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Paul Gann Dies; Tax-Crusading Prop. 13 Author

September 12, 1989|BURT A. FOLKART | Times Staff Writer

Paul Gann, the tax crusader who achieved nationwide attention as co-author of Proposition 13 in 1978 died Monday, almost two years after embarking on his final campaign.

That one was against the AIDS virus, to which he was exposed during a blood transfusion after open heart surgery in 1982. He died at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Sacramento, where he had been under treatment for a broken hip suffered in a Sept. 2 fall at his Carmichael home. He was 77.

A hospital spokesman said Gann died from pneumonia, complicated by his battle against the AIDS virus.

Gov. George Deukmejian called his fellow Republican "a tireless crusader in behalf of lower taxes, fiscal responsibility and good government. . . . He was a champion of the hard-working taxpayer and an outstanding American." And Democratic Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, whose powers Gann had once campaigned to curtail, credited the activist with playing "a major role in shaping California's government financing system for a dozen years. His passing will be felt."

A longtime friend, Assemblyman Ross Johnson (R-La Habra), described Gann as "small in physical stature but huge in his impact on California. . . . He was the will of the common man, ignored by politicians, that rose up to challenge and defeat the inaction of the Legislature."

On June 9, 1987, in one of the most unusual press conferences in Sacramento history, Gann, normally a grandfatherly type who spoke softly in homilies, voiced his outrage over the tainted blood that had been given him.

He told publicly and graphically how the virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome had crippled him physically, and called for widespread testing to detect the always-fatal, infectious malady that strikes primarily at male homosexuals and intravenous drug users.

"Instead of selfishly trying to protect ourselves by keeping secrets, we should be leading the fight to protect our friends and loved ones. . . ," he told the media. "We have to face it. There's no cure for AIDS. The only way to control it now is to find out who has it and let others know."

Teamed With Howard Jarvis

Before launching his battle against AIDS, Gann had been known best for teaming with the blustery Howard Jarvis in 1977 to qualify the controversial initiative Proposition 13 for the ballot and for his individual efforts to keep the spirit of tax cutting alive.

The two became famous by promising homeowners relief from drastically increasing property taxes. Fearful that the rising taxes would result in the loss of their homes, voters went to the polls and approved Proposition 13 by a margin of 2 to 1.

Gann's life had been something of a roller coaster ride before Proposition 13 catapulted him to fame. He came from a poor Arkansas family, suffered from a crippling disease for much of his early years and was a car and real estate salesman who twice went bankrupt.

But, riding the tide of fame and glory bestowed on him by thankful taxpayers, Gann late in his life became the 1980 Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate. He also made a second career of using the initiative process to deal with what he said was a state government unresponsive to the voters interests.

Born in Clark County, Ark., on June 12, 1912, Gann was one of 11 children. The son of a Nazarene preacher who farmed to support the family, Gann early on learned the Bible passages he was to use often during his campaigns.

At age 5, after his leg was crushed in a fall from a horse, he contracted a disease he would suffer from for the next 25 years. Osteomyelitis, an inflammation of the bone marrow, settled in his left leg, at times causing his knee to swell to the size of a basketball.

"His brothers and sisters had to pull him to grammar school in a wagon," Gann's daughter Linda Stone said. "He was a cripple."

Gann's illness ultimately prevented him from attending public schools, and he was tutored at home by his mother. He completed high school through a correspondence course and later took law courses the same way.

Sold Autos, Real Estate

In 1931 Gann married Nell Holloway and made a living picking peaches and doing construction work. During the Depression, Gann and his wife left Arkansas and moved to California, where he supported them by selling autos and real estate.

In the early 1940s, still suffering from the osteomyelitis, Gann went to a San Francisco hospital where he had 13 operations. Nell Gann said doctors resorted to putting maggots on the infected leg hoping they would eat away the osteomyelitis. When this failed, Gann's doctor gained permission to try a new drug, penicillin.

Within months, he was cured.

"He (Gann) said his recovery from osteomyelitis was a miracle, and we gave God credit for his recovery," Nell Gann said.

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