VICTORIA - In an odd way, we're a little worse off after resort minister Sandy Santori's decision to quit politics and manage the local golf club.
Santori isn't going to make anybody's list of slick political guys, or influential insiders. The premier's office didn't even manage to crank out a pro forma news release lauding his contribution in time to catch the next day's news reports.
Santori worried too much - "I tend to things a lot more personal," he conceded - and he was one of the last smokers in the squeaky clean Liberal cabinet, the minister I'd see on my way out of the legislature on the back steps, butt cupped in hand. He was thin-skinned and a little rough around the edges, a lot rough really.
Not great traits, of course. But Santori shared them with a lot of people who live in this province, the people who sent him to Victoria. And there is value in MLAs who represent real people, even if they are lousy at talking in sound bites.
The people in Trail thought Santori was a pretty good guy. He was a president of the legendary Trail Smoke Eaters Hockey Club, city councillor for five years, mayor for eight years, chair of the community task force on lead pollution. A hockey player, and insurance agent, the person you would pick to send down to the legislature when you were really fed up.
But as the old old political joke goes, it doesn't matter what party you vote for, you end up electing a government. And once in government, people tend to be swallowed up.
Santori says he decided to call it quits after a health scare at the beginning of December, when he spent three days in hospitals after waking up with chest pains. The doctors ultimately cleared him to return to work - telling him again to quit smoking and improve his overall health. A week later he was nominated to carry the Liberal banner in the May election, saying he was raring to go.
But then Santori bumped in to a friend who told him the manager's job at the golf club was open, and started to think about the appeal of running a country club - no flights back and forth to Victoria, no pressure, no crabby questions from reporters or angry calls from constituents. (I suppose golfers will complain about rough spots on the greens, but that's not the same.)
Then came Christmas, and family gatherings. Santori, with a big history of heart disease in his family, looked around and made his decision. "I don't want to risk not being there next year."
It's not a resignation that's going to rock the government. Unlike Christy Clark or Gary Collins, also gone or going, Santori never had a key political or policy role . And it's a stretch to paint the resignation as another indication that the 'real Liberals' are leaving a Campbell government that's sliding to the right. Santori was still staunchly defending the government's record - although admitting mistakes - in his farewell scrum.
It is bad news for the Liberals in the West Kootenay riding, a safe NDP seat until Santori rode in on the Liberal wave in 2001. Santori faced a tough re-election battle, but he was well-known and had the advantage of being able to talk about representing the region at the cabinet table. The riding now looks like a safe bet for the New Democrats.
Santori's reasons make sense.
But we're now up to more than a dozen Liberal MLAs and cabinet ministers who have quit or decided not to run again, several after just three years in government. The next four years should be the good part, if things go according to the Liberal plan. But not good enough to convince those MLAs that it's worth sticking around.
That should raise questions about the rewards - and the frustrations - of being an MLA.
Footnote: The Liberals now have to find a candidate, and Campbell has to decide which backbencher gets the profile and re-election boost of a cabinet post for the next four months. Look for a woman, from outside the Lower Mainland, who is facing a tough battle to win re-election.