SANTA CLARA (AP) — Former California Assemblyman John Vasconcellos, a colorful Democrat who was considered a visionary and served for 38 years in the state Legislature, died Saturday. He was 82.
Vasconcellos — whose political career spanned from Ronald Reagan to Arnold Schwarzenegger serving as governors of California — passed away Saturday surrounded by his family and loved ones at his Santa Clara home, said Rich Robinson, a former longtime aide.
“John was one of a kind and will be truly missed,” Robinson said. Vasconcellos had been in a San Jose hospital for the past several days before his passing.
Vasconcellos, who represented Silicon Valley in the California Legislature and a longtime chair of the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee, gained national prominence when then-Gov. George Deukmejian in 1986 signed legislation creating Vasconcellos’ pet project, the “California Task Force to Promote Self-Esteem, Personal and Social Responsibility.”
Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau later spent weeks mocking the task force in his popular comic strip. But Vasconcellos took it all in stride. Known for his witty, brilliant, angry, intellectual and elegantly foul-of-mouth was, he turned Trudeau’s insults into a spread in People Magazine and countless guest spots on TV and radio discussing the serious value of self-esteem.
After working as an attorney and spending a year as an aide to Gov. Pat Brown, Vasconcellos began his career in the Legislature, spending 30 years in the Assembly and eight years in the state Senate.
Larry Gerston, a San Jose State University political science professor, told the San Jose Mercury News and San Francisco Chronicle on Saturday that Vasconcellos was a masterful legislator who also had a humanitarian side that while most considered quirky, he was dead serious.
“He worked his will in the Legislature brilliantly and was always underestimated,” said Gerston about Vasconcellos. “He was the consummate legislator, working for five, six and seven years to get the votes to pass something like needle exchange. But he was always looking for the humanity in life, trying to find a way for people to get the most out of themselves.”
Later in his career, Vasconcellos championed medical marijuana, modernizing the higher education system and wanted young folks more involved in the political process, said John Burton, chairman of the California Democratic Party.
“He clearly marched to his own drummer,” Burton said.
Funeral services for Vasconcellos are pending.
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