Friday, January 9, 2009

Stennett to skip sessionís opener

Jon Thorson will take ailing senatorís place for the time being

Express Staff Writer

When the Idaho Legislature convenes next week, former Sun Valley Mayor Jon Thorson will be filling in for Sen. Clint Stennett, who is recovering from treatment for brain cancer. Photo by David N. Seelig

The Wood River Valley will be without its longtime representative, Sen. Clint Stennett, when the Idaho Legislature convenes next week.

Stennett announced Wednesday that he will take time off from his duties as leader of the Idaho Senate Democrats to rest up from treatment for brain cancer.

Stennett has recommended to Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter that Jon Thorson, former mayor of Sun Valley, serve temporarily as the senator from District 25 until he is able to resume his duties. Otter approved the same request last year.

"I am very disappointed that I will not be able to kick off the legislative session, but I know that my replacement, Jon Thorson, will do a great job filling in," Stennett said in a prepared statement. "He stepped up last session for about a week while I underwent surgery. He caught on quickly, and did very well."

Thorson said he recently sat down with Stennett to review legislation that most interests him in the coming session. He said he's already found a place to live in Boise and expects to be sworn in as soon as Sunday or Monday.

"That's all in progress," he said.

Thorson said he will attend a five-hour party caucus meeting this Sunday.

As for how long his second stint at the Legislature might be, he said it depends on Stennett's recuperation from his treatment.

"I'm going to do it as long as he needs me," he said.

Sen. Stennett was diagnosed with brain cancer nearly a year ago. He said that though the prognosis remains positive, the most recent part of his treatment, which began in mid-December, has left him with adverse side effects, such as extreme fatigue.

Doctors are recommending that Stennett, who was present for the Legislature's organizing session held last month, take additional time to rest and adjust before resuming his full-time legislative duties.

"It is hard to know all the obstacles such an illness may place before you, but you tackle them one at a time, and continue to look forward," Stennett said. "I remain very fortunate to have the support of my wife, Michelle, and many good friends across Idaho, especially in the Wood River and Magic valleys. I am still positive about my health, and look forward to working hard again for District 25."

The assistant minority leader, Sen. Kate Kelly of Boise, will take on Stennett's leadership duties during his absence. Kelly remained positive about Stennett's fight with cancer and the likelihood that he will reclaim his leadership role in the capital city, but wouldn't speculate about when that might happen.

"We're taking it day by day," she said.

As for Stennett's temporary replacement for the District 25 seat, which represents all of Blaine, Lincoln, Camas and Gooding counties, Kelly gave high praise to Thorson's abilities.

"He knows the drill. It will be a relatively smooth transition," she said.

In an interview with the Idaho Mountain Express on Wednesday, Stennett's District 25 colleague, Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, said he made the decision late last week to request a stand-in for the opening of the Legislature. Jaquet said she last spoke with Stennett on Friday.

"I'm very optimistic that his team of medical advisers are going to find the right drug combination that's going to help him come back to the Legislature," she said.

Jaquet, who is a breast cancer survivor herself, said she spoke with Stennett throughout the summer, updating him on summertime committee work and other legislative materials.

"I've been asking him for advice, for strategy," she said. "He's pretty up to date with everything in the district."

Jaquet said Stennett will wait to return to the Senate when the timing is right.

"He wants to make sure that when he's there he can do the best job he can do," she said.

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