People and Politics: May 2009
Jeopardy winner: Dan Pawson, a legislative aide to Massachusetts Senator Bruce Tarr, has won $250,000 in the 2009 Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions. And now everyone finally knows it. The 27-year-old Pawson took the tourney back in January after winning nine straight games in 2008, but has kept his triumph mostly to himself. He watched his win with State House and college friends at the Sports Depot. “I’m covering everyone’s first drink,” he joked. “I think that’s generous enough.”
Tweet, tweet: Social networking Rhode Islanders can now keep tabs on their state’s day-to-day financial health. State Treasurer Frank Caprio plans to broadcast the state’s daily cash flow through Twitter, a micro-blogging site. A $370 million deficit is looming in Rhode Island, and Caprio will “tweet” the money that comes in and goes out of the general fund each day. It’s part of his pledge to make state government more transparent.
... And tweet again: In Georgia, lawmakers are atwitter over social networking as a tool to speak directly to constituents. Senate President Eric Johnson “tweeted” his constituents when senators initially failed to pass his measure to investigate lawmakers who don’t pay income taxes. “Hey, Georgia legislators can marry folks, but we don’t have to pay our taxes,” Johnson said in a March posting on Twitter. Several days later, the bill came up again and this time passed, and Johnson’s constituents heard about it immediately. Johnson, who tweets almost daily during the session, is one of a growing group of legislators using social networking media.
An ill vote: Rounding up votes to pass New York’s $131.8 billion budget was packed with drama at the end of this fiscal year. Republicans vowed to vote no on the nine-bill package, and without a Democratic vote to spare, Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson, diagnosed with pneumonia, left the hospital by ambulance to cast one vote, returned to the hospital later in the afternoon, and two days later was wheeled back in the Senate chamber to cast her yea vote on the remaining bills. Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith and Senate Minority Leader Dean Skelos had considered a live video hook-up from the hospital room to the Capitol so the ailing lawmaker could vote, but that idea was rejected as illegal.
Alaska fight: Tim Grussendorf is Governor Sarah Palin’s controversial choice to fill the Alaska Senate seat vacated by Democrat Kim Elton. Grussendorf, a Senate aide whose father is a former Democratic House speaker, is facing opposition from the Democratic Party. It recommended House Minority Leader Beth Kerttula, a strong critic of the governor, for the job. The party is urging the nine Democratic senators to reject Grussendorf ’s appointment. Grussendorf was a registered Republican until just weeks before Palin’s pick, when he switched affiliation, arguing he believed he was registered as undeclared. Elton resigned to take a position in the Obama administration.
Wedding bells: Ohio Representative Tom Letson wants to expand the reach of legislators into marriage—by letting them perform weddings. Right now, only ordained or licensed ministers, religious societies, judges, mayors and—in what may be a first—the superintendent of the State School for the Deaf can perform civil marriage ceremonies. Under the bill, lawmakers would be required to donate any fees they receive to charity. Letson has some experience. As an acting judge, he’s performed dozens of weddings. “It is a very good feeling to be in a legal setting where no one is mad at each other,” he says. California, Georgia and Rhode Island already permit it.