People and Politics: March 2011
Vintage gavel, Representative Thom Tillis took the speaker’s podium in North Carolina with a gavel made from 300-year-old wood, as the statehouse moved under Republican control for the first time in 140 years. Tillis thanked his predecessor, Democratic Speaker Joe Hackney, and his staff for making the transition smooth. The gavel was made recently by volunteers using the wood from a colonial-era tree that was later used to build a home visited by General Sherman’s Union soldiers on the last day of the Civil War. Tillis named the gavel “Ray” in honor of his father.
Alternative travel. Winter has had a harsh grip on the Northeast, and that’s just fine with at least one Connecticut lawmaker. Senator Beth Bye found the conditions perfect for cross-country skiing to the legislative office building in Hartford recently. She was scheduled to meet with a constituent, who cancelled because of the weather. The 3.5 mile trip took an hour and 15 minutes. After doing some work, she got a ride home.
Hard fought victory. Hawaii Speaker Calvin Say, the longest serving speaker since Hawaii statehood, won re-election to his leadership post, warding off a two-month challenge that divided the Democratic caucus and prompted U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye to skip the traditional House opening ceremony. Democratic dissidents reached a compromise later in the day with Say that gives them increased leadership posts and committee chairmanships. Representative Sylvia Luke, a Say opponent, characterized the compromise as “a big step forward” that “bridges both sides together.” Democrats hold a 43-8 majority in the House. Say quoted President Lincoln’s second inaugural address in an effort to heal wounds and move beyond the leadership fight.
Close call. Illinois House Assistant Majority Leader Edward Acevedo was walking on a Chicago street one night in January when a van pulled up and someone inside pointed a gun at him. After Acevedo, a lawmaker since 1997 and a Chicago police officer since 1995, identified himself, the gunman sped off without firing. No arrests have been made.
"A good run." Illinois Senator Lou Viverito’s 16-year tenure in the Senate ended in January when he retired to concentrate on his job as a township supervisor. A onetime barbershop owner and assistant majority leader under former Senate President Emil Jones—who fired him for voting against a proposed gross receipts tax—the 78-year-old Viverito shared office space and the occasional game of golf with Barack Obama. When Viverito was appointed to the Senate in 1995, the Legislature and governor’s office were controlled by Republicans; he leaves the Democrats in control of all three. “I’ve had quite a career. It’s been a good run. But it’s time to go,” he said.
Utah first. When Senator Ross Romero was elected minority leader of the Utah Senate late last year, he made history. The 40-year-old is the first Latino to hold a leadership position in the Utah Legislature. A Democrat in an overwhelmingly Republican chamber (22-7), Romero began his legislative career in the Utah House in 2004. His rise in the Senate leadership ranks has been swift. Elected to the Senate in 2006, he became minority whip two years later, and took the top spot this session. Romero, who is a lawyer and banker, says he votes with Republicans on the majority of bills and is a bridge to the ethnic community.
Packing in the statehouse. Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce doesn’t believe lawmakers need to lose their Second Amendment rights just because they serve in the Legislature. He sent a memo to his colleagues in January saying that although state law prohibits guns in the Capitol, that doesn’t extend to the Senate building, where he has constitutional authority to set the rules.
Aging dome. The gold on the Colorado Capitol dome shines bright against the Rocky Mountain sky. But underneath, it’s rusting badly. It came to public attention when a 10-pound hunk of rusted cast iron fell off in 2007. The state has turned to one of its enduring statesmen to head the campaign to raise some $8 million of the $12 million needed to fix the dome. Hank Brown served under the dome in the state Senate from 1972 to 1976, went to Congress in 1981 and moved to the U.S. Senate from 1991 to 1997. He took the helm of the University of Colorado as president during a troubled period and steered the school back to its former status. “Ultimately if we don’t act, the structure may collapse, impaling the governor and the legislature, so it’s with mixed feelings …” Brown said to laughter. The legislature developed a plan to get $4 million from the State Historical Fund and the rest through private donations.