Harold T. (Bizz) Johnson, who represented Northern California's vast 1st Congressional District for 22 years, has died at the age of 80.
As chairman of the House Public Works Committee, Johnson, a Democrat, was in a position to ensure that his district, which covered the rural, northernmost portions of the state, received more than its share of federal buildings, roads and water projects.
He was so adept at steering federal projects to his district, his opponents labeled him the "king of pork barrel." But he was also criticized by environmentalists.
Johnson died Thursday at a Sacramento hospital.
His grandson, John Alexander, said he had been hospitalized for about three months, suffering with a colon condition.
His last public appearance was earlier this year when he attended opening ceremonies of the California 65 bypass near Roseville, one of the projects for which he had worked in Congress.
"His work for urban freeways and transit systems, sewer tracts and water facilities throughout the state remain a testament to his farsighted, bipartisan approaches," said Rep. Vic Fazio (D-Sacramento). "Bizz was a great man and a great congressman, and he'll be missed by many friends."
Johnson was defeated in a 1980 reelection bid by former state Assemblyman Gene Chappie, one of many Republicans swept into office when Ronald Reagan won the presidency.
But over the years, Johnson had been consistently popular in his district. In 1972, he won 70% of the vote, while Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern could garner only 45% in his district.
Johnson was born Dec. 2, 1907, in Broderick, Calif., and was given the nickname "Bizz" at the age of 4. An uncle suggested that Johsnon be called Bismarck because he was leading the children, and the other children then started calling him Bizz.
Johnson was educated in nearby Roseville and attended the University of Nevada.
He was a longtime employee of the Pacific Fruit Express Co. in Roseville, joining the firm as a clerk in the 1930s and rising to a supervisory position.
In 1937, he married Albra Irene Manuel of Roseville, and they had a son, Robert Harold, and a daughter, Lorraine Albra.
Johnson was elected a Roseville school trustee in 1941 and a city councilman in 1943. He served eight years as Roseville mayor.
In 1948, he was elected to the state Senate, representing Placer, Nevada and Sierra counties. He spent 10 years in the Senate, during which time he sponsored legislation to ensure that the 1960 Winter Olympics would be held in Squaw Valley, Calif., and other measures to provide a four-lane highway across the Sierra that later became Interstate 80.
In 1958, he was elected to Congress, representing a district that comprised 20% of the state's land.
He was reelected to the safely Democratic district 10 times.
He served more than 20 years on the House Public Works Committee and 16 years on the House Interior Committee, both of which deal with federal policy on national lands.
One goal he failed to achieve while in Congress was construction of the Auburn Dam on the American River above Sacramento. The project was delayed because of earthquake fears.
After leaving the House, Johnson made numerous trips to Washington to lobby for projects that had been authorized while he was a congressman but not completed, mostly dealing with water and road projects in his district.
His wife died of cancer in 1983.