People and Politics: February 2011
Crossing the aisle. Missouri House Speaker Steven Tilley took the gavel in a decidedly Republican chamber. The GOP has a 106-57 majority. Yet he appointed Democrats to chair three of the 44 House committees. Tilley says he chose the most qualified people, regardless of political party. Representative Chris Kelly, who chaired the House Budget Committee in the 1980s when Democrats were in control, now chairs the Public Safety and Corrections Appropriations Committee. Representative Linda Black, who defeated her former husband, John Fischer, in the general election, is chair of the Corrections Committee. And Representative Jamilah Nasheed is chair of the Urban Issues Committee.
Making a move. Former Ohio Senator Steve Buehrer left his legislative seat to head up the state’s Workers’ Compensation Bureau. Appointed by newly elected Governor John Kasich, Buehrer had chaired the Senate Insurance, Commerce and Labor Committee, and previously worked at the bureau as head of human resources. He also chaired the 13-member Workers’ Compensation Council, created by the Legislature to review bills. Buehrer was serving his first term in the Senate. He was a member of the House from 1999-2006.
Lots of hats. Officeholder responsibilities can keep a guy busy in New Jersey. Just ask Senator Stephen Sweeney. In addition to being president of the Senate, Sweeney has stepped in as the state’s acting governor, and served as director of the Glouster Country Board of Chosen Freeholders. This in addition to his full time job as a union organizer. He held the “freeholder,” position for 14 years (13 as director) before he stepped down at the end of the year. Freeholder is a job title peculiar to New Jersey—the word dates back to colonial times—and is an elected county office. Nine New Jersey lawmakers, who also hold another elected office, were exempted from a ban on dual-office holding the Legislature passed three years ago. Now the governor wants to eliminate the practice all together.
Stepping down. The man many once considered the most powerful politician in the North Carolina General Assembly, Marc Basnight, said a degenerative nerve disease as well as his desire to spend more time with his fiancée, convinced him to resign from the Senate after 25 years, 18 as Senate president pro tem. His resignation took effect the day before the GOP took control of the chamber for the first time in more than 100 years. He had his hand on every major piece of legislation, including the creation of the state lottery and the ban on smoking in bars and restaurants. “Senator Basnight’s respect for the institution has never been more apparent than during the current transition process,” said Republican Senator Phil Berger, the new president pro tem. “The grace, respect and cooperation he and his staff have shown Republicans will be the standard by which all future transitions are measured.”
Press veteran. A veteran Utah newspaperman is the new chief deputy of the House. Speaker Rebecca Lockhart named Joe Pyrah to the post. He will also be the spokesman for the House Republican caucus.
New role. Michigan’s Senate Fiscal Agency Director Gary Olson left his post after 20 years to join a respected Lansing research firm as the senior expert on public finance and state government policies. Ellen Jeffries, who had been deputy director and is an expert on education finance, will head up the agency.
A leader passes. Former Connecticut House speaker and Congressman William Ratchford died in January at age 76. Ratchford began his legislative career in 1963, and served as speaker from 1969 to 1973 and minority leader in 1973-74. He was president of the National Legislative Conference in 1973-1974, one of three organizations of state legislatures back then. He made the merger of these competing organizations a priority of his presidency and played a lead role in the negotiations that led to the formation of the National Conference of State Legislatures in 1975. He was elected to the U.S. House in 1978, and served three terms. “He was a profoundly caring human being whose vision and enthusiasm for strengthening state legislatures helped launch NCSL,” said Linda Adams, who served on the Connecticut Legislature’s staff.
Legislator attacked. Arizona Representative Frank Pratt, on Christmas day, was ambushed, beaten unconscious and tied up for some five hours at his place of business before his wife found him. He was airlifted to a Phoenix hospital and treated for a fracture and multiple bruises and contusions. Police located his stolen SUV a week after the attack and have arrested a suspect.
End of an era. The longest serving legislator in Nevada history has resigned after 38 years. Bill Raggio, 84, had served as both the majority and minority floor leader, and had been the GOP caucus leader for 28 years. He stepped down in November when Senator Mike McGinness challenged him for opposing Sharon Angle in her U.S. Senate campaign.