Election results notwithstanding, a lot of experience will be leaving the Legislature soon
No matter what happens in the midterms, Nevada’s Legislature will be a much different, much less-experienced place when the 2019 session begins. At least six members of the Senate won’t be back, and a seventh — state Sen. Aaron Ford, the majority leader — would abandon his seat if he’s elected attorney general. Those seats comprise fully a third of the Senate’s membership. In the Assembly, at least 10 members are leaving, nearly a quarter of the body. All told, the Legislature stands to lose at least 105 years of experience.
Although some would argue new blood is good in politics, lawmakers — like the holders of any job — get better the longer they practice. Time spent crafting bills, vetting legislation, and forging the kind of compromises that get measures through the process and to the governor’s desk is hard-won. It can’t be taught by anything but experience. Anyone who’s watched the final night of a Legislative session — as bills race between the houses, lobbyists jockey for the attention of elected officials, and last-minute amendments come in a torrent — knows the value of that experience.
The six definitely leaving the upper house represent a combined loss of 69 years of service, ameliorated slightly by the fact that some experienced Assembly members will seek some of those Senate seats. But even if every one of them is elected, we’re still looking at a net loss of four decades of experience in the Senate.
In some cases, senators decided not to seek re-election, such as nonpartisan Patty Farley, or Don Gustavson, R-Sparks. In another case, a job beckoned: In January, Sen. Becky Harris, R-Las Vegas, was named chairwoman of the Nevada Gaming Control Board. Two others are pursuing higher office: Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, and Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, are running for lieutenant governor and the Clark County Commission, respectively. And state Sen. Mark Manendo, D-Las Vegas, resigned after years of sexual harassment allegations. He had the most combined experience of any senator, with 23 years spent in the Senate and Assembly.
There may be some familiar faces on the Senate floor come February, however. Former Assemblywomen Valerie Weber, a Republican, and Marilyn Dondero Loop, a Democrat, are facing off to replace Farley. Term-limited Assemblyman James Ohrenschall, D-Las Vegas, is vying to replace Manendo. Freshman Assemblyman Keith Pickard, R-Henderson, is looking for a promotion to Roberson’s seat. And Assemblyman Ira Hansen, R-Sparks, will likely replace Gustavson.
But those departures will leave the Assembly with less experience, too: Thanks to new jobs, members not seeking re-election, or runs for higher office, the Assembly will lose 10 members with 64 combined years of legislative service.
That includes Minority Leader Paul Anderson, R-Las Vegas, who took a job heading the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Five more — Elliot Anderson; Irene Bustamante-Adams; Justin Watkins, all D-Las Vegas; Amber Joiner, D-Reno; and Melissa Woodbury, R-Henderson — are not seeking re-election. The others are seeking higher office, including Nelson Araujo, D-Las Vegas, who is running for secretary of state.
One group that won’t be seeing much turnover is the legislative lobbying corps, an experienced group of advocates that doesn’t change much from session to session, and which vastly outnumbers the 63 elected lawmakers. In many cases, institutional knowledge reposes with the people paid to get bills passed (or, more commonly, killed), rather than with the people elected to actually pass those bills. Decide for yourself whether that’s good or bad.