State Treasurer Bill Lockyer, a fixture in Democratic politics in California for more than 40 years, announced today he will retire from elected office when his term expires in early 2015, forgoing a run for controller next year.
The former attorney general and Senate president pro tem said his decision was not influenced by the scandal last year in which his wife, Nadia, resigned her position as an Alameda County supervisor amid revelations of an affair and drug abuse.
"I'm ready to do something new and challenging," Bill Lockyer said. "I've been a fiscal officer for eight years, so the idea of serving additional years as controller is a little too much like, 'been there, done that.'"
Lockyer, 72, said he will remain involved in public policy, but it is unclear in what capacity. He said, "I don't know what it means next, but I expect to be a public citizen and active, and we'll just see."
Lockyer, who once described himself as "an active Democrat since I was in the sixth grade," will leave the Capitol having never lost election - from his 1968 campaign for school board in San Leandro to a quarter-century in the Legislature and two terms each as attorney general and treasurer.
His one-time ambition to be governor will remain unfulfilled. Lockyer considered challenging then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for the office in 2006, and he might have run for governor four years later had a fellow Democrat, now-Gov. Jerry Brown, sat out.
"That was the goal. I had an interest," Lockyer said. "But there just was never a realistic opening for me to run for governor ... There was never an opening for me, and I wish I could have been governor, but I understand those aren't...everybody doesn't get their wish."
One of Sacramento's bluntest politicians, Lockyer made headlines when he revealed after the 2003 recall election that he voted for Schwarzenegger instead of Democrat Cruz Bustamante, saying he was "tired of transactional, cynical, deal-making politics." In his campaign for treasurer in 2010, Lockyer closed a campaign advertisement with the tagline, "Straight Talk, No Bull #*+!"
While in the Legislature, Lockyer, of Hayward, authored legislation establishing the San Francisco Bay Trail, the 500-mile trail circling the San Francisco and San Pablo bays. He worked on hate crime and tort reform legislation, but also on more modest measures, including a bill requiring utilities and other businesses making home service calls to meet certain "windows" during which they must arrive at customers' homes.
"I've never been a hell-bent advocate of government regulation," Lockyer said of the legislation in an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times in 1989. "But once in a while the government must at least threaten to plunk its fat finger on the scales on behalf of the little guy."
As attorney general, Lockyer crusaded against corporate polluters and power companies involved in the energy crisis of the early 2000s. As treasurer, he gained national attention with a campaign to divest the state's two largest public pension funds of investments in the makers of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines following the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., last year.
Most recently, Lockyer's tenure has been marked by personal difficulties related to his wife's affair with a methamphetamine addict and her own substance abuse. Lockyer filed for divorce last year, but the couple is now seeking reconciliation. Lockyer and his wife wed in 2003, and they have a young son.
In an email to the Bay Area News Group last year, Nadia Lockyer accused her husband of once supplying her with drugs, a claim Bill Lockyer has denied.
"I love my wife, and I hope we'll all be reunified shortly," he said.
Lockyer said coverage of the scandal was "unnecessarily tabloid-ish" and that his wife was treated unfairly by the media. She won her position as an Alameda County supervisor in 2010 with the help of $1.5 million in contributions from her husband's war chest.
By June 2012, Bill Lockyer was considering leaving office. He privately expressed interest in becoming chancellor of the California State University system and actively pursued the position, ultimately unsuccessfully.
Lockyer said the CSU trustees' selection of Timothy P. White was a "good choice ... so I don't disagree with what they did."
Lockyer said it was only in recent weeks that he became certain he would retire from elected office.
"It's been percolating for quite some time, but I finally decided that it's fair to other people that would wish to run that have deferred to me to let them know," he said. "There's a point at which you can just tell in your gut what you want or need to do."
Lockyer said he does not know how he will spend more than $2.2 million he had stockpiled for a campaign for controller.
"I assume there'll be lots of opportunities to use it in other campaigns to help candidates I think are good policy-makers, and some charitable work," he said. "I frankly haven't thought about it a lot."
Lockyer's decision not to run is likely an encouraging development for other office-seekers. Board of Equalization Member Betty Yee, a former California Department of Finance chief deputy director, has announced her candidacy, while State Sen. Ron Calderon, former state Sen. Dean Florez and former Assemblyman Dario Frommer have all filed statements of intention allowing them to raise money for a possible campaign. David Evans, a Republican who was defeated in the primary election for controller in 2010, has also filed paperwork.
The incumbent controller, John Chiang, is raising money for a campaign for treasurer.
Lockyer's retirement is the first from California's aging group of top-tier Democrats. Brown, 75, is expected to seek re-election next year. The state's two U.S. senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, are 79 and 72, respectively.
PHOTO CREDIT: Bill Lockyer in 2012. Randy Pench/The Sacramento Bee