Friends, colleagues pay respects to Gov. Kenny Guinn
Associated Press Writer
LAS VEGAS – Nevada political leaders remembered former Gov. Kenny Guinn at a public funeral Tuesday with a 21-gun salute, bagpipes and a Catholic Mass honoring the two-term moderate Republican who left a big imprint on the Silver State.
“Our state is sad but extremely grateful,” said state Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno. He remembered Guinn as a selfless leader who rose from sharecropper beginnings to lead Nevada during a period of peril and prosperity.
Guinn, who served as the state’s chief executive from 1999 to 2007, died Thursday after falling from the roof of his Las Vegas home while making repairs. He was 73. The Clark County coroner has not yet ruled whether the cause was natural or an accident.
“Unlike too many in political life today, he fought for the common good of the people he was elected to serve and brushed aside … sectionalism or strict partisanship,” Raggio said in a eulogy that drew laughter and tears.
“‘Being governor is about leadership, not popularity,”‘ Raggio said, quoting Guinn. “That should be hung on the wall of the state Capitol.”
The funeral Mass at St. Joseph Husband of Mary Roman Catholic Church drew more than 1,200 people, including Guinn’s wife Dema, sons, Jeff and Steve, five grandchildren, administration staffers, judges, county, state and federal elected officials.
The bipartisan audience included Republican U.S. Sen. John Ensign, current Gov. Jim Gibbons, Democratic former governor and U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan, former Gov. Bob Miller, state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, and former Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins.
The service was conducted by Joseph Pepe, bishop of the Las Vegas Diocese, and broadcast live on several TV stations. A public memorial reception followed with beer and hot dogs at the Palace Station casino-hotel in Las Vegas.
That’s what Kenny Guinn would have wanted, the family said.
“Kenny Guinn was a common man with uncommon courage and conviction and hard work was his guiding principle,” said Pete Ernaut, Guinn’s former chief of staff.
“No governor in the history of this state knew the budget as well as Kenny Guinn,” Ernaut said. “He agonized over every dollar in every account because he knew it meant something. It meant something to a kid in a classroom, a cop on the street, a senior citizen trying to make it, a disabled person trying to live a normal life.
“He knew that it mattered to the people of this state, so it mattered to him,” Ernaut said.
Ernaut remembered Guinn being the first to work every morning and last to leave every night – a detail-oriented executive whose enthusiasm had him teaching visiting Cub Scouts about the budget one day, and whose patience kept him in cold showers in the Governor’s Mansion for five days before finally making a 5 a.m. phone call to the director of buildings and grounds.
“He said, ‘I’ve sent the highway patrol for you. Bring a wrench and a towel, because if you don’t fix that water heater, you’re going to get in that shower with me,”‘ Ernaut said.
George Randall, Guinn’s close friend from Kernville, Calif., said, “We’re here to honor the passing of a great man.”
Randall’s brief comments were notable in comparison to the more than 30 minutes of stories and oratory from Raggio and Ernaut.
“Many of us lost a great friend that we will miss forever,” Randall said. “It’s been an honor to have known him. Kenny was a gentleman and a scholar, and he is missed.”
Raggio referred to Guinn’s legacy as a former Clark County school superintendent, a bank chairman, president and chairman of Southwest Gas, and interim president of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
As governor, Guinn founded a scholarship program in 1999 with tobacco settlement money that he said has helped tens of thousands of Nevada high school graduates attend state universities. The program has been renamed the Kenny C. Guinn Millennium Scholarship program.
“He was indeed the education governor,” Raggio said. “When UNLV sought his assistance in troubled times he accepted the position of interim president and refused to take a salary except for $1.
“I asked him if he still had that dollar and he said he did,” Raggio said.
During his time in Carson City, Guinn overhauled government agency operations, revamped budgeting and tax collections, fought federal plans to bury nuclear waste in the desert outside Las Vegas and tried to diversify Nevada’s casino-dependent economy.
Raggio recalled the political firestorm Guinn sparked when he proposed nearly $1 billion in new taxes in early 2003, seeking more funding for social services and education.
Bitter legislative debate lasted for months before a record $833 million plan finally was approved after two special sessions.
“This subjected him to heavy criticism, some of it which still lingers to this day, from thoughtless people. But he was steadfast,” Raggio said, quoting Guinn again.
“‘The popularity of my proposal is less important to me than the rightness of our course.”‘
Guinn is due to be buried Thursday in his childhood hometown of Exeter, Calif., following private services.
Associated Press writer Ken Ritter contributed to this report.