Richard Bryan, a former Nevada governor and U.S. Senator for two terms, encouraged fellow Democrats at Saturday’s annual Sawyer-Bryan dinner to work across the aisle and understand rural values leading up and after elections.
The Churchill County Democrats Sawyer-Bryan dinner was named in honor three years ago for former Gov. Grant Sawyer and Bryan, who also served in the Nevada Legislature and as attorney general.
Not since the Civil War has the United States been polarized like today, said Bryan, referring to the current political climate.
“What bothers me is we have a lack of civil discord,” he said of the belittling nicknames President Donald Trump has used with individuals, both Democrats and Reublicans.
Bryan rhetorically asked what kind of national example and tone does that set for residents. The 80-year-old Bryan, who grew up in Las Vegas, said he had numerous philosophical differences with President Ronald Reagan, but at an event Bryan attended at the Reagan Library, he said “the man dignified the office.”
“When he spoke, we were all proud as Americans,” he said.
Bryan said he would like to see politicians turn to where office-holders are putting country ahead of party and work with each other. As it currently stands in Washington, D.C., Bryan said nothing is getting done in Congress.
He also mentioned earlier in his remarks how the Nevada Legislature in the 1970s relied on both major parties to approve bills and move Nevada forward. He specifically cited the efforts of Churchill County’s Virgil Getto, a Republican, and Yerington’s Joe Dino, a Democrat.
As for the national stage, Bryan also said former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did not deserve to be fired by a presidential tweet.
“He’s entitled to the dignity of the office,” Bryan said.
Bryan shifted his remarks to the audience and urged them to support Democrats in a “blue-wave crest” to gain seats in Congress, yet he had a strong message for those local and state candidates at the dinner and for those who couldn’t attend
“You ought not forget rural Nevada,” Bryan emphasized.
While Bryan served in office, he and his late wife, Bonnie, attended 22 Labor Day events in Fallon. When he ran for re-election as governor in 1986, Bryan carried every county and finished with 72 percent of the vote in a state that had a population under 1 million. Although Nevada has tripled its population in 32 years, he said candidates must travel to the rural counties, understand their issues and appeal to their constituents who live in the smaller populated counties.
Bryan also reflected on his ties with Churchill County and noted as a student at Las Vegas High School in 1953, the Wildcats defeated Churchill County for the state basketball title. His first roommate at the University of Nevada, Reno, came from Fallon and the following year, he had three roommates who attended Churchill County High School. One of his closest friends at the university was Don Travis, who served as a teacher and administrator in Churchill County until he retired almost 30 years ago.
Bryan, who appeared at the Churchill County Democrat’s inaugural dinner in 2016 with the revised name, said he was proud to be listed next to Sawyer. Bryan then pointed out the influences Churchill County has had during different generations. He said Sawyer’s father, a physician, practiced in Fallon. Prior to becoming elected governor in 1958, Sawyer had served as Elko County district attorney.
“He was an extraordinary public official,” Bryan said, adding under Sawyer’s leadership, the Nevada Gaming Commission and Gaming Control Board were formed, and he pushed through civil rights legislation to improve Nevada’s image.
Bryan also noted Alan Bible’s achievements. Bible, who graduated from CCHS, was first elected to the U.S Senate in 1954. Before the U.S. Senate race, Bible was also elected as Storey County district attorney, and voters elected him for two terms as attorney general. Bible retired from the Senate in 1974.
Nyla Howell, chairwoman of the Churchill County Democratic Party, said something magical was in the air when the annual dinner’s name was changed from Jefferson-Jackson to Sawyer-Bryan.
“The two names resonated well with everyone,” she said.
She said the attendance keeps increasing for the dinner, reaching more than 100 this year.
Kimi Cole delivered remarks as chair of the Rural Nevada Democratic Caucus, a position Howell formerly held. Cole said it was gratifying to see the amount of energy coming from the Democrats in attendance and also from those running for office.
Candidates for state office, U.S. Senate and Congressional District 2 each spoke for 4 minutes to outline their plans and to give a short synopsis of their background.