Nevada lost one of its last great statesmen Thursday when former Assembly Speaker Joe Dini died at the age of 85.
In a legislative career that spanned more than three decades, beginning in 1967, the Yerington native rose to power at a time when rural farming and ranching interests still held sway in Carson City.
But Mr. Dini, a Democrat who eventually served a record eight times as speaker of the Assembly, never let partisanship or geographical interests dominate the many legislative battles over taxes, education spending or social policy.
Mr. Dini worked hard to represent his constituents in rural Nevada, but never lost sight of the overarching goal of making the state a better place for every resident.
The fact that he could hold onto his leadership position for so long — even as the political dynamics of Nevada inevitably shifted to the more populous regions of the state — is a testament to the respect and esteem in which he was held by his peers.
Mr. Dini always sought compromise with his Republican colleagues, with his state Senate counterparts and within his caucus, which increasingly saw more participation from Clark County as the once-a-decade redistricting process shifted power to the south.
The outpouring of testimonials at the news of his death is another reflection of the regard with which he was held and his accomplishments over many years.
Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican who served with Mr. Dini in the Assembly in the 1995 and 1997 sessions, described him as “the essence of leadership in our state.”
U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, who served with Mr. Dini in the Assembly in 1969, called him a true legislator who “understood that legislation is the art of compromise.”
“He devoted his life to public service, and always had every Nevadans’ interests at heart,” Sen. Reid said.
Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., who served with Mr. Dini in the 1997 session, said he “represented the prototype for public service in the Nevada Legislature.”
“He was a person who transcended partisan labels and did more in a given week during a legislative session for Nevada than most do in a year,” Rep. Amodei said. “When you look up ‘Mr. Speaker’ in the Nevada dictionary, Joe Dini’s picture is there.”
The 1995 legislative session was an unusual one in Nevada when, after Election Day 1994, it showed a 42-member Assembly evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats at 21 members apiece.
In what could have been a divisive and discordant legislative session, the parties instead divided leadership duties and worked cooperatively to get the business of the state accomplished without gridlock.
Mr. Dini worked with co-speaker Lynn Hettrick, R-Gardnerville, to accomplish the difficult task.
“Everybody said the session would be a disaster, but we worked together,” Mr. Hettrick recalled in an interview in 2013. “That is not happening today, and it is really sad.”
In an interview in January 2013, Mr. Dini had some advice for the current crop of legislators on how to find common ground: “They need to have a couple of highballs together.”
“They need to put aside their differences and work for the good of the state, take care of issues for the average people. They need to come up with a plan for the future of the state.”
They need to remember, as Joe Dini did, that they were put in office to serve.