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September 19, 2014

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Bill Swackhamer, former Assembly speaker and secretary of state, dies

CARSON CITY – Bill Swackhamer, a leader in the Nevada Legislature and who served as Secretary of State for 14 years, has died at the age of 93.

He was speaker of the Assembly for two regular sessions in 1957 and 1965 and in three special sessions. And he was majority leader in the regular 1967 session and in the 1968 special session.

“He was one of the finest elective officials we ever had in this state,” says Carson City Clerk Alan Glover who served as his legislative intern in the 1971 session. “He had integrity, understood politics and had a great sense of humor.”

An example of his sense of humor came after he got cross-ways with Gov. Grant Sawyer. The governor and legislative leaders dumped Swackhamer, a Democrat, as speaker after the 1957 session and took away his important committee assignments in the 1959 Legislature.

He was relegated to chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee, which never got any bills to consider. But he showed up in the Assembly wearing a military air helmet, provoking a lot of laughs.

He was a businessman in Battle Mountain and during his years in the Assembly he represented Lander, Eureka and Pershing counties.

Mel Close, a Las Vegas lawyer who served as speaker of the Assembly after Swackhamer, called him “an excellent teacher.” Swackhamer was majority floor leader while Close was speaker. Close said “He performed his duties admirably.”

“He was a great legislator and a good politician and a good friend,” said Close who added there were never any scandals while he was in charge in the Assembly and in the secretary of state’s office.

After reapportionment in 1971, Swackhamer was defeated in the 1972 election.

But Gov. Mike O’Callaghan appointed Swackhamer as secretary of state in January 1973 to replace John Koontz who retired. He served in that office until 1987, winning elections in 1974, 1978 and 1982.

In recent years, Swackhamer had been living in Idaho. Glover said he suffered a stroke Monday and died Thursday. No funeral is planned and he will be buried next to his late wife Joyce in Battle Mountain.

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