Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Sun Special Coverage
The opening day of the 75th meeting of the Nevada Legislature featured bagpipes, lengthy prayers, elegant orations and baroque floral arrangements, like a celebration of the dead.
Though it wasn’t a funeral exactly, a more somber than usual mood prevailed, and it was a little hard not to think of Nevada’s last rites.
The Legislature convened its 120-day, every-other-year session amid the worst statewide economy since the early 1980s — 9 percent unemployment, nearly 9 percent of homes in Las Vegas facing foreclosure filings and a budget deficit of $2.3 billion.
So perhaps it was a bit understandable that there was such a focus on prayer Monday, as legislators hoped for a theological cash infusion in the form of a federal stimulus bill, or maybe gold on the grounds of the capitol.
Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, the state’s first woman to lead the lower chamber and a potential future governor, spoke at an interfaith prayer meeting in the morning.
In the old Assembly chambers in the state capitol building, new Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, a Las Vegas Democrat, hosted a “Leader’s Prayer Breakfast.” This was a new thing, Carson City veterans said.
Horsford is the first black and the youngest majority leader in state history, and despite the hard times, there was some energy in the air at the breakfast.
The crowd was diverse and young, with a handful of children, including Horsford’s three little ones, running about.
His pastor, the Rev. Robert Fowler of Victory Missionary Baptist Church, is a big man with a regal bearing, and he won the crowd over with a joke about President Barack Obama and his much-maligned former pastor, Jeremiah Wright: “These days, preachers and politicians have to be careful about their friendships. Nevertheless, if you turn off your recorders I will tell you Steven is my friend,” he said of Horsford, to much laughter.
But then Fowler got down to it: “We are in a season of loss.”
“Lost faith, lost hope, lost love, lost compassion,” he said — swallow that with your weak coffee and lox.
Fowler called for vision, voice and victory.
“I’ll pray for you, and you pray for me,” he said.
Once the Assembly and Senate were called to order a little after noon, the two chambers took up their traditions and the old-fashioned air that accompanies them.
The building’s cynicism, which is usually thick as the silk ties of the lobbying corps, was mostly submerged.
In the Assembly, the North Las Vegas Fire Department provided the honor guard — bag pipers and drummers in kilts. A chorus led a rendition of “Home Means Nevada,” the state song, which, incidentally, doesn’t mention buffets or gambling.
Bipartisan groups of legislators ferried messages from one chamber to the other and to the governor to let them know they were in session.
Despite these throwbacks, the modern Legislature, while keeping with traditions, is different.
For instance, the Senate didn’t repeal the rule requiring women to wear skirts until the mid-90s. But this Legislature is pant- and kid-friendly: Speaker Buckley’s 9-year-old son Aiden swiveled in the speaker’s chair.
Some of the work — the legislative maneuvering and mechanics, had begun.
Lobbyists were already cornering legislators in elevators.
Each chamber moved more than 100 bills to committee, on matters crucial like child welfare and education, Medicaid and domestic violence, to matters trivial, like special license plates.
But by tradition and good custom, in recognition that our democracy is about the peaceful use of legitimate authority, there was no combat on this day, and many calls for comity, kindness and friendship.
“While the task ahead may seem daunting, we know it can be done,” Horsford said, beginning a tribute to state Sen. Bill Raggio, the Reno Republican who is the minority leader.
“It can be done because we have faced challenges before,” Horsford said. “It has been people like the Senate minority leader who have provided leadership for our state for many years and his experience and judgment will be integral this session as well.”
Buckley said the current crisis offers a “silver lining.”
“When we face a crisis, it often brings people together.”
If it doesn’t tear them apart.