Sitting side by side on stage, Gov. Brian Sandoval and three predecessors shared funny stories Wednesday about life in the mansion -- including catching wayward inmates "amorously involved" under the porch -- as well as serious concerns about the negative nature of today's divisive politics.
Democrat Richard Bryan said that when he was governor in the 1980s, there were no us-versus-them Democratic and Republican caucuses nor party-line votes to sharply divide the Legislature.
Republican Bob List, who lost to Bryan, said lawmakers back then weren't always looking for the next higher office and to score political points, but "truly put Nevada first."
Democrat Bob Miller, the state's longest-serving governor at 10 years in the 1990s, said the political parties are more interested now in electing ideologues. That squeezes out moderates such as former state Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno, whose death last month at age 85 ended an era, he said.
"It's not just a Nevada problem," Miller said. "If we keep eliminating people who are pragmatic and who are moderate in their beliefs, the situation is going to be worse, not better."
Sandoval, a popular Republican in office just 15 months, said he is working to bring back bipartisan solutions to replace polarizing rhetoric.
He pointed to the 2011 compromises he reached with the Democratic-controlled Legislature on education reform and the budget as proof of his resolve.
"We had our differences on the floor, but at the end of the day we came together," said Sandoval, who agreed to extend for two years $620 million in taxes to balance the $6 billion biennial general fund budget. "I do believe there is a renaissance going on."
The governors shared the stage for an hour during a 90th anniversary lunch for the Nevada Taxpayers Association, held at The Orleans hotel-casino off the Strip. The program was moderated by Mitch Fox, host of PBS' "Nevada Week in Review," who held a similar session with four governors in 2000. List, Bryan and Miller participated then and the late Mike O'Callaghan, a Democrat.
Sandoval's pledge to work across party lines comes one year before the next legislative session convenes, and the issue of whether to raise taxes or cut spending -- or both -- is likely to prompt sharp partisan debate again. It also comes as the 2012 election season gets under way and Republicans seek to retake control of the state Senate, now run by Democrats with an 11-10 majority.
Democrats are expected to keep control of the Assembly, where they hold a 26-16 advantage over the GOP.
Although Sandoval said it would be premature to discuss his upcoming budget plans, he confirmed Wednesday that he will not back raising taxes on gaming, mining or businesses as proposed previously by Democrats and in five competing initiatives that may make the 2012 ballot.
"I'm not supportive of any of them," Sandoval said in an interview, adding that steadily increasing revenues from sales, gaming and mining tax collections are leading Nevada's economic recovery. "We have a ways to go; no doubt about it. But there are a lot of positive indicators."
The governors hammed it up during the lunch program as Fox asked them to recall funny moments while living in the Governor's Mansion in Carson City. All four raised several children while in office.
List said police were called to the mansion one night when the motion detector alarm went off at 3 a.m. The governor was told the family dog set off the alarm, but List later found out his teenage daughter was the culprit while trying to sneak back into the house after curfew.
Bryan noted prison inmates, including felons, staff the mansion under a work program.
"The warden said you always got to go for the murderers; they're the best," he recalled his wife, Bonnie, telling him as she went over a list of potential inmates for hire.
Mostly, it worked out, Bryan said, except once when a male and a female inmate "became amorously involved under the front porch of the mansion. They were not invited back."
Miller recalled the lack of privacy because rooms in the mansion were used for public events until he raised private funds to remodel the house to provide separate private and public quarters.
One day, he came home and was told his 4-year-old daughter had interrupted a public lunch and "did a little dance" for the audience as entertainment.
"She doesn't dance," he said.
Sandoval joked that his three children, ages 16, 15 and 7, can't sneak out at night because the mansion has security cameras now. He said the most dramatic thing that has happened so far is when one of the family's four dogs got out and began running down the street. An inmate took chase.
"About halfway down the block, he suddenly thought, 'They're going to think I'm trying to escape,' " Sandoval said, adding the dog was returned, joining two cats, two guinea pigs and a turtle.
In fact, he said, the first visitors to the Sandoval mansion were "animal control."
Contact Laura Myers at email@example.com or 702-387-2919. Follow @lmyerslvrj on Twitter.