The Great Recession supposedly is over, but Nevada has been recovering much more slowly. The Economic Forum’s projections for Nevada’s revenue are well below what state agencies have requested. So the 2013 Legislature—where, beginning February 4, those scarce resources will be allocated—figures to be a stormy one. At the center of that storm is Marilyn Kirkpatrick, the incoming speaker of the Assembly.
Thanks to term limits, Kirkpatrick, 45, is one of a dwindling number of legislators with in-depth experience on state issues. The Democrat has chaired the government affairs and taxation committees, and earned a reputation for working well across the aisle to get things done. Carson City has increasingly resembled Washington, D.C., as a cauldron of partisanship, but Kirkpatrick clearly believes she can dial that back.
“I’ve always been fair, and for me it doesn’t matter whose idea it is,” she says. “If it’s a good idea and it works and we can do it in our state, let’s do it.”
Governor Brian Sandoval’s recent signals of bipartisanship—including his support for expanded Medicaid—may bode well for Kirkpatrick. Meanwhile, in the Statehouse, she has an advantage in a longtime friendship with the new Senate majority leader, Mo Denis, a Democrat with whom she served in the PTA when their kids were young. These partnerships matter when it comes to gathering the needed two-thirds legislative support to maintain taxes and keep Nevada out of the cellar in national rankings for education and social services.
Bipartisan agreement faces long odds, but Kirkpatrick has a long history of overcoming the odds. She was living on her own at 16, took the GED test to complete high school and began her career as a waitress. Now a sales representative for local food distributors, she broke into politics through her work at the PTA. “I got started by speaking out, making phone calls, being engaged,” she says. “It was for my kids. They have always been the reason I speak out, and now I’m speaking out for grandkids.”
That attitude drives Kirkpatrick, as does her optimism. “We’re innovative, we’re on the cutting edge, but sometimes we forget about the core things we need to do to stay on the cutting edge,” she says. “We once had a sense of community. We need to bring that back and understand what’s important for our community to succeed in the long term.”