So long, old friend
It’s a shame they don’t make legislators like Bernie Anderson anymore.
Assemblyman Anderson died suddenly last week, after a short stay in the hospital, stunning his many friends in the political world, both Republican and Democratic.
As people reminisced on social media, describing his political courage and leadership idiosyncrasies, there were certain words that emerged time and again. Teacher. Mentor. Loyal friend.
Anderson served as the chairman of the Assembly Judiciary Committee for 14 years, a position many lawyers questioned given his lack of a law degree. He overcame these objections by simple dedication, reading and studying every bill that came to his “hardest working committee” carefully and completely.
In Anderson’s legislative years, pre-term limits, freshmen were almost never assigned to Ways and Means, leaving just Government Affairs and Judiciary as morning committee assignments. Assembly speakers often assigned their brightest and their weakest members to Anderson’s care, knowing he would teach them the legislative process in great detail and allow each member an opportunity to shine.
He was a tough chairman, a stickler for all the rules. When an unknowing freshman would take off his suit coat during a long meeting in an overheated room, testimony would cease while Anderson instructed the committee this was not permitted without permission (just ask Regent Jason Geddes). New legislators learned quickly not to ask a question out of turn or without following the protocol for a follow-up.
Anderson was equally strict with lobbyists who violated his committee rules. He had a clock that buzzed loudly when the allotted testimony time was breached and was known to cut someone off mid-sentence. And God forbid a cell phone would ring in the committee room. The offending party usually would scurry out of the room before being publicly banished.
The chairman was strict, but he was fair. He was meticulous about scheduling, maintaining a full-size mobile chalkboard in his office where each bill received a line, detailing hearing dates and progress through the committee. He set a compassionate tone during hearings that generated great emotion, such as the death penalty, domestic violence and child abuse.
Despite his gruff performance in committee, Anderson had a much softer side, especially when it came to children. As a teacher of some 30 years, he knew how to talk to young people, and he cared deeply about education at all levels. He knew every colleague’s family situation and never failed to ask first about family before getting down to business.
Anderson always had time to mentor others and would randomly summon a freshman from either party to his office to check on the progress of a bill or a problem. He did this more often with legislators in his own party, building relationships and friendships that sustained the caucus during the frustrating, dark days any legislative session produces.
Despite his groundbreaking work on issues such as the death penalty, drug courts and crime, he wasn’t featured in the media as often as he deserved because he found it impossible to express his opinion in a sound bite. As a born teacher, he believed every question deserved a full answer and that answer might take him 30 minutes to fully express, far too long for a busy reporter to endure.
Deeply Catholic, Anderson was a role model in regard to representing constituents without losing his personal moral compass. He campaigned fearlessly against the death penalty, but he was a staunch advocate for women having the right of reproductive choice, understanding his religious views shouldn’t trump individual freedom.
Anderson leaves behind a loyal and talented trio of women, his wife, Clyda, and daughters, Cairn and Natha.
Nevada owes them a great debt for sharing Bernie Anderson with us, enabling him to set the highest standard for legislative service.