P.K. O’Neill concedes that Assembly Republicans got off to a rocky start this season.
First, while they were expected to gain seats in the lower house, not even the most perceptive pundits thought they’d take the majority. They did convincingly in November, winning 25 of 42 seats.
“We weren’t expecting the majority,” he said.
Then the conservative majority in the caucus named Ira Hansen, of Sparks, Speaker and he promptly installed anti-tax maven Michele Fiore of Las Vegas as head of the Taxation Committee. But Hansen’s reign imploded amid charges he authored racist and sexist columns for the Sparks Tribune over a period of years.
His replacement, relative moderate John Hambrick, pulled Fiore out of the tax post and her position as Majority Leader. After she cried foul and labeled the move sexist, she got both jobs back.
But then it was revealed she was facing about $1 million in tax liens by the IRS.
Fiore went back out the door.
All that and obvious divisions within the GOP caucus prompted rumors some were considering “the nuclear option” where a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats would join to return Democrat Marilyn Kirkpatrick of North Las Vegas to the Speaker’s office.
But O’Neill says things seem to be settling down now.
“All those rumors about the nuclear option I don’t think are there,” said O’Neill, who represents Carson City’s District 40.
With more freshmen members than veterans — 14 of the 25 — he said they have a bigger than usual learning curve.
“But I think the institution is bigger than any of this,” he said. “I support our leadership we’ve got today and I’m looking for some stability now. I think we’re going to catch up and I think it’ll all work out.”
He said his goal is to fairly represent District 40, which he said is widely diverse and, “in some ways, best represents Nevada as a whole.”
He pointed to the mix of liberal and conservative, public and private workers and other factors.
He said he has already seen criticism of his conservative credentials.
“I think of myself as a conservative but it’s amazing people get upset that I’ll represent my entire district,” O’Neill said.
He said that includes representing the needs of state workers, some 6,700 of which work in the capital.
“Nevada has one of the smallest per capita state employee workforces,” he said. “State workers have gone several years without a pay increase and I think it’s time we start looking at making them whole again.”
He has already put in several bill draft requests including one in honor of his predecessor Pete Livermore that would give the group seeking to preserve the old Nevada State Prison the power to raise and spend money on the project.
O’Neill also wants changes in the rules for supervising sex offenders he says is going to fix a few things that aren’t fair to the parolee or to Parole & Probation officers.
He wants to have the Department of Motor Vehicles automatically register young men for the Selective Service when they get a drivers’ license, hopefully fixing the fact Nevada’s registration rate is 48th out of all the states and territories.
He’s also proposing changes to the prevailing wage law that would exempt K-12 construction but make public projects use e-verify to ensure workers are legal residents or citizens. It would also raise the limit for projects that must comply with prevailing wage from $100,000 to $1 million. He said he’s willing to talk to union leaders and construction groups to work out a fair compromise.
Finally, he wants to enhance prosecution of crimes against the elderly, including requiring better background checks for guardians who are currently exempt because they are family members.
O’Neill said he’s willing to talk with any of his constituents about what he believes and why he votes a certain way on any given bill.
He starts with a better understanding of how the Legislature works than most freshmen. As a former division chief in the Department of Public Safety, he has testified before legislative committees defending his programs and budget.
He said he hopes that experience helps him make decisions, not just go along with what’s easiest.
“We may not agree on everything every day but at least you will have heard why I did what I did,” he said.