No Assembly after 30 years

CARSON CITY — By Wednesday afternoon, 30-year Assemblyman John Marvel, R-Battle Mountain, had stopped moping about his loss in Tuesday’s primary election and the fact that he will not be returning to the Legislature this winter.

“I did it long enough, and I’ll find other things to do,” Marvel said. “There is going to be a void for a while, like there was a void when I sold my ranch. But I got used to not having a ranch, and I will get used to not being in the Legislature. I won’t have to worry about offending anyone anymore.”

Marvel, 81, lost the Republican primary for the District 32 seat by five percentage points to former Assemblyman Don Gustavson in a six-person race.

Marvel overwhelmingly won in rural Nevada counties, but lost in Washoe County, home of 80 percent of the voters.

He may be best known as the Assembly member who in 2003 shifted his no vote to a yes vote late to allow a record $833 million tax increase to pass the Assembly by a 28-14 vote. The Senate approved it by a 17-2 vote.

Although a Supreme Court decision temporarily set aside a constitutional amendment requiring a two-thirds vote on tax measures, Marvel wanted to avoid a prolonged controversy that might have been created if the increase had passed with less than a two-thirds vote.

As it was, the tax increase was not approved until late July, six weeks after the end of the regular 2003 session.

“It was the responsible thing to do, but that is what they (Gustavson) used against me,” Marvel said Wednesday. “To get the schools open, I had to vote for the bill and get rid of the logjam. We had all the school money tied up in that tax bill, and we had schools in rural Nevada that couldn’t open.”

After it became apparent he was the victor Tuesday night, Gustavson said he won largely because voters, even those in rural Nevada, thought it was time for Marvel to retire.

“I was out there campaigning by going door to door,” Gustavson said. “I didn’t see John Marvel.”

Until legislative seats were redistricted in 2001, Marvel’s district did not include Washoe County.

“Reapportionment finally caught up with me,” Marvel said. “It is hard to get votes in Washoe County when you don’t live there.”

In his last three elections, Marvel said he prevailed in the predominantly Republican district because a large number of rural Nevadans voted in the primary.

But Marvel said too few voters in towns like Winnemucca and Battle Mountain showed up at the polls Tuesday to give him another term.

Besides a Battle Mountain home, Marvel and his wife, Willie, own a condo in Carson City near their two daughters. They plan to continue to spend part of their time there.

His son, Elko lawyer John E. Marvel, is the lawyer Gov. Jim Gibbons used to help him secure a $40 annual property tax bill on range land he purchased near Lamoille.

Marvel said he sponsored the bill that allows such low tax bills as an incentive for people to retain agriculture land rather than sell it for developments.

Marvel said he got along well with members of both parties and fears that the 2009 Legislature could turn into partisan warfare.

“When I was first elected there was no difference between Republicans and Democrats,” Marvel said. “It has gotten to be so partisan.”

Leaders of both parties were sorry about his defeat.

“He has had an admirable life of public service,” said Assembly Minority Leader Heidi Gansert, R-Reno. “I am disappointed he lost. He was an important part of our caucus. He had the institutional memory.”

“John Marvel has been a dedicated public servant who always has tried to do the right thing,” said Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas.

Although Marvel suffered from illnesses in recent years, Buckley said he attended more interim legislative meetings than most younger legislators.

Marvel said he will miss the “good people” he has met each session, mentioning staff members of the Legislative Counsel Bureau, lobbyists and the press.

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