lthough it’s been nearly 30 years since Gary Hart served in the state Senate, his influence on California education was unmatched then and remains far-reaching today. Among his accomplishments: seeding schools today serving nearly 1 in 9 California students by authoring the state’s first and the nation’s second charter school law.
Hart, a widely respected Democrat who represented Santa Barbara and sections of Ventura and Los Angeles counties, died of pancreatic cancer last week at age 78. He served for 20 years in the Senate and Assembly before he was termed out in 1994. Four years later, Gov. Gray Davis appointed him as his first secretary of education. Hart assembled a package of education reforms that legislators passed in a special session in 1999.
Of his legislative priorities, his biggest impact was in education, a lifelong interest fueled by 1960s idealism. After graduating from Stanford University, which he attended on a football scholarship, he received a master’s in education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He taught high school social studies in Santa Barbara, his hometown, taking time off to work for the presidential campaign of Eugene McCarthy and the congressional bid of Allard Lowenstein of New York, both leading anti-Vietnam war candidates. He was elected to the Assembly representing Santa Barbara in 1974.