People and Politics: October/November 2010
Oil skirmish. A proposed September special session on the oil spill effects in Florida was nixed by Speaker Larry Cretul, who said the issue could wait until March. “It would appear that, while there are some issues where legislative action may be appropriate, there are no issues that require immediate formal legislative action,” Cretul said. He and Senate President Jeff Atwater in July rebuffed efforts by Governor Charlie Crist to impose a constitutional ban on oil drilling in state waters, indicating they would weigh economic relief for businesses and stronger legal protections for those claiming damages in a potential special session.
"Almost irreplaceable." Greg Petesch, the powerful and respected chief attorney and code commissioner for the Montana Legislature, recently retired after 31 years. He served some 1,500 legislators over the years and was held in high regard by members of both parties for his straightforward, often blunt, advice. Senate President Bob Story called him “a great intellect,” and Minority Leader Carol Williams said he is “almost irreplaceable. … Everybody in both parties had terrific confidence in whatever his decisions happened to be.” He was lauded for advocating the Legislature’s equal constitutional authority, important for a body that meets only 90 days every two years. Williams gave the avid Boston Red Sox fan a picture of Curt Schilling pumping his fist after he pitched the second winning game of the 2004 World Series. “I thought it showed how Greg might have felt going out of the Capitol after he retired,” she said.
Generous to the end. Representative Leamon Fite Jr. was a well-respected second term Alabama lawmaker and businessman when he died a year ago at age 54. His generosity and efforts to help others were well-known, with stories of school field trips, band uniforms, energy bills and other things quietly paid for by Fite. But it was his gift after death that stunned people—particularly the City Baptist Church congregation where he was a member. Fite bequeathed $850,000 to the church for outreach and ministry. Fite’s parents and children presented the check this August. “We realize we’ve been given a blessing,” said Pastor Mike Holcomb.
Speaker to staff. Former Arkansas Speaker of the House Bill Stovall is the new—and first—chief of staff for the House. Stovall, who served as speaker in 2005 and 2006, was assistant to Speaker Robbie Wills and director of constituency services before assuming the new post. The position resulted from a reorganization of House personnel under the direction of Wills and Speaker-designate Robert Moore.
Loss in Vermont. David A. Gibson had a lifetime of distinguished public service. He served in the Vermont Senate from 1977 to 1983, and then in 2000 became a respected Senate secretary known for integrity and trustworthiness. Gibson, 74, was hospitalized while attending the NCSL Legislative Summit in Kentucky this summer and was released with a diagnosis of advanced bile duct cancer. He died three weeks later. Gibson earned a reputation for his nonpartisan commitment to the institution and process. “It’s a tremendous loss to us all,” said Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin, who called Gibson “an extraordinary Vermonter” who as secretary of the Senate served with “extraordinary distinction.”
Family affair. Former Indiana Speaker Pro Tem John Thomas was eulogized as a “giant statesman,” an “inspiring public servant” and author of “one of the finest [home care] programs in the nation.” Thomas, who served 24 years in the Indiana House of Representatives, died in August at 84. Thomas founded a law firm in 1948 that produced two fellow state representatives: his brother Amos Thomas and his nephew Andrew Thomas. Another member of the firm was a state senator and U.S. congressman. Thomas served from 1967 to 1990, expanding educational opportunities, fighting for teachers and farmers, and improving mental health services.
Paperless praise. Hawaii Senator David Ige recently received the National Association of State Chief Information Officers’ 2010 State Technology Innovator Award for his work supporting the Senate’s paperless initiative. Ige served as the Senate’s first Technology Leader, playing a key role as the Senate’s technology ambassador, working with senators, staff, and the general public to promote technology expansion within the legislative process. “David’s leader-ship—and his unfailing sense of humor during the inevitable glitches—ensured a seamless transition to a paperless operation for our senators and our constituents,” said Senator Carol Fukunaga, chair of the Senate’s Economic Development and Technology Committee. By the end of the Senate’s first “paperless” session in 2008, it had reduced its paper waste by 60 percent.