State Treasurer Bill Lockyer’s retirement announcement yesterday, coupled with the post in Fox & Hounds about the difficult situation for the state’s court system, couldn’t help but remind me of the time I worked with Lockyer, then the senate president pro tem, to alter the way California’s courts operated. Proposition 220 on the June 1998 ballot (ballot argument signed by both Lockyer and me here) allowed for consolidating the superior and municipal courts. The move saved money and, importantly at the time, helped relieve the backlog of cases, which becomes a danger again as described by David White in yesterday’s F&H post.

Lockyer was a powerful and colorful presence in Sacramento for four decades. While his straight talking ways took shots at issues and allies on my side of the fence, he was not shy telling his comrades when they went off track.

Famously, he excoriated Democratic legislators for issuing junk bills. “Just stop it, just stop it, just stop it,” he told a legislative hearing, “they’re junk and they’re consuming all your staff time with junk.” At the same time, he warned the state would go bankrupt if the pension system was not reformed.

I saw him the next day or so at a UC Berkeley symposium and when I talked to him about his outburst, he was still steaming at his colleagues on those issue of bad bills and excessive spending in his frank and un-publishable way.

Lockyer also got in hot water with his Democratic colleagues for admitting publicly that he voted for Arnold Schwarzenegger in the recall election of 2003. However, he prided himself on speaking his mind, and even used that persona in his run for state treasurer with a television ad that promised no “Bull #*+!”

Make no mistake, the long time Democratic politician was very hard on Republicans, as well, in equally unmentionable ways.

While Lockyer often defended California government as being “lean,” it clearly was not efficient. And, while we certainly were not on the same page on many tax and spend items, as state senator, attorney general and treasurer he did have a strong sense of fiscal responsibility.

As stated above, his court consolidation program was, in part, to save taxpayers money and his warnings on pension funds was an attempt to get legislators to live within the state’s means.

As Attorney General, he agreed to a meeting I asked for about writing a fair title and summary on a ballot measure that would make it easier to raise taxes. And just yesterday, the Los Angeles Times reported that Lockyer was part of an effort to even the playing field in local bond elections, in which bond underwriters make large contributions to pass the bonds then secure the business of handling the bonds, often without competitive bidding and at a big profit for the underwriters. An issue taxpayers have complained about for a long time.

Lockyer’s decision not to seek another office will encourage and not diminish his desire to speak out on the state’s issues. As Chris Reed suggests in his column today, Lockyer just might go “Bulworth” and open up with ‘Candor time’ even while he finishes his term in office.