Gil Ferguson, a highly decorated former Marine who fought in three wars, served 10 years in the state Assembly representing an Orange County district and was once dubbed one of “the cavemen of Sacramento” because of his unwavering conservative views, died Sunday at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian in Newport Beach from complications of leukemia. He was 84.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered flags flown at half-staff and in a statement called the former Republican lawmaker “a champion for the people of our state.”
Speaking from the floor of the state Senate on Monday, Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks) said Ferguson “approached the issues facing our state with the same rock-solid integrity with which he served the Marines.”
“Courage of conviction and an abiding belief in the founding principles of his country are what truly defined him.”
Soon after he was elected to represent the 70th District -- a Republican stronghold -- Ferguson distinguished himself as a firebrand. Over the years, he staked out some controversial positions that rankled liberals and others that irked fellow party members.
“In the Roman legions they had men in each company who carried the standard,” Ferguson told The Times in 1994. “He’d rush among the enemy to plant it in the ground. All the other men would fight toward the standard to rescue him. That was his job. I view that as my job.”
One of Ferguson’s most highly publicized acts during his tenure in the Assembly occurred less than six months after he was elected. In 1985, he launched his campaign to oust Tom Hayden from the Legislature, calling him a traitor for his anti-war activities during the Vietnam War. The effort failed.
Over the years, Ferguson, whose district included Newport Beach and coastal Orange County, took populist stances and won election by healthy margins.
Motorcyclists were enthusiastic supporters because he fought against a state law requiring helmets. In 1992, he sponsored an unsuccessful bill that would have placed state lawmakers in the top tax bracket. Ferguson also backed motorists angry about toll roads in Newport Beach.
He was on the end of several losing battles. He tried to ban the sale of sexually explicit tabloids from sidewalk newsstands, and free condom distribution to teenagers. In 1990, he angered gay rights groups when he used a derogatory term to refer to people protesting during a speech he was delivering.
Gilbert Warren Ferguson was born April 22, 1923, in St. Louis. At the age of 18 he enlisted in the Marines Corps and fought in the Pacific theater during World War II. He was awarded a Purple Heart for wounds received during the battle for Tarawa.
In 1945, Ferguson entered USC where he studied history and business. There he met the former Anita Wollert, and in 1948 they married.
Ferguson is survived by his wife and four children: Mark of Clearwater, Fla.; Darrel of Santa Ana; Jay of Costa Mesa; and daughter Rhonda Priestley of Corona del Mar.
In the 1950s, Ferguson, then a reservist, was called back to serve in the Korean War. In the Vietnam War, he commanded a battalion. Later he served as a combat correspondent for the Marines.
After his years on the battlefield, Ferguson studied at the University of Akron in Ohio, said his son Darrel Ferguson. Before his election to the Assembly, Ferguson owned an advertising and public relations agency that he founded in 1972.
He possessed a keen interest in protecting property rights and promoting free enterprise.
In 1984, he started Principles over Politics, a breakfast club that featured such speakers as Rush Limbaugh and William F. Buckley.
At times during his political career, he found his views at odds even with those of fellow Republicans.
“They’ve got an agenda, and I don’t fit that agenda,” Ferguson told The Times in 1994. “A lot of their waking time is spent strategizing about power, how to gain more power. My time is spent with the issues of the day and trying to do what we can do to move things back toward ideological Republicanism.”
A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. May 19 at Newport Harbor Lutheran Church, 798 Dover Drive, Newport Beach. Memorial donations may be sent to Balboa Bay Republican Women’s Federated Scholarship Fund, 2001 Swan Drive, Costa Mesa, CA 92626.