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Assembly speaker’s actions say volumes

The recent Republican earthquake in Nevada continues to reverberate within the GOP’s Assembly caucus and across the state.

The temblor not only knocked Democrats out of office, but it also shook Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey from his position. The state Legislature doesn’t begin until February, but newly elected conservative Assembly Speaker Ira Hansen of Sparks has already set a tone that figures to challenge not only the Democrats, but some Republicans, too.

Following a lengthy confidential meeting in an otherwise darkened office building on West Charleston Boulevard, the caucus voted to bounce Hickey. Paul Anderson of Las Vegas was voted in as minority leader.

For more than a year Hickey had been wickedly vilified by Nevada conservatives, in large part for seeking common ground at the Legislature and being too cooperative with Democrats.

Hansen, a Sparks plumber, has been outspoken, but without much volume in his voice during his short political career. That’s about to change.

He managed to say all the right words in a Las Vegas Review-Journal story: “It is a tremendous honor and privilege to serve the people of Nevada, and I look forward to meeting with (Gov. Brian) Sandoval and Senate Majority Leader (Michael) Roberson to join together in continuing to move Nevada forward.”

But cooperation hasn’t exactly been a strong suit for conservatives.

Contacted early Saturday, Hansen declined to comment on the caucus shake-up despite the fact the story was already making the rounds. An official press release was sent earlier that morning to the Review-Journal, and right-wing messenger Chuck Muth had the inside skinny later that morning on his blog.

Muth dispensed with the political brotherhood rhetoric and dished the dirt on the mugging Hickey took on his way to losing his leadership position. The blogger, who has taken obvious pleasure in roasting Roberson for failing as a conservative, has emerged as the unofficial herald of the Assembly caucus.

No question Hickey was made to pay the price for failing to openly support conservative candidates. While middle-of-the-road Republicans had little trouble fundraising, conservatives were all but shut out from the Nevada GOP’s deep-pockets sources. Hickey was called out for helping Democrats against firebrand conservative Assemblywoman Michele Fiore.

Hickey was dispatched despite efforts — none dare call it threats — from representatives of certain GOP big-money donors who made a last-ditch effort to preserve his position. It only backfired.

When it came time this week for Hansen to reel off committee chairman assignments for his 25-member caucus, not all the members of which have much legislative experience, Hickey’s name was not found on the list. Message delivered.

Democrats fumbled away the election and lost their legislative advantage, but some folks can’t be blamed for wondering whether the Republicans’ new power will all too quickly go to their heads. With Fiore chairing the Assembly’s taxation committee, for instance, will the concept of compromise be possible?

Although the GOP’s new conservative legislative bosses are talking about working together toward common goals, Sandoval has every right to be skeptical about whether his mandate will carry sufficient weight once the postelection niceties are completed and the political philosophies are tested during the session.

Whatever his intellectual and political gifts, not many people have been listening to Ira Hansen in recent years. You can bet they’ll be listening closely to his rhetoric now.

I’m guessing we’re going to find out that overhauling public education and the state’s tax structure means different things to different people.

Nevada native John L. Smith also writes a column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal that appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Contact him at jsmith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295.

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