Governor Kenny Guinn says "it just seems like yesterday" when he was elected Nevada's governor in 1998 in his first bid for public office amid criticism that he was the hand-picked candidate of powerful special interests.
The Democrat-turned-moderate Republican went on to overhaul
government agency operations and revamp budgeting and tax
collections. Guinn pushed for a major student scholarship program
and sought to diversify Nevada's casino-dependent economy.
The governor spearheaded the biggest tax increase in state
history before seeking a $300 million rebate to return excess
revenues to Nevada residents.
Guinn also continued the state's long-standing opposition to
federal efforts to locate the nation's nuclear waste dump 90 miles
northwest of Las Vegas.
Now he's an official lame duck, down to his final year in office
with no more broad, sweeping agendas to present to legislators. But
he's still working on some remaining executive-branch initiatives
that he hopes to have in place before the state's next governor is
elected in November 2006.
It's been a long, challenging road for Guinn, 69, the ambitious
son of poor fruit-pickers who once lived in a tin shack and bounced
among nearly 30 schools as his parents followed the crops in
California, Oregon and Washington.
In an hour-long interview in his Nevada Capitol office, Guinn,
told The Associated Press that he could have done some things
differently in his two four-year terms as governor but, for the
most part, thinks he's done a good job and hopes he'll leave "a
template for the future of Nevada."
While Guinn has his critics, his assessment of his stint as the
state's chief executive mirrors a recent Time magazine account that
named him one of the nation's best governors. The magazine
consulted with academics, political analysts and former governors
in assembling its rankings.
"I'm not here to say everything we've done is the way to do
it," Guinn said. "But I do believe that the people said we had to
change government, make it more efficient and more responsive."
"We have come a long ways, and everything we've done is, I
think, mostly in the right direction," he added. "Is there a ways
to go? Absolutely."
When Guinn was first elected, after campaigning for two years,
casinos and other business interests supported the retired educator
and utility and banking executive so heavily with contributions
that he was nicknamed "the anointed one."
"If I was anointed, why did I have to work so long and so hard
to get elected," Guinn said. "I wasn't predetermined. ... You're
not anointed until the people vote you in."
Guinn, whose easygoing, affable manner belies a methodical,
determined approach to problems, made good on his first-term
campaign promise to complete an assessment of government
operations. He revised agency budget methods and pressed
successfully for privatization of a costly worker compensation
He also got the 1999 Legislature to approve his Millennium
Scholarship program that uses tobacco company settlement funds to
help Nevada students pay for their higher education costs at state
The review of government, which included job cuts, a hold on new
programs and other controls, was a necessary prelude to a new look
at the tax structure of the nation's fastest-growing state - but
Guinn and state lawmakers didn't achieve that in the 2001
An overwhelming favorite in his 2002 re-election bid, Guinn got
more than three times the votes received by his Democratic
opponent, longtime state Sen. Joe Neal.
With the state past an economic slump that followed the Sept.
11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he made his bid for a broader tax base
in the 2003 session. He also sought more funding for social
services and education.
"We were getting further and further behind in trying to cope
with our growth," Guinn said. "I felt much stronger earlier
(about getting more tax revenues) but I knew I had to move slower.
If you move too quickly, you won't accomplish much."
In calling for nearly $1 billion in new taxes in early 2003,
Guinn set off a rhetorical firestorm by saying it would be
"political cowardice" to oppose the tax plan. Bitter legislative
debate lasted for months before a record $833 million plan finally
was approved after two special sessions.
One of Guinn's regrets is that he didn't spend more time with
individual legislative caucuses that were polarized over the tax
"Looking back at it, I probably could have reallocated some of
my time to bring people together, to make sure I really educated
them," Guinn said.
"But when all is said and done, I knew that if we were going to
move in the right direction as a state, I had to be pretty much out
in front unprotected," Guinn said. "When you're moving
institutions and a lot of history, I think we brought most of the
people we needed along with us."
In the 2005 session, Guinn achieved most of his priorities. It
took a veto threat for one, a $300 million rebate of vehicle fees
to Nevadans. He had to back off on another major priority, a plan
to eliminate the retirement health insurance subsidy of new state
Besides the rebates, the governor also persuaded lawmakers to
approve increased funding for mental health programs and
universities. In a compromise, he dedicated $22 million to full-day
kindergarten for at-risk schools.
Guinn said he has faced time demands that have made the chief
executive's job tougher and tougher. He also learned he had
prostate cancer and underwent successful surgery in 2002.
Despite the pressures, Guinn says, "I think I've held up very
What's in the future? During his final year in office, Guinn
says he'll try to improve coordination of health care services and
deal with hundreds of appointments to boards, commissions and other
posts. He'll also start the detailed budget-drafting process that
Nevada's next governor will inherit.
Guinn said he and first lady Dema Guinn plan a tour that will
take them around the state next summer. Touring all corners of
Nevada was a campaign mainstay for the Guinns, but the governor
said he's "absolutely not" looking at a bid for another office,
such as U.S. Senate.
Instead, he said he wants to thank Nevadans for their support.
"I'm going to leave office with more friends than I came in
with, and that's important," he said.
"I'll be 70 when I leave office," Guinn added. "I'll have
some good years when I leave, and I want to enjoy them."