CARSON CITY — Nevada’s Legislature officially kicked off Monday, with two unique leaders giving two unique speeches.
State Sen. Mo Denis– a soft-spoken child of immigrants who first got involved in politics while in the PTA — was elected majority leader of the state Senate. In a moving and personal opening day address, Denis discussed how his parents met in New York, returned to their native Cuba and finally came permanently to the United States in search of a better life.
“This young couple taught their children to be grateful for the great freedoms and opportunities available to us. They gave up a lot to make this possible,” Denis said of his parents.
Denis told the Senate that his father died in June. “I miss him and he will be missed,” Denis said. “He always loved to come up to the session. Many of you knew him. He was proud of all I did. Even though he is not here physically I know he is with us in spirit. He left a great legacy and I am proud to be his son.
“In his honor I am wearing his shoes that he once wore here in this very chamber and in the halls of the Legislature. I can never fill his shoes but I can live my life in a way that will honor him and my mother for the great sacrifice that they made for me. They taught me to always strive to make things better and work for the common good of all.”
Denis promised a three-part agenda that encompasses creating jobs, immediately helping schools and changing the state’s tax system. He said lowering class sizes, expanding full-day kindergarten, pre-kindergarten classes and fixing the education funding formula are part of the Democratic agenda for the session. And ensuring Nevada has a tax system that isn’t “dependent on just tourism or sales taxes” was important, too.
Denis worked the phrase “build a better Nevada” into his speech, a not-coincidental reference to a new Democratic website announced on Monday.
On the Assembly side, Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick was unanimously elected after being nominated by one-time rival William Horne, a motion that was seconded by Republican Minority Leader Pat Hickey. An unconventional politician, Kirkpatrick started doing things differently almost from the start, having Girl Scouts present the flags and serenading the chamber with folksy version of Home Means Nevada played by a local group called C.W. and Mr. Spoons.
“Sometimes, we just need to shake things up to get some different results,” Kirkpatrick said.
Kirkpatrick borrowed a line that’s been uttered repeatedly in the Assembly chambers, wondering about what kind of state Nevada will become in the future. “Will we be a state that continues to apply nickel-sized solutions to dollar-sized problems?”
“The people of our state are looking for leadership, leadership that looks beyond the next election cycle and past the 30-second sound bite,” Kirkpatrick said. “For too long, our answer to education has been to cut. And I’m here to tell you today, we can no longer cut.”
And, Kirkpatrick said, it’s time to do away with another Nevada tradition, the partisan and personal bickering that often characterizes legislative sessions. “Nevadans don’t care. They just want solutions.”
Of course, those solutions will be expensive, surely beyond the revenue the state has to work with, or what Gov. Brian Sandoval included in his executive budget. (You can read that budget for yourself, here: Nevada_Executive_Budget_2013-2015.) Although both leaders called for civility and pledged to work together, there remain deep partisan differences between Democrats and Republicans over taxes, and those discussions won’t be resolved easily.
However, opening day did see one tax issue dodged: The Senate Legislative Operations and Elections Committee introduced a concurrent resolution that would order an interim study on applying the state sales tax to services. But the study would be conducted after the current Legislature adjourns, and wouldn’t be taken up by lawmakers until the 2015 session, two years from now.