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May 27, 2015

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State Sen. Bill Raggio bagged by his own party

Support for Harry Reid leads to decision among GOP state senators to remove Raggio from leadership post

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Spencer Holladay / Las Vegas Sun

Bill Raggio

Sandoval and Raggio, Seg. 3

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  • Sandoval and Raggio, Seg. 3
  • Sandoval and Raggio, Seg. 4
Sharron Angle

Sharron Angle

Harry Reid

Harry Reid

Chuck Muth

Chuck Muth

Saying it reflects the mood of their constituents, Senate Republicans purged Sen. Bill Raggio of Reno from their leadership in a unanimous vote Thursday, ousting an iconic figure after 30 years in the post — punishment for his support of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Sen. Mike McGinness of Fallon stepped in as leader. He said he did so at the urging of constituents in Pahrump and Churchill County who asked him to do something about Raggio not supporting the party’s U.S. Senate nominee, Sharron Angle.

But sources say McGinness and other Republicans had lingering anger over the 2009 tax increase, which Raggio helped negotiate, and wanted the caucus to become a stronger beachhead against taxes.

Raggio also resigned his seat on the Senate Finance Committee, a sign that his willingness to compromise on taxes to preserve essential state services won’t reflect the philosophy of the new Republican caucus.

“They have their own budget objectives and I don’t want to be an impediment to those,” he said. “I want them to have the leeway to deal with the budget in their own terms.”

Raggio said he decided to withdraw from consideration as leader to preserve unity.

“There are a lot of agitators like Chuck Muth in the world and Tea Partyers who think I committed a mortal sin because I didn’t support Angle,” he said. “I didn’t want that to be part of the process.”

Muth, a conservative activist, wrote an open letter calling for Raggio’s ouster. Muth denied responsibility, saying Raggio “did it to himself.”

Raggio appeared at peace with his decision in an interview with the Las Vegas Sun in the minutes following the caucus vote.

His phone ringing off the hook, Raggio reassured friends that he wasn’t upset with the decision. “This is not a swan song,” he said.

Indeed, some speculate Raggio will hold sway over the budget as lawmakers grapple with a $3 billion gap between current spending and projected tax revenue. He might head a “swing caucus” of Republicans that Democrats would need to pass any budget with new taxes. Raggio would need to recruit two other Republicans to form such a caucus. He has long had the loyalty of Sen. Dean Rhoads of Tuscarora, and played a role in the election of freshman Sen. Ben Kieckhefer of Reno.

Junior members of the Legislature will still look to him for his experience.

“He might get outvoted on some things, but everybody will want to know what he thinks and why,” said one senior lobbyist, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of a leadership fight.

Raggio has been an advocate of a “lean but not mean” state budget, with a social safety net and funding for K-12 and higher education, particularly in Northern Nevada.

With him stepping aside, “he’s signaling that he knows the direction they’re heading, and doesn’t want to take part,” another senior lobbyist said.

Republican Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval said he respected the caucus’s decision and stayed out of it as the ouster took shape. But he too said not to count Raggio out.

“I’m sure he’ll still be involved,” Sandoval said when asked how it would be different not to have Raggio involved in budget negotiations.

McGinness said he began receiving calls from people across the state angry with Raggio’s decision to endorse Reid, whose efforts to rebuild the Democratic Party were instrumental in Democrats taking control of the state Senate in 2008.

McGinness said he was first contacted by a woman in Pahrump and then lobbied by the Churchill County Republican Central Committee.

McGinness expressed his admiration for Raggio’s “dedication to the state” and said Raggio will continue to play an important role.

“He said to me, ‘I don’t want to be a bump on a log,’ ” McGinness said. “I told him, ‘Bill, you are the log.’ ”

Raggio said he doesn’t regret his decision to support Reid, who won with more than 50 percent of the vote Tuesday. “There’s no way I could support her,” he said of Angle, who ran a bitter campaign challenging Raggio in 2008.

Raggio followed with a warning to his colleagues not to allow an ideological “my way or the highway” division in the party.

“This may be a Pyrrhic victory for them,” he said of the GOP agitators. “The desire to splinter the party may come back to haunt them as it has done in the past.”

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