Special session will have a void without longtime planner/lobbyist Porter

A respected straight shooter who hasn’t missed a session of the Nevada Legislature since 1969 won’t be at the special legislative session Friday.

Irene Porter’s orthopedic surgery in April makes it difficult to travel, although she has committed to be there for the 2009 sessions, so this is a temporary absence.

If you don’t already know the executive director of the Southern Nevada Home Builders, you have felt her work indirectly. As the lobbyist for home builders for 30 years, she’s been at the table discussing some of Nevada’s biggest issues. Construction defect laws. Water. Air quality. Building costs. Impact fees. Planned growth. Affordable housing. Dust control.

This woman knows her infrastructure. In the 1970s, she was there talking about the development of the sewer treatment plant. Then she represented home builders at the start of the Regional Transportation Commission and Regional Flood Control District.

Even those who fought her on legislative issues, such as Victoria Riley, executive director of the Nevada Justice Association representing trial lawyers, has kind words.

"She’s the consummate professional who has played in the big leagues," Riley said. "She’s universally garnered respect."

Former Clark County Commissioner Paul Christensen worked with her during the 10 years she was director of planning for North Las Vegas from 1967 to 1976. Throughout her career, Christensen said, "She’s managed to keep things on an even keel without cheating anybody or lying to anybody."

How many people can you say that about?

Porter, 64, moved to North Las Vegas with her family in 1954 when she was 11 years old. She got into planning (a manly field) by starting as a secretary in the North Las Vegas Planning Department. She found the field interesting and was encouraged by her bosses to go back to school and work her way up.

When she was director of planning at her first legislative session in 1969, she was 26 years old and only one of six female planning directors in the United States. Between her job in North Las Vegas and her job with the home builders, she spent a year as project manager for the Green Valley development.

Porter lobbies for one of the biggest industries, but she also looks at it from the point of view of helping people getting into a home. She still recalls the joy she and her husband Richard had when they bought their first home in North Las Vegas.

"I care about people having a place to live," she said.

Porter said the state’s $1 billion deficit was made worse by the dip in gaming revenues the past few months, but most is because of the plummeting in home building. Since September 2006, she says, 25,000 construction workers have been laid off.

We talked Tuesday, the day the news broke that Las Vegas leads the nation in falling housing prices. Home prices in Las Vegas saw a 19 percent drop between this April and last. The median house price in Las Vegas is $225,000, down $53,000 from April 2007.

Yet Porter is an optimist. The benefit of low prices is that entry-level homes, the best sellers in today’s Las Vegas market, are more affordable, she said.

A street in North Las Vegas was named in her honor in Desert Wind Homes’ Centennial Crossing in April. Appropriately, it’s a street with new homes.

She agreed to work the 2009 Legislature, probably her last, because "I want to get us over this very bad period."

Porter knows how to explain complex issues, especially infrastructure, and knows to guard against unintended consequences. I’ve seen some of the most powerful lobbyists and legislators in the state defer to her. When you know your stuff as well as she does, respect naturally follows. The special session won’t be complete without her.

Today, she’ll be watching the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee meeting via the Internet, looking for hints of what’s to come Friday. If legislators are polite to each other, then an agreement has been struck for the special session, Porter said. If they’re sniping at one another, there is no agreement. Be prepared for a contentious session.

Irene Porter knows issues and people.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0275.

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