March Fong Eu, former California secretary of state, gets building in Sacramento named after her

March Fong Eu, who was the first Asian American in the United States to serve in a state Legislature, will have the secretary of state building in Sacramento named after her. It will be the first state building to be named after a woman.

After Monday, the secretary of state’s office at 1500 11th St. in Sacramento will be housed in the March Fong Eu Secretary of State Building. Eu was a Democrat who served four terms in the state Assembly, from 1966 to 1974. In 1974, she was elected to serve as California’s secretary of state, where she served until 1994. She died in 2017 at the age of 95.

“When she was secretary, all the divisions of the secretary of state’s office hadn’t been under the same roof in decades,” Caren Daniels Lagomarsino, Eu’s longtime press spokesperson, told Berkeley News. Eu studied dentistry at UC Berkeley before earning a master’s degree from Mills College.

“The building was a longtime goal of March Fong Eu. It’s kind of a shame she never got to work in it; during her time, the department was spread out over three different buildings.”

But Eu had the idea to fund the building that currently houses the California Department of State in her early years as the state’s secretary of state. She pushed the strategy of using state bonds to fund the project that eventually led to the state building consolidating to its current location. The building didn’t open, though, until Eu had already moved on to her appointment as ambassador to Micronesia under then-President Bill Clinton.

“When March was first elected, the office headquarters was located in rented space in old town, then rented space in the public market building,” Michael Gagan, who worked for Eu in both the assembly and in the secretary of state’s office, told Berkeley News.

“At the first budget meeting we had with Jerry, she wanted to fund the state archives, to beef up the elections division and increase the staffing in the business division because we were backlogged there. Jerry was a penny-pincher, of course, and wasn’t sympathetic.”

Eu gained national press coverage in 1974, when she smashed a toilet on the steps of the state Capitol in protest of pay toilets in pubic buildings. She argued at the time that pay toilets “symbolized secondhand status for women when there was no charge at urinals.” Eventually, she won that fight when then-Gov. Ronald Reagan signed a bill banning public pay toilets.

The push to name the state building after Eu came from Alex Padilla, the current secretary of state, who announced that he would try to get the building named after her at Eu’s memorial service in January 2018. He said that Eu was an inspiration to him, the son of Mexican immigrants.

“There was an audible gasp,” said Gagan, who will emcee Monday’s event. “It was such a nice gesture. All of us who worked for March thought it was a fabulous idea.”

This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/March-Fong-Eu-California-secretary-state-buiding-13710253.php.

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