Ex-Congressman Victor Fazio of California dies at 79

Mar 16, 2022, 7:48 PM | Updated: 10:08 pm
Rep. Vic Fazio, joined by his wife Judy, announces to a gathering of friends and supporters in the ...

Rep. Vic Fazio, joined by his wife Judy, announces to a gathering of friends and supporters in the Woodland Hote, in Woodland, Calif., on Nov. 17, 1997, that he will not seek reelection to the House of Representatives next term, following a 10-term career in Congress. Fazio, a Democratic congressman from California who served for 20 years and rose to become an influential party leader in the House, has died. Fazio's death was announced Wednesday, March 26, 2022, by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, although her office didn't provide details. He was 79. (Dick Schmidt/The Sacramento Bee via AP)

(Dick Schmidt/The Sacramento Bee via AP)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Victor Fazio, a Democratic congressman from California who served for 20 years and rose to become an influential party leader in the House, has died. He was 79.

Fazio’s death was announced Wednesday by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, although her office didn’t provide details.

Pelosi called Fazio a close friend who “was a force in helping unite and rally our members in the fight for America’s families.”

Fazio represented the Sacramento area from 1997 to 1999 and was a member of the House Appropriations and Armed Services committees.

“He was an incredibly sharp, passionate legislator, but someone who also cared deeply about those whose voice was often not heard in Washington,” Rep. Doris Matsui, a California Democrat, said in a statement. “He could just as easily talk to a farmer or a big city mayor. My late husband, Bob Matsui, and I considered Vic a close friend for over 30 years. He worked to make our country a better place with his civility and ability to find common ground.”

Born in Massachusetts, Fazio came to California as a graduate student and served in California’s State Assembly before being elected to the House of Representatives.

He had a reputation for supporting environmental programs and for his ability to provide government funding for projects in his area, including a vast wetland and wildlife preserve between Davis and Sacramento that is known as the Vic Fazio Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area. It was dedicated by President Bill Clinton in 1997.

Fazio also was able to cross the aisle to work with Republicans in an era when Congress seemed to be far less polarized.

Fazio was “a classic legislator” who worked with Rep. Jerry Lewis, a California Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, to obtain federal money for their state, said V. John White, a Sacramento legislative staffer who worked occasionally with Fazio.

“The two of them were the go-to guys … to get things for California,” he told the Sacramento Bee.

Fazio, of course, also bore his share of criticism and defeats. He was chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 1994 when Republicans won control of the House for the first time in 40 years.

The next year, he was chosen as chairman of the House Democratic caucus and served for four years.

After leaving Congress, Fazio worked in a public relations firm in Washington, D.C. and later joined a law firm, retiring in 2020.

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Ex-Congressman Victor Fazio of California dies at 79