Peace at home
Veteran Chico office manager is Herger’s connection to local constituents
If anyone knows the real Wally Herger, besides his wife, it is Fran Peace, his longtime Chico office manager.
Peace, who lives in Oroville with her husband, John, said she first met Herger in 1985, when he was still in the state Assembly.
She and John, who serves as the executive director of the Oroville Economic Development Corp., had moved from San Jose to Oroville a few years before. She was an executive officer for an Oroville real-estate agency. Her company had just built a new office building, and Assemblyman Herger showed up for the ribbon-cutting ceremony and the accompanying photo op, a chance no politician can resist.
“I thought he looked like he was just out of high school,” she now says.
She recalled how she came to work for Herger.
“My husband and I really like dogs,” she explained. “I had attended a dog competition in Yreka in which the city of Oroville was competing. It was for police dogs and canine officers.
“It was on a Sunday, and Wally Herger called and, doing the proper thing, asked my husband for permission for me to come and work for him. Gosh, I thought, what would I do? I knew nothing about politics.
“To make a long story short, I went to work for him on Aug. 9, 1985, as a legislative assistant.”
Her work consisted of researching legislative bills and creating talking points for constituent mail. And she served as his field rep when he ran for and was elected to his congressional seat in 1986.
“It was all so new to me,” she said. “I had to sort of feel my way through it all.”
She mentioned one of the first big events of her new job. In 1986 a 150-foot section of the levee along the Yuba River broke, sending water across 10 square miles of land in the towns of Linda and Olivehurst, flooding thousands of homes.
“I had to go to that flood and tour the area,” Peace said. “The state had a program, unofficially titled ‘Down and Dirty Denials.’ They were not approving help for flood victims. We uncovered that and the media got a hold of it. And I remember flood victims coming to the Linda fire station for assistance. We helped people fill out their claims. People in Olivehurst and Linda still remember Wally’s work. That was my first experience in politics.”
(Thousands of victims of that flood were not compensated by the state for their losses until 2003, after years of legal wrangling.)
Personable, quick to smile and immaculately groomed, Peace gives Herger’s local office a warm touch. After 23 years, she said, she still enjoys her job.
“I get up every morning and I still look forward to coming to work. I love the people here; it is a beautiful district. The longer you are here the more meaningful it becomes.”
The conversation turned to health care. It is an issue unlike any she has seen in her many years with the congressman.
“We are hearing from so many people. It is one of the biggest issues in the past 20 years. We are hearing from seniors who are extremely worried and concerned about what is going to happen in the future.”
Federal employees, she said, are not getting a free ride.
“A lot of people still think that [Herger] doesn’t pay for health insurance. But he does. He has Kaiser Permanente. And he pays for it. He’s belonged for years.”
Fran Peace: loyal to the end, defending her boss. Attending that ribbon cutting in Oroville all those years ago may well have been one of Herger’s smartest political moves.