People and Politics: September 2011
Facing recall. Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce, who has risen to national prominence for his illegal immigration legislation, is facing a recall election Nov. 8. Petition organizers collected 3,000 more valid signatures than needed. Pearce is a former judge and deputy sheriff who was first elected to the Arizona Senate in 2008, having served in the House since 2000. He is the author of a controversial law requiring law enforcement officials to ask for documentation from anyone detained and suspected of being an illegal immigrant. It sparked a suit by the U.S. Department of Justice, and a federal judge has issued a preliminary injunction against the bill. Last year Pearce sponsored a birthright citizenship bill that failed in the Senate following pressure from the business community. He will face charter school executive Jerry Lewis at the polls.
Agency role for lawmaker. Utah Representative Julie Fisher has resigned from the Legislature to become director of the Utah Department of Community and Culture. First elected in 2004, the third-term Republican was appointed to the position by Governor Gary Herbert to guide the agency through major restructuring and severe budget cuts. Herbert said Fisher “not only understands the state’s stewardship role in preserving our unique and invaluable cultural identity, she also appreciates our accountability for every tax dollar, as well as the need to examine service models in a meaningful way.” Fisher was vice-chair of NCSL’s Labor and Economic Development Committee and chaired a committee to review conference by-laws.
Musical chairs. Three Ohio House members have moved to the Senate, and House Republicans have selected two women and a man to replace them. Margaret Conditt is a former township trustee who replaced Bill Coley when he left the House to take the Senate seat of Gary Cates, who left for a position with the Ohio Board of Regents. When Senators Karen Gillmor and Jimmy Stewart left the Senate for other opportunities, David Burke and Troy Balderson moved from the House to fill their seats. Dorothy Liggett Pelanda is an attorney who replaced Burke, and family farm owner Brian Hill took Balderson’s seat.
Family affair. The son of an Illinois congressman is the state’s newest House member. Jerry Costello II replaced 14-year veteran Dan Reitz who resigned his seat mid-term. Costello was among seven candidates vying for the southern Illinois seat. A financial adviser, Costello says his father, U.S. Representative Jerry Costello, warned him that politics “can be a dirty business.” But the new lawmaker says it’s “in my blood.” Costello is a former police officer who served in the first Gulf War.
Senate swap. Washington Senator Phil Rockefeller stepped down to accept an appointment to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council by Governor Christine Gregoire. Representative Christine Rolfes was named to his seat.
"Sense of pride." Alabama Representative Owen Drake, 75, died in June following a long battle with cancer. Elected in 2010 to a second four-year term in the House, Drake received a standing ovation when he returned to the chamber during the closing days of the session. His illness caused him to miss much of the session, but “he wouldn’t even let a painful and exhausting battle with cancer keep him from tending to his constituents’ needs,” said Speaker Mike Hubbard. Representative Allen Treadaway said it was important for Drake, even though he was extremely ill, to be with his colleagues. “For him there was an overwhelming sense of pride that he got to do that one last time.” Governor Robert Bentley, who served with Drake in the House, set the primary date to replace him at the end of August.
The voice. There will be other clerks in the Senate, but no one with his exact style—no one with that Tom Sheridan voice,” Connecticut Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams said following the death of clerk of the Senate. Tom Sheridan died at 62 after battling cancer for more than a year. He was diagnosed the day after the 2010 session ended, and served through this year’s session. “This whole session was one long profile in courage for Tom Sheridan,” Williams said. He and Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney visited Sheridan on the day of the special session, a few days before he died. A graduate of Amherst College and an attorney in private practice, Sheridan came to the Senate for 20 years to call the members to the chamber and read the consent calendar so quickly members had a hard time keeping up with him. “His knowledge of procedure and his ability to keep business moving in the Senate was unparalleled. He was tremendous at what he did,” said Williams. “He was quite literally the voice of the Connecticut state Senate. Everyone knew that booming voice.”
Tragic loss. In North Dakota, state and American flags flew at half staff from sunrise to sunset the day of Senate Majority Leader Bob Stenehjem’s funeral. Remembered as a generous, strong leader whose contributions to the state are “immeasurable,” Stenehjem, 59, died in Alaska when the SUV he was riding in lost control and overturned. He had been on a halibut fishing vacation. An avid fisherman who believed plaid shirts went with everything, Stenehjem joined his two brothers in the legislature—believed unprecedented—when he was elected to the Senate in 1992. He became majority leader in 2001. “North Dakota lost a tremendous leader. … He had a heart of gold and a real passion for what he did,” said former minority leader Senator David O’Connell. Stenehjem was “a great asset to the North Dakota legislature,” according to Governor Jack Dalrymple, adding his “warmth and friendliness will be sorely missed.” Stenehjem is credited for helping bring oil development to Indian reservations.