Capitol Alert

He ‘kept the Democratic cats herded:’ Former California legislator Tom Hannigan dies

Longtime state lawmaker Tom Hannigan, center, died Tuesday Oct. 9, 2018. He is shown here in this 2003 file photo with Richard Katz, senior advisor to then-California Gov. Gray Davis, and Mary Nichols, Secretary for Resources.
Longtime state lawmaker Tom Hannigan, center, died Tuesday Oct. 9, 2018. He is shown here in this 2003 file photo with Richard Katz, senior advisor to then-California Gov. Gray Davis, and Mary Nichols, Secretary for Resources. AP

Former California Assemblyman Thomas Hannigan, a respected Solano County leader who spent decades in office, died Tuesday. He was 78.

Hannigan, a Democrat, rose to the powerful majority leader position in the lower house, spending 26 years in elected office.

“He was a fourth generation Solano County resident,” said Erin Hannigan, his daughter.

Born May 30, 1940, in Vallejo, Hannigan graduated from that city’s St. Patrick-St. Vincent High School in 1958.

He attended the University of Santa Clara, “where he met my mother (Jan Mape),” his daughter said. “She was in the first class of 100 women that were allowed to go to school at Santa Clara.”

Hannigan graduated in 1962 and married Mape on June 1, 1963. Erin was born nearly a year later.

In 1963, Hannigan entered the U.S. Marine Corps, where he eventually rose to the rank of captain.

“And shortly after I was born, my mother was pregnant with my brother and my father got orders to report to Vietnam,” Erin Hannigan said.

With a one young child at her side and another on the way, Erin Hannigan said her mother went to her husband’s superiors and said, “Now is not a good time.”

Hannigan nevertheless served a nine-month tour of duty in Vietnam, something he was reluctant to speak about, his longtime friend John Burton, a former state Senate leader and California Democratic Party Chairman.

“He never blared his own trumpet,” Burton said.

Eventually, Hannigan and his family moved to Fairfield, where he worked as a realtor. Drawn to public service, Hannigan sought to be appointed to the Fairfield Planning Commission, only to be turned down.

“And he said, ‘Well fine. I’m going to run for city council,’” his daughter said. “So he did. And he won.”

Hannigan served on the Fairfield City Council from 1970 to 1974, the year he was elected to Solano County supervisor.

Four years later, Hannigan won election again, this time as state assemblyman for the 4th district. He would go on to serve in the Assembly until 1996, including nearly a decade as majority leader.

Hannigan was well-respected on both sides of the aisle during his years in Sacramento.

“Tom was always courtly, kind and considerate,” said California State Librarian Greg Lucas, who added that Hannigan was a “gifted majority leader who kept the Democratic cats herded.”

Burton said his decades-long friendship with Hannigan began when the latter arrived at the Legislature.

“He was a guy of immense intellect and integrity,” Burton said. “He was one of a kind. A decent goddamn person.”

Burton recalled how Hannigan, unlike many lawmakers, took the time to show new legislators the ropes.

“He would reach out to the newbies and just help them navigate their way through the system,” Burton said.

Though Hannigan became well known as a champion of water development and protection, Burton said “he was not out there to put his name on a bill.”

After leaving office in 1996, Hannigan was appointed by then-Gov. Gray Davis to serve as director of the California Department of Water Resources until his retirement in 2003.

Hannigan’s daughter said that while her father lived a public life, he was a very private person devoted to family.

“He cherished his family, he cherished his close friends,” she said. “He spent a lot of time with his grandchildren, he took them on trips all over the world.”

Hannigan’s first wife died in 2006. They were married 43 years.

“And then he found love again with Karen Connolly, and they married in February of 2017,” his daughter said.

He is survived by Connolly; his three children, Erin Hannigan, Matt (Kati) Hannigan, and Bridget (Robert) Mackay; and his grandchildren, Justin and Katy Hannigan, Connor and Hannah Lesley, Sarita and Elizabeth Mackay and Derek Wright.

Andrew Sheeler: 805-781-7934, @andrewsheeler
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