Four profiles in Legislative Professionalism
One trait that all legislatures share in common are the teams of dedicated staff that help run the house during both good times and in bad times. This humble and efficient cadre of men and women in every legislature keeps the gears of the lawmaking mechanism running, often without personal fanfare or even a historical footnote. As legislative clerks, we all know that the full-time legislature was born in California. But we rarely hear much about the people behind the milestones that helped establish the modern professional legislature.
The State Capitol in Sacramento has been home to familiar, and not so familiar, pioneers in legislative professionalization. When you arrive in Sacramento, you will be walking through the halls that once echoed with the voice of Joseph Beek calling the roll. You will see the manuscripts Paul Mason produced before he wrote his famous manual. You will read Arthur Ohnimus’s call for a full-time staff structure to better serve the public, the media, and legislators. Below are biographical snippets of four California legislative icons that you should know about as a member of the American Society of Legislative Clerks and Secretaries.
JOSEPH A. BEEK (1887-1968)
Secretary of the California Senate, 1919-1968
“The founding father of ASLCS”
Legislative service: California Senate employee, 1913 to 1968
Elected officer: Secretary of the California Senate, 1919-1968
Principal residence: Balboa Island
Interesting facts about Joe Beek: His nickname was “Commander,” a reference to his mariner skills. He also played the piano and accordion, and was a published composer. He was instrumental in developing Balboa Island.
Born in Maine in 1887, Joseph Beek relocated to Pasadena, California in 1907. While attending college at Throop Polytechnic Institute (now known as CalTech), Beek was nominated by Senator William Carr of Pasadena for the position of Assistant Secretary of the Senate in 1913. He served as Assistant Secretary until he was elected Minute Clerk in 1917. Beek was elected Secretary of the Senate in 1919, a position he held for the next 49 years, with a one term hiatus in 1921. He founded the American Association of Legislative Officers in 1943, and served as its President for 25 years. The organization was later renamed the American Society of Legislative Clerks and Secretaries.
Mr. Beek spent many years developing Balboa Island in southern California. He established the first reliable ferry service to the island, a service run by his family to this day. A master yachtsman and mariner, Beek commanded merchant ships during World War II. He founded the Tournament of Lights at Balboa, was the first Harbor Master at Newport Harbor, and served as Chairman of the California Small Craft Harbor Commission. He also engaged in reforestation efforts in the mountains of Orange County, and was an avid musician and published composer. He also published five editions of a book on the legislature.
GRACE STOERMER (1887-1961)
Secretary of the California Senate, 1921-22
“The first female Secretary or Clerk of a legislative chamber in the United States.”
Legislative service: California Senate employee, 1917 to 1922.
Elected officer: Secretary of the California Senate, 1921-22
Principal residence: Los Angeles.
Interesting facts about Grace Stoermer: She was a trailblazer in women’s banking, serving as a Vice President of Bank of America from 1922 to 1946. She was also the first woman to call the roll in the California Legislature.
Grace Stoermer was born in Los Angeles in 1887. She attended St. Mary’s Academy and Los Angeles High School. Her first job was as a Copyist in the L.A. County Recorder’s office. In 1919 she served as Assistant Secretary of the Senate during Joseph Beek’s first term. In 1921, she was elected Secretary of the Senate, becoming the first woman to serve in a state legislature in such a capacity.
In February 1921, women's groups in Los Angeles pushed Stoermer to run for the LA City Council, and later that year she was touted as a possible candidate for State Treasurer. But Stoermer chose not to run for office and found her true calling in business and civic affairs.
She became a key figure in the development of women's banking departments in the United States. Her name is often cited in scholarly articles on the rise of women in the banking world in the 20th Century. Stoermer served as Vice President of the Bank of Italy (later renamed Bank of America). She was also a civic leader in Los Angeles, President of the Native Daughters of the Golden West, and she founded Girls Week in L.A. She died in Los Angeles on Oct 1, 1961. After her death, her nephew donated her papers to UCLA, where they are now available for review.
PAUL MASON (1898-1985)
Chief Assistant Secretary/Parliamentarian of the California Senate (1931-53)
“The author of the definitive manual on legislative procedures.”
Legislative service: Senate employee, 1923-25; 1928-53
Key role: Assistant Secretary/Parliamentarian of the California Senate, 1930s-50s
Principal residence: Sacramento
Interesting facts about Paul Mason: He passed the California state bar without ever attending law school. He wrote a master’s thesis on the legislative process at Stanford University. In the 1930’s he also wrote a 1,700 page annotated guide to the California Constitution. His full-time job was in the executive branch, as the head of the DMV and adviser to Governor Goodwin Knight.
