People and Politics: March 2013 | STATE LEGISLATURES MAGAZINE
SPEAKER MIKE CHENAULT (R) WAS UNANIMOUSLY RE-ELECTED to an unprecedented third term as leader of the Alaska House of Representatives. Chenault has now held the position longer than any other representative in the state’s history. Much of the speaker’s success, many say, can be attributed to the widespread fairness he displays toward every member, regardless of their party or views on certain issues. After being re-elected speaker, Chenault told his fellow representatives that he thinks of them as “family.”
SENATOR JACK A. HART JR., THE BOSTON DEMOCRAT HEAVILY FAVORED TO SUCCEED Senate President Therese Murray (D), announced he is resigning from the legislature to join a law firm. His departure makes the contest “a wide-open scramble,” with several viable candidates. Murray is obligated by term limits to leave the Senate presidency in 2015, although there is speculation she may leave before that. A special election is likely to coincide with the election to fill U.S. Senator John Kerry’s seat, with a primary in April and general election on June 25.
ABOUT 40,000 NEW STATE LAWS PASS EACH YEAR, and Florida Senator Nancy Detert (R) learned how just one can truly change lives. In 2002, Detert sponsored legislation to give stipends to 18-year-old kids leaving foster care to help them finish high school and go to college or get work training. Five young adults, all under 25, came to a hearing in Tallahassee to thank her personally for helping them make the transition out of foster care. The Road to Independence program helped one go to college and the others stay out of trouble and avoid homelessness. Detert has a reputation as a tough legislator—she even has a fireman’s ax in her office with the inscription “No Nonsense Nancy.” Now she’s working on legislation to extend foster care until age 21.
NOT MANY DEMOCRATS WANT TO RUN AGAINST NEW JERSEY’S REPUBLICAN GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE in this year’s election. Christie has been governor since 1997 and has a 74 percent approval rating. Senate President Stephen Sweeney took himself out of the race, saying he’s “decided my work needs to be focused on ensuring the Legislature remains in Democratic control.” Senator Richard Codey isn’t interested even though he was acting governor for 14 months after James McGreevey resigned amid a sex scandal. “I enthusiastically back whomever the nominee is,” he said. Democratic U.S. Representatives Frank Pallone and Bill Pascrell, both considered running then decided not to. Only Senator Barbara Buono has said yes to the challenge. She was first elected to the General Assembly in 1994, then to the Senate in 2002, and was majority leader from 2010-12. She has received the endorsement of most Democrats and appears to have the nomination sewn up.
ALASKA REPRESENTATIVE LINDSEY HOLMES LEFT HER MINORITY DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS after six years in the House and switched parties to join the GOP. She began thinking about the change shortly after the election, but had been “moving toward” it her entire legislative career, she says. Her defection leaves the Democrats with 10 members in the 40-member body. Under House rules, a caucus of 10 or more automatically gets committee assignments.
NEW MEXICO SENATOR MARY KAY PAPEN (D) BECAME THE FIRST WOMAN Senate president pro tem in 73 years when she was elected to the post by acclamation. Papen was the coalition candidate in a chamber dominated by Democrats, 25-17. Democratic Senator Pete Campos had been nominated by his caucus for the leadership position. But in a surprise move, he nominated the 80-year-old retired car dealer when it became apparent she had the votes among Republicans and conservative Democrats to win. It is the second time in four years a coalition-backed Democrat has been elected to the post. Papen presides over the committee that appoints committee members and chairs.
DEMONSTRATIONS CAN BE COSTLY. WHEN UNION PROTESTORS descended on the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing in December to oppose right-to-work bills in the birthplace of collective bargaining, it came with a high price tag for the state—$901,132 of state police costs. The bills passed the Republican-controlled legislature with lightning speed and Republican Governor Rick Snyder signed them within a day. Snyder has asked the Michigan Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of the bills, which make it illegal for employers to require workers to pay union dues. The question is whether the laws interfere with the Civil Service Commission’s authority. In a letter to the court, Snyder said he is attempting to avoid “a proliferation of state and federal lawsuits.”
TENNESSEE REPRESENTATIVE RYAN HAYNES (R) RENEWED HIS CONSTITUENTS’ FAITH IN POLITICS—and in youth. The 28-year-old second-term lawmaker stopped along Kingston Pike in heavy traffic to pick up money, pictures and papers that had been run over and were blowing everywhere. They belonged to a constituent who had driven off with her wallet on top of the trunk of her car. Haynes tracked her down and returned the billfold. Lynn Dell McKinney, owner of the wallet, wrote in a letter to the Knoxville News Sentinel that it is “honest and caring people like Haynes who help restore our faith in our fellow citizens and neighbors.”