Jim Banner, a blue-collar Nevadan who lent his plain-spoken voice to the state Assembly in the 1970s and ’80s, died Monday. He was 87.
Banner’s daughter, Nancy Banner, said his heart and kidneys gave out after a long illness. He died at the Nathan Adelson Hospice in Las Vegas.
"When he introduced himself, it was, ‘Jim Banner, carpenter,’ " said former U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan, who served as the state’s attorney general and governor during Banner’s nine terms in the Assembly. "He was genuine to the core, a regular person whose personality and attitude didn’t change when he got elected. Some of us who have been able to fool the voters on more than one occasion get puffed up with our own importance. Jim Banner was not that kind of guy."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., the state’s lieutenant governor in the early 1970s, said Banner "was a wonderful legislator and a very talented artist. In fact, I have hanging in my house in Searchlight a map of Nevada he made using different types of wood to represent different parts of the state. It’s beautiful and always brings back fond memories of Jim."
A Democrat elected to the Assembly in 1972, the former official with the Carpenters union left his mark on multiple pieces of key labor legislation, earning a reputation as a friend to the working man.
Banner also is remembered for his impassioned testimony against what would have been the state’s first law banning open containers of alcohol in vehicles. Taking the floor, Banner said he and his wife, Alice, liked to travel from Carson City to Pocatello, Idaho, in their motor home to visit their grandchildren.
"And after all the bad times my Alice had to go through with me in the Legislature," former Assemblywoman Vonne Chowning recalled Banner saying, "if you think I’m going to tell Alice she can’t have her brewski along the way, you’re crazy."
Banner was widely criticized for his stance, but he didn’t back down. He didn’t care what people said about him, and his loyal constituents, who generally re-elected him with 80 percent of the vote, didn’t either, Chowning said.
Born in 1921 in La Verne, Calif., to a construction worker and housewife, Banner and his family moved to Bunkerville when he was 11. He graduated from Las Vegas High School in 1939 and began working as an apprentice carpenter.
He enlisted in the Navy shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor and was honorably discharged in 1945. He married Alice Winter in 1947.
After 10 years working at day and taking night classes, Banner earned a bachelor’s degree in business in 1967 from Nevada Southern University, now University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
From 1963 to 1967, he served on the Nevada Industrial Commission, which oversaw the state workers’ compensation system. In 1967 he went to work for Clark County, first as personnel director, then as the county’s first-ever risk management director.
During a legislative career from 1973 to 1989, Banner was a devoted grass-roots campaigner whose constituents often asked him to do small carpentry projects when he knocked on their doors.
"Everybody remembers the pot holders," Nancy Banner said.
They said "Jim Banner for Assembly," and Nancy Banner, who has extras on hand, still gets requests for them.
During eight of his nine terms, Banner served as chairman of the Labor and Management Committee.
"He was a friend of the working man of the state," former Assembly Speaker Joe Dini recalled.
Assemblyman John Carpenter, R-Elko, remembered Banner as a mentor.
"I sat next to him (in the Assembly chambers)," Carpenter said. "He would tell me how to vote. He would tell me ‘Carpenter, you can’t vote for this, but I can.’ He was a real decent guy, always doing what was right for workers."
After his retirement from politics and work, and Alice’s death in 1992, Banner occupied himself with travel, working in his home carpentry shop and attending every UNLV football and basketball game, Nancy Banner said.
"He loved to go up to the Valley of Fire, drink a glass of wine, reminisce and feed the chipmunks," she said. "That was his favorite thing."
Ed Vogel contributed to this story.
Contact reporter Molly Ball at mball@ reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919.