In a brief, three paragraph letter to the Washoe County Commission, Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno, announced Wednesday he will resign the Nevada Senate effective Jan. 15.
Raggio, first elected 38 years ago, has served longer in the Nevada Senate than anyone in state history.
"I had hoped to complete the remainder of my 10th elected term, but my physical mobility simply does not allow me to function fully and, therefore, it is time for me to step aside for someone who can give the position a 100 percent effort," he said in a statement.
Raggio, 84, has had surgeries on his back and for a ruptured achilles tendon, which have caused him problems walking and standing.
He called on members of the commission to replace him with "someone well-qualified who shares my political values and will commit to working with others and across party lines to do what is in the best interests of our communities and our state."
Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford said he was shocked by the announcement.
"Sen. Raggio is a Nevada hero and, on behalf of every Nevadan, I want to thank him for his five decades of public service in the Nevada Legislature," said Horsford. "His commitment to education and his depth of experience will be greatly missed in the 2011 legislative session."
Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness of Fallon, who replaced Raggio as leader of the Senate GOP caucus, could not be reached for comment.
Gov. Brian Sandoval described Raggio as "a friend and mentor since I began my public career."
"Serving as the father figure in the Legislature for almost four decades, Sen. Raggio built and tirelessly fought for the Nevada System of Higher Education and many other programs and services," Sandoval said. "The Nevada Legislature will never be the same."
Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, described him as "sometimes a fierce opponent."
"But his service was distinguished by a true love of Nevada and a commitment which rose above party politics to do the right thing for our state," said Oceguera. "Certainly he was an advocate for Northern Nevada, but his mastery of the budget and the legislative process was a steadying influence which served Southern Nevada as well."
Raggio has been leader of his party in the Senate since 1977 and majority leader of that body a record 10 times. But he was deposed two days after the November election amid objections from his new and more conservative caucus after he endorsed Democrat Harry Reid over Sharron Angle in the U.S. Senate race. Raggio said he stepped out of the way and simultaneously asked to be taken off the finance committee he headed for nearly two decades.
Reid, who benefited significantly from that endorsement in a tight race with Angle, described him as a true leader.
"Bill is a true statesman and his voice will be sorely missed," he said.
Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., also said Raggio's presence will be sorely missed this coming session.
Gary Peck, executive director of the Nevada State Education Association, praised Raggio's commitment to education.
"Even when there were disagreements, he was someone with whom it was possible to work constructively to try to find common ground," said Peck.
NSEA President Lynne Warne said even when they disagreed, "we were always able to work through things."
Raggio has served on Senate Finance Committee since 1985 including as chairman eight times. He chaired the Interim Finance Committee six times.
Before running for state Senate, Raggio was Washoe County district attorney for 12 years beginning in 1958 and worked in that office six years before winning election.
"Dale and I look forward to retirement from elected public service," Raggio said. "However, I intend to stay active in our law firm and certainly look forward to remaining involved in the decisions affecting the future of Nevada and in a position to offer assistance if asked."
The Washoe County Commission will appoint his successor in Senate District 3, which represents west Reno, the north valleys, Verdi and part of rural Washoe County.