Guy Farmer Column: Bill Raggio was peacemaker, dealmaker

The late state Sen. Bill Raggio was my kind of politician, a moderate Republican who didn't hesitate to cross party lines in order to get things done in the Nevada Legislature. In fact, he was Mr. Northern Nevada for more than 40 years and he'll be sorely missed as more and more Southern Nevadans move into leadership positions.

I was traveling when Raggio passed away in his wife's native Australia late last month, so today I want to pay tribute to him and his remarkable political career. The late senator was the hard-charging Washoe County district attorney when I arrived here, and I well remember his public battles with flamboyant Northern Nevada brothel owner Joe Conforte, who's probably drinking champagne toasts in his Brazilian penthouse to celebrate the fact that he outlived Raggio.

When Raggio was first elected to the Legislature, it was common for leaders of both parties to cross the political aisle in order to enact legislation that would benefit all Nevadans. As an example, there is no one who has done more for public education in our state than Bill Raggio. Even though he was a fiscal conservative, he always assured that adequate funding was made available for public education.

Raggio was a "deal-maker" in the best sense of that term. Today, when our political system is dysfunctional because of the increasing polarization of American politics, we seek politicians who are willing to look beyond narrow partisan politics and focus on the best interests of our state and our nation. This is what Raggio did throughout his political career, and at the end of his career he paid a high price for his moderation and willingness to compromise.

Not long ago I wrote a column about the need to compromise in order to get anything done in Washington, D.C., or Carson City. One of my more conservative friends told me that was my worst column ever, which is saying a lot since I've written more than 750 columns for the Nevada Appeal over the past 15 years. Well, I re-read that column this week and I wouldn't change a word. In fact, I'll rededicate it to the memory of Bill Raggio.

Raggio earned the enmity of Tea Party Republicans when he helped to pass a temporary tax increase in 2009, and again in 2010 when he endorsed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) over Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle. Angry Republicans stripped Raggio of his committee assignments, and the senator resigned from the Legislature before the 2011 session for health reasons.

"With the death of Bill Raggio, one of the great lights in the world of Nevada politics has gone out," said Gov. Brian Sandoval, a fellow Republican. "(His) career exemplified the very best of public service."

"It was his ability to forge a consensus that made him ... the master of the Senate," added former Nevada governor and U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan, a Democrat. "Bill Raggio understood that compromise was something that was very necessary."

That will be Raggio's lasting legacy, one that I heartily endorse.

• Guy W. Farmer has followed Nevada politics for nearly 50 years.


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