Friday, February 24, 2012

When Did Bill Raggio Lose His Party?

As Nevadans everywhere react to Former Senator Bill Raggio's death today. Until very recently, Bill Raggio was one of the most powerful and influential voices among Nevada Republicans. In many ways, he was really "The Lion of the Legislature".

And as we mourn the loss of Raggio, I have to ask this: When did Nevada Republican leadership go from this to this?

And this?

This is what I was wondering... Then I found some old columns from Chuck Muth, and I saw the trail of Raggio's downfall and the end of "The Last of the Moderates". Raggio took so much heat from the radical "tea party" right over that 2009 tax deal that it got the wheels in motion for the rise of Elizabeth Halseth and Michael Roberson.

And as we saw last session, everything changed. With Bill Raggio out of the picture and Kenny Guinn an increasingly distant memory, it took an "act of the gods" (really, just The Nevada Supreme Court) just to break the logjam and get a budget passed. As I've been saying for some time now, for all the "tea party" whining about Nevada turning into "Little California", today's crop of Republicans in the Legislature seem to be the ones making our budget process more like California's... Even down to forcing the people to start petitions to enact needed tax reform.

Seriously, this is what has me worried. Yes, Bill Raggio was conservative. Yes, Bill Raggio did use his budget votes as leverage to pass right-wing legislation. And yes, Bill Raggio liked to spend our tax dollars up north when they were really needed in Clark County. However at the end of the day, Bill Raggio was always someone who was interested in making Nevada's government work. And not too long ago, there were other Republicans, like Kenny Guinn, who believed the same and demonstrated the ability to reach across aisles to keep Nevada functioning.

But last session, we were left wondering if a significant chunk of Legislature Republicans even wanted any kind of functioning government. And again, with Raggio gone, we had to wait for that Nevada Supreme Court ruling just to extend the tax deal that Raggio brokered in 2009. And with Raggio gone, what used to be a Nevada tradition of legislators constantly crossing aisles and party lines to get stuff done gave into California style "mortal combat governance".

Today, I've been going back to what we discussed in July 2010 right after Kenny Guinn passed away.

In many ways, Kenny Guinn represented the best of Nevada's not-so-distant political past. Back then it didn't matter so much if one was a Democrat or a Republican, since everyone was a Nevadan first and foremost. This really shone through with Guinn when he made tough decisions, decisions that a number of conservative Republicans did not like. Guinn pushed for the Millennium Scholarships that enabled many thousands of deserving Nevada students to attend college, regardless of family wealth. He pushed for tax increases, what could have been first steps toward a fairer tax structure, when many in his own party were just saying "no". And yes, he even pushed for better schools and a better social safety net to look after all Nevadans, even the working poor. These days, we don't hear very many Republicans speaking like this.

Sure, Kenny Guinn was not perfect. For gawd's sake, he chaired the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign! And sometimes, I wondered if he couldn't see the coming "Tea Party" storm... Or if he did, and just gave up toward the end. And of course, we can't forget how he was elected in the first place... It was that damned "casino-mining-industrial complex" (you know, the same one that usually prevents our state from enacting the progressive tax reforms we so badly need) that hand-picked Guinn for Governor.

But you know what? No one is perfect. And damn it, even as a Republican, Kenny Guinn was quite the damned good Governor our state needed.

To a large extent, we can say the same thing about Bill Raggio. He worked hard to build up our higher education system. And yes, he was actually a big booster for public infrastructure... Especially if it was in Washoe County. And now that Raggio has left us for good as well, I'm left wondering if Chuck Muth and the "tea party" fan club running today's Nevada Republican Party will allow for the next Guinn or Raggio to rise from their ranks.

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