Some folks believe this year’s Legislature might not have room in its ranks for a fellow like Bob Price. If so, that’s a shame.
Price, who died Jan. 4 at age 82, served his North Las Vegas constituents in the Assembly for 14 regular sessions from 1975-2001, eventually leading a long list of major committees, including Taxation. A proud liberal Democrat and union electrician by trade, he was dedicated to improving the lives of working people. After all, he was one.
He did it with a plain-spoken cowboy country charm that was sometimes misinterpreted by legislators who took their work too lightly and themselves too seriously. We could all learn from his hard work and humility.
Price will long be known as the legislator who would break out his acoustic guitar during breaks in late-night marathon sessions and strum a Hank Williams tune for entertainment. In such a setting, the strains of “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “Mind Your Own Business,” or “I Saw the Light” would surely take on ironic meanings.
Price was also the fellow who was happy to press forward with the plan to rename Nevada State Route 375 the “Extraterrestrial Highway,” an action that brought smiles and snickers, but over the years has likely also generated many millions in advertising for rural tourism.
For ex-County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, who as an assemblywoman watched him work over several legislative sessions, Price was an old-school gentleman who seldom lost his sense of humor. He kept a small black book bound by a rubber band that was crowded with names and birthdays and anniversaries of his friends and colleagues.
“He came from a different time when kindness was a leading guide,” she says. “He was genuinely kind-hearted. Bob found something good in everybody, and I think that’s an attribute we need more of.”
But the pussycat was no pushover. As chairman of Taxation, he was steadfast in his opposition to raising the sales tax, which he believed hit poor and working families disproportionately. He was willing to stand up for his beliefs even when he knew the odds were against him.
That gave him something in common with longtime state Sen. Joe Neal, who met Price before either was a member of the Legislature. They worked together against formidable odds to integrate IBEW Local 357.
“Bob gave me some good advice about the building trades, and it came in handy as we worked to get minorities into the union,” Neal recalls. “Bob really represented working people. He always tried to do the right thing to help people. He was committed to the people who elected him, not to the lobbyists and special interests.”
That sometimes put him in the political crosshairs of Nevada’s power elite. Like the time that he strongly suggested the clout-heavy casino industry shouldn’t be allowed to contribute to political campaigns.
When he ran for re-election, as former state Sen. and current County Commissioner Tick Segerblom recalls, “They came after him like you can’t believe it, with double barrels.”
With help from his friends, people he’d worked alongside for many years on the job and the campaign trail, Price was re-elected.
One was former Assemblyman and union electrician Tom Collins, who observes, “He was always loyal and kind to everyone he ever met. He was a great Nevadan and legislator. Blue collar through and through. He was an expert on legislative procedure and mentor to many, many others. We were always friends, and IBEW brothers."
Former Assembly Speaker and longtime Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada Executive Director Barbara Buckley smiles thinking about Price’s “oversized personality” and of course those guitar tunes played during the “hurry up and wait times.” But his humanity shined through. “He came from the union side,” she says, “and he identified with the average person who worked for a living.”
At its best, Nevada’s always outgunned citizen Legislature can be a place where the working class is heard from amid the steady drumbeat of special interest. It’s that mix of backgrounds, Buckley says, that “makes our Legislature a little bit richer than some others. There’s a special richness that’s brought by someone who is an electrician.”
Like many dedicated legislators, Price won’t be remembered as much for his ringing successes as for the battles he waged in underdog causes in a Legislature historically controlled by a handful of lobbyists and insiders.
But, in the end, it’s the fighting spirit that is remembered.
Guinchigliani says, “He never lost his passion for working men and women.”
The new generation of Nevada legislators would do well to aspire to just such a legacy.
John L. Smith is an author and longtime columnists. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith