California Secretary of State Bill Jones — the former assemblyman known for his agricultural, water and trade expertise but who gained national recognition with the popular Three Strikes law — was named this week as the 1999 Distinguished Alumnus for California State University, Fresno.
Jones, a 1971 graduate with a bachelor of science degree in agricultural business whose political career began when he was student body president at then-Fresno State College, will be presented the Distinguished Alumnus Award at the university’s 88th Commencement on Saturday, May 22, in Bulldog Stadium.
Co-sponsored by Fresno State and its Alumni Association, the award annually honors an alum with a distinguished record of career achievement and is one of the highest honors the university can bestow on a graduate.
“Bill Jones has distinguished himself in public service as an individual with the highest integrity and a man dedicated to the Central California Valley,” said President John D. Welty. “We are very proud of his leadership and contributions.”
The 49-year-old Jones, a native California rancher who worked on his family-owned farm near Mendota, represented the central San Joaquin Valley in the California State Assembly for six two-year terms before his election as the state’s 27th secretary of state in 1994. He became the first valley resident to serve in a statewide constitutional office.
While Jones was known for his staunch support and activism representing the valley’s agricultural interests, he received national acclaim for authoring the “Three Strikes and You’re Out” crime law, also in 1994. The law was the outcome of the murder of a young woman in Fresno, part of Jones’ 32nd Assembly District at the time.
But his expertise in agriculture, water and trade policy earned the praise of many, including Daniel Bartell, dean of Fresno State’s School of Agricultural Sciences and Technology.
“Mr. Jones has spent much of his career working to ensure that the industry in which he grew up remains a vibrant part of the California economy,” Bartell said. “He earned a reputation for honesty and integrity during his years in the assembly that continues to serve him well.”
Bartell said Jones garnered state support for several university agricultural programs and “has been generous with his time over the years to speak at campus events” — acts that helped earn him the 1994 Alumni Award of Excellence from the School of Agricultural Sciences and Technology.
“An unabashed graduate, he often points to his college days as the beginning of his political career and speaks with pride of the agricultural knowledge he acquired and the foundation he gained at the university,” Bartell said.
In addition to the “Three Strikes” law, Jones was instrumental in the passage of such legislation as the Food Safety Act of 1988, the 1991 reapportionment of legislative districts, and Proposition 204, which may play a major role in determining the future of the state’s water supply.
As a member of the California Trade Commission, he is actively encouraging business development and foreign trade, particularly with countries on the Pacific Rim.
The state’s chief elections officer, Jones has implemented administrative and legislative reforms in California’s elections system, such as implementing a number of voter outreach programs, and he staffed a professional voter fraud investigations unit that has referred more than 140 cases to district attorneys across the state for prosecution.
Jones called the state’s first-ever Elections Summit in 1995, which led to the creation of the first statewide voter file, CALVOTER, to link California’s 58 counties and the use of the California driver’s license number on voter registration forms.
In 1995, he developed legislation to clean the voter rolls of duplicate voters or voters who have died or moved away, and he enhanced an election night reporting system through use of the Internet that resulted in more than one million hits in 1996.
The secretary of state is currently pursuing the dual goals of 100 percent voter participation by all eligible citizens while maintaining a zero tolerance policy for voter fraud.
Jones and his wife of 26 years, Maurine, have two daughters Wendy and Andrea.
In addition to the Commencement ceremony presentation, where Jones will address the Class of 1999, a public reception in the secretary of state’s honor will be held Friday, May 21, at 4:30 p.m. in the Foundation board room, 4910 N. Chestnut near the campus.