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October 31, 2014

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Columnist Jeff German: Woodbury sets the standard for honest politics

Jeff German's column appears Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays in the Sun. Reach him at [email protected] or (702) 259-4067.

IN THE WINTER of 1981 undercover FBI Agent Stephen Rybar, posing as a shady businessman, was on the prowl for corrupt politicians in Southern Nevada.

He found one in County Commissioner Jack Petitti and was looking for more.

During a secretly recorded conversation with the late Petitti on Dec. 21, 1981, Rybar asked whether any of the commissioner's colleagues could be bought off.

One by one Rybar rattled off the names of Petitti's fellow commissioners and, in some cases, Petitti suggested their votes could be influenced.

But when the undercover agent brought up the name of Bruce Woodbury, who recently had been appointed to fill a vacancy on the seven-member commission, Petitti responded, "Woodbury, huh. I wouldn't touch him with a 10-foot pole."

The implication was that the soft-spoken first-termer couldn't be corrupted.

Petitti wound up being indicted by a federal grand jury, along with Commissioner Woodrow Wilson, for taking bribes from Rybar. Both politicians ultimately were convicted and forced to resign from office.

But 22 years later, as we wait for indictments in another FBI corruption probe, Woodbury is still in office, still regarded as "Mr. Clean," and, as he announced last week, seeking still another four-year term in 2004.

Voters should feel fortunate that Woodbury, after all of these years, continues to have a desire to serve the county, because his services may be needed more than ever with the FBI once more breathing down the necks of several of his political contemporaries.

Why would someone who holds the record for serving the longest on the county commission and who could easily slip back into full-time work as a respected lawyer want to remain on a public body that has been tainted by scandal?

The 58-year-old Woodbury says it's a challenge.

He understands that the ongoing FBI investigation has raised the public's level of cynicism toward elected officials.

But he adds: "It gives me more reason to run to provide stability and show people that we have a good commission now and that once all of this is over we'll be able to establish a new level of confidence out there."

Those who have worked closely with Woodbury will tell you that there is no one better suited to restore the public's confidence in the commission.

County Manager Thom Reilly calls Woodbury a "calming influence" at the County Government Center. Veteran political strategist Don Williams, who ran Woodbury's first campaign 22 years ago, says the unassuming Republican is as honest as they come and "far brighter" than the rest of his colleagues.

Other friends and associates see him as one of the few visionaries we've got in local politics. Over the years, Woodbury has spoken out about the need to curtail growth, and he has worked tirelessly to improve flood control and our transportation system.

But what sets Woodbury apart from many of today's in-it-for-themselves politicians is that he hasn't changed his lifestyle in the last 22 years.

Maybe that's because he had the benefit of being well-off when he first ran for office.

Williams remembers Woodbury driving a BMW during that first campaign. Today, Woodbury drives a 1992 Lexus, which he says has 220,000 miles on it. And he's not afraid to admit that he still lives in the same modest home in Boulder City, where he and his wife raised their seven children.

The point of all this is not to nominate Woodbury for sainthood or give him a ringing endorsement in Campaign 2004.

With everything that's wrong with our political system these days, it's just nice once in a while to point out something that's right.

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