People and Politics: December 2009
Health IT award. Massachusetts Senator Richard Moore, NCSL president-elect, was named State Legislator of the Year by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society. Moore was recognized for promoting electronic health records, electronic prescribing, and computerized physician order entry systems in Massachusetts and across the nation. Moore is Senate chairman of the legislature’s Joint Committee on Health Care Financing, and was a principal architect of Massachusetts’ landmark health care reform law of 2006 and the quality and containment law of 2008. “Health IT is but one way in which we can advance health reform at home and across the nation, and its impact on health care is vital not only to cost containment, but to the future of health care modernization,” Moore says.
National board. Former NCSL President Senator Leticia Van de Putte of Texas is one of five leaders in education, science and policymaking around the country named to the National Assessment Governing Board by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Van de Putte will serve a four-year term and help set policy for the National Assessment of Educational Progress, commonly known as The Nation’s Report Card. “I am excited to serve on the board and continue my work of ensuring a high-quality public education for all American school children,” Van de Putte says.
Working vacation. A Minnesota legislator visiting Cancun, Mexico, helped root out a little corruption while on vacation. Senator Michelle Fischbach and her husband, Scott, were pulled over by Mexican police for allegedly driving one mile over the speed limit. Scott, a nondrinker, was ordered to blow into the policeman’s cupped hands—his version of a breathalyzer. The police took his license, and told him he would go to jail unless he could come up with $300. The Fischbachs paid, but the senator wrote to the mayor about the incident, mentioning she is a state lawmaker. The police officers were fired, and the Fischbachs received a check. “I personally attended to it,” the Cancun mayor said. “In this administration, we will not tolerate any corruption.”
Mayoral switch. Richard Berry, a New Mexico legislator who was elected mayor of Albuquerque, resigned his seat in October. New Mexico’s constitution allows dual office holders, so Berry could have served as legislator and mayor. He is the second legislator to face this choice. Former Representative Tom Swisstack was elected mayor of Rio Rancho in 2008 and also resigned his legislative post.
Seat on the court. Kentucky Republican Senate Majority Leader Dan Kelly resigned his seat in October to accept the appointment by Governor Steve Beshear, a Democrat, to a vacant seat on the circuit court. Senate Republicans chose veteran member Robert Stivers as the new majority leader. He has served in the chamber since 1997. In the meantime, an election to fill Kelly’s legislative seat is set for Dec. 8. Former representative Jodie Haydon, a Democrat, will face off against Republican Representative Jimmy Higdon.
New Jersey challenge. Richard Codey, president of the New Jersey Senate since 2002, has a unique leadership biography: a legislator, the Senate leader and, at times, governor—all simultaneously. Because New Jersey does not have a lieutenant governor (that will change in 2010), Codey, as Senate president, stepped in as the 53rd governor for two years, while still running the Senate, when James McGreevy resigned in disgrace in November 2004. He became acting governor again for a month in 2007 when Governor Jon Corzine was hospitalized after a car accident. Now his hold on leadership is being challenged by Senate Majority Leader Stephen Sweeney, who says he has the votes to oust Codey in January. Codey is not so sure. “Everyone knows leadership battles are a fluid and ever-changing process. And what is today, is not tomorrow,” Codey says. In the meantime, Assembly Speaker Joseph Rogers announced he is not seeking re-election and it is likely that Sheila Oliver will become the first African-American woman speaker in New Jersey. Joseph Cryan, the current Education Committee chair, is expected to become majority leader.
Loss in Alaska. Eleven-term Alaska Representative Richard Foster died in October at age 63. A popular legislator known for his kindness, love of Alaska history and expertise on the state’s capital budget, Foster died of a heart attack while undergoing kidney dialysis. A registered Democrat, this Vietnam War veteran, former Army captain and aviation company owner usually voted with the Republicans. “Richard treated people with respect and was a smart, humble, unassuming legislator,” says Governor Sean Parnell. “We will miss him.”