Mike Gage, former North Bay assemblyman, confidant to Gov. Jerry Brown, dies at 76

The former globe-trotting whitewater rafting guide died of cancer Monday in Oregon.|

Mike Gage, a North Bay legislator in the 1970s, close associate of former Gov. Jerry Brown and a globe-trotting whitewater rafting guide, died of cancer Monday in Salem, Oregon, where he had become an organic farmer. He was 76.

Gage, who grew up in Napa and served two terms in the California Assembly from 1976-80, had a varied career that included serving as Los Angeles deputy mayor and chair of the powerful L.A. Department of Water and Power Commission and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

A political liberal, Gage came by his green credentials after working in an Alaska logging camp in the summer of 1967, writing on Facebook this year that he “witnessed firsthand our thoughtless destruction of that environment.”

“He was kind of a zany legislator, crafty in his own way,” said Doug Bosco, a Santa Rosa lawyer who joined Gage in the Assembly in 1978. “He got along with almost everybody. He was a worker who wasn’t there for show or personal aggrandizement.”

Bosco, who went on to represent the North Coast in Congress, recalled that he and Gage were roommates in a house near Sacramento that had a large pool with a crack. They filled it with water from an irrigation pipe that afforded one day of swimming.

Bosco is an investor in Sonoma Media Investments, which owns The Press Democrat.

In his own obituary on Facebook, Gage wrote that he “had an outstanding staff” and “got some decent work done.”

As a legislator, he said he was “oddly conflicted, as it seemed to require more time on the job being you (me) that is, rather than on public policy.”

Brown, who worked with Gage on major legislation called him “a force of nature — always exploring, never narrow,” City News Service reported.

In Brown’s first term as governor, Gage helped him pass the law that gave farmworkers the right to join a union, Brown said. “He left his mark — on me and everyone else he met.”

Born in Glendale in May 1945, Gage grew up in Napa and graduated from Napa High School in 1963.

In his own obituary, Gage said he “started out life as a pretty weird kid” and seemed to outgrow the trait in high school: “Maybe tackling people playing football helped,” he said.

Gage later served as an Army paratrooper before launching his political career.

In 1980, he declined to seek a third term and instead became a rafting guide, leading expeditions in Alaska, the Grand Canyon, India, Pakistan, Chile, Turkey, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

He later worked as a chief of staff and deputy mayor under Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley for more than two years, starting in 1987. Bradley appointed him to the Metropolian Water District board and to the city’s Water and Power Commission. Gage, at one point, chaired both oversight boards at the same time, City News Service reported.

His leadership overlapped with what the Los Angeles Times characterized as the last of the epic Southern California and Central Valley tussles over over Northern California water supplies. Gage, who resigned from the Metropolitan Water District in 1993, saw the days of raiding Northern California rivers as over, the newspaper reported.

He also worked for two years as a commentator and reporter for NBC4 in Los Angeles, saying in his obituary that he wasn’t “particularly good at it but I enjoyed the experience.”

Gage and his wife Lacy lived for nearly a year in Ecuador before moving to Oregon. His family members could not be immediately reached by The Press Democrat.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @guykovner.

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