Jack R. Fenton

Jack R. Fenton

Jack R. Fenton (1916-08-07 - 2007-11-06) represented represented California's 51st State Assembly district and California's 59th State Assembly district 16 years in the California State Assembly. He was part of the Democrat leadership, majority leader in 1972, and helped establish California's occupational health and safety regime.

Personal

His parents were Lithuanian immigrants. His father operated a delicatessen.

He earned a degree in 1939 from what was then called Brockport State Normal School, and later studied at University of California, Berkeley.

He was drafted into the United States Army in 1941, and served in the Pacific Theater of Operations during World War II. After his discharge, he entered Loyola Law School in 1945, and was graduated in 1949.

Also in 1945, he married Betty Byer who subsequently bore him four children.

He established a law practice in Montebello, California in 1949.

Mr. Fenton belonged to many organizations, including the Optimist Club, American Legion and Rotary Club.

He received the George Moscone Memorial Award for Outstanding Public Service in 1978, from an association of consumer lawyers in Los Angeles.

He was appointed a member of the Judicial Council of California in 1979.

Political career

When John Moreno, the first term Mexican American Assemblyman for the 51st District sought reelection, he faced both Dionisio Morales and Jack Fenton. With the chicano vote split, Fenton won the party's nomination in the primary election. He carried the general election with 69% of the vote. He continued to represent Montebello, reelected to seven more two year terms (from 1974, in the the 59th Assembly District.)

In the legislature, Fenton championed consumers, veterans, and labor (including farm workers.)

After Jess Unruh declared his candidacy for Governor in 1969, Fenton and Assemblyman George N. Zenovich encouraged Unruh (at first unsuccessfully) to resign as party leader in the Assembly.

Following an industrial accident 1971-06-24, an explosion of methane gas fatal to 17 workers in the California Water Project's Sylmar tunnel, he led the investigation in the Assembly's Committee on Industrial Safety. His investigation, and civil litigation, found negligence by the contractor (Lockheed Shipbuilding and Construction Company) and state inspectors. He was a leader promoting statutory change, notably the June 1973 California Occupational Safety and Health Act.

Hospitals and staff threatened to cease organ transplantation activity in 1973 when its legal basis came into question. Criminal defense attorneys argued that harvesting a victim's organs while his heart was still beating caused death, not their clients. Dixon Arnett (R-Redwood City introduced emergency legislation to recognize death when brain activity ceased. He was three votes short of the required supermajority when he enlisted Jack Fenton, who secured favorable action from two more members. After the California Senate passed the bill, Arnett flew to Chicago to secure Governor Ronald Reagan's signature giving force to the law.

From 1977-1980 he was chairman of the Assembly's Judiciary Committee. Earlier, he had been chairman of the Assembly's Finance and Insurance Committee.

He lost his primary election in 1980 to Matthew G. Martinez.

Art Torres was a protege and Republican Assemblyman Robert Hayden (of Santa Clara's 22nd district) was a friend.

See also

References

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