Former State Sen. Bill Raggio, Lion Of Nevada Politics, Dead At 85

CARSON CITY – Bill Raggio, a lion of Nevada politics and the state’s longest-serving state senator, passed away during a trip to Australia on Thursday. He was 85.

Officials from around the state expressed sorrow and sympathy for Raggio’s family when news of the loss of the highly-regarded lawmaker was first reported by Las Vegas Sun columnist Jon Ralston early today.

Longtime family friend Greg Ferraro told Ralston: “Officially, Bill Raggio passed away last night at 10pm PST of respiratory illness in Sydney Australia. Funeral arrangements are pending.”

Raggio was traveling with his wife, Dale.

Raggio was first elected to the state Senate in November 1972, serving in 19 regular and 13 special sessions. He resigned in mid-term in January of 2011 citing health issues.

But Raggio had lost his leadership position in the Senate Republican Caucus after the November, 2010 general election. He had rankled some of his fellow Republicans by supporting U.S. Sen. Harry Reid’s re-election bid over GOP rival Sharron Angle.

Gov. Brian Sandoval said he will order flags to half-staff on the day of his funeral.

“Sen. Raggio’s career exemplified the very best of public service,” Sandoval said. “His dedication to law and order, higher education, and the fiscal health of this great state spanned literally decades of Nevada history and touched the lives of tens of thousands of Nevadans. I have said before that if there was a Mount Rushmore of Nevada politics, Bill Raggio’s image would forever be carved there.”

Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., who served with Raggio in the state Senate, said: “This is the end of an era in Nevada. Bill was an icon of legislative public service and it was a privilege to serve with him in the state Senate.”

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, who helped induct Raggio into the state Senate Hall of Fame in the 2011 legislative session, said: “From his service as a District Attorney to becoming one of the longest serving legislators in Nevada history, Sen. Raggio always put the people of Nevada first. Nevada has truly lost one of its finest statesmen.”

At his hall of fame induction ceremony, Raggio said he never imagined that he would serve 10 terms in the state Senate, but that in retrospect, he realized he spent nearly half of his life in the Legislature.

“As I said we’ve had tough times, and we’ve had some serious issues that we’ve had to deal with,” he said. “And obviously we’ve often disagreed. But in the end I always felt that the final result was in the best interest of the state of Nevada and I was privileged to be a part of that process.”

Raggio said his highest honor was earning his Eagle badge as a Boy Scout, but that his induction in the Senate Hall of Fame, “ranks right up there.”

He was known to work across the aisle with Democrats to resolve contentious issues and bring legislative sessions to an end.

Raggio was highly regarded by lawmakers in both parties. He was also greatly appreciated by the Nevada Capital press corps for his sharp wit and outspoken nature on issues from education reform to tax policy.

His thorough knowledge of the legislative process was also legendary, and he used it to his advantage at every opportunity.

Raggio also had a great sense of humor and enjoyed kidding members of the press corps on a regular basis.

Raggio was known for “borrowing” $20 from colleagues and anyone else he could convince to hand over the cash, particularly lobbyists. Needless to say, the $20 was never returned.