Gone but not forgotten

Governor Kenny Guinn is dead. Long live Kenny Guinn.

Like many other Nevadans, I was saddened to hear of Kenny Guinn’s death last week. His passing has inspired several inspirational and moving eulogies from people who knew him far better than I ever did. But what little I knew of Guinn, as an educator and average Nevada citizen, indicates he earned every word of them.

My favorite is this, from Las Vegas Sun editor/publisher Brian Greenspan: “Our state has always needed more Kenny Guinns, and now we’ve lost the only one we ever had.”

There are so many ways in which this is true. First and foremost for me is Guinn’s incredible support for Nevada education. Not only did he push through legislation earmarking tobacco-settlement money to create the Gov. Guinn Millennium Scholarship, but he also took the 2003 Legislature to the state Supreme Court for attempting to block his $833 million tax increase to fund education and social services.

But it wasn’t just that he was such a staunch supporter of my favorite cause. His moral compass did not waver in the face of partisan politics. The 2003 battle showed he was perfectly willing to stand up to his own Republican Party as he was to oppose Democrats. People called him a RINO, and he just laughed.

Guinn was also a lifelong learner who showed himself capable of learning on the job. I remember that his first “state of the state” address was far more conservative than his actual performance in office. He was flexible, took advantage of opportunities when they presented themselves, and pushed hard for long-term change when the state desperately needed it.

It is all too depressingly easy to draw the comparison/contrast between Guinn and his successor. In 2005, Time magazine named Guinn one of the nation’s five best governors. Our incumbent is widely recognized as one of its worst. But there is no point in beating up on lame ducks. We have a lot more to learn from Guinn as we look to the future.

If there is a silver lining in Guinn’s passing this summer, it’s that it gives us all the chance to reflect on the qualities of leadership we want in our governor—just in time for the election this fall. I’ll start the short list here, but I’m sure others will be able to chime in. Please, election, give us a governor who, like Guinn

• Puts the needs of the state ahead of personal ambition—and by “needs of the state” I mean those factors that will build a just and sustainable economic future for our children: education, health care, and environmental policy

• Does not take marching orders from his party

• Has the guts to raise taxes if necessary for the future development of the state

• Is hard-working and knowledgeable, particularly about budget issues

• Balances backbone and dedication to purpose with compassion for the needs of the less fortunate, who are many in this state these days.

• Supports education.

• Has a strong vision, and an equally strong grasp on reality

• Did I mention education yet? Yeah—that.

• Builds partnership and coalitions across all ideologies and social sectors.

• Is a decent human being

Rory and Brian, please take note.