Pauline Davis (1917-1995), who represented all or portions of 12 rural Northern California counties in the California Assembly, guided some of the state’s most significant water development proposals through the Legislature.
During her legislative career from 1952 to 1976, Davis concentrated on water issues important to her constituents by championing area-of-origin protections for water targeted for export as part of the fledgling State Water Project.
“Water is so basic of all the other natural resources that I felt that it would be a necessity for me to go into the field as deeply as I could,” she said in an interview conducted for the University of California, Berkeley’s Women in Politics Oral History Project.
Davis was instrumental in two key pieces of water legislation. The first, the Davis-Grunsky Act, in 1959, which authorized $130 million of the State Water Project bond sales for development of local water projects. In 1961, the Davis-Dolwig Act required consideration of fish and wildlife enhancement and recreational opportunities when planning State Water Project facilities. Importantly, the law required water and power contractors to pay for actions to help fish and wildlife affected by the project.
Davis was known as the “Lady of the Lakes” for her advocacy of recreational and water development projects in the state’s rural areas.
A Democrat, Davis was first elected to the Assembly following the May 23, 1952, death of her husband Lester Thomas Davis, who had served in the Assembly since 1947. (Lake Davis in Plumas County is named for him). Pauline Davis was familiar with the workings of the Legislature, having served as her husband’s secretary during his nearly three terms in the Assembly.
Between 1961 and 1966, she was the only woman serving in the Legislature. Her legislative career, at 24 years, was the longest of any woman in either the Assembly or Senate. Given term limits now in place for state lawmakers, it’s a record that won’t be broken.