GLENDALE — The sun will soon set on state Sen. Jack Scott’s 12-year career in the Legislature, a tenure marked by broad political cohesion and the passage of nearly 160 bills.
“I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to serve the people of the 21st District,” Scott said Thursday. “I’ve had a great experience, and I hope I’ve done some good. I’ll always remember it with much fondness.”
After four years in the Assembly and six years in the Senate, Scott is set to retire Dec. 1 en route to his new role as head of the state’s community college system.
Born in Sweetwater, Texas, in 1933, Scott shaped his legislative career as an educational reformer after serving as president of Pasadena City College before he joined the Assembly in 1996.
His calm demeanor and capacity for reaching across the political aisle earned him respect from Republicans and allowed the Democrat to craft a vast number of bills, with a similarly high passage rate.
Scott has authored 226 bills since 1997, with 158 of those signed into law for a 69% passage rate that ranks as one of the highest in the Legislature. Twenty-two more of Scott’s bills have been approved this year by the Legislature, but most have not been signed into law pending approval of the state’s $15.3-billion deficit.
“When he ran for Senate in 2000, it was one of the things he did to distance himself from [Democratic challenger] Scott Wildman,” said Wendy Gordon, who has worked with Scott since his initial campaign in 1996 and now serves as his spokeswoman. “The [passion for] education was always there, but when he got into the Assembly, his big thing was gun control.”
Scott’s election to the Assembly came three years after his son, Adam, was fatally shot while at a party near USC, where he had recently graduated from law school.
Personally touched by gun violence, Scott launched an offensive against the proliferation of firearms and the ease with which Californians were able to acquire weapons.
“Whenever something attacks you personally, you have some intensity about it,” Scott said. “When there are 30,000 deaths in America every year because of guns, we’ve got a serious health problem. I’m not in the business of banning guns — I’ve never had anything to do with taking guns out of homes — but I have been for reasonable gun regulation.”
Scott, who turns 75 on Sunday, estimated that the Legislature has approved about 15 of his gun safety bills during his tenure, including one this year — SB 1171 — which bars a person from carrying a loaded firearm in a car or on his person while on a street, road or highway in an unincorporated portion of the state.
Drawing on his past term as head of Pasadena City College, Scott turned his emphasis to education where 79 of his bills have been signed into law since 1997.
As the current head of the Senate’s Education Committee, Scott has seen 14 of his education-related bills pass through the legislature this year. But he counts a 2006 teacher transfer bill as one his landmark pieces of legislation.
The bill, which gave principals the right to refuse the voluntary transfer of any teacher not deemed acceptable for the school — something they had previously been precluded from — brought Scott widespread acclaim.
The influential California Teachers Assn. union lobbied hard against the bill, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the bill, saying at the time, “In education, many times the battle is all about what is best for the adults, not what is best for the kids.”
The opposition was a prelude to this year’s controversy in which a bill to ban the sale of Mylar balloons that Scott proposed was met with biting resistance from balloon lobbyists in Sacramento, some business owners around the state and vitriol from at least one morning talk radio show.
John and Ken on KFI-AM held a June rally near Scott’s home base in Pasadena to raise awareness about the bill and the possibility that the legislation could “kill business for many retailers.”
“I didn’t realize they would create such a furor, but I guess I should have,” Scott said about the breadth of opposition. “Any time you mess with people’s profits you’re going to get opposition. I made a step in the right direction and I think I heightened awareness, but I did generate a lot of opposition. It was quite controversial.”
The revised version of the bill passed the Legislature this year and did not ban the sale of balloons but raised the penalty for selling a helium-filled metallic balloon without a proper weight from $100 to $250 per incident.
The eventual passage of the bill highlighted Scott’s willingness to amend legislation as needed and showed a readiness to listen to complaints from businesses and lobby groups, officials said.
Scott has also run into road bumps when seeking the passage of certain insurance or education bills, but has shown he is not averse to working with Republicans, said state Sen. Mark Wyland, the Republican vice chair of the Education Committee.
“He’s fair, gracious, congenial, and even when we disagree, it’s always been done in a very gentlemanly way,” Wyland said. “He’s someone you always listen to very carefully. I’ve enjoyed working with him and [am] sorry to see him go. He just understood the issues so well. I didn’t always agree with him, but in many instances he convinced me. There’s a lot of work yet to be done, and I don’t know who his replacement will be, but we will miss him. I will miss him.”
Scott is set to assume control of the community college board on Jan. 1 and plans on taking a vacation with his wife, Lacreta, but said he will campaign as needed for Carol Liu, a Democrat seeking to replace the nearly termed out Scott next term.
“I appreciate his reasonableness, his intellect and his commitment to young people in our state in terms of all the education work he’s done,” said Liu, who worked with Scott in the Assembly.
After that, Scott’s role will be strictly nonpartisan, but he will continue to work on behalf of an issue he believes transcends politics: education.
“To me, education is not something that is a Democratic issue or a Republican issue. Education is a human issue,” Scott said. “It’s been a great run.”