Minority leader says Assembly seats needed

CARSON CITY — New Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea figures businesses in Nevada will be hit with billions in tax increases if Republicans don’t pick up at least one additional Assembly seat in November.

“We have to have a superminority,” Republican Goicoechea said in a telephone interview from his ranch outside of Eureka. “If we get a superminority, then we can negotiate with Democrats on taxes. Some tax increases are probably coming, but if we have a superminority we will have some leverage.”

By a “superminority,” he means Republicans need to hold 15 or more of the 42 Assembly seats. Democrats now have a 28-14 edge, and that two-thirds majority gives them power to pass any tax increase through their house and override governor vetoes.

“With 14 members, we largely are irrelevant,” Goicoechea said.

Democratic legislators such as Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, predict tax revenue will be more than $3 billion short of what is needed when the Legislature convenes Feb. 7.

They are counting on a $233,000 Moody’s Analytics study of the state tax structure to give them direction if tax increases are necessary. The July 1 release of the study has been delayed, and some observers conjecture it may not surface until after the November election.

Goicoechea, 60, was elected the minority leader last month by his fellow Republicans.

“I’m blunt and pretty brash, and I don’t look good,” quipped Goicoechea. “I’m not P.C. (politically correct).”

Former Minority Leader Heidi Gansert, R-Reno, opted not to seek re-election, and decided to give up the leadership post now, figuring ongoing legislators would have a better opportunity to raise campaign contributions.

The mother of four children who are still in school, Gansert is expected to seek higher office in a few years.

As an example of his bluntness, Goicoechea readily admits state programs will be terminated in 2011 because of the lack of revenue. He predicts the sizes of classes in public schools will become larger and some graduates won’t be able to afford college.

He wants to return to “zero-based budgeting” where each state agency starts without an existing budget and must justify each dollar it receives.

“It’s nobody’s fault,” he said. “We have to tighten up. We can’t burden our business community anymore, or we will lose more jobs.”

He already can see the 15th Republican in Pete Livermore, who is running for the District 40 Assembly seat held by retiring Assemblywoman Bonnie Parnell, D-Carson City. The district has 1,800 more Republicans than Democrats, although Parnell, a popular, retired teacher, always won easily.

“We have five or six other really good candidates (for seats now held by Democrats), and depending how much of a Republican year we have, we can pick up seats.”

A legislator since 2003, Goicoechea realizes it is no easy task to lead the Assembly Republicans from 1,800-population Eureka County in northeastern Nevada. Las Vegas, the population center of the state, is a 312-mile pickup ride away. A legislator from eastern Nevada last held a top leadership post in the Legislature when John Marvel, a Republican from Battle Mountain, was Assembly minority leader in 1993.

But Goicoechea knows every back road and speed trap and makes the trip south to Las Vegas regularly in 4½ hours. He admits that because of the distance, he will rely a lot on Assistant Minority Leader Lynn Stewart, R-Henderson.

Assemblyman John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas, also wanted the minority leadership post and intends to seek it again following the November election.

But he pledges to work with Goicoechea and agrees the Republicans must win additional seats to have any chance of limiting tax increases in 2011.

“No one knows more than Pete about mining law and land and water issues,” Hambrick said. “With computers and cell phones and the Internet, he is no further away than any of us.”

Goicoechea served 16 years as a Eureka County commissioner before running for the Legislature.

Before getting into ranching, he worked in copper and gold mines and for the county road department.

Since he is so far from anywhere, Goicoechea estimates he puts 50,000 miles a year on his truck on legislative business. His District 35 covers parts of eight counties, running 480 miles from Baker in White Pine County to Gerlach in Washoe County.

He expects current Assembly Majority Leader John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, will become speaker next year. Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, is barred by the term-limits law from running again.

Goicoechea expects disagreements with Oceguera, but amicable ones. Carson City isn’t going to degenerate into a mini-Washington, D.C., where Democrats and Republicans never see eye to eye, according to Goicoechea.

“John is a rural guy from Fallon. I represent his mother. We get along fine,” Goicoechea said about Oceguera, who was raised in Fallon.

Oceguera said “working together” should be the theme for them in these tough economic times.

“Obviously I want to increase the number of our members,” he said. “But I will work with Pete whether he has 13, 14, 15 or more members.”

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

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