Column: Sen. Bryan makes one more swing through rural Nevada

Generally speaking, political class is an oxymoron. You don't find much class in the hardball, money-grubbing, you-scratch-my-back-I'll-scratch-yours world of politics.

Especially in Washington, D.C.

That's why it's particularly sad to see Richard Bryan's days in the U.S. Senate coming to a close.

I spoke with Sen. Bryan on Sunday up in Galena Creek Park. He was doing his traditional "summer reunion" barbecue. This one, though, was titled, "The Last Hurrah."

After more than 37 years of public service, including terms as Nevada's attorney general, governor and U.S. Senator, Bryan will be leaving public office at the end of the year.

Under such circumstances you would think Bryan would want to spend his final summer break playing golf, or watching the grass grow from a lawn side hammock. The Senate is in recess all of August and he really doesn't need to return to work until Sept. 5.

Instead, Bryan will do what he's done for the past 11 summer breaks: listen to his constituents as he tours Nevada's rural towns. That tour began in Pahrumph on July 31 and will end in Elko on Sept. 1, with 16 "town hall" stops in between. He'll make his final summer stop in Carson City as a U.S. senator on Aug. 24 at the Senior Center.

"I have a contract with the voters," Bryan told me. "It was a six-year deal, not five-and-a-half years."

You need look no further than his resume to understand Bryan's dedication to Nevada and his respect for its citizens. If anyone was "born for the job," it was Bryan. He was born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Southern Nevada. "My father went to law school in Washington during the Depression," the senator said. "He worked at the highway department during the day and attended law school at night."

Bryan's first political office was as president of his eighth-grade class at John S. Park Elementary School in Las Vegas. He was also president of his sophomore and senior classes at Las Vegas High and student body president his senior year at UNR.

He officially launched his three-decade-plus public service career in 1964 when he became Clark County's deputy district attorney. A couple of years later he became Clark County's public defender, then assemblyman, then state senator, then Nevada's attorney general, then two terms as Nevada's 26th governor and then two terms as Nevada's U.S. Senator.

He says his fondest memories are of his days in Carson City in the governor's mansion, where he and his wife, Bonnie, and their three children lived from 1982 through 1988.

"It was my boyhood dream to be governor of Nevada," he said. "Carson City was wonderful to my family. Our children were in 6th, 8th and 9th grades there. We had one at the elementary school, one at the middle school and one at the high school."

The Bryan children would grow up to become a doctor, lawyer and teacher.

Much of Bryan's political life has been spent trying to keep nuclear waste out of Nevada. Those efforts have so far been successful under Clinton, but Bryan fears that will change if Bush is elected. "We have enough votes in the Senate (34) to sustain a veto, but not to defeat a bill should it pass the House," he told a gathering in Virginia City Sunday.

Nevada was nuked silly during tests in the early 1950s and there are some who believe a little more radiation wouldn't really hurt us much.

Accessibility has been Bryan's greatest attribute. "I came into this career at a time when most of the politics in Nevada was very personal," he said. "You went to meetings and rallies."

And so it will end. A meeting in Ely. A rally in Wendover. A barbecue in Winnemucca. And then back to D.C., where the senator from Nevada will continue his fight to keep nuclear waste out of the state he has called home for the past 63 years.

He'll pause a time or two for visitors and photos and handshakes and well-wishers. Then he'll end one of the most illustrious political careers Nevada has ever seen.

Political class. Sometimes the two words actually look pretty good side by side.

Jeff Ackerman is publisher and editor of the Nevada Appeal.


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