A cardboard elephant in Cathie Wright's Sacramento office during her 20 years in the Assembly and state Senate from 1980 to 2000 summed up the Simi Valley Republican's sense of statecraft: "It's Better to Be a Stomper, Than a Stompee."
"I'm tenacious, I'm irascible, I'm a fighter," Wright, then the only woman among 15 Republicans in the state Senate, told The Times in 1999. "You have to be tough in this business; you can't just sit back and let them roll over you."
The blunt-talking Wright, a maverick Republican who represented the 37th Assembly District and the 19th Senate District, died Saturday at her daughter's home in Simi Valley. She was 82 and had dementia, said her daughter, Victoria Catherine Wright, who is now known as Cathie.
A Pennsylvania native who moved from Los Angeles to Simi Valley in 1965, Wright quickly earned a reputation for her direct and aggressive style after being elected to the Simi Valley City Council in 1978.
She was first elected to the Assembly in 1980 and elected to the Senate in 1992. She won the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor in 1994 but lost in the general election to Gray Davis. Term limits forced her out of office in 2000.
A right-wing Republican who favored a ban on abortions and despised gun control, Wright was known as a hard-working and incisive lawmaker.
But she also was known as an independent-minded Republican who often fought with her own party, including refusing to go along with Republicans when they tried to dump Democratic Assembly Speaker Willie Brown in 1988.
She also fought with most of the Republicans in the Legislature in 1997 when she voted for the Democratic-backed welfare reform bill opposed by then-Gov. Pete Wilson.
"She was very tough, very independent," said John Burton, chairman of the California Democratic Party and a former state Senate president pro tem.
"She did what she thought was right, and if Republicans didn't like it, it didn't bother her," Burton said Monday. "If the governor didn't like it, it didn't bother her. If I was the leader and I would go up to her and say, 'What are you doing?' She'd say, 'I'm doing what I think is right — get out of my face.' "
Burton said Wright was "a great champion of children with mental issues and things of that sort. She was very straightforward and honest."
While Wright was in the Assembly in 1989, the Ventura County district attorney's office launched an investigation into allegations that she used her position to intercede with authorities, including Assembly Speaker Brown, to keep her then-24-year-old daughter from losing her driver's license after she had accumulated more than two dozens tickets since 1981. Wright also allegedly tried to have police quash one of her own parking tickets in 1983.
Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury finished the 10-week investigation by asserting that Wright had "demonstrated a clear pattern of attempting to obtain special treatment for herself and her daughter with the police, the court and the Department of Motor Vehicles" over a period of years but had committed "no clear-cut criminal violation."
Wright responded by charging that Bradbury was politically motivated and had misused public funds because his inquiry failed to charge her with breaking any laws.
The daughter of a house maid and a handyman, Wright was born May 18, 1929, in Old Forge, Pa. She was valedictorian of both her high school class and her graduating class at Lackawanna Junior College in Scranton, where she studied accounting. But after graduating, she lived at home and worked to send her brother to college. She moved to Los Angeles in 1961.
She was a housewife and a mother until her husband, Victor, became incapacitated with heart problems. She then worked a series of jobs, including selling life insurance and producing and reading the news on a local cable station before launching her political career. She was a Democrat until switching parties in 1976.
"She was really tough, but she also was very much my mother; very sweet," said Cathie Wright, who is challenging Republican Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon in the 25th Congressional District race.
When she and her mother were talking about her running for office, she recalled, her mother told her to use her middle name and run as Cathie Wright.
"She said, 'It's your name; I gave you that name as much as I gave you the name Victoria at birth," said Wright, recalling that her mother gave her a piece of advice during their talk: "Make sure you do the right thing."
Wright's husband died in 1982. In addition to her daughter, she is survived by her brother, Alfred Marianelli; and a granddaughter.
A public memorial service will be held at 9 a.m. Friday at Reardon Simi Valley Funeral Home, 2636 Sycamore Drive, Simi Valley.