CARSON CITY — The state Senate on Tuesday honored a tearful former Sen. Bill Raggio for nearly 40 years of service in the Legislature.
Raggio, R-Reno, returned to the chamber where he served as a powerful dealmaker from 1972 until January, when he abruptly retired after being ousted from leadership by his own party caucus.
The pomp and circumstance of Raggio’s visit glossed over the longtime lawmaker’s unceremonious departure three months ago to focus on his imprint on Nevada history.
"I’m all out of words," Raggio, 84, said when Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, unveiled a plaque honoring Raggio in the majority leader’s conference room. "It is just overwhelming, I just appreciate so much your thinking of me at this time."
In addition to the plaque, Raggio was honored with induction into the Senate Hall of Fame, a gallery he launched in 1989.
During a lengthy floor tribute senators told sentimental stories about Raggio, who was known for using clever compromises and sheer stamina to make deals and wear down opposition.
Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, recalled how as senior lawmaker from Washoe County, Raggio would schedule meetings of the Washoe delegation on short notice and compel other members to attend.
"If you didn’t show up, he would send the legislative police to find you, and they would escort you," said Leslie, noting she now calls those meetings. "I’m a little nicer but people don’t show up."
Others joked about Raggio’s practice of asking legislative greenhorns for $20, presumably for a quick loan, and simply pocketing the cash.
"I feel left out, so Senator Raggio, I have your $20," said Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, brandishing a bill that promptly went into Raggio’s pocket.
Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, made a sly reference to an incident from Raggio’s days as a prosecutor in the late 1950s when, amid a dispute with former brothel owner Joe Conforte, Raggio convinced a judge to allow the Triangle River Ranch brothel to be burned down as a form of nuisance abatement.
McGinness said it showed Raggio’s reputation for, "fighting crime and corruption with a burning passion."
Horsford also paid tribute to Raggio, who was often a key Republican ally for Democrats during clashes with confrontational former Gov. Jim Gibbons.
"Senator Bill Raggio is a true statesman," Horsford said. "He loves his party, but he puts the state of Nevada before his party."
But the esteemed lawmaker ran out of good will with his own caucus during the 2010 election season.
Raggio already was getting heat for his wheeling and dealing that contributed to tax increases, and conservatives in his party were further angered by his grudging endorsement of Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., for re-election over Republican Sharron Angle, who had challenged Raggio in the 2008 Republican state senate primary.
After the 2010 elections ushered in new conservative senators, the caucus opted for McGinness.
Raggio retired shortly thereafter, citing health reasons.
If Raggio harbors any ill will it didn’t show Tuesday.
"I realize almost half of my life has been spent as a member of the Senate," he said. "There are wonderful memories. There were good times, there were tough times, there were fun times."
Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@ reviewjournal.com or 702-477-9464.