As prepared for delivery
I first came to Carson City as a member of the Assembly in 1969.
I can still recall the thoughts that raced through my mind on that first long, lonely drive from Las Vegas.
I didn’t want to leave my family. We had two babies and a law practice. I was worried about my new life and my new responsibilities. And when I finally arrived in our state capitol, my new home was a room in the Frontier Motel.
It was a scary time – a real adjustment.
But as the Legislature began, my fears turned to excitement with the realization that I would have an opportunity to change things for the better.
In the 36 years since I made that trip, much has changed in our state.
Our population has grown to nearly two-and-a-half million.
Las Vegas has become one of the strongest economic engines in the nation, with the 10 largest hotels in the world.
Mining is back. Reno…Sparks…Carson City…Yerington…Fernley… Elko and Pahrump. They’ve all grown dramatically.
But certain things have not changed since I made that long, lonely trip.
All of us here still have that same opportunity to make life better for the people we serve and represent.
As I look around the room today, I see that this Legislature is a snapshot of Nevada.
We have doctors, ranchers and a nuclear physicist.
We have high school teachers, elementary school teachers and lawyers.
We have police officers, a fire captain and a member of the Army Reserve.
We have a radio station manager, a newspaper publisher and a waitress.
In short, we have citizens from all walks of life who have come together to make a difference for the people of Nevada.
As I reflect on my time in Carson City, my mind and heart quickly go to a man who I believe was the best public servant this state has ever known.
Governor Mike O’Callaghan worked every day to make life better for others. Mike died in church last year, making the distance he traveled to heaven just a little shorter.
The lessons he taught us are forever.
We are elected as Democrats and Republicans, but serve as Nevadans. We need to work as a team if we want positive results.
Which brings to mind another Nevadan, someone not in my Political Party but someone I admire. Governor Kenny Guinn. We may not be in the same Party, but I have great respect for him and the work he has done.
Speaking of members of the other political organization, John Ensign and I have set a good example of bipartisanship. We have demonstrated that it is possible to put partisan differences aside for the good of Nevada.
For example, Senator Ensign and I worked together on legislation that allows our state to take the proceeds from the sale of public lands in Southern Nevada and use that money to protect Nevada’s parks, trails and natural areas.
It’s a Nevada solution to address our Nevada challenges.
Unfortunately, President Bush wants to take the money from Nevada and hand it to the federal government.
This money has been earmarked for our needs. It should stay here, and the Nevada Congressional delegation is working to prevent the Bush administration from stealing this money.
And that is not the only area where we are working together in Washington to make Nevada an even better place.
Individual states have always regulated hunting and fishing within their boundaries, but a recent federal court ruling is endangering this right by preventing states like Nevada from setting different hunting and fishing standards for residents and non-residents.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle in Washington – Senator Ensign and I included -disagree with the court and are seeking to overturn it through legislation I have introduced.
It is Nevadans who work to protect fish and game here….It is Nevadans who support wildlife conservation through their work and taxes…And it is Nevadans who should set limits on who hunts and fishes within our boundaries.
Senator Ensign and I have also joined in introducing the Voter Integrity and Verification Act. It would require every state to meet Nevada’s high election standards. Nevada is leading the country in ensuring every vote is counted, and I believe that if every Nevada voter has a paper ballot receipt, every voter in America should have one as well.
I think this is crucial legislation, and I will do everything I can to see it passes.
Now…I don’t too often meddle in your business… but while we’re on the subject of voting…
Please come together and do something about voter registration before we do it in Washington.
With all the new technology, there is no reason why Nevada should close the door to registration one month before each Election Day. This is about giving Nevadans a voice in our government. And that is something we should all be able to work and agree on. Republican. Democrat. Or Independent.
And there is another area where we should all agree.
The people of Nevada voted overwhelming last November to raise the minimum wage. Their voices could not be more clear.
Minimum wage is decades behind cost of living increases. Don’t make families wait another two years. You can pass this legislation and help hardworking Nevadans – like those workers with us here today – get ahead with jobs that pay enough to make ends meet.
Finally, let me close with a few words on Social Security.
There are times in public service when you have to stand and fight. I’m willing to work with the President when he is on the right track, but when he gets off track – as he has with Social Security – my Democratic colleagues and I will not shy away from expressing our view of what is right and what is wrong.
President Bush likes to say Social Security is in crisis as he travels across the country. Well, the Academy Awards are this Sunday night, and if they gave an Oscar for “crisis creation,” I’m certain the Bush White House would win in a landslide.
The truth is, Social Security is not about to go bankrupt. If we do nothing, seniors will get 100 percent of their Social Security benefits for nearly the next 50 years. And even after that, they would continue to get 80 percent of their benefits.
We do need to address Social Security’s long term problems, and Democrats in Congress want to work with the President to strengthen the program. But we must do it right.
Let me be clear: privatization is not the answer. The President’s privatization plan will not strengthen Social Security, it will destroy it.
The Bush plan will result in cuts to a retiree’s benefits by a third or more and force us to borrow nearly $5 trillion, much of it from foreign countries like China and Japan.
I want to work with the President to address Social Security’s long term challenges but a crisis it is not.
We also need to find ways to help Americans save. But we will never agree to a privatization plan that damages Social Security by making deep cuts in benefits and amassing immoral debt increases.
Social Security is America’s promise of a secure retirement to those who work hard and play by the rules. It is a promise we should all work to keep. And I hope you will send that message loud and clear to President Bush by passing a resolution expressing the Nevada Legislature’s opposition to any changes in Social Security that result in benefit cuts.
As I now reflect on that 400 mile trip that took me from Las Vegas to Carson City over three decades ago, I realize my life has taken me further than I ever dreamed.
From city attorney… to my county responsibilities…to duties with the State…And now a Member of Congress.
From Searchlight….to Washington DC.
It has been a long trip, with – I am told – a few bumps along the way. But I only remember the pleasurable vistas on my life’s journey.
I’ve never forgotten what inspired me during my first days in government or the lessons learned from Mike O’Callaghan. That we as public servants have the opportunity to make life better for those we represent.
The American Dream, to me, is not just another phrase. It is reality. Each day of my life I have lived the American Dream. I am grateful to the people of Nevada for permitting me to live that dream and to continue the trip I began here 36 years ago.