War horse

Richard Bryan

Photo By dennis myers

It’s part of the folklore of Nevada that Richard Bryan decided his life’s goal in his teens—to be elected governor. He overshot his mark a bit, serving a term and a half as governor and then two terms as U.S. senator. He was at the Nevada Legislature this week, where he once gave “state of the state” addresses, this time wearing a lobbyist badge on behalf of his law firm, Lionel Sawyer and Collins.

What are you doing here?

You know, I just came up here. Lionel Sawyer and Collins registered for a number of clients, and I came on up for a day or two just to kind of see what was happening. You can’t keep an old war horse away from where the field of action is, and right now, it’s here in Carson City.

That sounds awfully aw-shucks. What, specifically, are you lobbying on?

Not really lobbying on anything right now. Just here [to] see what happens. You know, in this kind of environment when no legislative session has ever faced such a daunting financial challenge, and this is a prelude to the 2011 session, which will be almost an insurmountable obstacle to fill what could be a $3 billion shortfall … You know, I’ve got a lot of sympathy for the legislature. They’re not the ones that caused a national recession that affects us, but it’s going to be a very difficult thing for them to do.

You said you left the Senate in part because you wanted to spend more time with your family. Did it work out?

I did. I’ve been able to spend a lot of time. Last night I was with two of my grandkids, went down and watched batting practice. One of them has tryouts this weekend. I wouldn’t have been able to do that. Spent the night with Leslie, our daughter, and two of the grandkids.

There are some people who would say you got out of the Senate just in time. Things are incredibly polarized back there.

Yes. I think that’s right. I think my timing was good. I’ve never had any regrets. I was back there in Washington on Monday for a client. … [T]he dysfunctional nature of what’s happening back there I find troubling as a citizen. Putting aside what your partisan views may be, that doesn’t bode well. And the polarized extremes make those in each party who are talking about compromise persona non grata. The only way that you can accomplish something in a legislative body, where there is a wide difference of opinion, is try to compromise, and that is kind of moving to the political center. The dynamics in both political parties are pushing in just that opposite direction. You see that, for example, in John McCain’s [Arizona reelection] campaign. He is facing somebody from much further to the right. … And positions which he has historically adopted as reasonable middle of the road, he is now rejecting as he is trying to protect himself. And that’s happening, you know, across—

And here, too.

And here, too.

What do you think of that? You’d think that where the scale is smaller here in the Legislature, where people deal with each other face to face, that we could avoid that.

Yes. I don’t think it’s anywhere near as bad as it is in D.C., but clearly what you have is an ideological battle within the Republican Party for its heart and soul. Those that represent … the Tea Party or further to the political right are I think more interested in establishing purity of principle than they are in achieving a result. The pragmatic Republicans—I would include Senator Raggio and others in this category—who are conservative by any fair standard, but recognize that you’ve got to reach some kind of consensus, those people are outflanked today by those who care less about results that they do reaffirming the ideological purity to whatever the standard is that is adopted as, quote, the conservative position.