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Press: Vic Fazio was in a class of his own 

Everybody who’s worked as a congressional staffer (probably 95 percent of Hill readers) would admit that, congressional bosses fall into one of three categories: those you’re ashamed to work for, but hang on until you can find something better; those you don’t care for, but do it anyway for a paycheck; and those you really admire and are proud to work for. There aren’t many of the latter, but Vic Fazio was one of the best. 

Former California Rep. Vic Fazio died of melanoma last week at age 79. Reflecting on his 20 years in Congress, representing West Sacramento and Yolo County, former staffers and colleagues of both parties I spoke to agree that Fazio was the kind of representative they don’t make any more: a highly respected and beloved leader in politics, policy, and personal relations. 

On politics, Fazio rose to lead both the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Democratic Caucus. Yet he also became known for forging alliances with members across the aisle, notably Republican Reps. Jerry Lewis (Calif.) and Bill Paxon (N.Y.). 

On policy, unlike too many members of Congress today, Fazio came to Congress, not to showboat, but to get things done for the people of his district. And he delivered. Fazio’s an unsung hero in the environmental movement. As they say, he was a conservationist before it was cool. 

In 1989, before most people had ever heard of climate change, Fazio was the lead sponsor of the National Global Warming Policy Act, committing the United States to reducing the generation of greenhouse gas. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, he championed millions of dollars for development of solar and wind energy and to create an environmental institute at the University of California in Davis. He obtained funding to preserve 3700 acres of wetlands between Davis and Sacramento, now known as the Vic Fazio Yolo Wildlife Area. He was dedicated to preserving our national parks, and until his death served as chair of the National Parks Conservation Association. 

On the personal level, Fazio’s friendly, low-key, collegial style made him one of the most popular and effective members of Congress. On ethics reform, he led efforts to get rid of honoraria and provide members of Congress a decent salary. He was one of the first to provide parental leave to staff members. He also led the fight to increase salaries for congressional staffers in order to recruit and retain talented, young committee aides and prevent their fleeing to K Street. 

Former staffers especially recall one typical classy Fazio move. As part of leadership, he was assigned a plum suite in the Rayburn building with three offices: a large staff office; a smaller office for the chief of staff; and the grand office, complete with private bathroom, for the congressman. Unprompted, Fazio immediately picked the smallest office for himself, surrendering his regal digs to four senior staff members.  

Former Chief of Staff Sandra Stuart told me about one day when a group of constituents from Sacramento crammed into his office for a meeting with the congressman. After it was over, one woman walked over to Stuart and complained: “Why did we meet in that little office? I wanted to meet in his real office, the big one.” 

Stuart summed it up: “Vic was the best boss anyone could ever have.” Monica Dixon, another former Fazio chief of staff, added: “Vic was someone I never lost faith in. It was an absolute honor to work for him.” To which I could only add: It was also an honor to know him and be his friend.

Press is host of “The Bill Press Pod.” He is author of “From the Left: A Life in the Crossfire.”  


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