California 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.
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.”
He 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.
Brown, 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.”
His best job, he said, was Pro Tem, followed by AG.
Wonk 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.
The 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.”