Former California Assembly Speaker Gordon Hickman Garland, an expert in water issues and most recently a Sacramento lobbyist, has died of a heart attack.
Garland, a San Joaquin Valley rancher who was elected Speaker in 1940, only four years after reaching the Legislature, was 88 and died Tuesday in an Exeter hospital.
A conservative Democrat who often clashed with fellow Democrat and then-Gov. Culbert L. Olson, Garland was elected to the Assembly in 1936 and won the post of Speaker in 1940.
His first act was to rip a telephone from the Speaker’s podium that provided a direct line to Olson’s office. He saved the phone and had it bronzed with an inscription that read, “They do not answer anymore.”
Later, a legislative investigation revealed that the governor’s office paid to have Garland’s hotel room bugged in 1940. Four decades later, he told a reporter: “The whole country was incensed; it was very much like Watergate.”
Garland, who represented Kings and Tulare counties, was one of 10 assemblymen who sponsored the Central Valley Project, which brought irrigation water to the San Joaquin Valley.
He did not try for reelection in 1942 and made an unsuccessful run for the state Board of Equalization. In 1943, he became director of the state Department of Motor Vehicles and later was named commissioner of the California Highway Patrol.
He then became an influential lobbyist for the California Water Assn., the Golden Gate Bridge District, the California Chiropractic Assn. and a dental group.
“He was well-respected as a lobbyist, especially on water issues,” said state Sen. Rose Ann Vuich (D-Dinuba). “I looked to him for his advice concerning water issues.”
Garland remain active in politics from his ranch near Woodlake. He had been scheduled to speak to the state Reclamation Board on Wednesday.
Born in Lebanon, Mo., Garland moved to Tulare County in 1918.