Opinion Columns & Blogs

For a change, let's hear about politicians doing the right thing

Not everything connected to politics is controversial, costly or suspicious. Some of the 800-plus bills passed by the Legislature this year were simply intended to achieve a worthwhile end. Assemblyman Tom Berryhill, R-Modesto, carried one of those -- Assembly Concurrent Resolution 156, to name a stretch of Highway 120 near Groveland in honor of firefighter Eva Marie Schicke, who was killed four years ago this weekend.

Many in our area knew Schicke. She played basketball at California State University, Stanislaus, graduating in 2002 with a degree in criminal justice. By that time, she'd spent two years as a seasonal firefighter for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. On Sept. 12, 2004, she was working out of the Columbia Air Attack Base and flew with a crew into the Tuolumne fire, burning in the Tuolumne River Canyon near Yosemite National Park.

Schicke and six other firefighters dropped in to battle the blaze on the ground. She perished and the other six were injured when they were overcome by wind-whipped flames. She was CalFire's first female firefighter to die in the line of duty.

There since have been bigger fires and more firefighter deaths, but Schicke's colleagues have not forgotten her. As they do every year, they raised and lowered a flag in her honor Friday, the anniversary of her death.

In April, a memorial to Schicke was placed at an overlook-vista point known as the Rim of the World. Haley Podesta, a 2008 graduate of Summerville High School, led the effort to raise money for the memorial, about $6,000 in all. Haley's father, Frank Podesta, was one of Schicke's captains in CalFire. He's now a battalion chief. A few years ago, Podesta's son, Jason, also devoted his senior project to honor Schicke. He organized a golf tournament and live auction that raised $25,000 toward a scholarship fund. One scholarship is awarded each year, alternating between a firefighting science student at Columbia College and a nursing student at Modesto Junior College.

Once Berryhill's resolution is signed by the governor, the firefighters union Local 2881 will raise the money needed for the highway sign. Union leaders hope to have it installed sometime this fall.

Clearly, the memory of Eva Schicke lives on in positive ways.

The hot-button topic in Sacramento is, of course, the state budget. Two of our valley legislators were in the news this week for breaking ranks. As reported by Capitol Alert, The Sacramento Bee's politics Web site:

Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, D-Livingston, became the first lawmaker from either party to endorse the governor's budget proposal, including a short-term increase in the sales tax. Within hours, she was called in for a private meeting with her party boss, Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, and then backed off her statement slightly. About the same time, the state Republican Party issued a press release screaming that Galgiani had broken a campaign promise by supporting a tax increase.

Meanwhile, Greg Aghazarian of Stockton was the only one of the 32 Republicans in the Assembly not to sign a letter blasting the California Taxpayers Association for supporting the governor's proposal. There's no reason to think Aghazarian has moved to the middle; he is running for a state Senate seat that leans Democratic.

Sly is editor of the opinions pages. Contact her at jsly@modbee.com or 578-2317.