The economic boom cycle has turned to bust, with unemployment, foreclosure and bankruptcy rates soaring to national highs. The political rhetoric seems to have taken a sharper, more imposing tone, and partisan lines have been dug deeper into the ground.
Perhaps most surprisingly, Sen. Bill Raggio, the unequaled statesman of “Battle Born” politics, bid adieu this year to Carson City after 38 unprecedented years of service.
Now Brower, a former two-term Assemblyman from Reno who served in the 1999 and 2001 general legislative sessions, finds himself returning to an old stomping ground, selected by Washoe County commissioners on Tuesday to fill the big boots of Raggio as the District 3 representative.
Brower sat down with the Sparks Tribune on Friday for a wide-ranging discussion about his political influences, priorities for the upcoming legislative session and whether lawyers make for good lawmakers.
If it weren’t for a primary loss to then upstart Sharron Angle in 2002, Brower might today be one of the most senior Republicans in all the state. But the 46-year-old retired Naval officer wound up on a different path, out of the political limelight all together.
He served a stint as U.S. Attorney for Nevada from 2007 to 2009 and, most recently, worked as a partner in the Reno and Las Vegas law offices of Snell & Wilmer’s, dealing in criminal litigation.
With a secure career and great family life, some wonder why Brower would subject himself to the trials and tribulations of Nevada politics, particularly when a record budget deficit promises tough cuts that will undoubtedly upset some of his constituents. Besides, hasn’t he already been there and done that?
“I don’t think it’s rehashing,” Brower said, explaining that every legislative session presents new challenges. “I felt it was my duty to volunteer” for the appointment.
More than $1 billion in budget shortfalls has been met with promises of no new taxes from Gov. Brian Sandoval, a position Brower said he supports.
But calls for increases to sales taxes in order to fund economic development initiatives have been heard from many labor groups.
Brower, however, believes there is no way to reconcile the prospect of job growth with higher taxes.
“I don’t believe the two go together,” he said.
However, Brower does recognize the difficulty of fixing the state’s long-term budget woes.
“Balancing the budget without raising taxes is virtually impossible without reforming the way in which we do state government,” he said.
Having it his way, everything the state pays for would be up for review in order to ensure fiscal sustainability.
“There are certainly some sacred cows that need to be gored as part of any real reform,” Brower said with a nod to collective bargaining agreements at the local government level.
Brower is expected to sit on the Legislature’s top health and education committees, as well as a first-time select committee on economic development.
But his appointment might be short-lived if reapportionment and redistricting, already set for Nevada’s U.S. congressional seats, comes to fruition at the state level this year.
Many pundits and politicians are predicting that Brower’s District 3 senate seat will wind up as part of Clark County.
Brower acknowledges the possibility and said that it would be hard to prevent without an expansion of the Legislature, a prospect that seems to lack broad support given the state’s budget constraints.
Brower sees himself as a buffer between the state’s interests and those of Washoe County.
“I feel compelled to be most sensitive to what my constituents want,” he said.
As the state looks to push down the costs for education, health care and other services, Brower knows it is he who is best positioned to stop it.
As the state tries to sweep unspent revenues from county and municipal governments to cover its own budget deficits, Brower knows it is he who can stand in the way.
“It’s absolutely critical that we are able to fund public safety and other necessary services in the county,” he said, “and the county simply can’t afford to lose much more revenue to the state and still be able to do that.”
In an age where winning elections is sometimes prized more than passing legislation, Brower eyes a return to the days where compromise is not considered a dirty word.
“It’s not my style to approach every day with an idea of how I can gain a partisan advantage over my colleagues,” he said.
Of course, Brower is not going to please everyone.
Liberals, for example, would likely take exception with his support of a Supreme Court ruling last year that essentially gives corporations certain First Amendment protections previously reserved for persons and paves the way for a massive influx of new money in political campaigns.
“The key to money in politics is transparency,” Brower said, not necessarily how much of it is flowing in and out.
Lawyers are not always received well by the general public, particularly when they enter the world of politics. This might explain why Brower is just one of a handful of Nevada lawmakers with an actual legal education.
Though Brower by no means sees a law degree as a prerequisite for public service, he does believe “it can help.” As a former prosecutor, Brower feels he can provide a valuable degree of knowledge when it comes to public safety and constitutional issues.
A self-described Ronald Reagan Republican, Brower does hold reverence for a certain prominent family member from the liberal establishment.
This month marks the 50th anniversary of Robert F. Kennedy’s swearing in as Attorney General during his brother’s presidency.
Having worked in the Department of Justice (DOJ), Brower recognizes Kennedy’s unrivaled legacy.
“You can’ t help but get this sense of just how important he was and how the DOJ was during the civil rights era in making the civil rights movement happen,” Brower said. “It’s just an amazing part of our history.”
The latest chapter in Brower’s history begins Feb. 7 when the Legislature convenes for its first day of what is sure to be an extraordinary session.