The wages of Raggio — Payback time
Special pre-election web edition 11-6-2006
Updated 11-8-2006, 1-30-2011, 2-19-2014

In a scary case of negatives reinforcing each other, Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno, is currently trying to save the careers of two of his minions, Supreme Court Justice Nancy Becker and State Sen. Maurice Washington, R-Sparks/Sun Valley/Fernley.

Justice Becker was the author of the doofus decision which whacked Nevada's whistleblower law and let International Game Technology (IGT), the huge slot machine maker, off the hook for somewhere between $30- and $100 million in state taxes. Raggio's law firm represents IGT.

Less than two months after handing down the decision, Justice Becker accepted $2,500 from IGT toward her re-election. In the day and age of million-dollar statewide campaigns, twenty-five hundred bucks is barely a toke. Justice Becker could have politely declined this one. Perhaps she has no advisers possessing a sense of propriety. On the other hand, IGT was just plain stingy given the amount of money Becker saved them.

Conservatives who decry judge-made law should read Chief Justice Bob Rose's dissenting opinion in the IGT case (with Justice Bill Maupin concurring): "I have no idea where the majority opinion comes up with this limitation except by judicially declaring that it is so…. Nevada's whistleblower act has now been gutted by judicial fiat, and this is not what the Legislature intended or anticipated."

So now that whistleblowers have neither protection from retaliation nor financial incentive to bust the boss, who will mind the store? IGT asserted that the Nevada Dept. of Taxation would do just fine. However, "the department's audit staff is not well trained in uncovering fraud or intent to evade, and the way audits are conducted they are not designed to do so," an insider told me.

"Outside of Oregon registered vehicle cases, the department rarely asserts a fraud penalty, and there is no particular rhyme or reason why the department pursues fraud in one case and not in another. The department also always considers the reaction of the Nevada Tax Commission and how its members might perceive a particular case. The department never goes after big fish in terms of fraud or intent to evade," the source said.

Senator Raggio's real and perceived conflicts of interest are legion and legendary, but he's one of the smartest politicians I've ever seen. He possesses a great talent to toss off criticism with quick quips. A sense of humor is an endangered species in today's toxic politics and Mr. Raggio uses his ability well.

He's also quite an intimidating guy and it shows. I've never seen anybody better able to not only blame somebody else for his own mistakes, but to get Republicans elected as a result – usually with the klutzy cooperation of the loyal opposition.

In 1984 – you remember, the year of the re-coronation of King Ronald the Vague – Raggio's Democratic opponent Dave Bianchi dared to criticize Raggio's conflicts of interest.

Raggio's response was laughably lame. Try to follow the bouncing ball – while Good Ole Bill might have had conflicts of interest up the kudzu, Bianchi was just as bad because his wife was a teacher. And teachers groups lobby the ledge for the state portion of the education budget, so Bianchi calling attention to Raggio's lawyerly conflicts was a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

A laughable juxtaposition? A lowly teacher's salary set by the Washoe County School District presented as the equivalent of the heavyweight interests of a major juice law firm? Who'd swallow that?

The Reno Gazette-Journal did and proceeded to beat Bianchi to death for daring to question Big Bad Bill.

Fast-forward to 2002. Raggio once again had to rescue one of his rubber stamps from meltdown. Sen. Maurice Washington faced a strong challenge from (heaven forbid) a reputable guy.

Unfortunately for the GOP noise machine, locomotive engineer Joe Carter had no mineable dirt. (Don't think they didn’t try to find some.) Worse, Carter's family had been in these parts for over a hundred years. Some held office before Raggio was in diapers.

When all else fails, try guilt by association and back it with a big media budget. Raggio's stooges set to work blaming Carter for Raggio's biggest fiasco – the infamous Fair Share tax controversy of 1991, the one which has caused Sen. Dina Titus, D-LV, so much grief this year.

During the 1990 election, Raggio was desperate to preserve his position as majority leader but it looked like northwest Reno Sen. Eric Beyer was going to bite the big one against upstart Democrat Diana Glomb.

Raggio began running ads for Beyer warning the citizens of Reno that unless Beyer won, those dastards from Gomorrah South would come up here and loot Washoe County's treasury and send the money to Vegas. (Las Vegas was and has been subsidizing the rest of the state for decades, but follytix rarely lets facts get in the way of a good story.)

Not only did the scare tactic fail (Beyer bit it big time), but Raggio's maneuver enraged the Clark County delegation. At the same time, Washoe County Assessor Bob McGowan came forward with the news that his office had mistakenly collected excess property tax revenues for several years.

It involved confusion on a state form so that some counties, Washoe included, neglected to subtract work-in-progress assessments from the final valuation of new construction. The double-counting meant that when the legislature cut up the tax pie (municipalities can't even buy paper clips without legislative authority), Washoe and several others got more than they deserved.

