by GREG LUCAS , Capitol Weekly | http://bit.ly/1CvZDCJ
03.03.2015 :: John Mockler, one of the most influential voices on California education policy for more than 40 years, died Tuesday of pancreatic cancer. He was 73.
“John knew education law like no one else and was able to put school finance on a solid footing that endures even today. He was also a great human being who I will deeply miss,” Gov. Jerry Brown said Tuesday.
“Mockler described himself as a “liberal but not a chump,” and is best known for creating and drafting Proposition 98.
The architect of Proposition 98, the 1988 initiative that sets state support for public schools, Mockler also served as executive director of the State Board of Education and Gov. Gray Davis’ cabinet secretary for education.
Principled, generous and loyal, Mockler advised hundreds of Democratic and Republican lawmakers on public school financing over a career in the Capitol that began in 1965 when he joined the staff of Senator Fred Farr of Carmel as legislative assistant.
John Mockler, 2011.
“John believes in the value of public education and had the rare gift of creating policy that actually helps every child have a true opportunity to succeed. His legacy is felt with the enrollment of every kindergartner and the graduation of every senior class,” said Joe Nunez, executive director of the California Teacher Association and a longtime friend.
“His brilliance, tireless energy and wicked humor never allowed bureaucracy or politics to get in the way of what’s right for kids. He solved more state budget crises on the back of a napkin than any governor and did it faster than any computer could be programmed.”
He referred to his stint as cabinet secretary as the “Reign of John the Brief,” but accomplished more in months than predecessors and successors did in over several years.
A lifelong Democrat who cut his teeth on San Francisco union politics in the early 1960s, Mockler described himself as a “liberal but not a chump.”
Mockler is best known for creating and drafting Proposition 98, which has been the central feature in state budget negotiations for the past quarter century.
The law establishes a minimum level of state financial support for public schools – at least 40 percent of general fund spending – and has been effective enough that policymakers routinely try to find ways to circumvent its provisions.
Mockler’s intimacy with the intent and intricacies of the law — Article XVI of the California Constitution – was a mainstay of his education lobbying and consulting business.
His familiarity with the law also made him an invaluable adviser to governors like Grey Davis and Jerry Brown as well as legislative leaders including former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, Mockler’s one-time boss.
During his tenure from 1999 to 2002 as cabinet secretary for education and executive director of the Board of Education, which creates state education policy, Mockler helped create new standards, adopt new textbooks, improve teacher professional development and impose more accountability on public school operations.
Brown told Mockler he could choose his job title but the State Printer refused to create business cards for Mockler describing him as “Viceroy.”
He referred to his stint as cabinet secretary as the “Reign of John the Brief,” but accomplished more in months than predecessors and successors did in over several years, including improving retirement benefits for teachers.
In the early 1970s, Mockler was part of a “dream team” of consultants when Willie Brown chaired what was then the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.
Phil Isenberg, later an Assemblyman and now co-chair of the Delta Stewardship Council, was the chief consultant. Steve Thompson, later chief lobbyist of the California Medical Association, handled health issues. Mockler, of course, helmed education.
When Brown became speaker he asked Mockler to leave his lobbying practice, take a pay cut and return to the Legislature as Brown’s top education adviser. As partial compensation for the pay cut, Brown told Mockler he could choose his job title.
The State Printer refused to create business cards for Mockler describing him as “Viceroy” but when he left Brown’s staff his colleagues presented him with a poster-size business card emblazoned with the title.
After leaving the Legislature for good, Mockler was routinely asked to counsel newly elected lawmakers.
“Always say ‘no’ first,” was Mockler’s standard advice.
Tenacious in his support of schools and teachers, Mockler saw education as the great equalizer.
Mockler organized a fund-raiser for the campaign, the largest folk concert produced in America at the time at the Hollywood Bowl on September 23, 1964.
“Without fail, he was always the conscience of the education community by not letting others forget the disadvantaged,” said Dale Shimasaki, a long-time friend to whom Mockler sold his business after he stopped lobbying.
Mockler drove fast and lived hard. And he loved to laugh. He even highlighted the trait in his resume. He was frequently irreverent. Sometimes irascible. Hypocrisy and stupidity were particular peeves.
Born in Chicago, Mocker was raised in Harbison Canyon near San Diego, Mockler portrayed the place as akin to the Appalachians. Barry, as he was known, was the son of William and Jane Mockler. He had three sisters: Elsie, Lynn and Virginia.
At 16, he entered college at the University of San Francisco and subsequently earned a degree in economics in 1963 from the University of California at Santa Barbara.
One of his first forays into politics was executive director of the Youth Against 14 campaign in 1964. Proposition 14 would have made it legal to discriminate against home buyers on the basis of race.
Mockler organized a fund-raiser for the campaign, the largest folk concert produced in America at the time at the Hollywood Bowl on September 23, 1964. He was a lover of folk music the rest of his life.
A world traveler, he golfed in Ireland and Scotland, explored Europe, worked on a kibbutz in Israel, safaried in Africa, explored the Galapagos, cruised the Caribbean and visited Angkor Wat, Vietnam, China and Egypt.
Although learning the game in his 40s, Mockler was a scratch golfer until sidelined by his illness, logging three hole-in-ones.
He is survived by his life partner Carol Farris, two children – Robert, a lawyer, and Jessica, a math teacher in Los Angeles, and countless friends and admirers. According to his resume, Mockler’s five grandchildren Willa, Clara, Sidney, Zachary and Auden “are smarter, stronger and prettier” than all other grandchildren.
Ed’s Note: Greg Lucas, a former journalist who currently serves as the California State Librarian, is a long-time friend of John Mockler.