People and Politics: December 2010
Montana tussle. Constitutional or not? In Montana the answer depends on which branch you’re in, and it may be up to the third branch—the state supreme court—to decide. Governor Brian Schweitzer maintains House Bill 676, which passed in 2009 and became law without his signature, is unconstitutional because it addresses more than one subject. Not so, lawmakers argue. Schweitzer sued the Legislature over the bill in September and settlement talks between the governor and leading legislators have stalled. Schweitzer, who said he would hold the suit in abeyance until the Legislature adjourns next year to give them time to address the parts of the bill he claims are unconstitutional, now wants to take the matter straight to the Supreme Court.
No bigger. In Alaska, the U.S. Senate race has been the crowd-pleaser, but voters also had their say on expanding the size of the Legislature for the first time since statehood. They decided not to do it. At issue was increasing the 60-member Legislature to 66 members to recognize 50 years of population growth and shrink district sizes to make them more manageable. The plan included adding four state representatives and two senators to provide more even representation across the state in anticipation of redistricting in 2011.
"A pioneer." One of the “lucky 13” Democrats who won in the 1994 GOP landslide that changed control of Congress in 1994, Karen McCarthy—a former Missouri lawmaker, NCSL president and U.S. congresswoman—died in October from Alzheimer’s disease. McCarthy began her political career in the Missouri House in 1977 after teaching high school. She was 29, and the youngest woman in the Legislature at the time. In 1994 she won her congressional seat identifying herself as a “New Democrat.” She claimed President Harry Truman as a political role model and represented his hometown of Independence. Governor Jay Nixon served with McCarthy in the Legislature, and said she was “a pioneer for women in public service in Missouri.” U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill served with McCarthy in the statehouse in the 1980s. “I have vivid memories of her strength and her intellect as she commanded the most complex issues as a legislator in Jeff City,” McCaskill said. “Make no mistake, she was a pioneer, blazing a trail for strong, smart women in the halls of government. That’s what she should be remembered for.” Karen McCarthy was 63.
Legislator mourned. Idaho Senator and former Minority Leader Clint Stennett died in October following a long battle with brain cancer. Stennett began his legislative career when he was elected to the House in 1990. After serving two terms, he was elected to the Senate for eight terms where he was Democratic leader and developed a reputation as an outstanding lawmaker. He became ill in 2008, and his treatments prevented him from attending session in 2009 and this year. His wife, Michelle, sat in for him and following his death was officially appointed to fill out his term. Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter called Stennett “a man of great integrity, civic virtue and common sense in the best tradition of citizen legislators … who was trusted and respected by everyone who knew him. Clint was a model of civility and bipartisan cooperation who led by example.” The flags at the Capitol flew at half staff the day he was buried. Stennett was 54.
Another W.V. loss. For the second time in five months, a member of the West Virginia Legislature has died, both from the same county. Senate Minority Leader Don Caruth, 59, died in May after a long battle with brain cancer that caused him to miss much of the 2010 session. He served in the House of Delegates before winning election to the Senate in 2004. “During his time in the Legislature, Senator Caruth became the example of how representatives can work across the aisle for the benefit of all West Virginians,” said Senate President and Lt. Governor Earl Ray Tomblin. A month before he died, Governor Joe Manchin gave Caruth the Distinguished West Virginian award, calling him a “unique public servant.” In September, 59-year-old Delegate Mike Porter, first elected in 2004, also died. Porter was a veteran who ran as a Republican at a time when it was a difficult to elect members of the GOP, according to the state party chairman. House Speaker Rick Thompson said Porter was a “true gentleman” who “cared deeply about his work on behalf of the people of Mercer County and for the good of the entire state. He will be greatly missed.”
Two big jobs. Earl Ray Tomblin is a man with a big job. Two big jobs to be precise. The West Virginia senator is president of his chamber, a job he’s held since 1995. On Nov. 3, he became acting-governor-to-be, although it is uncertain when he will take the reins of that office and how—or if—he intends to balance both. Tomblin found himself with dual titles when Governor Joe Manchin bucked the red tide to fill the U.S. Senate seat of the late Robert Byrd. Speculation is that Tomblin might turn his Senate duties over to Senator Joe Minard, who is president pro tem. Transition talks are underway. Stay tuned. By the way, Tomblin is winner of the 2009 Excellence in Legislative Leadership Award presented by NCSL and the Legislative Leaders Foundation.
Moving on at 81. The grande dame of the Missouri Senate has decided to resign her seat effective Dec. 31. Eighty-one-year-old Yvonne Wilson began her legislative career in the Missouri House, where she served five years and then moved to the Senate in 2004. She currently serves on the Appropriations and Education committees among others. Her announcement is likely to spark great interest in her seat. Those possibly interested in a run are Representatives Kiki Curis and Craig Bland. The governor will set a special election to fill her seat.
Top honor. Three state legislators have been named Public Officials of the Year by Governing magazine. Representative Jerry Madden and Senator John Whitmire, both of Texas, were honored for their work in corrections reform. Connecticut Representative Diana Urban was recognized for sponsoring the first and only legislation of its kind—results-based accountability—that targets programs that aren’t working.