SACRAMENTO -- Bill Lockyer, who has served in Sacramento for four decades as a legislator, attorney general and state treasurer, announced he will retire from elective office when his term expires in 2014.
Lockyer, a Democrat who was first elected to the Assembly in 1973 and went on to serve as head of the state Senate from 1994 through 1998, had been preparing an effort to run for state controller.
“I think I need to do something new,” Lockyer said in an interview, adding that he has no set plans for his future. “I just want to take a little time and think.”
Known for his legislative skill, quick temper and blunt statements, Lockyer angered many in his own party when he announced he had voted for Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 2003 recall election. Lockyer said he made his decision after looking at the “crappy list” of other candidates that included the then-lieutenant governor, Democrat Cruz Bustamante.
Lockyer had been viewed as a front-runner for governor in 2006 before voters removed Democrat Gray Davis from office and replaced him with Schwarzenegger.
In 2001, as attorney general, he urged the prosecution of Enron Chief Executive Ken Lay on criminal charges, saying, “I would love to personally escort Ken to an 8-by-10 cell that he could share with a tattooed dude who says, ‘Hi, my name is Spike, honey.’”
Lockyer was also known as a deal-maker throughout his legislative career. He was one of the negotiators of a tort reform law that came to be known as the “napkin deal,” because the terms were scribbled by Lockyer on a cloth napkin in a Chinese restaurant near the Capitol.
The accord limited liability lawsuits against doctors, tobacco companies, insurers and others in exchange for larger contingency fees for lawyers in medical malpractice cases.
He said in an interview Friday that opportunities for such bipartisan accords have been eroded by legislative term limits, which have diminished the quality of lawmakers in Sacramento.
“There’s less expertise, amplified campaign fundraising and more advocacy, less mediative skill,” in today’s Legislature, he said. “Newly elected people tend to be advocates. That’s just the way it works. It takes time to figure out that in a complicated, diverse society, you have to make the accommodations to allow everyone work together.”
Though he has been critical of Democratic elected officials in the past, especially for overspending in lean budget years, he said he’s “very enthusiastic” about Gov. Jerry Brown’s leadership. “I think that his focus on fiscal matters is needed. I think it’s been good for the state,” he said.
Lockyer, who turned 72 last month, is an elder statesman in a party dominated by senior citizens, including Brown, who is 75; Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who turns 80 later this month; 73-year-old Sen. Barbara Boxer; and the state Democratic Party’s 80-year-old chairman, John Burton.
In recent years, Lockyer has gone through some well-publicized marital problems. His wife, Nadia, was forced to resign her seat on the Alameda County Board of Supervisors after her arrest on drug charges and revelations of her extramarital affair.
Lockyer said he and his wife are currently reconciling, but that family matters were not a primary factor in his decision not to seek elected office next year.
His decision not to run for state controller opens up a much coveted spot for an up-and-coming Democrat. Controller John Chiang, who is barred from seeking reelection because of term limits, is a strong favorite in the race for state treasurer.
The only other office for which a Democratic incumbent is not expected to seek reelection is secretary of state, where incumbent Debra Bowen is also in her second and final term in that office.
Board of Equalization member Betty Yee has announced plans to run for controller, but Lockyer’s departure makes it likely others will now join the fray.