By Daniel Borenstein
Daniel Boatwright, who for three decades was one of Contra Costa's most influential, hard-working and, at times, cantankerous elected officials, died Friday at his Clayton home. He was 82.
The Arkansas native and Korean War veteran was a graduate of UC Berkeley's Boalt Law School and a former Contra Costa prosecutor when he began his political career in 1966 on the Concord City Council. He went on to the Legislature, serving eight years in the Assembly and 16 in the Senate before term limits forced him from office in 1996.
"Dan Boatwright was a dedicated legislator, an early proponent of a national balanced budget amendment and a very good representative of Contra Costa County," Gov. Jerry Brown said in a statement Saturday. "I enjoyed his friendship, and I will miss him."
Boatwright was a centrist, sometimes conservative, Democrat who led key financial committees in both houses. He was regarded as a savvy politician who did not shy from offending fellow lawmakers, in one instance using his Senate position to unilaterally kill dozens of Assembly bills in one day without a hearing.
As an employer, "he was a tough, tough taskmaster, but he was fair," said Steve Weir, Contra Costa's clerk-recorder, who worked as his field director for 10 years early in Boatwright's legislative career.
Weir remembered him as someone who carefully read bills brought before him. "He knew his stuff. That was possible before term limits." He was also "very much committed to taking care of Contra Costa, and Contra Costa did very well under him."
Boatwright was instrumental in bringing the county $1.05 billion of state funding in 1987 to widen Interstate 680 and reconstruct the I-680-Highway 24 interchange. In 2010, the stretch of the interstate between the Benicia Bridge and Highway 24 was named for him.
He was the driving legislative force behind the construction of the Cal State East Bay campus in Concord, a pet project of Dean Lesher, then-publisher of the Contra Costa Times. Boatwright also pushed for expansion of Mt. Diablo State Park and to secure funding to extend BART to Pittsburg.
But he was a controversial and, at times, polarizing figure in a county where Democrats were often divided into competing camps. In 1988, he narrowly fended off a primary challenge from then-county Supervisor Sunne McPeak. The two candidates spent $1.8 million, then the most expensive campaign in county history.
Contra Costa's current state senator, Mark DeSaulnier, also a Democrat from Concord, remembered Boatwright as a mentor, but noted that he could be very abrasive.
"He was your traditional lunch-pail Democrat," DeSaulnier said. "He went to work every day, wasn't fancy or spectacular but did a good job for his constituents."
DeSaulnier said there were two Boatwrights: the man he knew before his 1997 battle with lymphoma, and the man after. The latter was much mellower.
The current state senator visited the former about a month ago. DeSaulnier said Boatwright, who was under hospice care, was at peace with the fact that his days were numbered.
He is survived by his wife of 18 years, Teresa; his sons Danny, David and Donald; his brother, Vaughn; and five grandchildren.
Visitation will be 6-9 p.m. Friday at Ouimet Bros. Concord Funeral Chapel, 4125 Clayton Road, Concord. Funeral services will be 11 a.m. Saturday at the Church of Christ, 1865 Arnold Drive, Martinez.
Columnist and editorial writer Daniel Borenstein served as the Contra Costa Times political editor from 1991-2004. Contact him at 925-943-8248.