Seeking advice on what business leaders can do to increase their influence in the Nevada Legislature, we turn this month to Speaker Emeritus Joe Dini. Dini, a Democrat from Yerington, has played a prominent role in Nevada’s legislative history, serving 35 years in the Legislature, with eight terms as Assembly Speaker. He is Nevada’s longest-serving Assembly member – a title guaranteed to last forever, or at least as long as term limits still apply.
In this past session, Dini chaired the Assembly Commerce and Labor Committee, a critical forum for business concerns. His coalition-building abilities were put to the test this session, and once again proved equal to the task. There are many good examples, but the best may be Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa’s two anti-fraud bills. “Those bills had been introduced every session for the last 10 years – and never passed,” Dini said. “We dramatically changed the approach. First, we introduced them as Assembly bills. In the past, industry advocates went to the Senate first, thinking they’d enhance their chances of success. The problem was, Assembly members read that as a lack of trust in our house, and it actually hurt their chances. Second, Assembly leaders, both [Speaker Richard] Perkins and I, sponsored each bill.”
During the session, Dini reached out to the anti-fraud bills’ proponents and opponents alike, seeking consensus. “The trial lawyers had Matt Sharp heading up their effort. They were strenuously opposed and he was pretty tough. But I have learned that most smart and serious lobbyists will work with you if you work with them,” said Dini. “In the end, we found enough common ground to get both bills passed and signed into law.”
Asked what business leaders can do to enhance their impact on the Assembly, Dini was full of suggestions. He strongly urged business leaders to expand their involvement with the Assembly. “Don’t reduce ties to the Senate, but the business community desperately needs better relationships with Assembly members,” he advised. “Take a lesson from the fraud bills’ experience: trust the Assembly with your issues. Too often, distrust kills needed legislation. Introduce a bigger share of your legislation in the Assembly,” he suggested. “Also, start now, during the election cycle. This is the most critical year of the coming decade for business leaders to get personally involved. A whole new crop of freshmen will take office in 2002.”
To be successful, Dini advised, “Business leaders need to spend lots of personal time with candidates – one-on-one, not in big groups. Don’t push big partisan issues. Instead, share what makes businesses work. Bring them into your operation, show them around, introduce them to employees. Candidates want to know your issues, want to be a part of your success. Believe me,” he said. “Building genuine, straightforward relationships pays huge dividends.”
Another idea to increase business’ influence in the Legislature is to recruit candidates for office, said Dini. “Many successful business leaders in their early 40s are at a point where they can afford to serve in the Legislature without taking a big income hit,” he said. “The experience will be valuable to them professionally, and is personally fulfilling. Politics made me a better man, a better person. I had to learn to listen to people in all walks of life, to find solutions to the toughest problems. It’s great for personal development.”
Dini concluded with a piece of bottom-line advice: “Each session shifts the fortunes of every lobbying group. Relationships never stay the same from one session to the next. Your relationship either gets a little better or a little worse in each biennium. The direction your interests go next session is actually in your hands. Make the most of it.”