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September 21, 2014

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GOP warfare: Raggio’s leadership position in state Senate challenged

Bill Raggio

Bill Raggio

Longtime Republican icon and state Senate leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, faces a serious challenge to his leadership spot after endorsing U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid over Sharron Angle.

Sen. Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, met with Raggio this afternoon in Reno to say that he would seek the leadership position Raggio has held since 1983.

"He told me he's throwing his hat in for the leader position," Raggio said. "Well, if he has the vote, he'll be the leader. The caucus will make that determination. I'm not going to bow out. If he wants to do it, fine. We'll take a vote. I'm a Republican, have been all my life. I'll abide by what the caucus says."

McGinness could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening. But before the election, he told Las Vegas Sun bureau chief Cy Ryan that he was "disapointed" with Raggio's endorsement of Reid. He and two other Republican senators declined to discuss the party's next caucus leader. Two did not return calls for comment. Five others spoke favorably of Raggio. But one - Assemblyman James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, who won the Capital Senate seat - gave a cagey answer that praised Raggio without committing to vote for him. The Las Vegas Sun story is here.

Raggio, first elected to the state senate in 1972, is the state's longest-serving state senator.

After Tuesday's election, Republicans gained one seat, but Democrats still control the state's upper house 11 to 10.

One conservative lobbyist, speaking on the condition of anonymity, believed McGinness has the votes. "You don't vote to kill the king unless you have the votes locked up," he said.

Raggio's endorsement of Reid inflamed some conservative Republicans. But that has certainly not been the only time he clashed with the libertarian-leaning elements of the party. In 2003, he joined Gov. Kenny Guinn to support a tax increase. In 2009, he and four other state senators joined Democrats to override Gov. Jim Gibbons' veto of the budget and tax increases.

Chuck Muth, the conservative activist who has tried to move the Republican party to the right, and a group of Tea Party leaders, sent an open letter to McGinness asking him to challenge Raggio over tax and spending issues.

The Assembly Republican caucus will also meet Thursday morning. Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, is facing a challenge to his leadership from Assemblyman John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas. Goicoechea, according to vote counters, is expected to hang on as leader.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, was reelected by his caucus. He said he'd release a complete list of leadership posts and committee assignments Thursday.

Assemblyman John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, was elected speaker. He replaces previous Speaker Barbara Buckley, who was term-limited. There is still maneuvering over who will be Oceguera's No. 2.

Raggio, 84, sounded relaxed about the drama that will climax at 10 a.m. Thursday at a caucus meeting in Reno.

He said intends to come back to the Legislature to serve in his final session, even if not leader. "I've got two more years of my terms," he said. McGinness, Raggio said, "was pressured from people in Republican Party" who disagreed with his support of Reid over Angle. Angle unsuccessfully challenged Raggio in the 2008 Republican primary, and he blames her for an aborted recall attempt.

CORRECTION: This blog initially made a reference to "Raggio's endorsement of Angle," but it has been corrected to his endorsement of Reid. | (August 1, 2013)

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