People and Politics: January 2011
Brother act. Just two years after the Democrats in Wisconsin took the majority in both chambers, the Republican tide turned the tables. Now two brothers, Scott “Big Fitz” Fitzgerald and his brother Jeff Fitzgerald, whom Scott recruited for the Legislature in 2000, are the new Senate majority leader and speaker of the Assembly. The two leaders are facing a high unemployment rate and a looming budget deficit of about $3 billion. Nevertheless, the brothers predict a new era of cooperation between the two chambers. “There is a uniqueness when your brother is the leader of the other house,” Scott Fitzgerald said. “We talk daily and certainly communicate on a different level than other leaders.” Both Democratic leaders, Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker and Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan, lost not only their majority, but their seats on Election Night.
Breaking tradition. Republican Representative Brian Bosma is the new speaker of the Indiana House. Shortly after he was elected by acclamation, the new speaker broke 194 years of tradition and appointed two Democrats to chair committees. Former Speaker Pro Tem Chet Dobis is heading up the Select Committee on Government Reduction, and Representative Steve Stemler will chair the Economic Development and Small Business Committee. “To demonstrate my commitment to bipartisanship, for the first time—to my knowledge—in state history, a speaker of the Indiana House will reach across the aisle and appoint two members of the minority party to serve as committee chairs,” Bosma said. “In addition, I am pledging weekly meetings with the leadership of the Democratic caucus to discuss events of the coming week and areas of agreement, disagreement and concern.”
Change for lieutenant governor. Georgia Senate Republicans decided overwhelmingly to strip the powers the lieutenant governor has historically exercised over the chamber. When the Senate goes into session in early January, it is expected to make it official and take away Lt. Governor Casey Cagle’s committee and chair appointment authority. Those selections will now be made by a new eight-member Committee on Assignments, which includes the Senate president pro tem, the majority leader, the majority caucus chair, vice chair and secretary, and two members appointed by the lt. governor. “For us to be effective, we’ve got to work together, and that is what is important, that we have a presiding officer and the Senate working together on a common agenda,” said Senator Mitch Seabaugh, who advocated the change. “If you put all the power in one or the other, we believe that makes the Senate a little bit weaker.”
End of a long run. A more conservative Republican Senate in Nevada has chosen Mike McGinness as the new GOP leader, ending a 28-year leadership run, including 10 sessions as majority leader, for Senator Bill Raggio, who also chaired the Finance Committee. Raggio stepped down from his leadership and Finance Committee posts when his decision not to endorse Republican Sharon Angle in her race against Harry Reid fueled opposition against him in his caucus. Raggio, who is 84, said he was “very comfortable” with his decision. “I think these folks have budget proposals, and I think it best they have a free hand for their own input on it,” Raggio said. At the end of the session, Raggio will have served for 40 years.
U.N. to the statehouse. Peter Galbraith has given up international diplomacy for a seat in the Vermont Senate. The former second-ranking U.N. official in Afghanistan was fired for his criticism of what he perceived as an international cover-up of the election of President Hamid Karzai. The new Democratic senator said in an op-ed in the Reformer that “even where warring parties have seemingly irreconcilable positions, they have many common interests.” He’ll be putting that to the test in his new job.
"Shrewd, smart guy." Arizona Senate Minority Leader Jorge Luis Garcia died in October of heart complications from a rare disease. The 57-year-old lawmaker was born in Mexico and moved with his mother, a U.S. citizen, and his 10 siblings to Arizona when he was 7. His early life shaped his political views, and although unassuming he was a man “you underestimated at your own peril,” according to former Republican Senator Jonathan Paton. “He was a very shrewd, smart guy,” Paton said. Garcia served in the House from 1993-1997. He returned to the Legislature in 2002 when he won his Senate seat. He had been minority leader for two years.
Moving to D.C. Gary VanLandingham, who has worked for the Florida Legislature for 28 years including the last seven as director of the Office of Program Planning and Government Accountability, left his state post at the end of the year to become director of the Pew Center on the States’ Results First initiative in Washington, D.C. The initiative, according to VanLandingham, will work with states “to and advance policy options that benefit residents and improve states’ fiscal heath.” During his tenure, the Florida Legislature adopted more than 80 percent of the office’s recommendations, realizing savings of some $755 million for the state. VanLandingham was staff chair of NCSL and president of the National Legislative Program Evaluation Society.
Loss in Kansas. Kansas Representative Jim Morrison died in November while undergoing treatment for a heart condition. He was 68. An optometrist, Morrison had served in the Kansas House since 1992 and was chair of the Health and Human Services Committee