Remembering Carol Somers

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Scott D. Kirtley eulogizes former state lawmaker Carol Somers, who died last week:


I first “met” Carol Somers over the phone in late 1999. I have to admit I was a snarky jerk. She called me as a courtesy to let me know she would be running for the Arizona State House of Representatives in Tucson’s District 13; she was feeling me out to see if I was going to run again. (I lost a close race in ’96 and used to throw my name in the mix of possible Republican candidates—probably in some narcissistic hope that someone would get me to run…blah, blah, blah… enough about me…)

Carol had a sweet, but very business-like phone voice. She told me she knew of another candidate in the Republican race (two could run in the general election); if I got in, a primary battle would ensue. I quipped that “primaries make the party stronger” and let her dangle uncomfortably.

I wasn’t running and I was just being a jerk…and a baby.

The 2000 campaign raged in what was once Arizona’s most competitive legislative district. (Republicans and Democrats numbered exactly the

same in old 13; a sizeable independent or unaffiliated vote always tipped the scales, often sending a Republican and a Democrat to the House.) Carol Somers won a seat along with now-Congresswoman Gabriella Giffords…in what was a tough year for Pima County Republicans.

I didn’t get too involved with politics anymore in those days—I had tussled and gotten banged up and bruised by the Party machinery, but I still watched some debates. I saw that Carol and her husband Mike were a great campaigning team. Mike was the perfect political husband and Carol was that person I thought everyone envisioned as his or her state representative, regardless of political bent.

Carol was intelligent, well-spoken, insightful, and knew when to not talk but just listen. I’ve known a lot of politicians and there aren’t many (including yours truly) who know when to stop talking and start listening.

In mid-2001, I was thrust back into legislative politics when I was appointed the Associate State School Superintendent for Southern Arizona in the short-lived Jaime Molera Administration at the Arizona Department of Education. Education funding was in real trouble back then, a system of standards was being developed in the form of the No Child Left Behind Act—Arizona was looking at a train wreck (standards-wise), and our team was in desperate need of friends…but especially those who could bridge the gap between the many, MANY factions in Arizona politics and policy. No easy feat.

Carol Somers was the perfect ally and a strong leader. I recall her eagerness to help and her strength in the Republican House Caucus—a veritable pitbull cage fight. During one tough Caucus session I remember Carol telling the East Valley Mafia to stop burying their collective heads in the sand (I believe on funding issues) and really standing her ground. Afterward, Carol’s secretary told me the Representative was back in her office; I called Carol and began to sing to her the chorus from “Wind Beneath My Wings”:

Did you ever know that you’re my hero?

She laughed and laughed.

And I remembered how I had been a jerk in our first encounter… She was truly the better person.

In April 2002, I brought my two younger daughters up to Phoenix for “Bring Your Daughter to Work Day.” My daughters and I sat in the gallery of the House watching the floor action and Carol—unbeknownst to me—stood up and made a special recognition of Sara and Courtney. They beamed; I blushed.

The Department survived two special sessions of the legislature and an extremely tough regular session in early 2002. Carol was one of our champions. In fact, our legislative effort was probably the most successful of any modern era education department in Arizona…and we still got kicked to the curb in the Republican primary that year (a whole other story).

Carol was a victim of political geography. When the Independent Redistricting Commission re-drew the legislative lines for the 2002 races, it pulled Carol’s constituency out from under her; she was forced into a district with two well-known incumbents. She lost her primary bid by a sliver despite some of the hardest campaigning by both Carol and Mike that I had ever witnessed. (I was part of Carol’s lost constituency so I could give her time and money, but not a vote.)

Carol’s 2006 comeback attempt also fell victim to a razor thin primary loss…

Our later contact was sparse. I left Arizona in 2005 to work in Central and South America for the Department of Defense. (Carol and Mike wrote to me when I was a military adviser to the Colombian Army, 2003-05.)

In 2010, I was excited when Carol’s Facebook profile popped up in the “People You May Know” block of the social networking site. I hit the “Add as a Friend” icon and wrote a little message…and then, I heard nothing for several months. In November, Mike let me know that Carol was in poor and deteriorating health. A seizure sent Carol to the hospital some time ago. Tests revealed a brain tumor…cancer…and a steady deterioration from then on.

I was able to write to Carol via her hospice website, but I fear I was too late. By the end of November, Carol was barely lucid or awake much. I could tell that Mike, one great husband and a true partner for Carol, was heartbroken and exhausted.

Today I received the news that Carol died last Thursday, 30 December 2010. Mike said she fought to the end because she was always a fighter.

Carol, we all miss you! I am very sad to have lost a great friend who gave so much to Arizona and showed me nothing but kindness, even when I didn’t deserve it. God bless you and keep you.

Mike, you are in our prayers. Know that Carol lives on in the hearts of all of us who loved her. Be strong.

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