Bill Raggio Passes

Retired Nevada state Senator Bill Raggio has died at age 85 and is being remembered as an icon in Nevada politics. The Reno Republican was the longest-serving state Senator in Nevada history when he retired last January just before the 2011 legislative session began.

Raggio had become increasingly vocal against the hardline, no-tax stance of the conservative right and was shunned by some members of his party after endorsing Democratic U.S. Senator Harry Reid in the 2010 election against Sharron Angle. He was replaced in his role of Senate Minority Leader by state Senator Mike McGinness of Fallon.

Following the news of Raggio’s death, Angle wrote on her Face Book page, “My deepest condolences and prayers for Senator Bill Raggio’s family.”

Meanwhile, Reid says Raggio’s “invaluable contributions and service” to Nevada will live on. He was joined by fellow U.S. Senator Dean Heller, who adds Raggio’s legacy will be remembered “for generations to come.”

Raggio was first elected in 1972 and served in the Senate for 38 years, including 28 as Republican caucus leader.  His daughter says the former lawmaker succumbed to complications from pneumonia while vacationing with his wife, Dale, in Sydney, Australia.

A second-generation Nevadan, Raggio was born in Reno, October 30, 1926. He married his high school sweetheart, Dorothy Brigman, who died in 1998.

He married his second wife, Dale Checket, in 2004 and is also survived by two daughters, Leslie Righetti and Tracy Chew. A son, mark, died in 2004.

Raggio attended Louisiana Tech, the University of Oklahoma, and the University of Nevada, Reno. He obtained his law degree from the Hastings College of Law and the Boalt Hall School of Law. In 1944, he joined the U.S. Navy Reserve and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve.

Raggio became a Washoe County Assistant District Attorney in 1952 and his political career was launched six years later when he was elected the county’s top prosecutor. Raggio took on Nevada brothel boss Joe Conforte, and in 1959 had Conforte’s Triangle River Ranch on the outskirts of Wadsworth burned to the ground as a public nuisance.

Raggio also handled several high-profile cases, winning a death sentence against Thomas Bean for the 1963 murder of Olympic skier Sonja McCaskie. The case received national attention, and Raggio was honored by the National District Attorney’s Association as Outstanding Prosecutor in the United States, before Bean’s death sentence was overturned.

Governor Brian Sandoval calls Raggio one of the great lights in Nevada politics and says his career exemplified the very best in public service. He says, “If there was a Mount Rushmore of Nevada politics, Bill Raggio’s image would forever be carved there.”

Current state Senate leader and Democrat Steven Horsford also praised Raggio, saying he, “always put the people of Nevada first.” Former Republican Senator Randolph Townsend served alongside Raggio says, “Bill was someone who would write handwritten letters of condolence to people he hardly knew and who respected colleagues on the other side of the aisle.”

With Nevada’s population heavily concentrated around Las Vegas, Raggio is also remembered as a guard dog for northern interests. Greg Brower, a former assemblyman and U.S. attorney who was appointed to fill Raggio’s seat in Washoe Senate District 3, calls his passing a “huge loss.”

Raggio recently published a book about his life called, “A Man of His Word.” In his biography, Raggio spoke of how politics in Nevada have dissipated from friendly partisanship into all-out warfare: “Legislation is still the art of compromise and over the years that has been my mantra.”

Funeral arrangements are pending for the devout Catholic. Flags at the Nevada State Legislature are at half-staff and will remain that way through Raggio’s funeral.

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