Greg Schmidt (1947-2016)

What a terrible loss. Greg Schmidt, the 18-year Secretary of the Senate, died this week in Sacramento. It’s hard to explain the impact he made through the advice he gave to legislators and the mentorship he gave to staff.

Schmidt

I met Greg in 2007, while I was a Senate Fellow in the office of a member of the Senate Rules Committee. The first time I ever met him, I told him that I was a student of legislative history and a big fan of his work on the 2000 California Blue Book. Immune to flattering words and people claiming to share his interests, he replied; “You can’t bullshit a bullshitter.”

Surprised by his direct manner and not having any idea how to respond, I blurted out, “I found an error.”

“Come with me,” he said, and led me to his office on the 4th floor. Dropping a copy of the massive book on a small table in his office, Greg pointed to it and said “Show me.”

 

In the years after, we occasionally talked as my research took me into what seemed like dead ends. After getting approval from his gatekeeper, I’d head up the stairs to his office and ask if he had time to talk. He would rarely give me the answer I was looking for, but would frequently point me in a new direction that I hadn’t thought of and send me along on my way.

Educated as a historian, he understood the thrill of diving into old books to learn stories that were forgotten by almost everyone. His training also helped him understand (better than most who work in Capitol) exactly how he fit into the history of the institution that he loved. He knew that the building had stood for a century before he arrived. You don’t even want to know how many legislators his tenure in the legislature overlapped with. It was a lot.

It can be hard for politicians and staffers to understand that, with all of the bustle and racing confusion of the session, this really isn’t the end of the story. Seeing members come and go, Schmidt understood that we get some time to make a difference and then we depart. History is a chain and the people in office now are not the final link. Although we can’t see it, the chain will continue after us and it’s our duty to do the best job we can while we’re here.

 

In his subtle ways, he left clues throughout the Chambers. In the hallway that runs from the Senate Sergeant-At-Arms office to the back of the Senate Chambers are the photographs of the California Senate’s Presidents pro Tempore. Not just one, but all of them, back to 1849.

On the hall opposite the entrance to the Members’ Lounge are panorama photos of the chamber filled with Senators of different sessions. Even on the Senate Floor itself, he placed a bust of an early Senator on a pedestal. I always enjoyed this quiet symbolism; to this day, every session is watched over by a 41st Senator who ties the modern institution to its humble roots.

Greg Schmidt was a man who, for the time he was able, kept the Senate connected to its roots.

 

 

My 54 Hours As a Candidate

For more than a decade, I’ve enjoyed being an observer of California politics, reading history books and interviewing legislators. During that time, I never thought I’d run for political office.

For me, it was hard enough to watch brutal elections where candidates gambled everything; missing anniversary dinners, kids birthdays, and even mortgaging their houses to fill campaign accounts.

Screenshot 2016-08-16 at 9.38.25 AMOn Monday, August 15th, I crossed over the line and became a candidate for a little over two days. This is the story of my 53 hours and 56 minute campaign.

Last week, a neighbor mentioned that by the close of the nomination period on August 12th, no candidates had filed to run for the board of our local recreation and park district. Like many special districts in California, the Arcade Creek Park and Recreation District is governed by a five-member elected board. The board is elected to four-year terms, with roughly half being elected every two years.

This year, three of the five seats were up for election and for a variety of reasons, the three incumbents had decided not to run for reelection. Because of this, the nomination period (when a candidate can file the paperwork to run) was extended until August 17th.

I’ve always been a fan of our local parks, and the board has been doing a lot of good work (modernizing playgrounds, increasing security patrols, and preparing to build a bridge that will finally provide a safe way to access the nature trail from the local community college). After some thought, I decided to run.

On Monday morning, my daughter and I drove down to the Sacramento County elections office where I was able to complete my paperwork in just a few minutes. I turned in my paperwork, took an oath of office (without reservation or purpose of evasion) and was out the door by 11:04 am. I was a candidate!

That evening, I checked the list of Qualified Candidates on the Sacramento County website. The time stamp on the PDF showed that as of 3:45:02PM on August 15th, I was the only name listed.

The next night, I wondered if I should check in again. It seemed that it might be excessive to check in on the candidate filing status daily. Then again, when your campaign is likely to only last 54 hours, checking in every 24 is probably the least you can do. Following the link again on Tuesday, I found that I remained the only candidate listed for the three seats.

The dawn brought Wednesday, the final day of my hard-fought campaign. At five in the afternoon, as I drove home from work in light traffic, the extended filing period ended at and (I was still the only one candidate on the ballot) I was declared elected.

My 54 hours as a candidate had ended.

Sharon Runner (1954-2016)

Senator Sharon Runner

Senator Runner

According to an article in the Sacramento Bee, Senator Sharon Runner has died. Runner, the 99th woman to serve in the California State Legislature, served in the Assembly from 2002-2008 and in the State Senate from 2011-2012 and 2015-2016. Sharon Runner held an interesting spot in California history, being the first person elected to the State Senate twice in Special Elections and only the 5th Republican woman to serve in both houses.

One of the most enduring memories that I will carry of Senator Runner was the closeness of her office. Many legislative offices are close (at least on Legislative Bowling Night) but few have the sustained strong connection that I saw with her staff. Few things communicated this more than a note included in her final newsletter from her 2011-12 term in Senate;

“I have been honored to be served by my wonderful staff. They truly are more like family, they have given their hard work ethic, values and loyalty to the Runner Team for many, many years. It will be difficult for me to not see them regularly. They have done an outstanding job for the constituents throughout the district.”

The best way to sum up Senator Runner is to paraphrase the epitaph of 1950s Assemblyman Edwin S. Bulen;

“She Loved People”