Former Democratic Assemblyman Norm Waters, who died this week at his Amador County home, made national headlines in one of his final acts as a lawmaker more than two decades ago.
Frustrated by a lengthy budget impasse, Mr. Waters launched a lonely one-man vigil at the Capitol, vowing to sit in his Assembly seat for eight hours each day until a 1990 spending plan was approved.
Blasting the sit-in as a political stunt, Mr. Waters' Republican challenger that year, David Knowles, provided the demonstrator with a box lunch one Sunday afternoon.
No such thing as a free lunch? Indeed, Knowles was playing his own prank: The main course was a left wing a chicken wing meant to symbolize that Mr. Waters voted with left-wing Democrats and "he's too chicken not to," Knowles said at the time.
Knowles beat Mr. Waters in one of the state's closest legislative races of 1990, ending the incumbent's 14-year Capitol career after a campaign in which the incumbent characterized himself as "The Last Rancher," a working cattleman in a stuffy Legislature of 9-to-5, suit-and-tie types.
Mr. Waters died peacefully in his sleep Sunday at his Amador County home while waiting for a piece of banana cream pie to be served. He was 86.
The Assembly adjourned Thursday in Mr. Waters' memory, with Assemblywoman Alyson Huber, D-El Dorado Hills, saying that his work ethic left a lasting impression on constituents in his wide-ranging district.
"Everywhere I go in those counties, they say to me, 'We haven't had someone this present in our county since Norm Waters,' " she said. "That's what they remembered about him, that he was always in his district fighting for constituents."
Relatives remember him not so much as a politician but as "Grandpa Stogie," someone who loved a good cigar and enjoyed spending time with his border collie, Ike, and doing things like tracking daily news events, attending a county fair livestock auction, or watching his great-grandchildren participate in local rodeos or youth baseball.
"He was a character," said Camille Waters, his daughter-in-law. "He liked to tell stories. He liked to go out to eat, and he was a little bit of a flirt with the waitresses. He was a lot of fun. And sharp as a tack."
Mr. Waters' seven-term Assembly career included stints as leader of the Rural Caucus and of the Agriculture and Water, Parks and Wildlife committees.
Known as a conservative Democrat, he helped lead a fight against flag burning and supported the death penalty and a multipurpose Auburn dam.
Mr. Waters carried bills to crack down on child abusers and arsonists, require disposable diapers to be biodegradable, study the health impacts of rice-field stubble fires and allow the public to decide whether to place the Sacramento Municipal Utility District under county control.
Political observers attributed Mr. Waters' 1990 loss to Knowles partly to fast growth and an influx of conservatives into his largely rural district, stretching from Placer to Mono counties. The Democrat's critical 1988 vote to retain Willie Brown as Assembly speaker was used as campaign ammunition by Knowles two years later.
Mr. Waters, a third-generation Amador County resident, owned about 600 acres of ranchland in the Amador County towns of Drytown and Plymouth.
Born in July 1925, Mr. Waters graduated in the early 1940s from Amador High School, now Sutter Creek Union High School.
He studied at Southwest Missouri State Teachers College now Missouri State University and participated in a University of California state extension program. He served as an Army Air Forces flight engineer for B-17 bombers during World War II.
Mr. Waters was an Amador County supervisor before his election to the Assembly in 1976.