If Assembly speaker has regrets, she’s keeping them to herself

Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley won’t play along with my question: Is there anything she wishes she had done differently in her first legislative session as speaker?

As much as I asked the same introspective question different ways, she’s not going there. Whatever mistakes she might have made or actions she wishes she could have done over, she’s keeping those signs of vulnerability to herself.

“There are certain things you wish could have turned out differently,” she said over lunch this past week. “Could you have tried a different strategy?” But she’s not giving up any specifics. “I’m not big into regrets. You do the best you can and move on.”

Perhaps I make more judgment errors than she does. I could give you a list of 10 things I wish I had handled differently in my work life, like not printing Judge Elizabeth Halverson’s weight.

But the first female Assembly speaker, a Democrat who has her eye on the Governor’s Mansion in years to come, said she tends to move forward, not look back.

Buckley is focused. All during the 2007 session, she carried a copy of her opening day speech with her. With all the problems Nevada faces, she wanted to remind herself not to get distracted and to remain focused on the subjects she outlined as her agenda during her first day as Assembly speaker.

She did have a different style as speaker than when she was majority floor leader, where her reputation was that of the Iron Lady, the Steel Magnolia, whatever term you want to use to describe a woman who’s not going to let herself get pushed around.

“As speaker, you need to reach out to people,” she said. Assembly Speakers Joe Dini and Richard Perkins “taught me you don’t have to be front and center in every controversy.” So she delegated a lot of power to committee chairs and Assembly leaders she had appointed.

The solution for the state’s transportation disaster was in the hands of Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman Kelvin Atkinson and Majority Floor Leader John Oceguera. She wasn’t telling them what to do, but they worked together to develop funding sources for the $5 billion transportation shortfall. They had the votes in the Democratic-controlled Assembly to get the plan approved. They even had Assembly Republicans backing it and giving her a two-thirds majority, enough to override a veto by Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons.

Atkinson and Oceguera came close to pulling together a two-thirds majority in the state Senate, but ended up short.

Buckley didn’t want to send a transportation plan out of the Assembly only to see it die in the state Senate because of the governor’s opposition. Some wanted her to do exactly that, to corner Gibbons and force him to veto a plan that would have provided more than the $1 billion plan he ultimately agreed to back.

Buckley didn’t see the need or the advantage.

“If you don’t have the hole card, don’t bluff. And we didn’t have the hole card,” she said, referring to the two-thirds majority in the state Senate. “Do I wish a more comprehensive transportation bill had passed? Yes. There are Democrats who said we should have worked harder to make him (Gibbons) look bad. He made himself look bad enough.”

Buckley didn’t get everything she asked for in her opening day speech in February, a bold outline of her ideas. She took small steps forward.

She didn’t get full-day kindergarten for all, but she got an expanded program, adding $15 million to add kindergarten to 63 more schools.

She didn’t get the strong ethics reforms she sought; she took tiny steps forward. Really tiny.

She asked for bold steps in education, health care and renewable energy. She got some funding for specific programs in each case, some progress, but not giant steps for mankind.

“It’s better to have something than nothing,” she said.

Buckley isn’t looking back; she’s looking to the 2009 session.

Right now, she’s considering how to get the public more engaged in education and health care, two of her primary issues. How do you let more people know about programs that already exist?

But she’s not revisiting the past session and beating herself up over what might have been. Maybe that’s better than wallowing in second thoughts.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call 383-0275.

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