Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley walked across the room with a big smile on her face, the kind of smile you might see on someone who had just won an election. Really, she was beaming.
I’ve known her since she was first elected in 1994, and I’d never seen her like this. Even her walk seemed lighter.
What kind of happy juice had she been drinking? Because I want some.
In the past few months, she confessed, others noticed she seemed more upbeat.
The change is: She’s no longer responsible for finding a way to cover the projected $3 billion budget shortfall in the state’s upcoming two-year budget. She won’t be in the Assembly, after deciding not to run for re-election or for governor.
“In the last 30 days, I realized I’m not going back to the Legislature and it’s not my job to spend every waking moment trying to devise a plan to balance the budget,” she said over lunch. “I’m not going to stay silent, but it’s not on my shoulders to come up with a solution.”
The day after the Nov. 2 election, Buckley no longer will be an elected official. She’ll still be executive director of the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, where there is plenty to concern an attorney. “We have so many clients at Legal Aid, so many people in crisis. The lobby has never been fuller, people never so desperate.”
But the pressure of Nevada’s budget and the agony of which services to cut are no longer her responsibility. She is expected to be replaced as speaker by John Oceguera, 42, assistant fire chief for North Las Vegas and a legislator since 2000. Buckley said he has been by her side at every major budget meeting for the past two years.
He will be the one who has to figure out whether this plan or that plan will have a two-thirds majority in the Assembly if taxes are involved, the same majority needed to override a gubernatorial veto. It’s his job to forge solutions, to negotiate with the governor and the Senate. Oh, and because it’s a reapportionment year, he’ll be in the center of the fighting about drawing the new district lines, one of the major sources of vicious feuding between legislators.
Buckley is working only on problems that might be resolved by Nov. 3 (although there might be some legislation regarding fixing the foreclosure mediation program that she keeps on her plate).
No longer being in office doesn’t mean you no longer care. Throughout the special session in February, she heard from former Gov. Kenny Guinn suggesting she look in this account or that account to find money to balance the budget. And it helped at least once.
Guinn, who died July 22, and Buckley had worked together on the Senior Rx program to help Nevada seniors cover prescription costs. It was his idea, and they agreed on the premise but not on how it should be managed. He wanted it run by a private business. She said it could be run more efficiently and cheaper as a state operation.
He won that one but agreed that if after two years she was right, he would make it a state operation.
When she turned out to be right, that’s what he did.
Buckley hasn’t ruled out re-entering the political arena later when her children are older, so she still is on the short list to become Nevada’s first female governor.
But for now, she is taking a step back. Eating healthy. Exercising. Losing weight.
She even took a vacation to see her 91-year-old mother in Philadelphia and did the unthinkable, turning off her BlackBerry e-mail for eight days.
Barbara Buckley is visible proof there are joys in not running for office after 16 years.
Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0275. She also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/morrison.