Native Las Vegas leader takes legal prowess to chamber post

Attorney Michael Bonner is a rarity these days.

Bonner, 54, was born and raised in Las Vegas. That puts him in a small league with roughly 20 percent of the city’s residents, the vast majority of whom moved here from other markets during the boom era of the 1990s and early 2000s.

It’s his lifelong love and concern for his native city that drew Bonner to the chairmanship of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce. The group will install Bonner in his new post Wednesday at an installation luncheon inside the Four Seasons, and his term will begin Jan. 1.

“I’ve spent my entire lifetime, other than law school, here in Las Vegas. I’ve raised my family here, and I intend to remain here for the rest of my days on this planet,” Bonner said. “I’m very committed to continuing the betterment of our community.”

Bonner has long held a high profile in the local community. As an attorney focusing on corporate and gaming law, Bonner has worked as lead counsel to resort operators, homebuilders and gaming manufacturers in their initial public offerings, mergers, and debt and equity private placements. He’s also represented clients in restructurings, and helped them fight hostile-takeover bids. His body of work has drawn notice: Attorney directory Martindale-Hubbell has given Bonner its highest possible peer-review rating of AV Preeminent, which means Bonner’s industry colleagues rank him at the highest level of professional and ethical excellence.

Bonner has also volunteered his time to several area trade groups. He served on a disciplinary board for the State Bar of Nevada and on the board of trustees for the Nevada Development Authority, among others.

But the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce began consuming more of Bonner’s free time several years ago.

“I made a decision to work more with the chamber because it’s an organization that I thought did a lot for the business community,” he said.

Bonner came to the chamber’s chairmanship after outgoing chairwoman Kristin McMillan asked him if he’d consider succeeding her in the volunteer position.

“Everyone likes Mike, so they respond to him well. He’s a natural leader,” said McMillan, who’s also vice president of state and external relations for phone utility CenturyLink. “He has the right personality. He’s very open to new ideas and he’s extremely collaborative in his approach. He has the respect of the business community, and he also understands the mission of the chamber.”

That mission revolves heavily around bolstering smaller businesses. The chamber recently rolled out an initiative encouraging Las Vegans to shop locally; another program gives discounts to members who purchase from other members’ businesses. Bonner said he’ll continue to seek ways to help small businesses voice their concerns in the greater community.

Bonner said he also plans to make the chamber an “active participant” in communitywide discussions on economic-diversification strategies.

But it’s the upcoming legislative session, set to begin Feb. 7, that will consume a substantial chunk of Bonner’s one-year term.

The chamber since 2003 has led successful legislative charges to prevent new business taxes and reform public-sector workers’ pay and benefits. The battles weren’t always pretty: Acrimony from the 2003 session, when the chamber fought a proposed gross-receipts business tax that several major gaming operators supported, led to a split between the group and some of its biggest members, including gaming giant MGM Resorts International.

MGM rejoined the chamber in January, though, in an effort to find common ground as lawmakers take on Nevada’s budget shortfall. The state’s planned expenditures exceed its revenue by $1 billion to $3 billion, depending on whose numbers you use. Legislators and lobbyists are already discussing whether to close the gap through budget cuts or tax increases.

Asked if he plans to draw any lines in the sand on eliminating the budget gap, Bonner said no.

“Everybody needs to come together and try to understand what we can do for the good of the business community, not just every two years (when the Legislature meets), but on a long-term basis,” he said. “A lot of people are tired of Band-Aids. We would like a more reasoned, sensible, logical and long-term program, particularly for Southern Nevada.”

That approach could include additional looks at public-worker compensation, he said.

Bonner is well equipped to steer the chamber through the session, McMillan said. His background as an attorney and his understanding of both the local business community and the legislative process “will be extremely valuable for the chamber going forward,” she said.

“We’re in very capable hands with Mike,” she added.

Bonner earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in 1978 and graduated from the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law in 1981.

Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at
jrobison@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4512.

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