Politics & Government

Longtime California legislator John Foran dies

John Francis Foran, a fixture in San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento politics for more than 40 years, died Thursday night.

Foran, his family said, succumbed to bladder cancer in a Bay Area hospital. He was 84.

Foran was first elected to the state Assembly in 1962 after a stint as a deputy attorney general, and he later helped his high school friend Leo McCarthy also get elected to the Assembly. McCarthy later become speaker of the Assembly and lieutenant governor.

As young men in 1953, McCarthy and Foran, his leg in a cast, were kidnapped at gunpoint by Harold Miller, who had just shot a policeman near Foran’s San Francisco home.

“I was about to let John out of the car,” McCarthy said in an oral history interview four decades later. “The motor was running. (Miller) rapped on the windshield of the car with his gun and made us drive him to Los Angeles. We were very lucky that we came out of it intact.”

Foran, McCarthy and other allies, such as former San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos, jousted for years with a rival San Francisco faction headed by Willie Brown, also a former Assembly speaker and San Francisco mayor, and the Burton brothers, Phil and John, for dominance in the city’s politics.

McCarthy outmaneuvered Brown to become speaker in 1974 but ceded the position to his longtime rival six years later, following a months-long power struggle with a third faction from Southern California, headed by Howard Berman.

Both as an assemblyman and later as a state senator, Foran was a major figure in recasting vital transportation services in the Bay Area with the formation of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and Bay Area Rapid Transit.

He was chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee when he retired from the Legislature in 1986.

Foran also played a seminal role, albeit an indirect one, in creating the state’s Office of Administrative Law, an arm of the Governor’s Office that reviews state agency regulations.

During Jerry Brown’s first governorship, business groups bridled at the regulations being issued by Brown’s appointees, and Foran carried legislation that would have subjected the rules to legislative review and cancellation.

McCarthy interceded in the standoff with a compromise to create the Office of Administrative Law, which has been in existence ever since.

After retirement from the Legislature in 1986, Foran became a lobbyist for the Nossaman firm in Sacramento, representing a variety of corporate and governmental clients, until his final retirement in 2005.

“He was a gentleman’s gentleman,” Nossaman lobbyist Chris Walker said.

Foran is survived by his wife, Connie. The couple had four children. Services are pending.