FALLON - After stints as a journalist, a politician's staff aide, a corporate manager and an educator, Dale Erquiaga's next stop in life takes him to the steps of the Capitol as an adviser to a new Nevada governor.
A Fallon native, 46-year-old Erquiaga is Republican Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval's current transition team assistant director and soon-to-be senior adviser, where he will run both the Communication and Police Development offices.
Working for Sandoval is no "shot in the dark" for Erquiaga.
When Sandoval moved to Fallon as a 7-year-old and attended second grade at Northside Elementary School, Erquiaga became one of his closest friends. Even when the Sandoval family moved to Reno the year after, both boys - and then later as men - stayed in contact.
"The governor-elect and I attended second grade together and had the late Geniveve Erb as a teacher," Erquiaga said recently.
The similarities didn't stop there for the two boys.
"We were both the same religion (Roman Catholic), and Brian and I had our first Communion day together," Erquiaga said. "What I like about Nevada is that the families go back that far. Frankly, it makes difficult decisions easier to resolve. That's the politics I grew up with."
During the campaign, Erquiaga advised Sandoval on education policy and prepped him for his debates against challenger Rory Reid. Once Nevadans elected Sandoval on Nov. 2, the transition team went to work.
"The sheer demand on his (Sandoval's) time has been the biggest hurdle to overcome," Erquiaga said. "Everyone wants to meet with him. Our job is to be inclusive and collaborative."
Erquiaga does admit that making decisions about the budget has been most difficult as Nevada's budget faces an estimated $3 billion deficit.
Like other Fallonites - John Oceguera, the Speaker of the Assembly, and Mike McGinness, the Republican leader in the State Senate - holding key positions in the Legislature, Erquiaga knows the voice of rural Nevada must be heard. He said Sandoval has met with representatives from the state agriculture board. As an Assemblyman in the 1990s, Sandoval sat on a Natural Resource Board and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.
"He understands the issues," Erquiaga said.
During the transition, Sandoval has traveled twice to Washington, D.C., to meet with Nevada's congressional delegation, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
He has also been in contact with those he considers invaluable mentors: former governor and Sen. Paul Laxalt and former Congresswoman Barbara Vucanovich.
Taking the oath
After Sandoval takes the oath and becomes Nevada's newest governor, work intensifies more so for the administration. The Legislature opens Feb. 7, five weeks from the swearing in.
Because of the 2010 Census, Nevada, along with the other states, must redistrict its political boundaries. Sometimes, as Erquiaga acknowledges, that can be a long process.
"Reapportionment - we want a speedy resolution to it. We don't want decisions to be used for horse trading," Erquiaga said.
Erquiaga said he feels the governor has assembled a strong cabinet, a good cross-section of men and women willing to serve their state.
"The governor-elect personally interviewed every (potential) appointee including those already holding a position," Erquiaga said, adding Sandoval wanted to know of their experience in the specific job and whether they would follow his
Born in Fallon, Erquiaga graduated from Churchill County High School in 1981 and from the University of Nevada, Reno, in 1985, earning a degree in political science. He later received a master's in organizational leadership from Grand Canyon University in Phoenix.
His brother Carl currently serves as a Churchill County commissioner, and his sister Dianne, the oldest, is a real estate agent. Another brother, Steve, lives in Boise.
Before he received his bachelor's degree from The University of Nevada, Reno more than 25 years ago, Erquiaga cut his teeth in journalism, writing for both the Lahontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle Standard as a high school student and later during summers home from college.
"My first job was with the Fallon Eagle Standard, and then I went to the LVN and worked for Curt Tuck," the editor at the time, said Erquiaga in a recent interview. "For the LVN, I was writing stories on the local government, school board, police beat."
Erquiaga said working in journalism was a great experience, something he still relishes to this day.
"I thought I would be a journalist. I loved covering local government," said Erquiaga.
Because of that interest in local government, Erquiaga then studied political science and decided to pursue a career in government.
"I lived in Washington, D.C., and worked for the Reagan administration during the second term; then I married and we lived in Reno for 10 years."
While living in Nevada in the 1990s, Erquiaga worked in the Nevada Secretary of State's office, first for Cheryl Lau and then for current U.S. Rep. Dean Heller. Under Heller, he served as deputy chief of staff.
Erquiaga's employment then took him to Las Vegas where he worked for the Howard Hughes Corporation and then to Arizona in 2005. He returned to Southern Nevada in 2005 and accepted a position with the Clark County School District, serving as its liaison to legislative committees and heading strategic planning.
His experience has now reunited him with his childhood friend. The ties are much deeper than a boss-employee relationship.
"From my perspective we are not only friends, but I support him," he said.
And as for Nevada, Erquiaga said it may take those old-community, close-knit relationships to bring Nevada out of its economic doldrums.