Donna Earnest, a tireless and unflappable public servant who was an influential adviser to California Republican Assembly leaders, died Sunday of kidney cancer, her family said. She was 49.
Mrs. Earnest spent more than a decade working for the Assembly Republican Caucus at the state Capitol. She served most recently as senior consultant to Republicans on the powerful Rules Committee, which assigns bills to be heard by other legislative committees.
As the "Floor Alert" editor, she oversaw the editing, production and distribution of all bill analyses prepared for Republican Assembly members. During legislative sessions, the job required her to be at the Capitol by 6 a.m. to prepare and distribute reports, work past midnight and return before dawn the next day.
"No legislative staffer worked longer hours," said Richard Mersereau, policy office director for the Republican caucus. "For at least seven years in a row, she worked more than 100 hours a week."
Mrs. Earnest served as a top adviser to seven Assembly Republican leaders on matters of parliamentary procedure and referring bills to committees. During tense floor debates, she worked quietly and closely with Democratic staff members to run the proceedings as smoothly as possible.
"In the midst of fights over the budget or bill referrals, she always avoided partisan mentions," said state Sen. Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, a former Assembly Republican leader. "She always took on work with optimism and a positive spirit."
Born in 1962 in Michigan, Donna Lynn Steele moved with her family to California and grew up in Klamath Falls. She married Mike Earnest in 1980 and graduated from Sawyer Business College in Sacramento.
She had a son and lived in Texas, Puerto Rico and California while her husband served in the U.S. Coast Guard. She became a master scuba diving instructor and taught classes for several years. She returned with her family to Sacramento in 1997 and worked for Assemblyman Peter Frusetta, R-Hollister, before joining the Republican caucus staff.
Mrs. Earnest was a member of the Professional Association of Diving Instructors. She also rode horses with her husband and belonged to the Sacramento Horsemen's Association.
Diving and horseback riding were favorite escapes from work at the Capitol, her husband said.
"The job demanded a lot of her time," he said. "Some days, she'd get two or three hours of sleep at night and be back there the next day. But she loved her work."