RENO - Republican Bill Raggio, the longest-serving state senator in Nevada history, says his party will lose elections if its doesn't move away from the radical right.
In an interview on radio station KUNR's "Beyond the Headlines" show Friday, the 84-year-old said he thinks the party's leadership has moved too far to the right and seems to kick out those who don't totally agree with its positions.
"I think the present leadership of the Republican Party is a little too radical and has been taken over by what I think is a radical element," the Reno lawmaker said, one day before he retires from the Senate seat he has held since 1972. "The party has to reshape itself or it won't win general elections down the road."
State party Chairman Mark Amodei said he disagrees that the GOP has moved too far to the right or faces future trouble at the polls. Unlike 2008, the party performed well in Nevada last year except for Democratic Sen. Harry Reid's victory over tea party-backed Republican Sharron Angle, he said.
Such Republicans as Gov. Brian Sandoval and Reps. Dean Heller and Joe Heck are "not too far to the right," Amodei said. "I think all Republicans are paying a little too much attention to labels and not enough attention to performance. Let's judge them by what they do."
Raggio's support of Reid over Angle angered the more conservative wing of the party and led to a challenge for his leadership post. Raggio served as GOP caucus leader for 28 years before he stepped aside in November after the challenge was launched.
Raggio said he considers himself a "Ronald Reagan conservative" who believes in free enterprise, limited government and low taxes.
But he said critics within his party branded him a Republican in Name Only, or RINO, because of his support of some past tax increases. He noted Nevada still has among the lowest taxes in the nation.
"Even Reagan had to raise taxes as governor and president," Raggio told KUNR. "I come from the old school where you put the election behind you, and everyone works together, and compromise is not a dirty word."
Raggio criticized elected officials who take hard-line, anti-tax positions, saying they should only pledge to do what's best for the state and their constituents.
He said state lawmakers at the upcoming session will have to consider raising taxes to avoid further cuts to education, particularly higher education. Quality education is more critical than low taxes in luring companies to Nevada and diversifying its economy, he added.
"You first look at essential services that need to be provided and then you find a way to fund them," Raggio said. "Raising taxes should be a last resort but it shouldn't be off the table."
Amodei said Raggio is entitled to his opinion because he became an expert on state finances in his 38 years at the Legislature.
"I don't think compromise is a dirty word, either, but it has to be in view of salient facts," Amodei said. "The private sector in Nevada is in the tank. It (tax increase) should be a last resort, but I can't imagine how you get to it if you look at what's happening to the private sector."
Raggio, who's retiring before his term expires for health reasons, said he won't endorse anyone to replace him. Seven Republicans have applied for the seat so far, and Washoe County commissioners will select his successor before the Legislature convenes Feb. 7.
"I would hope they have someone who has the ability to cross party lines and to commit to running the next election," Raggio said.
Before taking phone calls on the KUNR show, Raggio made a request of callers.
"The cowards are the ones who don't give their names on talk shows and bloggers who write nasty articles and don't have to give their names," he said. "Man up, people. If you're going to call, give your name and contact number."