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Raggio leaves some loose ends but, overall, a very sound legacy

State Sen. Bill Raggio, the master of the art of the deal, is irreplaceable, despite his protestations to the contrary.

No matter who is chosen to fill his seat, no one knows the state’s budget as well as he does after 38 years in the Senate. Frankly, no one is as good at getting what he wants without leaving any fingerprints as Sir William.

His surprise announcement Wednesday that he is retiring because “my physical mobility simply does not allow me to function fully” brought back a flood of memories of the man I first met in 1987, the first time I covered the Legislature.

He was the Senate majority leader and key to all things happening in the Legislature. This was in the days when there was no 120-day limit and the session dragged on for six months or so. It would be 4 in the morning toward the end and the reporters would look haggard but Raggio looked fresh and alert, as if he could go on forever. His stamina and style were part of his success.

Nothing passed if he didn’t want it to pass because he was a master at trading votes and using the budget to provide funding for someone’s pet projects, much like U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Raggio’s endorsement of Democrat Reid over Republican Sharron Angle, viewed in context, might have been a mistake. It certainly seems to have sparked this pivotal turning point in his career.

That was why he was ousted in the fall from his GOP leadership position by Fallon state Sen. Mike McGinness. After that, Raggio, 84, said he didn’t even want to be on Senate Finance, where he had ruled whether he was in the majority or minority.

Would he have resigned if he still were leader of the Republicans? I can only wonder.

Over the 23 years I knew him, I came to admire him but also let him have it in the chops more than once.

We agreed on some issues, most recently on the need to appoint judges based on merit selection rather than elections. We agreed Nevada needs a more stable tax base than it has.

We disagreed on stricter ethics rules for legislators and reporting of campaign and personal finances. He quietly killed most efforts for those kinds of revelations. All I could do was yelp.

Northern Nevadans will miss him the most, whether they realize it or not, because over the decades, while the population and power shifted to Southern Nevada, a goodly portion of the money remained in Northern Nevada, courtesy of his machinations. The shortchanging of Southern Nevadans culminated in the contentious fair share battle in the Legislature in 1989, when more tax revenues were shifted south.

Even after that, former state Sen. Ray Rawson, R-Las Vegas, kept a close eye on where the money went and tried to protect Southern Nevada’s interests, especially when it came to higher education.

Raggio’s love for the University of Nevada, Reno helped that school nab more than its fair share of funding. That will be one of his major legacies when the history is written about the Raggio years. He won’t be there to see the possible dismantling of higher education programs he funded. Perhaps that’s one reason he no longer wanted to be in the Legislature, knowing there would be nothing he could do to stop it. He also knew his last session won’t be the one where a more stable tax base is designed.

Sen. Raggio’s career ends on a sad note, a legacy that’s not as complete as he would have wanted.

But it certainly wasn’t a bad run for the master of the deal.

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.

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