Bob Monagan, Former Assembly Speaker, Dead at 88

Former Assembly Speaker Robert Monagan died January 7 of natural causes at a Sacramento nursing home. He was 88.

The courtly and moderate Republican was GOP leader of the Assembly from 1965 until becoming speaker in January 1969, succeeding Democrat Jess Unruh. Monagan held the speakership until January 1971.

The former mayor of Tracy, Monagan was first elected to the Assembly in 1960, representing the 12th District, whose voter registration was two-thirds Democratic. He was criticized for his lavish campaign spending — $15,000.

Coming from what was then a largely agricultural area, he involved himself in water issues. He was also active in education and housing issues.

Monagan was part of a group of freshman GOP moderates elected in 1960 that became known as the Young Turks, Republicans moderate on social issues but critical of Democratic spending priorities.

Among the Young Turks were William T. Bagley of San Rafael, Jack Veneman of Modesto, the father of UNICEF director Ann Veneman, and Gordon Cologne, author of landmark water legislation that bears his name.

Monagan and the Young Turks thought Republicans should be more assertive in pointing out policy differences between themselves and Democratic Gov. Pat Brown and his legislative allies.

In 1965, with the aid of his Young Turk pals, Monagan succeeded in getting elected minority leader.

Monagan worked closely with Speaker Jesse Unruh on efforts to modernize and professionalize the Assembly, increasing legislative and research staff.

In the 1968 legislative elections, the GOP eked out an unexpected majority in the Assembly, controlling 41 seats – enough to elect their minority leader as speaker.

“Everybody kind of assumed I was going to be the speaker, so there really wasn’t any contest,” Monagan said in a 1982 oral history housed in the Bancroft Library at the University of California at Berkeley.

The “razor-thin” GOP majority, as Monagan called it, meant he could not lord it over the minority party, as Unruh was prone to do.

“It was a very delicate thing to keep things going. I had to use whatever skills that I had, along with the support I had in the Republican side, to always try to maintain enough support from Democrats so that you could get something done,” Monagan said in the oral history.

“My basic philosophy was a sense of fairness, not that Mr. Unruh was unfair, but he had a rather dominating point of view, a philosophy about that, and he structured the committees sort of in his own image in that regard. I thought we ought to give everybody a fair play.”

In the 1970 elections, Republicans lost their majority and Monagan was ousted as speaker.

In 1973, Monagan left the Assembly to serve in the Nixon administration as assistant secretary for congressional and intergovernmental affairs at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Returning to California, he headed what was then the California Manufacturers Association, now the California Manufacturers and Technology Association, for a decade.

In 1984, he became president of the California Economic Development Corporation, an entity signed into law by his friend and former Republican legislative colleague, Gov. George Deukmejian.

High school and college student body president, Monagan served on a number of boards and commission over the years including a lengthy stint on California’s World Trade Commission. He also served on the California Commission on Campaign Financing.

While an Assembly member he served as president of the National Conference of State Legislative Leaders and sat on the executive boards of both the Council of State Governments and the National Legislative Conference.

President Reagan appointed him to the President’s Advisory Council on Private Sector Initiatives.

He was also chairman of the board of Sutter Health in Sacramento.

Born in 1920 in Ogden, Utah, Monagan was the son of Roosevelt Democrats. His father worked in the Navy yard in Vallejo.

Monagan became a Republican while serving in the Aleutians in World War II.

“When Roosevelt decided to run for a fourth term, I was so incensed about that that I got one of the easy forms that you have in the service where you can change your party affiliation,” Monagan said in his 1982 oral history. “I just filled one out and sent it in and said, “’I’m going to be a Republican.’”

A 1942 graduate of the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Monagan returned there after the war for a graduate teaching credential. In retirement, he was a long-time regent at the university.

Prior to his election to the Tracy City Council in 1958, Monagan was the secretary manager of the Tracy Chamber of Commerce and an aide to Tracy’s Congressman, Leroy Johnson.

He got his start in politics running the first Eisenhower-Nixon presidential campaign in San Joaquin County.

“I didn’t really have any goal in mind to get into politics. I had never really thought too much about that. But then I was sitting in the Chamber of Commerce office one day with the county chairman for the Republicans who was a friend from Tracy and he said, “I don’t know how to run any campaign and we need to have somebody run the Eisenhower campaign of 1952. Would you run it?”

Monagan planned on running for county supervisor after the city council but while in Sacramento testifying as director of the Delta Water Users Association, his local Assemblyman, Democrat Bill Biddick, said he wasn’t going to run again. Monagan went for — and took — the seat.

The portion of Interstate 205 near Tracy between Interstate 5 and Interstate 580 was named the Robert T. Monagan Freeway in 1985.

He is survived by is wife of 63 years, Ione, his son Michael, his daughter Marilee, two grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

A memorial will be held Monday, January 12 at 2 p.m. at East Lawn Mortuary, 5757 Greenback Lane in Sacramento. A reception follows at Del Paso Country Club, 3333 Marconi Ave.


Filed under: California History


  1. we could certainly use a few more like him today. What a smart, funny and genuinely nice person. He knew how to respect views, build consensus and develop moderate policies. Would be nice if a few took a chapter from his book. B

    Comment by barbara o'connor — 1.08.2009 @ 6:45 am

  2. Sharp. A class act. You knew you were in the presence of a leader.

    Comment by Pat Henning — 1.09.2009 @ 9:29 pm

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