California and the West : Doris Allen, First Female Speaker of Assembly, Dies : Politics: Brief, stormy, Democratic-backed tenure of the Orange County Republican led to her recall. She was 63.
Doris Allen, the first female speaker of the California Assembly, whose war with fellow Republicans led to her recall by Orange County voters in 1995, died Wednesday of cancer. She was 63.
Allen had survived two earlier bouts with cancer. Doctors recently discovered tumors in her stomach during gall bladder surgery in Sacramento, where she had lived out of the limelight since her defeat in Orange County.
Allen died in a hospice in Colorado Springs, Colo., where she moved three weeks ago to be with her daughter, Joni Dreyer, and her family.
“When the dust settles,” said Allen’s longtime chief of staff, Sam Roth, “her record in legislative accomplishments and policy achievements will rank near the top of Orange County’s delegation. She never compromised on principle. That’s the legacy people should care about.”
Elected to the Assembly in 1982, Allen spent 13 years focusing on education, including a popular measure to allow inter-district transfers, and on environmental issues.
But the legislator probably will be remembered more for her brief, stormy reign as the first female speaker--an experience she likened to a stay in Dante’s “Inferno.”
She called the continuing attacks on her after she stepped down a “rape” of her reputation and career by the male leaders of the Republican Party.
Assembly Republicans, long the minority party and long chafing under Democrat Willie Brown’s 14-year reign as speaker, had gained even ground with the opposition in the 1994 elections. They were poised in a special spring 1995 election to take a 40-39 edge in seats and were ready to put then-Assemblyman Curt Pringle of Garden Grove in the leadership slot.
But Allen, often an outsider among her GOP colleagues, sent them into a rage in June 1995 when she took advantage of a Brown-sanctioned deal to have all the Democrats vote for her as speaker.
Allen had never forgiven the GOP delegation for heavily backing Sen. Ross Johnson (R-Irvine) when he and then-Assemblyman Gil Ferguson (R-Newport Beach) ran against her in a hotly contested, three-way state Senate primary. Winning the speakership was payback for their treatment of her, she said in interviews.
A political brawl, heavily laced with gender politics, erupted in the GOP ranks. Republican Assemblyman Bill Morrow, now a state senator from Oceanside, cast the first--but hardly the worst--of countless aspersions against Allen, saying, “The first thing she ought to do is her hair.” Other GOP leaders charged that she had sold out her party.
Allen gave as good as she got, yanking critics from committee posts and banishing enemies to closet-size offices, tactics that were standard practice with past speakers.
But the battles wore her down. By early September, she suffered what an aide called a “complete meltdown” after showing up 40 minutes late for a news conference and being unable to detail contents of a bill that she was supposed to discuss.
Then, a fund-raiser fell far short of its $300,000 goal. Finally, in talking to reporters, she stunned the Capitol when, referring to her Republican enemies, she said she was not about to be pushed around by “a bunch of power-mongering men with short penises.”
The comment made her the subject of national attention, and aides persuaded her to step down as speaker and devote her energy to defeating a recall election set for that November.
With then-Gov. Pete Wilson supporting the recall, Allen lost overwhelmingly. She said later that the bitter defeat plus the stress of the speakership damaged her health, leading to colon cancer.
Despite her travails, Allen said in the interview that she had no regrets about breaking ranks to become Assembly speaker.
Born in Kansas City, Mo., and raised on horse ranches in good times and hovels in bad, Allen once described her father as a strict, eccentric John Wayne wannabe who would use his belt to discipline her. She emerged from the extremes of her childhood independent, strong and undaunted.
“I’m not one you can break my spirit,” she said during the speakership fray.
Though Allen’s voting record showed her to be a typical conservative, she irked party colleagues by working with Democrats who controlled the Legislature to get laws passed on the environment, education and safety at schools.
In 1990, Allen sponsored a successful ballot measure to ban gill net fishing off the California coast to protect seals from being snared in the nets.
Before her time in the Legislature, Allen served six years on the board of the Huntington Beach Union High School District, where she led a drive to oppose forced busing.
In addition to her daughter, she is survived by her son, Ron Herbertson of Sacramento; her mother, Eloise Reptetea of Lakewood; sisters Donna Thompson of Colorado and Pamela Krueger of Lakewood; and five granddaughters.
Funeral services are pending. She will be buried after a private service in Cripple Creek, Colo. A California memorial tribute is being planned for the end of October.
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