Bryan busy on final Valley rural tour
For the past dozen years, during the August recess of the United States Senate, when rest or vacation might be on some senators’ minds, Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev., hits the rural roads of Nevada, clocking more than 35,000 odometer miles so far, to see and hear what’s going on out there.
On Wednesday, Bryan’s last official rural tour of Nevada came through the Carson Valley – he will retire from the Senate in a few months – and from sentiments expressed by Douglas County residents and Bryan himself, the parting will be bittersweet.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had a senator who’s been as accessible as Senator Bryan,” said long-time Valley rancher Arnold Settelmeyer. “And we know it wasn’t for our votes, because we don’t have that many. We hate to see him go.”
“True. I’ve known him for years and found him not only accessible but always amiable,” said another long-time Valley rancher Dallas Byington.
“You’ve been a good friend,” said an emotional Washoe Tribe Chairman, Brian Wallace. “My children have been touched by your work.”
“He’s done a wonderful job and worked with us very well,” said County Commissioner Kelly Kite. “Especially after the flood, when the hard work of cleaning up and repairing the river really began.”
“In my opinion, the greatest political leaders help local leaders accomplish what they want to accomplish,” said Western Nevada Resource Conservation and Development Area Coordinator Dan Kaffer.
“Senator Bryan has been always supportive in helping us accomplish what we wanted, rather than tell us what he wanted.”
n Full day. Bryan’s farewell tour team included his wife, Bonnie; Rural Area Director Tom Baker; Deputy Press Secretary Tom Foulkes; and Legislative Aide Dominique Etchegoyhen.
Wednesday, with barely a moment to spare, all five moved through a chamber of commerce luncheon, a Carson Valley tour pertaining mostly to open space and the Carson River, a meeting with Douglas County commissioners and a well-attended Town Hall Meeting.
At each event, Bryan touched on national issues including the $250 billion reduction of the national debt, the need for Social Security solutions by at least 2034, when the baby boomers could find benefit coffers empty, and the fact that without a presidential veto, already obtained from President Clinton, nuclear waste will likely come to Nevada.
Getting a verbal commitment from presidential candidates on whether they would veto legislation putting a temporary nuclear waste facility at Yucca Mountain should be a crucial question every Nevada voter asks, Bryan said.
“We know we don’t have enough votes for a majority, so we are dependent on a presidential veto,” he said. “We have had the commitment from Vice President Gore that he would veto, but we haven’t gotten a firm answer from Governor Bush. What we need from him is an answer to the question, ‘If it reaches your desk, would you veto sending nuclear waste to Nevada?’ He hasn’t given us an answer, but we know sending waste to Nevada is part of the Republican platform.”
Bryan spoke to local issues such as Indian gaming in California and the need for Nevada to produce destination vacation areas offering more than just casinos, and the need for diverse groups and individuals in Douglas County to continue to work toward common goals such open space preservation and conservation along the Carson River.
“We work with all the counties, and this is unique to Douglas County,” he said. “You have the ability to work together to deal with problems, to the great credit of this community.”
Regarding his leaving the Democratic party pool, Bryan said the party needs to encourage candidates willing to go to the state level and continue to inspire people to public service.
“I was inspired by John Kennedy when he said, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country,'” Bryan said. “There is a lot of cynicism toward politics now, and I think John McCain is absolutely right when he says campaign reform is needed. The pace of fund-raising now is insane. I’ve hated it.”
Bryan moved from stop to stop on the tour with enthusiasm and energy, changing out of a sports jacket and removing his tie when the group reached the ranch tour. He relished the opportunity to speak with community members and didn’t shy from any question.
“I enjoy this part of the job,” Bryan said during a stop at Byington’s ranch to illustrate the beauty and importance of open space. Surrounded by pasture, with sweeping mountain views, Bryan took a moment to take it in.
“This is what it’s all about,” he said. “This type of tour really bridges the gap between old politics and the new, more technological politics. You don’t see the likes of it in Nevada today and I will miss it. Now, I’m getting a chance to look back on a political career.”
n Long public service. Bryan began his public service career in 1964 as a deputy district attorney in Clark County. He was that county’s first public defender, went on to the Nevada Assembly, state Senate and became attorney general in 1978. In 1982, Bryan was elected governor and in 1988 he won a bid to the U.S. Senate. Bryan has lived in a town house four blocks from Capitol Hill since going to Washington, D.C.
A typical week in the Senate, he said, always included a trip to Nevada on the weekends to meet with constituents. Then, Tuesday through Friday, morning committee meetings and hearings were held, often during breakfast or lunch, and in the afternoon, he received visitors and constituents in town.
“There are those who want tickets to the White House or something like that, and then there were people in to see me on Nevada business, or maybe there would be students,” he said. A weekly meeting with Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., was always scheduled to discuss Nevada issues, Bryan said, and visits to the Senate floor for votes or speeches filled the day.
Bryan said he will work with his successor to make a smooth transition next term.
“I will tell them Douglas County is a good county to work with,” he said. “Here, you have a unique opportunity to protect and preserve the character of the county which has been historically agriculture. Open space is such a critical issue.”
Bryan said his recent trip to the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles and the “urban jungle” there made him realize how crucial saving the Carson Valley’s rural character is .
“What you’re trying to do here is not about us, it’s about them,” Bryan said, referring to generations to come. “We’ve gotten to enjoy it, we want it for them.”
Bryan, a lawyer, hasn’t signed any post-public service work contracts with anyone, he said, but is aiming for a more flexible schedule, possibly teaching political science at both University of Nevada campuses and affiliating with a law firm, probably headquartered in his home district of Las Vegas.
He is looking forward to spending more time with his three children and especially his three grandchildren (a fourth is on the way), he said. Bonnie Bryan, married to Richard for 38 years, jokingly said she will be looking for work if her energetic husband doesn’t find his own.
“He’s not a very good sleeper and he’ll stay up late watching the History Channel and then want to sleep in,” she said. “If he doesn’t get a job, I will.”