degree at night at Sacramento’s University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law. Only lawyers can serve as state attorney general.


He passed the bar exam on his first try in 1989. “Can you imagine what the headlines would have been if I had failed?” he said at the time. ” ‘Chairman of Senate Judiciary Committee Flunks Bar!’ ”


Lockyer modernized crime fighting technology at the Attorney General’s office particularly DNA matches, authored the nation’s first hate crime law and, as treasurer, touts preventing the loss of any public dollars during the Great Recession and saving nearly $2 billion by taking advantage of rock-bottom interest rates to refinance California’s existing debt.


But if not for Adele Levine none of any of that might have happened. Lockyer calls her “his surrogate mom.”


As a ninth-grader at San Leandro High, Lockyer was intrigued with politics and public policy. He decided to enroll in Levine’s world affairs class. Levine says he took her course eight times; Lockyer says six.


Levine’s textbook: That week’s issue of Time.


“The class is the most refreshing thing that has happened to the high school curriculum in years,” writes Time’s San Francisco Bureau Chief Richard Pollard in the magazine’s June 2, 1958 edition.


“The kids are obviously enchanted with their teacher and absorbed in their subject. And despite the fact that the class is almost evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats — Adele Levine is a resolute Democrat — there is a remarkably high level of tolerance for the other’s views. “


Levine quickly sold Lockyer on politics. Another of his interests was astronomy. It became a distant second.


One of Levine’s class assignments was to pick a candidate for president – party affiliation didn’t matter – and “do something to help them,” Lockyer recalls. He walked precincts for Adlai Stevenson.


Levine also helped Lockyer land his first full-time job in the public sector.


Then Assemblyman Bob Crown, a Hayward Democrat, was looking for an administrative assistant and asked Levine if she had any recommendations.


“Three,” she said. “Bill Lockyer. Bill Lockyer. Bill Lockyer.”


Crown was Lockyer’s political mentor. After Crown was killed while jogging, Lockyer ran and won his seat in a 1973 special election.


Levine and Lockyer remained close until her death in 2008.


Although terminally ill, she attended Lockyer’s retirement lunch as attorney general in early 2007, smiling proudly and serenely as career prosecutors, law enforcement personnel, environmental lawyers and civil rights litigators praised her most famous former pupil.


“I think about her regularly,” Lockyer says.


Lockyer refuses to publicly pick a favorite job.


“It’s like asking ‘who’s your favorite child?’ ” he says.


But it’s clear Lockyer would have been more than content to stay attorney general for as long as California voters allowed him.


Four thousand active cases every day on everything from the death penalty to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta brought Lockyer the daily smorgasbord of challenges he craves as well as tests of  his mediator and managerial skills.


“(Former Assembly Speaker) Willie (Brown) used to say one of the good things about practicing law is the facts matter,” Lockyer told Capitol Weekly.


‘”He was contrasting it with legislative work where policy, philosophy, special interests and other considerations are also in play.  In the Attorney General’s Office, it’s in between the two.”


For example, without increasing the Department of Justice’s budget, Lockyer created a team of lawyers focusing on civil rights issues like housing and employment.


On his first day on the job, Lockyer asked to join a lawsuit banning jet skis on Lake Tahoe.


He personally argued a case involving California’s “three strikes” law before the United States Supreme Court in December 2005. The court ruled Lockyer’s way. Unanimously.


“If you’re a lawyer there’s nothing like arguing a case before the United States Supreme Court. It’s hard to not think of that being in some special category. I can’t tell you how hard I worked every weekend and weeknight to master it.”


Lockyer is also a gifted politician. He encourages candidates to first spend to conduct opposition research – on themselves. Lockyer bought space on GOP slate mailers for his re-election campaign for treasurer in 2010.


He also understands the value of the personal touch.


Both as attorney general and treasurer, Lockyer is a regular visitor to the floor of the Legislature, meeting and greeting lawmakers. No other constitutional officers are anywhere to be found.


