Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013 | 2 a.m.
If Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, has a mantra this session, it would be this: “Things will be different.”
She repeats the line in press interviews and badgers lobbyists in committee hearings with it.
“I’m not afraid to do things a little bit different,” she said in her opening speech. “Sometimes you need to shake things up to get different results.”
A week into the session, Kirkpatrick has proved herself to be a different kind of speaker. But whether she achieves different results remains to be seen.
Kirkpatrick’s upbringing may be her most well-told distinguishing characteristic. To free herself from a broken home, Kirkpatrick emancipated herself from her parents when she was 16. She worked nights and went to school during the day, sometimes sleeping on a couch in the counselor’s office.
But her story as an adult also separates her from past speakers. Kirkpatrick runs a large-scale food service operation.
“She understands volume and margins, which is a very unique set of experiences for a Democratic speaker to have,” one business lobbyist said.
Not since Speaker Joe Dini in 1999 has a Democratic speaker had business experience. The past three were a firefighter, a lawyer and a police officer.
Kirkpatrick also is not afraid to voice her disapproval or show her irritation. Where former Speaker Barbara Buckley often exuded a quiet foreboding when she was angry and former Speaker John Oceguera simply displayed no emotion, Kirkpatrick uses the word “freaking” when she is irate.
But perhaps the most noticeable — and likely the most important when it comes to the results side of the equation — is that Republicans really like her. Even the most conservative ones.
The opening day of the legislative session is always reserved for happy speeches that pay lip service to a bipartisan atmosphere of cooperation. But on Monday, Republicans on the Assembly floor voiced genuine and personal respect for Kirkpatrick, some telling individual anecdotes about working with her.
Minority Leader Pat Hickey, R-Reno, said Kirkpatrick’s speakership has changed the character of the Legislative Building.
“You can talk with her,” Hickey said. “We can bring her individual bills and we know they will be heard. She will be very open. I don’t think we’ve ever had that.”
Another key difference: If Kirkpatrick has designs on a higher office after this, she hasn’t told anyone about it. Last session, both Democratic leaders were running for Congress. And that set the tone for much of the session.
“It was obvious to everyone in the building that everything they did was tied in to or calculated to fit into their run for Congress,” Hickey said. “You felt like bit players in their political saga.”
As a moderate or even conservative Democrat, Kirkpatrick runs the risk of antagonizing some of her more liberal caucus members. But in the all-important numbers game, she may be able to lean on Republicans to make up the votes lost to the left. That will be important when it comes to tax reform.
And that gives Hickey’s small minority some outsized leverage.
Of course, one of the ways Kirkpatrick promises to do things differently is to eschew the horse trading — Republicans asking for conservative policy reforms in exchange for supporting a tax increase, for example — that has characterized past legislative sessions.
“I don’t see either side asking for trades,” Kirkpatrick told Jon Ralston on “Ralston Reports.” “It’s different this time.”
And that’s where the yet-to-be-seen factor on the results side of the equation will be tested.
“Horse trading is part of the legislative process,” said Majority Leader William Horne, D-Las Vegas. “There will be horse trading. Anyone who tells you different is blowing sunshine up your skirt.”