Day of Nostalgia in Carson City

Bill Raggio is the 37th and newest member of the Nevada Senate Hall of Fame, and his induction is a reminder of how things have changed in Carson City and in politics generally, and what those changes mean for Nevadans.

The ceremony provided a glimpse at hypocrisy or how legislative bodies really operate or how politics has devolved.  Indeed, probably all three.  One tribute came from Steven Horsford, who was the leader across the aisle from Raggio during his last session and had to dicker with Raggio to get enough votes to pass tax measures and overcome any mischief former Gov. Jim Gibbons would cause.  Another came from Mike McGinness, who succeeded Raggio as leader by becoming part of an effort to oust him as punishment for endorsing Harry Reid over Sharron Angle in the 2010 Senate race.  McGinness lamented the loss of Raggio’s knowledge of the budget — though apparently that knowledge hadn’t mattered enough to keep him as leader with a new governor, Brian Sandoval, who had openly expressed admiration for Raggio.

But all you had to do was go to the news stories about Raggio’s honor and find right-wingers lambasting him as a RINO, as in Republican In Name Only. At least one R-J commenter was rooting for him to be diagnosed with terminal cancer.  What makes this especially striking is that Raggio could be bitingly, even bitterly partisan, but never in such stark, dimwitted ways.

Nor do the stories point out how, for many years, northern Nevadans felt that Raggio gave away too much to southern Nevada.  Or that many southern Nevadans complained that Raggio took far too much state funding for northern Nevada (or that those southern Nevadans do nothing of the sort for their region).

Raggio set a record by serving 38 years in the legislature’s upper house, from 1972 to 2010 — a record that can’t be equaled unless voters wise up and repeal term limits.  He became a legend for a variety of reasons, one of which is that, yes, he was there so long, but more importantly that he knew so much.  It’s called institutional memory, and any organization that lacks it tends to founder.  His departure, which he attributed to minor health concerns but many believe to have been in response to his caucus stripping him of his power, cost the legislature a lot of that memory. It may prove very costly to all parts of the state.

Indeed, analysts long have lauded Raggio for his mastery of the legislative process, especially as the session winds down and everybody is trying to pass legislation and get out of Dodge.  They often fail to note that several recent legislative sessions — especially since a Raggio-backed measure to limit sessions to 120 days — have fallen short and required special sessions to finish business.  Those chaotic conclusions may end up looking serene in comparison with what will happen this time — and remind us again that governments function on compromise and maneuver, not on rigidity.

Michael Green professor of history at CSN.