Between them, Randolph Townsend and Terry Care have 40 years of experience as Nevada senators and are well-qualified to offer some practical advice for the newbies heading to the 2011 Legislature.
One-third of the 63 legislators have no experience as lawmakers. Nada. Frankly, that doesn’t bode well.
Townsend’s 28 years of experience ended because of term limits. Care left after 12 years by choice. Both 63, they are thoughtful and respected lawmakers whose absence will be a loss.
“I was halfway through my third session before I felt I understood the process,” Care confessed. He also was not prepared for what happens during the last five days of every session, the chaos and the deal-making, the things hidden in bills.
Nothing is more embarrassing than being approached by someone after the session and being asked: Why did you vote for this? Especially when you didn’t know what “this” was, Care said.
He hopes new legislators understand the art of compromise and how it can be achieved without betraying one’s core principles. Care shared a story about the 2001 session when he had a bill involving oversight of the swimming pool industry and rural Sen. Dean Rhoads had a bill exempting farming from the sales tax, a bill Care opposed philosophically.
His pool regulation bill passed the state Senate, but Assembly Speaker Joe Dini, D-Yerington, told him it was “in serious trouble” in the Assembly. Dini thought he could save it, but, by the way, Care might want to reconsider his opposition to the sales tax exemption sought by Dini’s “good friend” Rhoads.
“I got the message, and my bill passed,” Care laughed. He also learned farmers were going to Idaho to buy their big equipment because Idaho had a sales tax exemption. Wasn’t it better to keep the sale in Nevada? Maybe Rhoads’ bill wasn’t so bad.
In his first session in 1999, Care was trying to get funding for temporary housing for spouses at a veterans home.
State Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, the master of the state’s budget, on the last day of the session, was talking to a staffer and asked Care whether he still wanted that funding. Care said yes, and Raggio told the staffer, “Give him ten grand. That will get him started.”
Soon afterward, a bill allowing parents to be prosecuted for child abuse for spanking was up, and Raggio was speaking against it. He turned to Care, pointed at him and said, “I’m sure you agree.”
It’s how business is done, with subtlety and deals, and Care isn’t sure some freshmen are prepared for the nuances.
Townsend advised freshmen to watch the experienced state senators. He cited Raggio and Sue Wagner, both Republicans, and Democrats Thomas Wilson and Jim Gibson as examples of senators who helped him and whose work ethic he emulated.
He also advised “not everyone with a blue badge (signifying a paid lobbyist) tells the truth. Lobbyists aren’t your friends.”
Townsend bemoaned the decrease of collegiality and places some of the blame on the remodeling of the Legislative Building in 1996. The old building had Assembly and Senate offices separated by just a stroll down the hallway. Now there is no natural flow, there is more segregation. “I couldn’t tell you the names of half the people of the Assembly; I never met them.”
Townsend suggested newcomers spend time outside the building with other lawmakers, building relationships with members of both parties.
My own advice to new legislators is lifted from Mark Twain, who once covered the Nevada Legislature: “It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.”
Stupid comments always seem worse once they hit the news media.
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.