In a politics, one of the best yardsticks of a public official is who works for them. And how long have they worked for them. Some of the brightest minds in the Capitol began with Lockyer. A many have stayed with him for 20 years or more.


“You generate loyalty by giving it,” Lockyer says.


Several on the list of current and former Lockyer employees say they would never consider working for any other politician.


Part of it is Lockyer’s egalitarian management style. His predecessor as Senate President Pro Tempore, David Roberti, maintained a warren of Capitol offices, requiring visitors to pass through several doors before reaching him.


Lockyer removed most of the doors.  “Smote” them was how Greg Schmidt put it on a hand-printed commemorative sign he hung next to the frame of one of the vetoed doors.


Schmidt, who is retiring at the end of this year as Secretary of the Senate, was Lockyer’s first hire when he was a freshman Assemblyman 40 years ago. Schmidt and Lockyer met on the McGovern presidential campaign. Schmidt was a field organizer. The only job Lockyer could offer Schmidt was receptionist.


As attorney general, Lockyer made the special parking slot used by his predecessor into the employee-of-the-month’s spot. He eschewed private elevators and had a penchant for wandering into the offices of lawyers “to say hi.”


His long-time chief-of-staff Steve Coony – “the best manager in state government,” Lockyer says – has been the co-captain of Team Lockyer since Lockyer’s colleagues elected him president pro tempore in 1994.


Tricia Wynne, recently named by Secretary of State Debra Bowen to the Fair Political Practices Commission, had also been with Lockyer since the Senate.


Nathan Barankin, Attorney General Kamala Harris’ chief of staff, began his career as a Lockyer intern in the Senate.


Brian Kelly, Gov. Jerry Brown’s cabinet secretary for transportation, was on Lockyer’s Senate staff.


Collin Wong-Martinusen was another Senate intern with Lockyer. He was locked in a conference room with the long-feuding optometrists and ophthalmologists and told to resolve their decades-long quarrels over scope of practice.


Wong-Martinusen also headed the Department of Justice’s Medi-Cal Fraud unit when Lockyer was attorney general, turning it into a national model and winning an award from the Bush administration. When Lockyer was elected treasurer, Wong-Martinusen became Controller John Chiang’s chief of staff.


A voracious reader, Lockyer is as likely to be poring over sci-fi as string theory, gene mapping as Grail quests.


When Myst was the latest in computer games he mastered it. After building coalitions in the Capitol, he’d build empires “to stand the test of time” on his computer with Civilization.


And while he may seem professorial at times, he’s anything but button-down.


Several people called for his ouster when, as attorney general, he said in 2001 he’d like to escort Enron CEO Ken Lay, who at the time was not charged with a crime, “to an 8-by-10 cell that he could share with a tattooed dude who says ‘Hi, my name is Spike, honey.’ ”


Lockyer apologized for perhaps being a bit intemperate but didn’t appear chastened.


More recently, he appeared before the Senate and Assembly select committees on Improving State Government and told its members two-thirds of the bills passed by the Assembly were “junk.”


He told lawmakers “Nancy Reagan’s right: Just say “no.’ “


For Lockyer, public service is still rewarding:


“This is the first time in human history where a major place –, a country like the United States, a state like California — has as a fundamental principle that everybody counts. Every voice should be heard. That really is an incredible idea. It’s so radical it makes me emotional to think about it.


“When you’re in the public sector, there’s clear opportunities to advance that vision and make it more real. The biggest challenge now is income inequality and we’re working through gender and race and sexual orientation and different dimensions of that.


“You make a difference and you can feel yourself making that difference every day. It’s good going to work knowing that.

Ed’s Note: Greg Lucas, the puiblisher of California’s Capitol, is a contributing editor to Capitol Weekly.

Want to see more stories like this? Sign up for The Roundup, the free daily newsletter about California politics from the editors of Capitol Weekly. Stay up to date on the news you need to know.

Sign up below, then look for a confirmation email in your inbox.


Support for Capitol Weekly is Provided by: