Bill Raggio: A Half-Century of Public Service

RENO, NV - Former State Senator Bill Raggio died Friday while traveling in Australia. He was 85.

He will be most remembered for his legislative career, 38 years, the longest in state history, but he began his public life in 1958 as a crusading district attorney.

Through three terms pursued high profile cases, the torso murder of British Olympic skier Sonia McCaskie, the kidnapping of Frank Sinatra, Jr.

His long battle with brothel owner Joe Conforte was epic. At one point he personally torched Conforte's Triangle Ranch near Wadsworth.

Conforte retaliated by recruiting a young prostitute to claim the child she was carrying was Raggio's. The canny D-A taped the extortion attempt. Conforte was convicted and served 22 months behind bars.

By 1970 he was a rising star in the Republican party,. mentioned as a candidate for governor, but at President Nixon's urging ran for U-S Senate and lost.

Two years later he was elected to the State Senate and there he stayed, becoming a pivotal figure, someone whose word was his bond, someone like Democratic Assembly Speaker Joe Dini or Clark County's Jim Gibson, whop could reach across party lines.

"We worked together," Raggio said last year. "Very little sectionalism, very little partisanship and I think that's the big reason we got a lot done."

That kind of statesmanship gradually grew out of favor and he found it increasingly hard to control his own caucus.

Working with Republican Governor Kenny Guinn to better fund state government and schools, he worked to pass a billion dollar tax hike in 2003.

Some in the more conservative corners of the GOP never forgave him. For a lifelong leader in his party being called a RINO, Republican In Name Only, must have stung. Always a champion of education, he said he acted in the state's best interests.

In 2008, however, he joined with other establishment Republicans to publically support Democratic US Senator Harry Reid against Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle in 2008. It was seen as heresy.

Unable to win another leadership vote in the Republican caucus, he withdrew from consideration.
Then two months later, literally on the eve of the 2011 session, he resigned.

His support of Reid may have cost him one final turn as the Lion of the Senate, but he insisted he had no regrets.

"I knew what the consequences would be," he told us. "I felt it was necessary to speak out because I felt it was in the best interests of the state."

His departure from public life after a half-century of service, he said, was a personal decision. No one, he said was irreplaceable.

"There will be others who will step up," he said at the time.

Maybe so, but it's unlikely we'll see another Bill Raggio.

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