‘Money on Every Side,’ Retiring Lockyer Tells Calbuzz


lockyerCalifornia Treasurer Bill Lockyer announced his impending retirement from politics today, after a career that stretched from the Disco Era to the Digital Age, bridged the terms of Gov. Jerry Brown 1 and 2.0 and rewarded him with two pensions totaling upwards of $200,000 a year.

The 72-year old Lockyer, who is also the former Attorney General, told Calbuzz the job of Controller, which many had expected him to run for next year, is “too much of the same thing . . . It’s not complicated: I just want to do something different.” So one of the last honest men in Sacramento decided to make his plans known early because, “I want to let the people who have an interest in running get their campaigns going.”

In a pre-announcement interview with us, embargoed until today, he insisted that his rocky marriage to  former Alameda County Supervisor Nadia Lockyer, 41, and the sex and drug scandal she was embroiled in, has little to do with his decision. Three times married, he referred to himself as a “single parent,” raising his 9-year-old son, Diego.

Since 1968, when he was elected to the San Leandro Unified School Board, Locker has served in the Assembly and state Senate, including four years as president pro-tem, and as A.G. and Treasurer – a political career that will have spanned 46 years when he steps down in January, 2015.

“I would have loved to have been governor,” he said. But “there’s a lot of luck and opportunity in this business” and he never had a clear shot after Arnold Schwarzenegger.

backroom dealWhat’s wrong with Sacto: Lockyer said rolling back legislative term limits is the most important structural reform California needs.

The biggest change he’s witnessed in Sacramento over nearly half a century has been the loss of “embedded legislative knowledge” or what’s commonly called “institutional memory.” This is a function of term limits, he said, which also has caused the “amplification of the need to raise more and more campaign money because of the rapid turnover.”

The Legislature, he said, has become a “body of advocates rather than mediators.” “Almost every newly elected legislator starts out as an advocate,” he said, but the better ones “learn there are smart people with different philosophies” and that they don’t have to chase campaign money to get things done.

“Eventually you figure out that there’s money on every side of every issue and you realize you can do whatever you want and the money will follow,” he said.

Lockyer wouldn’t name any particular special interest that has too much influence in Sacramento. Asked specifically about the California Teachers Association and the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, Lockyer, a master of understatement when he wants to be, acknowledged they are “very muscular.”

lastadiumHe did, however, decry the “corrosively corrupt” practice of giving “celebrity special interest exemptions” to the California Environmental Quality Act, like for example, the L.A. football stadium deal.

“Every group believes their special interest is congruent with the public good,” he said. Legislators ought to dismiss that argument most of the time, he suggested.

Ranking his peers: Having started in Sacramento during Ronald Reagan’s last year, he also has served during the administrations of Brown, George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson, Gray Davis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Brown again.

jerrythenandnowBrown, he said “is a very different governor now than he was then . . . his judgment is more sober. He’s been close to executive management responsibility (as mayor of Oakland and Attorney General) that provides a kind of seasoning. There’s less short-term enthusiasms and more long-term focus.”

He said Brown is the best governor he’s seen in terms of “substantive and tactical intelligence” but that Wilson was “the best manager.” But he added, after reflection, “I was regularly impressed with something all of them did.”

He said he doesn’t regret voting for Schwarzenegger (after opposing the Davis recall) although he took grief from Democrats for saying so. “I could have shut up and not said anything, but that’s not me,” he said.

The smartest politician: Brown, “Jerry is brilliant but it’s a unique kind of brilliance.”

The best politician:  former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown. “Willie is very high on that list,” he said. For tactical intelligence, “I don’t know that anybody gets close to Willie.”

Dumbest pol, according to Lockyer: the late Chet Wray. Sleaziest: Alan Robbins.

