New book chronicles history of Nevada Assembly leaders

Nevada history buffs have a new resource to pour through.

Cindy Southerland, who retired from the Legislative Counsel Bureau in 2015, has put together an exhaustive history of the 62 men and women who served as Speaker of the Assembly for the state’s first 150 years.

Southerland didn’t want the book, titled Mister Speaker to Madam Speaker, to be a dry recitation of names and dates.

“Being involved in the system as long as I was, it became more interesting to me to learn the back story of the people, the social history, legislative service and also their personal life,” she said.

She said the idea for the book has been around for some time but never really went anywhere. She said it was after she retired she “really got determined on it.”

To give the book context, she said she read the journals and histories of every session from 1861 through the 2013 session to personalize each biography and create a section explaining his or her accomplishments and the key issues of the sessions in which they led the Assembly. She also included the key issues of each of the Special Sessions of the Nevada Legislature as well as a biography of the three Territorial Speakers and their accomplishments in the days leading to statehood.

The book was drawn from more than 180 resources and includes photographs or pictures of every Speaker except James A. Banks, the second person to hold that post. Southerland said there’s simply no known photograph of Banks. He also holds the unfortunate distinction of being the only one on the list who was murdered — shot to death in an Indian attack in 1867 while on a fishing trip with friends.

Since many went onto other offices after leaving the Legislature, she listed those accomplishments as well.

She said her interest developed over the more than 25 years she worked for the Legislative Counsel Bureau and the Legislature itself, a good share of that time for the Research Division. She said at the request of former Research Director Don Williams, she points out the book isn’t the result of work performed by or at the direction of that division. She said, in fact, Williams told her it wasn’t the type of publication the Legislature would create.

In that 150 years, she said there have been 18 Speakers who were actually born in Nevada and four who were born outside the United States. But one, Denver Dickerson, was born at the Nevada State Prison where the family lived at the time because his father was the warden.

Southerland said Nevada has changed dramatically over that time, shifting from a rural ranching and mining state to the mostly urban culture of today’s Nevada. One significant change, she said, is the impact of term limits that limited service in each house to no more than 12 years. With that rule in place, there will never again be a Joe Dini, who served 36 years in the Assembly.

“The loss of institutional memory and decades of public service once so proudly enjoyed by a few have become a thing of the past,” she wrote in her introduction.

The book ends at 2014. There have been two more Speakers since then — John Hambrick and Jason Frierson. But the book does include the two female Speakers who have served in the Assembly. Barbara Buckley was first, elected Speaker for the 2007 and 2009 sessions. Marilyn Kirkpatrick followed, winning that honor and responsibility for the 2013 session.

She said if this first effort is well received, she’s thinking of doing a similar volume compiling biographies of the men who have served as Senate Majority Leader. To date, no woman has held that post.


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