Nevada News MakersOutreach

Legislative Watch

William J. Raggio

 William J. Raggio

District: Washoe No. 3
Political Party: Republican
Current Job/Position: Attorney at Law
Born: 1926
Hometown: Reno, NV
Family: Wife, Dale Raggio; children: Leslie Ann Righetti, Tracy Lynn Woodring, Mark William Raggio (deceased 2004).
Education: Louisiana Tech; University of Oklahoma; University of Nevada, Reno, B.A.; University of California, Hastings College of Law, J.D.; University of California, Berkeley, Boalt Hall School of Law
Interviewed By: Daniel Riggs
Interview Date: 2/11/2008

Q & A

Q - How did you get to where you are?

“I became very interested in public service… I was the Republican senate candidate in 1970… I’m now completing my ninth term as state senator of Washoe County.”

Raggio served as a marine officer during World War II, then went to law school. He later started a law firm that merged with what is now Jones Vargas, of which he is a partner.

Q - What advice do you have for others trying to get to where you are?

“The first thing to do is to get involved in community service… determine what you think needs to be improved. Do some volunteer work, volunteer for neighborhood advisory groups.”

Raggio added: “If you want to get into political life, then you have to start paying some dues. Get involved in campaigns… learn the political structure from the ground up.”

Q - What other jobs did you have leading up to this one?
 Raggio served three terms as Washoe County district attorney and served as president of the National Association of District Attorneys, which involved often traveling to Washington D.C. to meet with other state and federal officials.

Q - Did you always want to be doing what you're doing now?
“The war (World War II) intervened, changed a lot of that. I can remember wanting to be an engineer I enjoy the practice of law, and I enjoy public service. I’m not as keen about politics as I used to be, but I enjoy public service.”

Q - What are your goals for your regular career or personally?

“I think mine are pretty well-known by now… my primary interests as a senator have obviously been finance and budgets… education, both K-12 and higher education.”

Raggio spoke of the lack of revenue in Nevadan taxes. He created the Economic Forum in 1991, which projects general fund revenue. Raggio said: “With the downturn in the economy, those projects were optimistic. No one could foresee the downturn.” He stated his main goal as being able to minimize the effects of the lesser revenue on various state agencies, including education.

On Gov. Jim Gibbons, Raggio said: “This governor, who gets a lot of criticism, did the right thing… Gov. Gibbons didn’t do it differently than all these other governors. When you don’t have the revenue, you have to cut back.”

As for the state agencies, Raggio said: “Most of the agencies have done that. And I think they’ve done it responsibly… They’ve been able to do that with minimal impact.

“They’re not cutting programs in any real measure. They’re not cutting teachers salaries.They’re not cutting positions.”

Raggio spoke of Nevada’s Rainy Day Fund — a $230 million fund—that Democrats long proposed to be used to provide relief to the state, especially education needs. Raggio, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said that nearly the entire fund is being used. He plans to find ways to begin rebuilding the fund next session.

Raggio said:  “The problem is we’ll have to build it back up again. And the next session’s issues don’t appear to be that optimistic either.”

Q - What are your hobbies or interests?
“I like outdoors. Bird hunting. Fishing. Some golf, I’m not a great golfer. Reading.”

Q - What unusual events have you been involved in, or unusual or memorable people have you met?

Raggio pointed to a wall full of photos with him with various politicians, including nearly every president since Richard Nixon. Not knowing where to start, he asked this reporter to pick a picture on the wall, and he’d tell the story behind it. This reporter pointed to a picture of Raggio with President Ronald Reagan.

“I met President Reagan, knew him, having gone to the White House or meetings during the time when I was chairman of the National Legislative Council.

“I don’t want to leave the impression I was a close friend of these people, but I did occasionally meet them… have meetings with them.”

Q - How did you become successful at what you do?

“Stick to your principles. Keep your ears and eyes open to all sides. If you think you’re wrong, don’t be afraid to change. But have some principles you believe in.

“That’s why I’m a Republican.”

“Having said all that, if you’re going to be a legislator, there has to be compromise… you have to be willing to consider other peoples’ views, as long as they don’t violate your principles… I also think it’s important to have faith and God in your life, although I don’t wear it on my sleeve.”

Q - What are your favorite causes?

Raggio champions education, specifically higher education. He spoke of a term, “brain drain,” which means high achieving high school students leaving Nevada for out-of-state universities, as a problem.

Raggio said: “As much as possible, keep our Nevada Students here.” He said that is why he supported the creation of the Millennium Scholarship, which offers incentives for Nevada students to attend Nevada colleges.

Raggio also expressed a strong need for “fiscal responsibility at all levels.”

He also discussed being an advocate of merit-based judge selection, which means judges would be approved by merit before they could publicly run for office. “We should always want fair and impartial judges,” Raggio said.

Q - Who or what were your inspirations?
“Ernest Brown was a former district attorney and a U.S. senator... Harry Truman impressed me, even though I was a Republican.”

Q - What are your legislative goals next session?

“We’re going to have to deal with limited revenues. A balanced budget is my primary objective, trying to meet basic needs in the state.

“We’ve got a long waiting-list of people who need services.

“Raising taxes is the last resort. I want to make that clear. However, I would support a comprehensive analysis of our tax framework… We need to take a good, strong look at it. We haven’t had a strong study in two decades.”

Q - How do you view the slim Republican majority in the Senate?
“You only need to count to 11. You only need one more than half, and that’s what we have now… We have five Republican seats that are up, and I think they are all pretty secure.”

Q - How do you view the large Democratic majority in the Assembly?
“That’s really not my place to talk about it. They have some good Republican leaders there… they may be able to pick up some seats.”

Q - On what issue will you not budge?
“I’m not going to budge on fiscal responsibility. I’m probably a fiscal conservative, but I’ve always been willing to compromise to reach solutions… For anyone in the Legislature (to) say they won’t compromise is unwise.”

Did you Know?

- Raggio ran for the U.S Senate in Nevada on the endorsement of then-President Richard Nixon.  Otherwise, Raggio would have run for governor that same year.

- Raggio served domestically as an officer in the Marines from 1944-1946.

- The College of Education and Math and Science center at the University of Nevada, Reno are named after Raggio.

- Raggio has served in the Nevada Senate longer than any other senator in the state’s history.


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