How’d Washoe do?

When the Nevada Legislature began in February, there was considerable discussion of what the loss of legislative powerhouse William Raggio, who resigned from the senate on Jan. 15, would mean to Washoe County. Raggio’s influence had protected his home county for many years.

There is no question the legislature could have used Raggio’s brand of moderation and legislative skill. But on the narrower question of Washoe’s needs and problems, every indication is that the county’s legislators did well at filling the void.

In the Assembly in his third term, David Bobzien is gaining in influence and seems absolutely at home in a legislative setting. He was always well informed of what was going on and alert to any problems facing Washoe. Debbie Smith’s seniority gave her the chair of the Assembly budget committee, putting her in position to spot anything that threatened Washoe.

In the Senate, Sheila Leslie’s long experience fortunately was not wasted by term limits (she was termed out last year in the Assembly), and she was one of the most respected legislative leaders. Crossing Washoe meant crossing Leslie, and no one wanted to do that.

There are also signs that younger legislators could become Washoe assets, particularly Pat Hickey (see “15 minutes,” page 39), who did not fall into dogmatic lockstep with others in his Republican Party as so many have done, meaning he is in better position to work well with Democrats and thus gain the political heft to become an important Washoe figure.

In negotiations, in sharing out the limited budget, Washoe was protected.

But what really helped Washoe was that the county faced few threats from other regions. There was a time when north vs. south sentiment was strong, when Washoe and the small counties tended to battle with Clark County, and there are some journalists and commentators who like to keep touting that kind of scenario. But that is a very stale view of our state. Residents and leaders have long since learned that the growing urbanization of Nevada means that the problems and needs of Washoe and Clark overlap more than they clash. On the ground at the Legislature, if there is a clash, it is between urban and rural, not usually between the two urban areas. And fortunately, current legislators fit well in that dynamic.

Clark legislators are less defensive and more comfortable with their growing power all the time. The southern figures like James Bilbray, Marvin Sedway and Dina Titus, who liked to demagogue north vs. south sentiment, have either left the scene or learned a different way.

Washoe legislators, meanwhile, are now mostly of a generation that never knew a time when Washoe dominated. They came to power during a time when working with Clark legislators was smarter than confronting them.

There may, from time to time arise issues between the different areas of the state, especially given the state’s limited resources, but these days that means legislators will look for ways to work things out and accommodate regions as best as possible. It doesn’t have to mean hostility and hard feelings. Now if only political party disputes could be handled the same way.