Obituary: John Moss 'delivered
the goods' for capital district
By Steve Wiegand
Bee Staff Writer
(Published Dec. 6, 1997)
Former Rep. John E. Moss, who championed consumer rights, the First Amendment and
"delivering the goods" to the Sacramento district he represented in
Congress for 26 years, died Friday. He was 82.
Tributes to Moss, who died of complications from pneumonia in a San Francisco hospital,
streamed in from around the country.
"Congressman John Moss was a man of great integrity who made an impact on all
Americans," President Clinton said. "He doggedly pursued efficient ways
to run a modern government and made a distinguished record of searching out the truth. We
will miss him."
"John was a true mentor for me and countless others who aspired to serve in
public office," said Rep. Robert Matsui, D-Sacramento, who succeeded Moss in
Congress in 1979. "He was an icon. He was a tremendous force within our community
and his influence was pivotal in the shaping of Sacramento."
Moss' shaping of Sacramento can be seen at the post office on Royal Oaks Drive that
served as the city's main post office for years and which was pushed to completion by
Moss; at Folsom Dam, which Moss fought for; and at the federal building and courthouse on
Capitol Mall, which bears Moss' name.
But the Utah-born and Sacramento-raised Moss also had influence on the nation as well.
He was the father of the 1966 federal Freedom of Information Act, which opened vast seas
of previously secret government documents and data to the public. He was a chief sponsor
of the 1970 federal Clean Air Act.
And as chairman of the House Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, Moss
conducted aggressive probes that infuriated the oil industry, the medical profession,
pharmaceutical companies, insurance firms and other industries.
"Moss was a legislator's legislator -- incorruptible, extremely hard working,
compassionate and always fighting for the people's interests," said consumer
crusader Ralph Nader. "He was a consumer champion -- a real delight to work with,
a master of detail. He raised the level of congressional hearings and investigations to a
Most of the time, Moss did it his way: sometimes a bit quixotically, sometimes a tad
crankily, but always with honesty and tireless determination.
"Too many people want to be popular around here," Moss said in the
days before he retired. "I don't really give a damn. If it's the right vote, it
will become popular."
John Emerson Moss was born April 13, 1915, in Carbon County, Utah. His father was a
coal miner. His mother was descended from a family that settled in Maryland before the
After moving to Sacramento in 1923, Moss attended public schools and Sacramento Junior
College. In 1935, he married Jean Kueny, a fourth-generation Sacramentan. The couple had
During World II, Moss served in the U.S. Navy. After the war, he opened an appliance
store in Sacramento and got his real estate broker's license. For a time he was in the
real estate business with his brother.
In 1948, Moss won a seat in the state Assembly, where he served two terms. In 1952, the
fledgling politician ran for Congress. He won -- by four-tenths of one percentage point.
"By all that was holy, I was destined to be a one-termer," Moss
recalled, especially after he voted against the state's interests in a hotly disputed oil
leasing controversy in his first term.
In 1954, however, Moss won a comfortable 62 percent of the vote, a fact he attributed
to "people admiring what they said was my political courage. And that became a
rule with me -- to vote the way I think I should vote."
He also developed an early reputation for tenacity. In the waning days of the Truman
administration, Moss persuaded Truman to give final approval to construction of Folsom
Dam, despite a recommendation from the Interior Department that the project be delayed
indefinitely. He later pushed through legislation that developed the American River levee
Moss also successfully pushed for increased federal spending at area military bases,
secured federal money for construction of then-Sacramento Metropolitan Airport, and took
pride in his ability to deliver for the home folks.
"I think the business community and others who have needed the services of
their congressman will attest to the fact that their interests have been protected without
any reference to whether they had supported me or opposed me, whether they were Democrat
or Republican," Moss said in 1966. "I am, I think justifiably, proud of
delivering the goods for the people I represent."
But Moss was not just a local boy in the House. Before his retirement, he had risen to
deputy majority whip, which placed him fourth in the hierarchy of congressional Democrats.
In the late 1950s, Moss won national acclaim for investigations of news suppression by
various departments of the executive branch, a quest that eventually led to the Freedom of
"He took up the fight against misuse of executive privilege when there were
only a few in the press who recognized the potential problem," retired
Washington Post executive editor J. Russell Wiggins said at the time of Moss' retirement
in 1979. "He has continued to be a gutsy fighter for the First Amendment, without
regard for politics. He is a giant."
Moss also pushed for laws that broadened the scope of the Federal Trade Commission,
tightened securities regulations, strengthened automobile and tire safety standards and
opened avenues for redress by consumers confronted with shoddy products.
"A lot of people thought he was a lawyer because of the way he could analyze
legislation," said Ernie Cox, who was Moss' administrative assistant from 1960
to 1965. "He was amazing at being able to take a bill apart line by line and tell
you what was wrong with it."
Moss also could be amazingly maddening to Democratic Party leaders as an apolitical
politician, pricking and prodding at Democratic as well as Republican administrations.
"Rosalynn and I are saddened to hear of the death of John Moss, who provided
early support and friendship during the 1976 presidential campaign and my administration,"
former President Jimmy Carter said Friday.
Actually, Moss supported then-California Gov. Jerry Brown's presidential bid early in
1976, switched to Carter when he tired of Brown's eccentricities, then switched back to
Brown in 1980, after his relations with the Carter administration soured.
After retiring from Congress, Moss became chairman of a newly formed bank and stayed
active in many local civic and charitable causes.
In 1992, however, he was forced out of Sacramento -- by smog. His doctors told him that
because of his longtime asthma, he should leave his South Land Park home for the cleaner
skies of San Francisco. It was bitter irony for a man who had helped craft the nation's
clean air laws.
"I'm resentful of this situation that forces me to give up my home,"
he said at the time. "I'm one of those people who love San Francisco but wouldn't
want to live there. But I'll end up there now, I guess."
Moss is survived by Jean Moss, his wife of 62 years; daughters, Jennifer Moss of San
Francisco and Allison Moss of Sacramento; his brother, Henry Moss of Sacramento; and four
Memorial services for Moss will be held at 2 p.m. Dec. 13 (1997) at the University
Theatre at California State University, Sacramento.