People and Politics: June 2011
Bruce Jamerson. The flag over Mr. Jefferson’s Capitol flew at half staff for two days in April to honor Bruce Jamerson, clerk of the Virginia House of Delegates, who died on Easter. He was 54.
He was 34 when first elected clerk, making him the youngest person to hold the position since 31-year-old William Henry Manning in 1899. He spent his entire professional life in
the halls of the House of Delegates. He started as a 17-year-old high school student and met his wife, who was working as a page, there.
Only the 20th person to serve as clerk, Jamerson’s professional reputation was esteemed. He issued a controversial ruling in 1998 against a Republican motion to seat three GOP members whose elections had not yet been certified, which allowed Democrats to re-elect Speaker Thomas Moss Jr. When Republicans took control of the House the next year, they re-elected Jamerson to make an orderly transition.
Jamerson worked under four speakers and helped plan the inaugurations of five governors. But his lasting legacy was in the bricks and mortar of the 223-year-old building Thomas Jefferson designed, and which houses the oldest legislative body in the United States. He provided the oversight, along with Senate Clerk Susan Clarke Schaar, of the $105 million renovation completed in 2007, just days before Queen Elizabeth addressed the delegates during the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown. Jamerson was seated at her right.
"Bruce embodied so much of what is good and noble about public service,” said Speaker William J. Howell. “He was a consummate professional who understood well that the first rule of success is hard work. That he always did without fail, with a warm and friendly demeanor and out of an abiding respect for every member, staff colleague or visitor to Mr. Jefferson’s Capitol.”
Governor Bob McConnell, who served as a member of the House for 14 years, said Jamerson “knew the history of Jefferson’s Capitol, the Square that surrounded it and the individuals who worked in it better than anyone else. He loved his work and he loved our Commonwealth.”
Jamerson was president of NCSL’s American Society of Legislative Clerks and Secretaries in 2004-05 and chair of the Virginia Capitol Foundation from 2003-05. When the House returned the day after his death for a session on redistricting, Jamerson’s lectern was draped in black crepe. Both the House and Senate adjourned in his honor.
"He loved this building like it was his home,” said Schaar, “and it was.”
Changes at the top. The domino effect in Arizona has put a new leader at the speaker’s podium. Representative Andy Tobin was elected by his colleagues at the end of April to replace Kirk Adams, who resigned from the Legislature to run for Congress. That seat opened up when U.S. Representative Jeff Flake—whose uncle, Jake, was speaker of the Arizona House from 2003 to 2004—decided to run for the U.S. Senate when Senator John Kyl announced he would not seek reelection. Speaker Tobin had been majority leader since late 2010. Representative Steve Court beat out two rivals—Representatives David Gowan and Russ Jones—for the majority leader position.
Requiem. Utah Senator Dennis Stowell died in April of complications from cancer. He was 66. Stowell’s public service career spanned 25 years. Before his election to the Senate in 2006, where he served as vice chair of the Appropriations Committee, he served as mayor and county commissioner in his hometown. Stowell had an advanced degree in chemical engineering from Brigham Young University, and spent his life as an engineer, farmer, rancher and inventor. “Dennis Stowell was remarkably intelligent and personable,” said Senate President Michael Waddoups. “We will miss his good cheer, his analytical capabilities and his strong convictions.”
Grievances. It’s spelled out in the constitution, but not since the late 1800s has a New Hampshire legislative committee heard a citizen “redress of grievance,” until now. House Speaker William O’Brien named a special Redress of Grievances Committee to hear a case against a school teacher who allegedly threatened a student’s life if he didn’t finish a class he needed to graduate, and three other citizen disputes. The boy’s father demanded a public apology, but both the police department and the school district investigated the allegation, said it had no merit and denounced the committee for conducting a public hearing on a private matter.
Big pensions. Illinois’ pension fund is woefully underfunded, with assets $185.6 million short of liabilities, according to A Better Government Association. The group found that 27 of 286 retired officeholders are drawing pensions of more than $100,000 a year, some while holding down other jobs. Former Senator Arthur Berman leads the pack. His combined pension, from 31 years in the General Assembly (which ended in 2000) and a later job with the Chicago Public Schools, is $203,428 a year. Former Governor Jim Edgar receives $134,843 from the state for his service between 1991 and 1999, along with his more than $176,000 salary from his current job. Former Senate President Emil Jones is also on the list. Lawmakers passed pension reform legislation last year, but it won’t affect current pension recipients or some older, current officeholders, who will get a 3 percent increase each year if they retire at age 60 or older. That includes 69-year-old Michael Madigan, speaker of the House for some 30 years.