Deputy chief’s job helps economy grow
Pat Phillips says she’s more than a little surprised to be working for Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt, but she’s enjoying it because she believes the office is making things happen.
“I think I’m just surprised because I’ve always been a teacher, and that’s what I always thought I’d be,” she said.
She taught for 15 years and raised a family before going back to school, eventually getting a doctorate in education in Washington D.C.
That’s where the political bug caught her because, she said, she discovered that very few education lobbyists had any actual teaching experience.
“So I started studying what it takes to influence government – without a lot of money,” she said.
That became the subject of her doctoral dissertation and eventually led her to the lieutenant governor’s office. On the way, she worked as a model, a sales clerk, did some lobbying, was assistant to the president at Pacific Union College in California, then Reno district director for Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev.
After she left Gibbons’ staff, she says, she quickly discovered she needed a new challenge.
“I was home for about a month, and when I started artistically arranging all the food I was making from scratch, my husband said, ‘Get a job,'” she said.
The job she found was first with Hunt’s campaign and now as deputy chief of staff running her Carson City office.
“This is my favorite job ever,” she said.
The task, she says, is to “make things happen” for Nevada, especially in economic development and tourism. It’s a job Phillips says is expanding dramatically under Hunt.
While much of the state’s attention is on the massive growth in Las Vegas, the Carson City office focuses primarily on the rest of Nevada. Rural areas, she said, require a different approach and often can’t afford the expertise Reno and Las Vegas have available.
“Battle Mountain, Ely and other small communities, their economies and tourism are very different,” she said.
For more than a year now, that has meant trying to find replacements for lost jobs in the mining industry.
She said the lieutenant governor’s office tries to help get the right kinds of businesses to take a good look at some of those communities.
“Sometimes what we’ve done is just brought them all together to talk to each other, to start the ball rolling,” she said.
Hunt, she said, is trying to help those smaller communities attract more high-tech companies.
Her job, along with Judy Cox and Susan Fink who make up the rest of the Carson City office, is to know as much about what’s going on in all those communities, what they need, what their problems are as possible.
“A lot of people come to us with difficult problems,” she said. “We have to be aware of what’s happening in each of the communities so we can put them with some one who can solve them.”
That means contacts with not only businessmen interested in coming to Nevada, but also local government officials, existing businesses, citizen groups and individuals.
“And sometimes, something will just click – perfect,” she said.
She said the office has its limitations because, “to actually create programs, we don’t have the power in this office.”
She said what ties it all together is the Hunt’s broad experience – from casino lounge entertainer in Reno and Las Vegas to Clark County commissioner to business entrepreneur – and the working relationship she has with fellow Republican Gov. Kenny Guinn.
The lieutenant governor in Nevada heads the state tourism and economic development commissions and is vice chairperson of the transportation board.
“The governor asked her to pay special attention to economic development and tourism and she really does describe herself as the governor’s lieutenant,” said Phillips. “Our job is to keep her informed what’s going on everywhere in the state.”