People and Politics: April 2010
Editor's note: After the print edition of State Legislatures went to press, NCSL's president, Georgia Senator Don Balfour, pulled out of the race for U.S. Congress in Georgia's 7th District. Balfour also announced on March 18 that he will not seek re-election to his Senate seat.
Congress. NCSL President and Georgia Senator Don Balfour is making a bid for Congress. Balfour is seeking the seat currently held by retiring U.S. Representative John Linder, who announced in March that he is not seeking re-election after 18 years in Congress. Balfour was first elected to the Georgia Senate in 1992 and is chair of the Senate Rules Committee. Balfour says he will continue support for Linder’s Fair Tax legislation that would repeal all corporate and individual income taxes, payroll taxes, self-employment taxes, capital gains taxes, estate taxes and gift taxes, and replace it with a revenue-neutral personal consumption tax. Other prospective candidates include Representatives Clay Cox and Jeff May, and former Christian Coalition Director and current state GOP Chairman Ralph Reed.
Congress again. Virginia House Majority Leader Morgan Griffith is challenging Congressman Rick Boucher, a 28-year veteran of the U.S. House. Griffith has served in the House of Delegates for 18 years. A practicing attorney, Griffith was elected majority leader by his colleagues in 2000.
Bid in Arkansas. Senator Shane Broadway of Arkansas announced he will seek the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor, following the announcement by current Lt. Governor Bill Halter that he will challenge U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln in the May primary. A former speaker of the Arkansas House, Broadway has served in the Senate since 2003.
California first. John Perez was officially sworn in as California’s speaker in March. A former labor organizer and the state’s first openly gay speaker, Perez presented his colleagues with a small rubber ducky with his name and the state seal imprinted on each. Perez has quite a collection—estimated in the hundreds—of the little waterfowl. He promised to appoint two Republican committee chairs in the Democratic-controlled Assembly. He also promised to ban text messages from lobbyists on the floor. He replaces Karen Bass as speaker, who is running for Congress and is being termed out of office.
Expelled. The New York Senate in February expelled Senator Hiram Monserrate following his conviction for misdemeanor assault against his girlfriend. Monserrate challenged the 53-8 ouster in U.S. District Court in Manhattan. His lawyer argued the Senate “conducted an unconstitutional usurpation of a Senate seat,” and that the people who elected him were “disenfranchised and denied equal protection of law.” The court denied Monserrate’s request to block his expulsion, the first time a New York legislator has been expelled in nearly 100 years. Monserrate, a former New York City policeman, was convicted of slashing his girlfriend’s face with broken glass. In June, he switched his allegiance to the Republicans in a coup that gave temporary control of the chamber to the GOP, leading to chaos in the chamber until he returned to the Democratic fold a week later. Monserrate is not giving up. He filed a petition to run for his seat, with some 5,500 signatures, in a special election. Stay tuned.
New leader. Utah Senate Republicans have chosen Scott Jenkins, former caucus whip, as the chamber’s new majority leader. Jenkins replaces former Senate Majority Leader Sheldon Killpack. Senator Wayne Niederhauser is the new majority whip, and Senator Pete Knudson replaces Niederhauser as assistant whip. Jerry Stevenson, a former mayor, was chosen to replace Killpack.
Back from duty. Louisiana Representative Nick Lorusso, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, completed a one year assignment as a deputy staff judge advocate and is back in the Legislature. In 2008, Lorusso sponsored an amendment to the state constitution allowing an appointed representative to temporarily fill the seat of a lawmaker called to military service. New Orleans lawyer Greg Ernst filled Lorusso’s spot for the year.
Tearful goodbye. Iowa Representative Roger Wendt, a driving force in education policy, is suffering from lung cancer and is not returning to the legislature. Wendt is considered an influential powerhouse on education issues. He is chair of the House Education Committee. Colleagues were tearful at the news, many of them shocked because Wendt had been working on legislation up until late February. Governor Chet Culver said Wendt’s “life and career can best be thought of in terms of ‘service to others.’ For his life of service, I simply want to thank him, and to publicly recognize the tremendous impact he has had on the state we love.”
Michigan says so long. Vernon Ehlers, a 16-year veteran of Congress who cut his political teeth in the Michigan House of Representatives, announced he is retiring from office. The 76-year-old Ehlers was the first research physicist to serve in the Michigan Legislature and the U.S. Congress.