Click image to watch: 2011 Newsmaker of the Week
Sharon Runner, co-author of the 2006 Jessica’s Law that cracked down on sexual predators, and the sitting state senator for most of the Santa Clarita, Antelope and Victor valleys, died Thursday morning at her home in Lancaster. She was 62.
Runner, who had a double lung transplant in 2012, succumbed to respiratory complications, according to a statement from her family.
“She died peacefully at home, surrounded by family and friends,” the statement said. “Through her life, Sharon held tight to her favorite Bible verse, Proverbs 3:5-6, trusting in the Lord through all obstacles. We take comfort in the fact that the Lord truly directed her path, and she is now home in the arms of her Savior.”
A onetime Realtor, Sharon Runner, along with husband George, whom she married in 1973, founded Desert Christian Schools in the Antelope Valley in 1977. It grew into one of the state’s largest private schools, serving 1,700 students this year. Sharon continued to serve on the board.
Sharon Runner takes the oath of office in 2011 after her husband George (left) was elected to the Board of Equalization.
George Runner won the Santa Clarita and Antelope Valley’s Assembly seat in 1996 after serving as mayor of Lancaster. When he ascended to the state Senate in 2002, Sharon sought and won his Assembly seat.
It wasn’t her first foray into politics; Gov. Pete Wilson had appointed her to the Antelope Valley Fair Board in 1998.
Termed out in 2008 after six years in the Assembly, Sharon was appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to the state’s Unemployment Appeals Board.
In 2010, history repeated itself as George Runner was elected to the state Board of Equalization and Sharon won a 2011 special election to complete her husband’s unexpired Senate term.
She would not seek reelection in 2012 because, in February of that year, it became necessary to replace both of her lungs. Back in 1984, at age 30, she had been diagnosed with limited scleroderma, aka CREST syndrome, an autoimmune disorder affecting the body’s connective tissue.
“Her new lungs will enable her to resume normal activities and responsibilities soon,” her doctor, David Ross, Medical Director of the Lung and Heart-Lung Transplant Program at UCLA, said after the surgery.
Oath of office, 2015
Sharon spent several months in recovery and gradually got back to work. After her abbreviated senate term was up – she was succeeded by Steve Knight, who had previously followed her into the Assembly – she started working part-time for the California State Senate Republican Caucus.
Then another office door opened in 2014 when Knight decided to run for Congress when U.S. Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon announced his retirement after 22 years.
Several people talked about running for the remainder of Knight’s senate term, but only one person did so – Sharon Runner, who declared both her candidacy and her full recovery from surgery.
The only person to run in the special election, she subsequently authored legislation giving the governor the option to cancel an election when only one name would appear on the ballot.
But by early 2016 it was apparent that more health problems lay ahead. After a hospitalization in January due to an infection, she announced her second retirement from the Senate in March, effective when her term expires at the end of this year.
Her staff, at the direction of the Senate Rules Committee, will continue to run her offices until December when her successor is sworn in.
Sharon Runner is survived by her husband George; their two children Micah (Sandy) and Rebekah (James); and grandchildren Raider, Hailey, James and Paxton.
Her family requested that donations be made in Sharon’s memory to Grace Resources at graceresources.org.
Services are pending.
[WATCH: Sharon Runner, SCV Newsmaker of the Week, Jan. 11, 2011]
Statement from Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr.:
“Anne and I were saddened to learn of the passing of Senator Sharon Runner who so selflessly served her constituents, her community and the state of California over the years. Our thoughts are with the Runner family on this difficult day.”
In honor of Senator Runner, acting Governor Gavin Newsom has ordered Capitol flags to be flown at half-staff.
Statement from Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich:
“Sharon was a friend, a talented legislator and superb role model for our youth. She served honorably in the Assembly and Senate and represented her district with distinction. Despite her illness, Sharon was a tireless leader for public safety, education, and children’s issues. She was the lead architect behind California’s Proposition 83 “Jessica’s Law,” which established the nation’s toughest sexual predator laws. She will be greatly missed. Christine and I send our condolences and prayers to her husband, George, and their children.”
Statement from Assemblyman Scott Wilk:
“I am deeply saddened by the passing of my friend and mentor Senator Sharon Runner. She inspired all who knew her as she walked out her faith every day. Sharon is the model of true servant leadership and we should all aspire to be as good a person as she was.
“Vanessa and I are praying for Sharon’s family and her many friends and supporters. We take comfort knowing that she is now with her Lord and Savior.
“Her legacy as a wife, mother and government leader on this Earth is secure. Sharon’s impact as a person and a policymaker will be felt by our children and our children’s children.”
Statement from Jim Bizzelle, CEO, Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce:
“On behalf of the Santa Clarita Chamber of Commerce, and myself personally, I would like to offer my deepest condolences to the Runner family. As everyone knows, Sharon was one of the strongest women that the California Legislature has seen and her legacy will continue. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family today and we truly were blessed to have known such an incredible woman.”