Capitol Alert

Former Sen. Bill Campbell dies at 79

Emergency managers coordinate firefighting activities at the Governor's Office of Emergency Services headquarters in Mather in October 2003. Bill Campbell, who died over the weekend, led a panel investigating the causes of the firestorm.
Emergency managers coordinate firefighting activities at the Governor's Office of Emergency Services headquarters in Mather in October 2003. Bill Campbell, who died over the weekend, led a panel investigating the causes of the firestorm. Sacramento Bee file

Bill Campbell, who served in the Legislature for nearly a quarter-century and also was president of the California Manufacturers Association, died over the weekend. He was 79.

The perpetually affable Campbell once served as Republican leader and with a wide repertoire of corny jokes, was a popular master of ceremonies for political events throughout the state.

His death was announced by his longtime friend, former state Chamber of Commerce chief Kirk West, on Facebook. West said that funeral services are pending in Salt Lake City for Campbell, who was Mormon.

Campbell was first elected to the Assembly in 1966 from Hacienda Heights, a community in suburban Los Angeles, and unsuccessfully sought a seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in 1972. He returned to the Assembly in 1974 and later moved to the Senate, where he served until his retirement in 1990. In 1986, he was the Republican candidate for state controller, losing to Democrat Gray Davis, who went on to become lieutenant governor and governor.

Campbell became head of the manufacturers’ group, now known as the California Manufacturers & Technology Association, in 1990 and held that position for eight years. He listed the passage of a bill exempting manufacturing equipment from the sales tax as a major accomplishment.

The association’s president, Dorothy Rothrock, said in a statement, “Sen. Bill Campbell devoted his life to service for California, and manufacturers in the state benefited greatly from his enthusiasm and hard work. The CMTA staff will always remember his smile and brilliant humor, no matter the challenge. We offer condolences and prayers to the Campbell family.”

Former Gov. Gray Davis said in an e-mail that Campbell “helped solve a lot of problems,” during Gov. Jerry Brown’s first two terms.

“He had a good heart, and came from the generation of moderate Republicans that wanted government to function efficiently, not grind to a halt,” Davis said.

His legislative career was not without controversy, mostly involving bills that benefited special interests with which he was closely allied. He found himself on the periphery of a couple of investigations.

More than a decade after leaving office, Campbell led the blue-ribbon commission that investigated the causes of the 2003 Southern California wildfires and recommended ways to prevent future disasters.

The most extensive account of Campbell’s career, including many insider stories of legislative intrigue, was written by Greg Lucas, now the state librarian, in his political blog, California’s Capitol, in 2008.

Call The Bee’s Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195. Back columns, www.sacbee.com/walters. Follow him on Twitter @WaltersBee.

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