Fallon senator prepares to step into leadership role
Nevada Appeal News Service
Although State Sen. Mike McGinness of Fallon is well known to his constituents in the Central Nevada Senatorial District, he is not exactly a household name in the rest of the state.
The 63-year-old Fallon native and manager of KVLV Radio was recently selected as Senate minority leader. He replaces Reno’s Bill Raggio after 28 years as the Republican caucus leader in the Senate, including 10 sessions as majority leader.
After Raggio supported Democratic U.S. Sen. Harry Reid over Republican Sharron Angle in the Nov. 2 election, a more conservative branch of the Republicans decided a change was needed.
McGinness, though, sees himself as a person who can offer a smooth transition among the Republicans.
“Bill has a tremendous amount of knowledge to impart to the caucus,” McGinness said in an interview with the Lahontan Valley News. He said he has asked Raggio to serve on the Government Affairs, Health and Education committees because of his expertise.
“We have 10 in our caucus, and five are new to the Senate,” he said. “I’ll be keeping them apprised of issues.”
For now, however, McGinness sees himself in a transition role as the top Republican in the Senate. He will be termed out in 2012, unable to run again.
The low-key McGinness has had a reputation for quietly getting things done in the Legislature. After serving a term on the Churchill County School Board, McGinness ran for the Assembly and won in 1988, and was re-elected in 1990.
Two years later, he successfully mounted a campaign for state senator for the Central Nevada Senatorial District. The largest district geographically, it includes all of Churchill, Mineral and Esmeralda counties and portions of Clark, Douglas, Lyon and Nye counties.
Since winning re-election and being chosen Senate minority leader, McGinness has been on the go almost every day, with trips to either Reno or Carson City.
When the Legislative term begins in February, McGinness said, he would like to delay discussion and any vote on redistricting. Rural Nevada faces the possibility of losing one or two Senate seats and two to four in the Assembly to the more populated Clark and Washoe Counties.
“It would be nice to take it off the table and work on the issues straight up,” McGinness said.
However, McGinness said that may be wishful thinking on his part. If redistricting becomes one of the first issues the Senate tackles, then he would like to see everyone offer his or her input.
For one, McGinness said he would like to see the Senate maintain the representation for rural Nevada. When redistricting occurs, McGinness said, every Assembly seat will represent about 140,000 constituents – which he says is a problem in rural areas – and each Senate seat will represent between 200,000 to 240,000 residents.
McGinness is optimistic, though, that lawmakers will work fairly on redistricting. Furthermore, he envisions both the Senate and Assembly working well with Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval, a former lawmaker and federal judge.
“Brian Sandoval and the Legislature will work well,” McGinness predicts. “His legislative experience will be good. I’m looking forward to his relationship.”
While outgoing Gov. Jim Gibbons relied more on staff to interact with the Legislature, McGinness said Sandoval will be more hands-on because of the background he brings to state government.
McGinness will also work closely with the new Speaker of the Assembly, John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas. Oceguera grew up in Fallon and graduated from high school here in 1986. Both families have known each other for generations.
“He’s a solid guy, very forthcoming,” McGinness said.
Once lawmakers and the executive branch cozy up to one another prior to the opening day, McGinness said everyone will have his or her work cut out for them.
“We will look at everything from tweaking programs to making them work more efficiently,” he said. “Some taxes scheduled to sunset may be extended, but we see them as temporary solutions until the economy comes back.”
McGinness said he and other legislators do not want to take tax incentives away from the counties or to take more money away from the fund that reimburses rural hospitals for indigent emergency care.
He acknowledges both the state and federal governments have swooped down on the counties like birds of prey, trying to find extra funds. But he said the counties don’t have any surplus to help.
“I think we took all the money they were able to give to us,” he said.
According to McGinness, everything is “on the table” when lawmakers begin to look at the budget and all state programs.
“Long-range ideas could change the way public employees are compensated,” McGinness said, adding he sees long-term funding problems arising for the state retirement system and state employees’ insurance.
As for taxes, McGinness said the state must ensure the tax structure is positive for the manufacturing industry and consistent for business growth.
As with previous legislative sessions, McGinness said education funding will be a top priority.
“Last session, higher ed took the cuts, but K-12, though, had small increases,” McGinness said.
But what is hurting education is not the state’s decrease in funding but the poor economy reducing local sales and property taxes.
McGinness predicts cuts for higher education won’t be as drastic as they were in 2009, but legislators will address shortfalls.
“We could see tuition increases, something as equitable as possible, but not a double-digit increase. We need to keep everything equitable in the university system,” he added.
McGinness, though, expressed some dismay about the cuts to the College of Agriculture in the special session.
“Ag is still the favorite son,” he said, pointing out that every county has developed a specific segment related to the agriculture industry in Nevada.
“Lattin Farms (Churchill County) proves you don’t need thousands of acres (for growing crops). The farm helps the economy, and to a certain extent, attracts tourism.”
During the upcoming session, he said legislators will look at the alternative energy sources and how Nevada can further expand solar, wind and geothermal.
As McGinness’ career winds down, his future is uncertain.
“I have no concrete plans,” McGinness said, explaining he doesn’t have the desire to run for state offices.
For now, McGinness said he is focused on working with his colleagues now and when the Legislature begins its new session in a little more than two months.