On the beach with Gov. Guinn | RecordCourier.com
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On the beach with Gov. Guinn

by Linda Hiller

Even Gov. Kenny Guinn can’t get into the Sand Harbor gazebo picnic area without reservations at least six months ahead of time.

Saturday, the governor, his staff and their families celebrated a successful seven months in office with a picnic at the popular Lake Tahoe state park, but they were relegated to the non-reservation area, which was full of happy picnickers.

“I guess you have to make reservations for the gazebo in January – it sure is popular,” said Linda Fitzgerald, executive assistant to the policy advisor. “We’ll know that for next time, but we have a great spot anyway. It’s beautiful here.”

While at his staff picnic, Guinn visited with several Douglas High School students, many representing the Class of 2002, having their own summer picnic at the next site. While these (mostly) 15-year-olds did ask about the governor’s opinion on the driving age issue – whether he would support its increase to age 18 instead of 16 – they also wondered about his favorite pizza and ice cream flavors.

– Important stuff. Gov. Guinn, however, wanted to talk with them about one of his favorite accomplishments from the 1999 Legislature – something many of them hadn’t heard of.

“Remember the millennium scholarship, kids,” he said as he patiently shook their hands. “That means a “B” average or higher. Not 2.99, but 3.0 – OK? I’ve actually had some parents ask me, ‘What if my child has a 2.99, can they still get a scholarship?’ and I tell them, ‘No, it has to be at least a 3.0.'”

– What is it? The millennium scholarship grew out of some brainstorming by Guinn’s staff, he said, around the time when Nevada and several other states involved in a class action against the tobacco industry, received a settlement of $48 million for the first fiscal year, and more than $40 million per year for several years afterwards.

Guinn, a former school teacher and Clark County School District superintendent from 1969 to 1978, said putting tobacco money into college scholarships makes perfect sense for a few reasons.

“The national average of high school students going on to some form of higher education is 65 percent,” Guinn said. “But, in Nevada the number is much lower – 40 percent.”

Another statistic that factored into the decision to go with the millennium scholarship, Guinn said, is the fact that 37 percent of adults who did not complete high school or go on to college smoke, while that number falls nearly to half – 17 percent -when talking about college-educated individuals.

By offering a financial incentive to attend college after high school – up to $2,500 per year when students attend Nevada universities and up to $1,250 when attending community colleges – Guinn said, not only could the state potentially come closer to the national average for students going on to college, but the already-high number of smokers in Nevada could decline over time.

“Is it a coincidence that Nevada ranks last in the number of high school graduates who go on to college, and first in the per capita number of deaths related to smoking?” states a Millennium Scholarship Fact Sheet from the governor’s office.

– His first session. Guinn said he was pleased with his seven months in office, including his first legislative session.

“It was a great legislative session, with my staff as well as both parties – with the Republican-controlled Senate and the Assembly, which has a Democrat majority – I think we worked together well and accomplished a lot in a record 120 days. No one thought we could do that.”

Guinn said the session’s challenges included cutting $241 million out of the budget, and then getting to put $105 million back in – to areas like Medicare, children’s health and remediation in education.

“We put four to five times (the money) into remediation in education,” he said. “We figured, if we’re going to raise the bar in education, we need to give it some help.”

Guinn cited the 2 percent raise for state employees and correctional officers as a positive outcome of the legislative session, as well as the funding of rural school construction for counties such as White Pine and Lincoln.

His favorite subject is the millennium scholarship.

“Personally, I think the millennium scholarship is the most important thing to come out of this Legislature,” he said. “In fact, I truly believe this is the most profound action we’ve taken since Nevada became a state.”

Guinn said keeping Nevada’s students in the state will have long-term benefits.

“We need our educated workforce to stay here,” he said. “Statistics show that if they go to college here, they’ll be more likely to stay and work here.”

State health groups supported the scholarship, he said, because an educated workforce is a safer and better-paid workforce.

“And, I think of the single parent with three kids to send to college,” he said. “How can they ever pay for college without some help?”

Guinn said the $2,500 per year university allotment would cover most of the tuition and book costs at the University of Nevada, Reno, for example. If a student chose not to live at home, their only expenses would be room and board.

“It puts college within reach of so many people,” he said.

– Really important stuff. At the picnic were members of the Douglas High School Class of 2002, Danielle Bucholz, Josh Burke, Devin Coughtry, Nicole Dutra, Casey Hiller, Jared Holmes, Kelsey Smith, who is home-schooled; Jeannie Spitzer, Beau Valory, and DHS Class of 2000 member Blake Hiller. Carson High School sophomore Patrick Russell was also in attendance.

“The scholarship sounds great,” said Danielle Bucholz. “I’d like to try for it.”

Other questions did burn in the students’ minds, though.

“How about the driving age?” asked Josh Burke, who will turn 16 in October. “Is it going to change to 18?”

Guinn said the driving law changes supported by the 1999 Legislature would not include raising the driving age, which brought about many sighs of relief.

By the way, Governor Guinn’s favorite pizza is sausage and pepperoni and his favorite ice cream flavors are Rocky Road and chocolate chip, according to press assistant Michelle Overholser.