(Steve Sebelius/Slash Politics) – Former Gov. Kenny Guinn was eulogized on Tuesday with high praise from a former aide, a former colleague and a friend as a man of integrity, hard work and dedication to his adopted home state of Nevada, as more than 1,000 people filled St Joseph Husband of Mary Catholic Church for a funeral Mass. (Guinn will be buried tomorrow in his hometown of Exeter, Calif.)
Former aide Pete Ernaut, who managed Guinn’s 1998 run for office, said Guinn was the hardest working person in the governor’s office, somebody who would arrive early to make coffee for the janitorial staff or take the time to make calls to a new parent, even while undergoing treatment for prostate cancer.
“He cared more about others than about himself,” Ernaut said. “He had a great will to succeed because he knew it mattered that he succeed. People were counting on him.”
“God bless you, Kenny Guinn,” an emotional Ernaut said. “Nevada has lost a great man.”
State Sen. Bill Raggio, a colleague of Guinn’s, offered perhaps the highest praise of the former governor: There was virtually no difference between Guinn the public figure and the man he knew in private life.
Raggio said he met the future governor when Guinn was superintendent of the Clark County School District, a job Guinn won when he was just 32 years old. Guinn explained the Nevada Plan of school funding to the freshman senator, Raggio recalled, the beginning of a long-term working and personal relationship that would last decades. Guinn allowed Raggio — who lives in Reno — to stay overnight at the governor’s mansion when the Legislature went long into the night, Raggio said.
“I was the only legislator in the nation who could boast that his governor brought him coffee in the morning,” Raggio said.
Later, as Raggio faced former Assemblywoman Sharron Angle in a surprisingly tough re-election fight, Guinn and his wife of 54 years, Dema, walked precincts for him in Reno. Surprised residents would invite the popular former governor in to chat, Raggio said, so Guinn didn’t cover much ground.
Raggio praised Guinn’s common sense, basic caring and resolute determination when it came to running the state. “Common sense. We need a lot more of that today,” he said.
And Raggio defended Guinn for the former governor’s most controversial decision: to call for a gross-receipts tax on business in 2003. (The gross-receipts tax idea died quickly, but the Legislature ended up raising taxes anyway in a controversial vote that took two special sessions to accomplish.) “This subjected him to heavy criticism, some of which lingers to this day, from thoughtless people,” Raggio said. “The passage of time has, of course, proved him right.”
Raggio said Guinn did the right thing in office, and in life, regardless of consequences. He quoted Guinn saying being governor is about leadership, not popularity. “That should be hung on the wall of the state Capitol,” he said.
But Guinn nonetheless remains one of the state’s most beloved public figures.
“His popularity remains high, even among people who didn’t always agree with him,” Raggio said. Guinn would visit the legislative building frequently (often to the consternation of his staff) and talk with lawmakers. To Guinn, Raggio said, “compromise was not a four-letter word.”
In addition to his signature accomplishment — the Millennium Scholarship, which now bears Guinn’s name — Raggio reminded the crowd that Guinn also privatized the State Industrial Insurance System, passed a senior prescription drug plan at a time when federal lawmakers were arguing about the issue and called a special session to pass medical malpractice reforms.
Friend George Randall, in brief remarks, hinted at Guinn’s reputation as a person always willing to serve on blue-ribbon panels or lend his time and talent to charitable causes. “God called Kenny to heaven because He needed help, and He called the best man for the job,” Randall said.
Heaven should be running properly in short order, then.