Scott Lay, a pillar of California’s Capitol community whose insightful newsletters have helped shape the modern landscape of political news and commentary dissemination, passed away earlier this month. He was 48.
Lay co-founded Roundup, a daily political newsletter sent to thousands of California subscribers by Capitol Weekly in the early 2000s.
Years later, he immersed himself full-time on another passion project, this a daily recap called The Nooner, along with a podcast called “SacTown Talks,” which featured state lawmakers and other political leaders on a regular basis. The Nooner and the podcast both lasted until shortly before Lay’s death.
“The family is devastated. It’s hard to lose such a young person, “said Lay’s older sister Lisa Ortega in a telephone interview. “We will miss him every day. It is a comfort to know that he has touched so many lives in such profound ways. “
Lay spent nearly two decades with the Community College League of California. In 1995 he joined the non-profit organization as an intern. By 2006 he had become their CEO, a role he held until 2014.
The Community College League issued a statement on Tuesday recalling Lay as “a passionate advocate, brilliant household analyst and discerning observer of California politics.”
Lay suffered from very severe asthma as a child, which resulted in lengthy hospital stays that kept him from high school, Ortega said. He did his GED and then went to community college in Orange County, where he grew up.
That path was one of the few factors that led him to become a steadfast advocate of affordable access to higher education, his sister said.
Lay’s hospital stays also put him on the same wards as children with cystic fibrosis whom he befriended. He worked with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation prior to community college, which Ortega said was “his leap into the nonprofits” and advocacy. Lay continued to raise awareness and resources to fight cystic fibrosis over the decades that followed.
Ortega said Lay was a “tech tinkerer” like her father, and that “all the technology behind the Nooner was tinkered with by him”.
“He’s super curious. As a kid he was super curious and as an adult it just grew, ”said Ortega. “If he didn’t know how to do something, he just played with it until he found out.”
Numerous politicians, lobbyists, journalists, former colleagues, fellow students and others from Sacramento paid their respects to Lay after family and close friends announced his unexpected death on social media on Monday evening.
“If you’ve worked in Sacramento politics, Scott Lay has been a constant companion in your inbox, telling you what’s happening and what’s next,” US MP Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, tweeted Tuesday.
Even spirited on social media, Lay underlined his analysis and clever jokes with celebrations of the local Sacramento food scene (tacos were a big favorite) and the victories of the San Francisco Giants.
“I write and speak into microphones. I cook and eat locally, ”began his inconspicuous Twitter biography.
Lay graduated from UC Davis School of Law in 2000, where he co-founded the local section of the Young Democrats.
Many who mourned him online wrote that they appreciated his kindness, wit and generosity, whether or not they agreed with Lay in politics.
Although Ortega was seven years older, she and her brother had been close together since childhood. She said the family were “very proud of the way he showed himself to his community and friends.”
“He has always been generous with his time, work, and energy,” Ortega said. “He had such a great desire to serve others and improve their work. That was really what was behind the Nooner. The state websites and so on were so behind the times.
“Instead of complaining about it, he fixed it. He solved it. “
Lay’s website, aroundthecapitol.com, was updated Tuesday with an obituary written by former Capitol Weekly editor and longtime friend, Anthony York.
“Scott firmly believed that government policies and politics were important – and that they were grossly undercover,” York wrote in a tribute also published by Capitol Weekly. “We joined forces on a common mission to try to get people excited about what is happening in Sacramento.”
Family and friends have not disclosed Lay’s cause of death. York wrote in his tribute to Capitol Weekly that Lay “fought with demons that kept even his closest friends apart”.
“While he was enthusiastically posting on social media… those who knew him best knew Scott was sick. Over the years, many of us have tried to assist him in his endeavors to confront some of these demons. We failed. “
Those who wish to donate in memory of Lay can donate to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation or the Orange Coast College Foundation, which has set up a scholarship fund on their behalf.
Details of the memorial service are still pending.