Changing of the guard in Senate |

Changing of the guard in Senate

It’s the changing of the guard in the Nevada Senate as longtime Secretary of the Senate Jan Thomas retires.

Today, in fact, is her final day on the job, but Thomas says she’s leaving the “upper house” of the Nevada Legislature in good hands since her replacement, Claire Jesse Clift, is anything but a newcomer.

Thomas, 60, has worked for the state and Legislature for more than 30 years – as secretary of the Senate since 1982, guiding it through major changes in the process as well as computerization of legislative record-keeping.

“There’s been a huge transition since I took over,” she said Thursday. “When I started, the journals and histories were actually done by hand.”

Those journals and histories are the official record of what happened in every day of every session on the Senate floor – all the debates, parliamentary moves, votes and speeches.

The Senate secretary, like her Assembly counterpart, Chief Clerk Jacqueline Sneddon, supervises the front desk which keeps those records as well as the secretaries who keep committee records, the personal secretaries who work for individual lawmakers, sergeant at arms staffs for both houses and bill room workers.

While the staffs drop to two or three for each house between sessions, the Senate secretary and Assembly chief clerk will each have upwards of 100 employees during the session.

As secretary, she also stands at the podium during Senate floor sessions, reading bills and amendments and, with the lieutenant governor as Senate president, presides over the Senate.

“It’s been a wonderful job,” she said. ” But I have a family and grandchildren and I’ve been doing this for 33 years,” she said. “It’s time to let other people like Claire take Nevada into the 21st century.”

She said the Senate will be in good hands with Clift, who has been Senate media clerk since that post was created in the 1997 session.

“Claire has a wonderful knowledge of our computer system,” said Thomas.

As for the political tightrope which is part of the job when handling political debates on the floor, she said, “Claire is very perceptive. I’m sure she’ll know exactly what to do.”

Clift, 43, was born in Reno and raised in Carson City. She was a committee secretary for Senate Natural Resources in 1987 and 1989 before leaving the state with her husband.

After eight years in the state of Washington, she said, “It got too cloudy and I wanted to be closer to my family.”

She returned in time for the 1997 Legislature.

But she is no newcomer to Nevada or state politics with family ties that stretch back five generations.

That family tree includes a number of past lawmakers and political figures beginning with great-great grandfather Daniel Clark Simpson, an assemblyman from Eureka County in 1871-2. Her great uncle was longtime state Sen. Forest Lovelock, who represented Washoe County 1951-58, and her uncle is former Washoe County Sen. Coe Swobe, 1967-74.

“Let’s say we have a long history of service to the state,” she said.

She described Thomas as “the best mentor and boss I’ve ever had.” And she said she expects the 2001 session to go smoothly since she has a veteran staff returning to the Senate.

She also said she expects computerization to continue to speed up and improve the legislative process, now limited under the constitution to 120 days every two years.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” she said.

But when that session opens for business in February 2001, Thomas said, she plans to be enjoying an ocean cruise with her husband Bob – but she may call to rub it in a bit.