People and Politics: July/August 2010
Courage award. Bipartisanship may be rare these days, but four California leaders who worked across party lines to negotiate a budget during one of the worst economic downturns in history were awarded the nation’s most prestigious recognition for elected officials: the Profile in Courage Award. Caroline Kennedy presented the award—its 20th anniversary—to Democrats Karen Bass, former Assembly speaker; and Darrell Steinberg, Senate president pro tem; and Republicans David Cogdill, former Senate Republican leader; and Michael Villines, former Republican Assembly leader. The deal the four negotiated to save the state from financial ruin, however, was ultimately repudiated by the voters, and the deficit has not been closed. “In today’s climate of deeply partisan politics, crossing party lines can be an act of political suicide,” Kennedy said. “It’s far too rare an occasion when political adversaries put aside their differences to reach common ground. Today we present a single lantern to the legislative leaders of California—for their singular act of courage—they set an example for our country and dared to agree.”
Nonpartisan champion. Paula Tackett, director of the New Mexico Legislative Council Service for 22 years and a long-time friend of NCSL, retired in June. The daughter of a state Supreme Court Justice, Tackett is a lawyer who started her career lobbying the Legislature for Northern New Mexico Community College. She joined the Legislative Council Service as a staff attorney and became director in 1988, overseeing everything from bill drafting to redrawing congressional districts to renovating the Capitol and helping set up a foundation so artists and collectors could donate paintings and sculptures to the building. This year she was honored as the “2010 Public Lawyer of the Year” by the New Mexico Bar Association for her “unwavering and fierce determination to provide the unvarnished facts in a nonpartisan fashion in what is usually a very partisan environment.” Tackett was actively involved with NCSL throughout her career, serving on the Executive Committee, 1996-99, and chairing various committees and task forces. Raúl Burciaga has been named the new director.
Star visit. Baseball Hall of Fame center fielder Willie Mays visited the floor of the California Senate on May 6, his 79th birthday. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and lawmakers proclaimed it Willie Mays Day in the state. The baseball great started his 660 home run career with the New York Giants and moved with the team to San Francisco in 1958.
NASCAR honor. North Carolina Speaker Joe Hackney traded the pace of legislative deliberation for the speed of NASCAR when he waved the green flag at the Coca-Cola 600 over the Memorial Day weekend. Hackney was honorary starter for NASCAR’s only 600-mile race. He said the industry has been an integral part of his state’s economy for decades and he was thrilled to “play a small part in one of the circuit’s biggest events.” Hackney is immediate past president of NCSL.
Election Italian style. Connecticut Representative Joseph Mioli has his eye on an unusual prize—a seat in the Italian Parliament. The three-term lawmaker, who came to the United States at age 21, is not seeking re-election, but instead has set his sights on becoming one of 315 elected members of the Senate of the Republic (Italian, that is) as an overseas representative. The 72-year-old Mioli holds dual citizenship and would represent North and Central America. He’s encouraging his colleague Senator Toni Boucher, also born in Italy, to seek dual citizenship so she can vote for him by mail. “It would be an honor to do that for him,” Boucher said. “He has attained the American dream.”
Surprise loss. South Carolina House Speaker Pro Tem Harry Cato lost his bid for re-election in a stunning defeat in the Republican primary in June. The former chair of the Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee, Cato has served in the legislature for 20 years. He was defeated by Tom Corbin, who describes himself as a conservative Christian businessman. Corbin won 59 percent of the vote.