In the beginning there was Ross Johnson. He was one of the first legislators I met when I got into the political game and I admired his tenacity, his political instincts, and his ability to battle his opponents but treat them with respect and friendship. Ross Johnson passed away yesterday at age 77.

As Republican Assembly Leader he would tool around with Speaker Willie Brown, in a top-down convertible, trying to find a path to agreement. As an advocate of political campaign spending reform he would go to the people with an initiative and when that did not work out to his complete satisfaction he would grab the chance to run the Fair Political Practices Commission and seek fairness in the electoral system.

Ross was proponent of Proposition 73 in 1988 to limit campaign contributions. He asked me to sign the ballot argument in support and I agreed. It passed.

When local governments abused assessment districts to raise property tax revenue without voter consent putting taxpayers in jeopardy because as one observer put it, “assessment districts are now limited only by the limits of human imagination,” I asked Ross to carry bills in the legislature to constrain the out-of-control practice. He readily agreed—more than once. When we were unsuccessful in the legislature despite multiple efforts, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association took the issue to the people via ballot initiative and it passed handily as Proposition 218.

I often visited Ross in the capitol (he was generous with his time and always offered his office as a place of refuge, “mi casa, su casa,” he said many times). He told stories about using the property tax cutting initiative, Proposition 13, as a springboard for his political career becoming one of the foremost members of the class dubbed “Prop 13 babies,” and the one I worked with closest.

One story I included in my book on Proposition 13 was about the time he was campaigning for election and he went to pick up his daughters at pre-school. He saw four big wheel bikes holding hand painted signs that read: “Vote No on 13” and “We don’t want our teacher to lose her job.” Ross told his daughters he had just come from knocking on doors telling people to vote yes on Prop 13. When one of his daughters started to cry, he hugged her and said she was entitled to her opinion.

He once introduced a bill to retire the number Proposition 13 from future ballots like retiring a sport star’s number from future use. If his bill passed, there would be no more Proposition 13 on the ballot. Because a measure that would bear that number was coming up in the next election, Johnson needed a two-thirds vote as an urgency bill to immediately put the law into effect. He somehow secured a majority vote for the idea, but not two-thirds.

Johnson’s legislative career spanned 26 years and he was the first person to serve as party leader in both the assembly and senate. That signified the respect he had in his own caucus. But if you ask Democratic leaders like Willie Brown and John Burton you’ll know he had similar respect across the aisle.

Ross Johnson was a master politician, a man of integrity, a man of conviction, but one who could get along with those who disagreed with him. We can use more of his kind.