Republican state Sen. Sharon Runner passed away Thursday following respiratory complications, her family announced. She was 62.
"We are heartbroken to share that Sharon passed away today," her family said in a statement through her office. "She died peacefully at home, surrounded by family and friends."
Runner, R-Lancaster, had undergone a successful double lung transplant in 2012 and she said in March that she was healthy. Yet she also announced she would not seek re-election to the 21st District seat, which encompasses the Victor and Antelope valleys, due to the impact it would have on her health.
Doctors had warned her that the stress of the campaign and four more years in office would be detrimental to her well-being.
As news of Runner's passing broke, colleagues and friends began issuing statements to express mourning and send well wishes to her family, which includes husband George Runner, a former legislator who sits on the Board of Equalization.
"My thoughts and prayers are with Senator Sharon Runner's family and friends as all of us in the Senate mourn her loss," state Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de Leon said. "While battling a tragic illness, Senator Runner endured and showed a real commitment to representing the people of her district."
De Leon, D-Los Angeles, cited Runner's commitment to education through helping to found the Desert Christian schools and her tireless fight for small businesses.
Assembly Republican Leader Chad Mayes, of Yucca Valley, said he was "deeply saddened" to learn of the death of his friend.
"A champion for California's children, she authored legislation to expand charter schools, help more families adopt, and improve the lives of foster kids," he said. "She garnered national attention as the author of Jessica's Law — groundbreaking legislation to protect our communities from sexual predators."
Mayes added that he and others were "inspired" by Runner's battle with scleroderma, a rare autoimmune rheumatic disease involving the hardening and tightening of skin and connective tissues, and her successful recovery from the double lung transplant. He said her plight encouraged many Californians to become organ donors.
"She was also a role model for women aspiring to public office," he said, "rising to become Assistant Assembly Republican Leader and working tireless to elect Republican women across the state."
Runner easily won a special election to the 21st Senate District in March 2015 after then state Sen. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, vacated the seat following a Congressional victory. At the time, Runner was able to convince Senate hopefuls Hesperia City Councilman Eric Schmidt and Victorville business owner Sal Chavez to exit the race and rally behind her campaign in a press conference held in Hesperia two months before the election.
On Thursday, Hesperia Mayor Bill Holland extended his condolences to the Runner family.
"Runner dedicated herself to serving the residents of California," Holland said. "She will be fondly remembered as a fighter and as someone who tirelessly advocated for the youth in our communities."
GOP Caucus Chairman Jim Nielsen said she had "distinguished herself as truly the best example of a wife, mother, leader and friend."
"She and her husband George will ever represent a legendary leadership team that served the people of California nobly and well," Nielsen said. "Marilyn (Nielsen's wife) and I open our hearts and extend our prayers to George and all of the Runner family. Our humble appreciation to Sharon for making our lives more full of joy and grace; she was a classy lady."
Runner was a lifelong High Desert resident who served in the California State Assembly from 2002 through 2008. She and George Runner were the first husband and wife in the state's history to serve concurrently in the California legislature, her office said.
During her time in the Assembly, she garnered several appointments: Assistant Republican Leader, Vice Chair of the Appropriations Committee, and member of the Budget Committee and Budget Subcommittee on Education.
In 2011, she was elected in a special election to the state Senate representing San Bernardino, Los Angeles, Ventura and Kern counties. On Feb. 24, 2012, Runner underwent the double lung transplant, returned to work and opted not to seek re-election.
With Runner's announcement four months ago that she would also not seek a second term in the 21st District as a health matter, candidates Assemblyman Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, and Democratic Lancaster aerospace engineer Johnathon Ervin advanced in the June primary to face-off in November for the seat.
"I am deeply saddened by the passing of my friend and mentor Senator Sharon Runner," Wilk said in a statement. "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.
"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."
Ervin called her a "champion for the High Desert," telling the Daily Press by phone that she opened her door to him despite the party differences.
"My family is mourning the loss of Sharon Runner. She was one of the first political folks in town to sit me down and give me the lay of the land and I'm appreciative of that," Ervin said. "She's always been kind and gracious to me. My prayers, our prayers, are with George Runner and their family.
"It's a sad day for the Antelope Valley and for the district."
Runner is survived by her husband George, son Micah and daughter-in-law Sandy, daughter Rebekah and son-in-law James, and grandchildren Raider, Hailey, James and Paxton.
Shea Johnson may be reached at 760-955-5368 or SJohnson@VVDailyPress.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DP_Shea.