CARSON CITY — John “Jack” Vergiels, a longtime Nevada educator and legislator who served as both Senate majority leader and Assembly speaker, died today after a long illness. He was 72.
According to the Legislative Counsel Bureau, Vergiels was the only lawmaker in Nevada history to have held the top leadership posts of both chambers.
The Las Vegas Democrat served in the Assembly from 1973 to 1984, and was speaker in 1983. He served in the Senate from 1985 through 1992, becoming majority leader in 1991.
A highlight of his career was his support of the “fair share” legislation that ended a 10-year period in which Washoe County had received nearly $100 million in sales taxes generated in Clark County and the rural counties.
Under his leadership, a law was passed that limited the amount of sales taxes any county could lose to other parts of the state, which forced Washoe County to contribute some of its taxes to poorer rural areas.
“It would have had a hard time ever passing without Jack,” said former Assemblyman Bob Price, D-North Las Vegas. “He was extremely knowledgeable and effective in the operation of our government. He should be recognized for his accomplishments.”
Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, said Vergiels was responsible for the resurgence of the Democratic Party in the early 1990s. Coffin said he always will remember Vergiels’ “rolling gait.” He walked like the football player he had been in college.
Although an education professor at UNLV with a doctorate from the University of Toledo, Vergiels also was a regular guy who sometimes played pool with the locals in a now-closed bar across the street from the Legislature.
“He was the most energetic man I ever knew,” Coffin said. “He invented the term multi-tasking. He was a real recruiter for our party.”
Sen. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, said he visited with Vergiels and his family Monday and everyone was aware the end was near.
“He had been ill for quite some time,” Townsend said, adding that one of Vergiels’ last public appearances was in 2007 when he was inducted into the state Senate Hall of Fame.
Vergiels was born Nov. 21, 1937, in Erie, Mich. He is survived by his wife, Halina, and three children, Kelly Jean, Jack Lee and Robert Alan.
Besides serving 20 years in the Legislature, he was chairman of the Faculty Senate at UNLV, Nevada chairman of the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education, and president of the Kidney Foundation of Nevada.
U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., called Vergiels one of his closest allies during the 1970s when Reid was lieutenant governor.
“Throughout Jack’s long career serving our state, he was a true leader that Nevadans could always depend on,” Reid said in a statement.
Fomer state Sen. Sue Lowden, who defeated Vergiels in his 1992 re-election bid, said she was saddened by the death of her one-time political rival.
“Sen. Vergiels demonstrated his commitment to public service and to our great state. He will be missed,” Lowden said in a statement.
Funeral arrangements were pending.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Contact Las Vegas Review-Journal Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-687-3901.