Born in Parker, Idaho on May 12, 1898, Paul Mason attended public schools in Idaho and earned a Bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University. He was a high school principal at Parker High School in Idaho in 1920-21. He soon thereafter left Idaho for California, and attended Stanford University in pursuit of a graduate degree. Mason earned his Master’s degree from Stanford in 1923, and passed the California bar without ever attending law school.
During the 1923 session, he served as Assistant Minute Clerk and File Clerk. From 1925 to 1927, he served as a deputy Legislative Counsel. From 1928 to 1953 he served as a Senate employee on loan from the Department of Motor Vehicles. His primary role in the Senate was to act as the unofficial Parliamentarian, and it was in this capacity in 1931 that he wrote, Form of Stating Questions in the Senate, as a pocket guide for presiding over the upper house. A short time later, he completed his Manual of Legislative Procedure, which was adopted as the parliamentary authority of the Senate in 1935. The Assembly adhered to Robert Rules of Order for a few more years, and then adopted Mason’s Manual as its authority in 1943. Paul Mason served as the Chief of the Drivers’ License division of the California Department of Motor Vehicles at a critical time when roads and automobile use were vastly expanded in the fast-growing golden state. In 1958, Governor Knight attempted to appoint Mason to an appellate judgeship in Fresno, but after the local legal community objected to Mason’s lack of trial court experience, his nomination was withdrawn. Prior to his death in the 1980s, Paul Mason assigned the copyright to his Manual to the NCSL.
Arthur Ohnimus (1893-1965)
Chief Clerk of the California Assembly, 1923-1963
“Pioneer of the full-time Legislature.”
Legislative service: Assembly employee, 1915 -1963
Elected officer: Chief Clerk of the Assembly, 1923-63
Principal residence: Sacramento.
Interesting facts about Arthur Ohnimus: He was the first full-time staff person in the California Legislature (in 1957). He was also an avid collector of dignitaries’ signatures, filling up entire binders with signatures ranging from Cecil B. DeMille, to Douglas MacArthur, to every state’s governor. In 1973, a memorial redwood tree was planted next to the Capitol in his honor; it is now one of the tallest trees in Capitol Park.
Arthur Ohnimus was born in San Francisco in 1893. His mother was a famous San Francisco stage actress and his father was a city official. His family survived the great earthquake and fire of 1906. As a young man, Ohnimus was intrigued by the Progressive Movement sweeping California and the nation. In 1915, as a recent college graduate, Ohnimus worked for a San Francisco Assemblyman, and landed a job in Sacramento as a committee clerk in the Assembly. Ohnimus later served as a bookkeeper to the Sergeant at Arms in 1917, and in 1919 he became Assistant Minute Clerk. In 1921, he was elected Minute Clerk of the Assembly and soon after graduated from Saint Ignatius Law School (now known as the University of San Francisco).
In 1923, Ohnimus was elected Chief Clerk of the Assembly, a title he held until 1963 (with a two term hiatus from 1937-1940). Since the Legislature was part-time, Ohnimus also served as a Deputy District Attorney for San Francisco from 1924 to 1943. He was appointed as a Deputy Attorney General from 1944 to 1957. The Assembly Rules Committee appointed Ohnimus as the Assembly’s first Chief Administrator in 1957, making Ohnimus the first full-time staff person employed in the legislature. Ohnimus served in dual roles as clerk and administrator. He set up job classifications, hired full time secretarial staff to serve members, established sick leave and vacation for employees, ordered the printing of an employee manual, and sought college graduates to fill Desk staff positions. He also facilitated the Assembly’s new legislative internship program in 1957, the first graduate level internship program in the nation (now known as the Fellowship Program). He wrote a book on the legislature and its interaction with the judicial and executive branches; new editions are still published every few years. Although Ohnimus established the foundations for the modern staff structure in the Assembly, he sometimes found the dual duties of clerk and administrator to be difficult to manage. When he retired in 1963, the Assembly adopted a rule to split the two positions.
When he died in 1965, Arthur Ohnimus’s widow, Bernice, carefully stored his vast papers, photos, and legislative memorabilia spanning 1899 to 1965. After Bernice died in 2007, the materials were discovered and donated to the Assembly. The historic material led to a 2008 floor ceremony and resolution, a Capitol exhibit, a documentary video, and the printing of informational publications. The Ohnimus materials were the subject of a concurrent session at the Reno PDS in 2008 on the topic, “Preserving Legislative History.”