People & Politics: April 2009
GOP leader ousted: During a marathon, 46-hour session of the California Legislature to close a $42 billion budget gap, the Senate GOP caucus dumped its leader, Dave Cogdill, after he negotiated a bill with legislative leaders and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger that included tax increases. At 10 p.m., members met in Cogdill’s office and voted to oust him, replacing him with Senator Dennis Hollingsworth. Ultimately, Cogdill and two other Republicans voted for the bill, which contained $14 billion in tax hikes, as well as program cuts and bond sales. The three GOP votes were necessary to reach the two-thirds majority required in California to pass a budget bill. The budget stalemate lasted about four months, with the governor threatening to lay off some 20,000 state employees, delay income tax refunds and shut down some $3.8 billion in construction projects.
And another one. One day he was the first Republican speaker of the Tennessee House in 40 years, the next day he was, well, a speaker without a party. The state Republican Party kicked out Speaker Kent Williams in February, costing the GOP its one-vote majority in the House. Williams and all 49 Democrats in the House banded together in the vote for the speakership, giving Williams one more vote than GOP nominee Jason Mumpower. Williams said he will not change any committee assignments, which he divided pretty evenly between the two parties, nor will he become a Democrat. Under Republican Party rules, he will not be allowed to run under the GOP banner in 2010. He has indicated he will run as an independent.
Is Twitter next? Social networking is the new communications buzz phrase, but in Maryland they didn’t think much of it. The General Assembly banned all access to Facebook and My-Space for computers running on the legislative network. Some 43 members of the General Assembly—which numbers 188—had Facebook accounts through which they communicated with constituents. “I’m kind of cut off from the outside world here,” said Delegate Curtis Anderson. “It’s a dark day.” But five days later, the head of the General Assembly’s Information Services, who had instituted the ban for fear of viruses, said he installed new software to protect the system. Members complained that the initial move was out of step with the country. The U.S. Congress does not ban the sites. President Obama has a Facebook page, and so does Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley. Now Maryland lawmakers can, too.
Bridging the gap. Alabama Senator Rodger Smitherman was elected Senate president pro tem, the second African American in the state’s history to hold the post. Senator Hinton Mitchem stepped down from the post after 17 votes necessary to win were committed to Smitherman. First elected in 1994, Smitherman was in line to become pro tem for two of the next four years because of an agreement with key Senate Democrats to join with them to form a ruling majority. “We are going to work together because I’m not the pro tem for one caucus or the other caucus, I’m the pro tem of the Alabama Senate,” Smitherman said. “I want to be the bridge that brings us together.”
Switching speakers. Florida Republicans, in an unprecedented move, stripped Representative Ray Sansom of his short-lived tenure as House speaker before he had presided over his first regular session of the House, and chose Larry Cretul as the new leader. “It was something that had to be done so we can get the work done for the people of Florida. It was nothing any of us wanted to do,” said Representative Rich Glorioso. Sansom, who assumed the job as speaker in December, was under a cloud for accepting an unadvertised, $110,000-a-year job with Northwest Florida State College the day he was sworn in as speaker. He is facing a grand jury investigation and ethics complaints for that as well as steering more than $35 million to the school in state construction money. As the allegations became public, pressure grew for him to step down.
Tough fundraising rules. Wisconsin Assembly leaders in February approved a rule banning fundraising by members while the state is debating the budget. Majority Leader Thomas Nelson said the ban is groundbreaking and the strongest campaign finance reform in decades. “You have 99 campaign committees that will be effectively shut down for three or four months, however long the budget cycle will occur,” Nelson said. “This is specific reform that people have been talking about for the last decade, and here today we finally acted on it.” But the ban does not extend to campaign committees controlled by the two caucuses. ”By excluding them you’re funneling [campaign funds] away from individual members to an instrument controlled by leaders. It’s an absolute zero,” said Senator Mike Ellis. Assembly Minority Leader Jeff Fitzgerald believes it should be expanded into law and include the Senate and the governor.
Filling in. Greg Ernst, a New Orleans maritime lawyer, has been appointed to fill the seat of Louisiana Representative Nicholas Lorusso while he is on active duty for one year. Lorusso, a lieutenant colonel in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, sponsored a constitutional amendment passed in November outlining a process for temporarily replacing a legislator called for active military duty. Ernst, a graduate of Harvard and Tulane Law School, was one of three candidates recommended by Lorusso. The Government Affairs Committee recommended Ernst, and Speaker Jim Tucker made the choice official.