Normally, the troops from the southland would have fixed the problem quietly and proceeded with business as usual. But because of Raggio's ill-advised media campaign for Beyer, new Senate Majority Leader John Vergiels and others decided to make Raggio pay. As a result, Washoe taxpayers had to make up the difference over many years.

Joe Carter paid twice, both as a candidate and as a taxpayer. Sen. Washington's campaign smeared Carter with guilt by association. They accused Carter of being a (gasp!) Democrat just like those guys from Las Vegas who ripped off our taxes. The Republicans actually used news stories from 1991 against Carter in 2002. And so this good man's campaign went down in flames while the ethically challenged Sen. Washington got another term in Raggio's majority. (See BallotBoxing.US for the full scoop on Rev. Washington.)

Reno-Sparks Assembly Democrats didn’t fare much better in 2002. The GOP ran ads blaming them for the loss of legislative seats to the southland. Actually, Raggio gave them away. In 2001, Raggio cut a deal with Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins, D-Henderson, to expand the size of the legislature, giving the new seats to booming Clark County while leaving northern Nevada with the same number it had before reapportionment.

But then Karl Rove's boys got into the act. The White House noticed that the new southern Nevada congressional district had about 8,000 more Democrats than Republicans. Dubya wanted the odds shaved and Raggio caved, turning around on Perkins and breaking the deal. So four legislative seats went south because of Raggio and Rovespierre.

As Rev. Washington did against Joe Carter, the Republicans in 2002 blamed the Democrats for another Raggio disaster. They ran ads trashing Sparks Assemblymembers Debbie Smith and Bernie Anderson and Renoites Vivian Freeman and Sheila Leslie. The Democratic Party's rebuttal was ineffective as usual and the smear contributed to Freeman's and Smith's defeats.

CORRECTION: Mr. Brower voted in favor of the 1999 enabling legislation anyway.

In the 1997 and 1999 legislative sessions, Raggio and his law partner, Assemblyman Greg Brower, R-Reno, abstained from voting on anything having to do with the proposed downtown Reno Railroad Trench. But Raggio nonetheless strongarmed the enabling tax-hike legislation better than any Union Pacific lobbyist ever could. In Nevada, as long as you don't vote, you are apparently unaccountable. (See "Stabbing the Taxpayer on the Ides of March.")

The press corps apparently failed to ask Sen. Raggio just which client(s) of his law firm created the conflict of interest. Union Pacific ended up with a $360 million freebie at taxpayer expense and lately comes word that the trench might be a nuclear waste death trap.

Maybe we could interest Bruce Willis in filming a Die Hard flick down there before radiation levels get too high.

No matter what happens at the polls on Tuesday with Justice Becker and Sen. Washington, one thing is sure: Nevadans, as always, will have to pick up Bill's bills.

Be well. Raise hell.

Smoking Guns

Raggio's minion Maurice: Enough, already
Barbwire / 11-6-2006

Billy Brawl: Raggio Resigns
Barbwire / 1-9-2011

GO TO OUR SISTER SITE, BALLOTBOXING.US, for complete documentation of the above material on the Rev. Sen. Washington.

ANOTHER CHOICE BECKER DECISION: Both she and freshman Michael Douglas, who is also on the ballot tomorrow, sided with the majority to deny Carson-Tahoe Hospital construction workers their legally mandated pay —and put a serious dent in Nevada labor law at the same time.

BY READER REQUEST: This season's ballot questions hung out to dry on the BARBWIRE of 10-22-2006. Also thereat, GOP gubernatorial candidate Jim Gibbons proposes to slash public employee retirement and other benefits.

BARBWIRE 10-8-2006: Rock and Roll
Includes audio/video links to Gibbons' statement on the Nevada Public Employee Retirement System (PERS)

NEWSFLASH 10-24-2006 — Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., was named "worst person in the world" on MSNBC's The Countdown with Keith Olbermann, beating out perennial daily winner Bill O'Reilly of FAUX News. Olbermann, the best commentator on television, awarded the dubious distinction to GOP gubernatorial nominee Gibbons for stating that his alleged attempt to save an inebriated woman from tripping and falling taught him a lesson — and that would be the last time he would ever try to help anyone again. What a guy.

FOR THE FINEST IN POST-ELECTION POSTMORTEMS: Join the Barbwire Man and the usual suspects on KRNV TV-4 at 12:30 p.m. this Thursday, Nov. 9, on Sam Shad's Nevada Newsmakers. Go to for the lineup and complete statewide rerun schedule as well as streaming video and podcast potentialities.

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Copyright © 1999, 2002, 2006, 2011, 2014 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 38-year Nevadan and editor of As always, his opinions are strictly his own. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.

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