You’d think that with nearly 30 years of serving in an array of state
offices, former Sen. Marian Bergeson–perhaps best known for her work on
education–would be content to enjoy her husband, four grown children, 11
grandchildren and life in Newport Beach. But she isn’t.
So, if you’re wondering where she is now, she’s right here, in Sacramento–at
least some of the time. Her latest gig is as chairwoman of the nine-member
California Transportation Commission (CTC), the powerful state agency that
allocates dollars for roads, rail systems and transit-improvement projects.
The commission is a critical piece of state government, especially in the
on-going debate over whether to borrow money to pay for billions of dollars
worth of transportation projects. “We’re right in the center of the storm,”
Bergeson, a former president of the California School Boards Association who
has served on the Newport Beach City Council, made an unsuccessful run for
the Assembly in 1976. But two years later, she made it in Assembly, where
she served three terms. In 1984, she went on to the Senate, where she stayed
until she was termed out in the mid-’90s. In between, in 1990, she lost a
run for lieutenant governor.
At first glance, the well-coifed, perfectly dressed Bergeson–she always
reminded this reporter of Beaver Cleaver’s mom, Barbara Billingsley–may not
have looked like a breaker of new political ground. But, in fact, she was:
Bergeson was the first Republican woman ever elected to both the Assembly
and Senate. She chaired the Local Government Committee for a decade–no minor
feat in a house ruled by rival Democrats.
She also served a stint on the Orange County Board of Supervisors, a top job
in California’s political hierarchy, and then-Governor Pete Wilson picked
her to be his secretary of education–fitting roles for Bergeson, who
started out as a school teacher.
After Wilson left office, Bergeson also left. But now she’s back, this time
as Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s choice to head the CTC.
Does she miss the Legislature?
“I miss the people there, obviously. I do recognize the staff members and
the lobbyists seem to be the same, too.”
But the politics of the Capitol is full of risk and luck. Bergeson, showered
with assorted honors over the years, is adept at utilizing both.
“I think so much of success is timing, and if you are prepared when the time
comes, then you can walk through the door,” she told UC Irvine’s Social
Science Journal. “If you do a good job where you are, the opportunities will
fall your way.”