Given today’s blustery and toxic political atmosphere, it can be easy to forget that there was a time not long ago when decorum, respect and restraint were the hallmarks of civic debate. Paul Laxalt personified that tradition.
Mr. Laxalt, a towering figure in Nevada public life for decades, died Monday. He was 96.
The son of a Basque sheepherder who came to the United States in 1906, Mr. Laxalt was born in Reno in 1922, the oldest of six siblings. He graduated from Carson High School and enlisted in the army during World War II, during which he served as a medic in the Pacific theater.
Upon returning stateside, he earned a law degree from the University of Denver and was elected Ormbsy County district attorney in 1951.
Having acquired a taste for electoral politics, Mr. Laxalt, a Republican, made a successful run for lieutentant governor in 1962. After one term, Nevadans chose him to lead the state when he defeated incumbent Gov. Grant Sawyer in the 1966 election. He served one term in the Governor’s Mansion, during which he helped to formulate Nevada’s modern gaming regulatory apparatus and to establish the state’s first medical school.
Mr. Laxalt opted not to seek re-election in 1970.
During his time in the Governor’s Mansion, Mr. Laxalt struck up a friendship with his California counterpart, Ronald Reagan. The relationship would widen Mr. Laxalt’s sphere of influence, particularly when Mr. Reagan sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1976, two years after Mr. Laxalt had narrowly defeated Harry Reid in a race to represent Nevada in the U.S. Senate. When Mr. Reagan won the White House in 1980, his old friend became one of his closest and most trusted advisers.
Mr. Laxalt retired from the Senate after two terms and made a short-lived run for the White House during the 1988 GOP primaries. He eventually left politics and returned to law before forming a government consulting group. He has been honored with the Paul Laxalt Mineral Engineering Center at the University of Nevada, Reno, and the Paul Laxalt State Building in Carson City.
“One thing about Paul Laxalt,” said longtime Nevada political strategist Sig Rogich, “there wasn’t any room for BS.” Mr. Laxalt’s approach differed dramatically from the gutter discourse that too often prevails today. “He never did it in a harsh way,” Mr. Rogich recalled. “I never really saw him lose it, even when he was maddest. I never saw him scream at someone, throw a tantrum. He was gentle at all times. Sincere.”
Mr. Reid, one of Mr. Laxalt’s old political rivals, also noted his comity and honor. “We came from different political parties and backgrounds, but that didn’t matter to Paul Laxalt,” the former Senate majority leader said. “He was the epitome of a gentleman. He treated me, and everyone, with the utmost respect and friendship.”
Paul Laxalt was a man of integrity and character. Nevada has lost a giant.