His best job, he said, was Pro Tem, followed by AG.

brokengovernmentWonk alert, wonk alert: After Proposition 13 was approved by the voters in 1978, Lockyer in its wake was one of the few politicians in Sacramento who argued that the state should not use its $5 billion surplus to save cities, counties and schools from the cutbacks that would have been the inevitable result of the vote. Still a junior member, his advice was dismissed by leadership.

“I said you have to let voters see there’s a consequence of what they voted for,” he recalled. But the Legislature and Brown decided otherwise, and the resulting post-Prop. 13 subsidies from Sacramento saved cities, counties and schools from massive cutbacks but made them far more dependent on state revenues.

Thirty-five years later, Brown – who has acknowledged the problem created by the post-Pro. 13 bailouts he backed — is struggling to unravel that over-dependence and running up against vehement opposition from cities, counties and school districts.

Today, because “we’re a high-tax state,” Caliornia has to be careful how it deals with Prop. 13, he said. While he wouldn’t create a split roll, leaving homeowners’ rates the same but re-assessing commercial and industrial properties at market value, he does see some reform is needed. In particular, he would not allow real estate investment trusts (REITs) to avoid reassessments that would trigger higher taxes on commercial and industrial property.

nadialockyer2The scandal: Lockyer concluded by saying his personal life was “not all that much” part of his decision to step down after his term ends. He said he’s seen polling showing that “almost everybody was sympathetic, almost everyone has had someone in their family” with alcohol and drug problems.

“Maybe, it’s karmic justice,” he said, looking back at three marriages. “Everything she [Nadia] did, I did at one time.”

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There are 7 comments for this post

  1. avatar chuckmcfadden says:

    There is, of course, the story about Chet Wray giving a speech. Like many politicians, including Reagan, Wray used 3×5 cards, slipping them into the back of the pack as he proceeded. Well, one day, Chet was sailing along through a speech that began with something like “I’m extremely pleased to be talking to you today” and then, after a while, up comes “I’m extremely pleased to be with you today.” Turned out he had blown past the concluding 3×5 card and begun all over again. From then on, poor Chet was known around the Capitol as “Chet Wray, Chet Wray.”

    • avatar pjhackenflack says:

      Calbuzzer Chuck is exactly correct that the note card episode cemented the late Mr. Wray’s reputation, although Lockyer, in our interview, and Dr. H his own self recall his nickname simply as “Chet Wray Chet.” Ah, memories.

  2. avatar chuckmcfadden says:

    Ah, memories indeed. I think you’re right, pj.

    • avatar C.J. says:

      pjhackenflack is correct … Wray — a key vote in the speakership fight of 1980 — was forever after known as “Chet Wray Chet.”

      And as I recall, Lockyer was one of the Berman crew questioned by Orange County police when they were caught climbing over Wray’s fenced backyard to try to convince him to switch sides. But the prescient McCarthy folks had already squirreled Wray away elsewhere.

      Yes, ah, memories of the old days.

    • avatar pjhackenflack says:

      C.J. for sure would know about the Wray Play since she was one of the “prescient McCarthy folks” plotting in Speaker Leo’s office to defeat the attempted coup by erstwhile McCarthy ally, then-Assemblyman Howard Berman and his band of SoCal fellow travelers. But Lockyer on Team Berman? Dr. H must have been dead drunk on the floor of David’s Brass Rail and missed that wrinkle in the story.

  3. avatar C.J. says:

    My memory is indeed being tested … but yes, I recall Lockyer being on Team Berman and one of the crew caught climbing the fence. Don’t know any way to definitely confirm it either way though …

  4. avatar C.J. says:

    OK, pjhackenflack! Found my confirmation. Yes, Lockyer was on Team Berman, along with Walt Ingalls, Dick Robinson, and Richard Lehman, and a slew of others, of course … but not, as we’ve previously revealed to readers, Chet Wray Chet.
    And if I can find my copy of the Bee’s James Richardson’s book, might have two confirmations.
    pj, you owe me a psych session … you are a descendant of Freud, right?

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