Ex-columnist, plumber Hansen tackles Legislature

Editor's note: This is one in a series of profiles of freshman lawmakers in the 2011 Legislature.

CARSON CITY -- After seven years as a Reno radio talk show host and 17 years as a newspaper columnist, Ira Hansen had enough of being a Monday morning quarterback who constantly criticized the Legislature.

He decided to see whether he could do things better.

On Monday he will walk into the front door of the Legislative Building as Assemblyman Ira Hansen, R-Sparks.

"It is really easy to point fingers," he said. "Now I will be held accountable."

Perhaps because of his media background and tendency to speak without guile, Hansen doesn't promise he or other legislators can perform miracles and lift the state quickly out of the worst recession since the Great Depression. Hansen ended his Sparks Tribune column when he ran for office. His radio stint with KKOH ended several years ago.

"I don't see a turnaround anytime soon," said Hansen, whose primary income comes as a licensed plumbing contractor.

Hansen spoke with Gov. Brian Sandoval soon after the election and intends to back the governor's objectives, including not raising taxes, although he won't make an absolute no-new-taxes pledge.

"I will support him. But if Brian says there is no way in heaven we can provide essential state services without a minor tax increase, I will support him," Hansen said.

Like other Republicans, he supports the establishment of a special legislative committee to look at whether state agencies can be disbanded and how spending can be cut.

He also wants the state to hire a funds manager to look at ways to secure more federal dollars. Nevada now receives back about 65 cents for every $1 its citizens send to Washington in federal taxes.

He also doesn't expect Nevada's education system suddenly to become acclaimed as one of the best in the nation.

"We can't turn education around in one session. We have thrown money on education forever," Hansen said.

His solution is the "free market." That means vouchers to allow parents to take state dollars and use them to send their children to charter and private schools.

"What we need is more competition in education," Hansen said. "If you want to improve plumbing, you have competition. The same with education. With a voucher program, we would see more charter schools created. We didn't get into this education mess overnight, and we won't it get out of it overnight."

While he's an avid reader and a political junkie, Hansen never went to college. When he was growing up, people didn't need to go to college to earn a good living, particularly if they worked in the gaming or construction industry, he noted.

But several of his eight children already are college graduates, and he expects they all will attend college.

Hansen is Mormon, but he is a graduate of Bishop Manogue, the Catholic high school in Reno. He is sending his children to that school, too.

He hopes that, with a voucher system, other parents will have this option.

Sandoval is proposing a constitutional amendment to allow parents to use state funds to send their children to religious schools.

Hansen might have the most unusual avocation of any legislator in the country. He is a trapper and has been making money trapping since he was an eighth-grader in 1974.

He also is a member of the politically active Hansen family. His late father, Daniel, founded the Independent American Party of Nevada 1968. His aunt, Janine, is a veteran legislative lobbyist for the Eagle Forum, a conservative family values organization , and his uncle Joel, a Las Vegas lawyer, was the IAP candidate for state attorney general in November.

Hansen said his father was a free thinker who was disappointed when he rejected the IAP, but pleased that Hansen became politically active.

IAP candidates only can be spoilers and never win any major races themselves, said Hansen, who believes his uncle would be attorney general today if he had been a registered Republican.

Hansen said he is the first member of his immediate family to win election in Nevada.

Hansen goes into the session without owing any favors and vows to vote his conscience.

"I can honestly say I have no special interest backing me, no unions or casinos. But it is amazing how many groups we have in Nevada. They seem to all have called me since the election," Hansen said.

He reported contributions of more than $54,000, of which about $10,000 came from himself. The total also includes donations from law firms, gaming and construction companies and private individuals.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.