Those we lost in 2016

We lost some good ones this year. There’s just not a lot more that I can say. Marian Bergeson was the 21st woman to serve in the California legislature and Sharon Runner was the 99th. George House and John Benoit both had long careers as Highway Patrol officers before joining the legislature. Greg Schmidt played a critical role in guiding the Senate through the term limits era. Each left a mark on the state that will not soon fade.

JANUARY
John A. Busterud – Assemblymember (1955-1962)

MARCH
Nancy Reagan – First Lady of California (1967-1975), First Lady of the United States (1981-1989)

JULY
Sharon Runner – State Assemblymember (2002-2008), State Senator (2011-2012, 2015-2016)
George R. House Jr. – State Assemblymember (1994-2000)

AUGUST
Marian C. Bergeson – State Assemblymember (1978-1984), State Senator (1984-1995)
Gregory P. Schmidt – Secretary of the Senate (1996-2014)

OCTOBER
Tom Hayden – Assemblyman (1982-1992), State Senator (1992-2000)

DECEMBER
Ed Reinecke – Member of Congress (1965-1969), Lieutenant Governor (1969-1974)
John J. Benoit – State Assemblymember (2002-2008), State Senator (2008-2009)

John J. Benoit (1951-2016)

Former State Senator John J. Benoit died Monday at his home in Riverside County. He had been diagnosed with cancer in November. Benoit, a longtime officer with the California Highway Patrol, had a great sense of humor and a lifetime of stories from his career in law enforcement. In his office at the Capitol, he kept a small book filled with traffic tickets that he had written. One ticket, signed by a well-known young socialite and hotel heiress, confirmed that Benoit pulled her over for speeding at more than 100 mph. “It’s my only celebrity autograph” Benoit would joke.

Benoit was also a private pilot who flew regularly between his home and Sacramento. He made his first flight to Sacramento as a legislator in December 2002 to be sworn into office. During the flight, Benoit realized that his route would take him close to airspace that had been closed for the landing of the Space Shuttle Endeavour (finishing up STS-113). According to his telling of the story, he decided to circle just outside the restricted area in the hopes of seeing the landing shuttle. The shuttle came in much faster and at a steeper angle than he had expected and Benoit ended up being much closer to the flightpath than he had any desire to be.

Benoit resigned from the Senate in 2009 after being appointed to the Riverside County Board of Supervisors, ending a stay in Sacramento that was far too short. He will be missed by many friends.

Senator John J. Benoit

Senator John J. Benoit

Bob Huff and The Parable of Someone Else’s Car

Banner - HuffThis is a short article that is a little bit about Senator Bob Huff, but mostly not.

I don’t write about every legislator but had been thinking about the soon-to-depart members who will be leaving office in the next few weeks. This evening, I saw a note on Facebook by a friend who thanked his boss, Senator Bob Huff “for a great experience.”

It got me thinking about my observations and handful of conversations with Senator Huff and the lessons that might be learned from his service in the legislature. The basic points of his service were actually pretty standard;

  • Like a lot of term limits-era legislators, he came from local government (serving on a City Council for a decade before arriving in the Assembly);
  • He served in both houses (which is a little more rare) and served 12 years between the two houses (which pretty standard for two-house members).

What made him stand out to me was the way he served. Let’s call this The Parable of Someone Else’s Car.

Term limits (specifically the restricted terms they offer legislators) can tell you a lot about people; how they treat other people’s things. Some politicians treat their elected offices like rental cars. From the way they interact with constituents and treat their staff to the seriousness with which they cast their votes, they clearly communicate “Hey, I’m not keeping this thing forever. It’s a rental! It’s just getting me from Point A to Point B.”

From my observations, that wasn’t Bob Huff. He treated his seat in the legislature like it was his father’s car. For all the downsides we got from the constant churning of legislators that term limits brought, the single best thing we received was the occasional legislator who understood that the seat they held was never really theirs and that someone else would occupy it in eight or fewer years.

Bob Huff didn’t rev the engine to show everyone how cool he was and he generally signalled when he was about to change lanes. He remained appreciative of the gift of public service that his neighbors had given him, he enjoyed the ride, and he returned it with a full tank of gas for whoever would be using it next.

He’s not out of the woods yet; there are always ample opportunities for former legislators to damage their reputations (just ask Assembly Speaker Yule). But as he leaves the Legislature… I think he can be proud of his accomplishments and the fact that he didn’t add any new dents or scratches to the 29th.