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May 22, 2015

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Incoming legislative leaders impart advice to freshmen lawmakers

Orientation has begun at the Nevada Legislature — not just for the 14 “true freshmen” facing their first endurance test that is a 120-day legislative session, but also for the caucus leaders, who will each be leading their caucuses for the first time.

On Wednesday, three new leaders took their first shot at imparting wisdom to the incoming freshmen in brief speeches that also offered a glimpse into their nascent leadership styles.

Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, a soft-spoken Eagle Scout and self-described PTA dad, said not to get frustrated.

“You won’t change the world in one day, or one session,” he said to the about 20 lawmakers.

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Tami Berg, director of the Washoe County region's Parent Teacher Association, speaks with state Assemblyman Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, on Thursday at the Legislative Building in Carson City. PTA groups made the trek to press legislators on education funding.

He peppered his remarks with inspirational stories, including a poem about two frogs left to drown in cream. One gave up. The other kicked its webbed feet until it had churned butter.

Assembly Speaker-in-waiting Marilyn Kirkpatrick, already known for her task-driven approach to legislating, pre-emptively scolded lawmakers to work harder.

“I hope to see you all working until 10 or 11 at night ... or 11 or 12. But don’t leave before 10 p.m.,” she said.

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Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick talks to Assemblywoman Marilyn Dondero Loop during the first day of the 2011 legislative session Monday, February 7, 2011 in Carson City.

Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey told lawmakers to make friends with people regardless of party — smart advice given his caucus is small enough to have little relevancy without some partnership with the majority.

And then Hickey offered this memorable advice: “As my ranching uncle said to me, ‘Keep your head down and your butt up, and go to work.’”

Eureka cattle rancher Sen. Pete Goicoechea’s walrus mustache gave a noncommittal twitch at this wisdom.

The state’s 77th legislative session starts in February, a biennial tradition of 120 days of policymaking, backslapping, good intentions and hard work stewed together with enough political cravenness and juice politics to ensure robust political theater.

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Assembly members Peggy Pierce and Kelvin Atkinson talk before a meeting of the Assembly on the third day of the 2011 legislative session Wednesday, February 9, 2011 in Carson City.

With this class of 2013 legislators, the era of term limits is fully upon Nevada. Gone are all the old hands with decades of legislating under their belts.

Now, the most senior members continuously serving in the Assembly are Democrats Peggy Pierce and William Horne, elected in 2002; in the Senate, it’s Republican Barbara Cegavske, also elected in 2002.

Sen. Mark Manendo, who also served in the Assembly, has the highest number of sessions under his belt at nine.

The freshmen class includes 13 lawmakers, nine Assembly members and four senators. That’s more than 20 percent of the 63-member Legislative body.

In the past, freshmen could be discounted, Denis said.

They were expected to watch, keep their mouth shut and vote how the greybeards told them until they could work their way up through the seniority food chain.

But term limits have changed that. The freshman the lobbyists wouldn’t recognize if they sat next to him or her at the bar could be the next committee chair or key vote.

That, of course, doesn’t mean that the newbies aren’t in for a little ribbing.

Before the meeting started, Hickey greeted Assemblyman Wes Duncan with a big smile.

“I thought you were going to be late for class,” Hickey told his fellow Republican. “I’d have to suspend you.”

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Andrew Martin

“I’m just happy to be here finally,” Assemblyman Andrew Martin, a Las Vegas Democrat, said.

A judge had ruled just before the election that Martin didn’t live in his district, though that case is being appealed.

After hearing about the legislative staff and their compensation — which is $8,777.40 in salary and $18,240 in per diem, plus up to $10,000 for travel and living expenses — lawmakers broke up for a tour of the building.

“This elevator will take you right down next to Assembly chambers,” a capitol police officer told a touring group.

But the most important advice? The food.

Denis, the Democratic leader, said the key was “portion control.” There are lots of cheese plates and crackers at get-togethers, he warned.

“Pace yourself,” he said.

This story has been edited to correct the number of incoming “true freshmen.”

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