Excerpted from
Las Vegas CityLife

December 19, 2002

Cover Story
Local Heroes: Our sixth annual salute
to Las Vegans who give a damn

Joe Neal — For the purposes of this discussion of state Sen. Joe Neal, D-North Las Vegas, forget about his last two gubernatorial races. Also forget about his tireless efforts to raise the gross gaming tax. Whatever you think of those two issues, you have to toss them aside and admit: Joe Neal is something of a hero.

It's often overshadowed by these two issues, but Neal will go down in history as one of Nevada's greatest legislators.

He has the longevity — he is tied with Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno, as the longest-serving state
senator in Nevada history. They're both in the middle of their eighth terms, moving into their
fourth decade as senators. And Neal isn't ruling out a run for a ninth term, either.

"But I don't want to be hanging around looking like Strom Thurmond," he says.

While Neal, 67, has a reputation for sponsoring politically unpopular (and therefore dead on
arrival) legislation, he has a number of legislative victories to his credit that have helped shape Nevada.

He was integral in crafting the 1981 fire retrofit legislation that forced hotels to make themselves safer following the deadly MGM Grand fire in 1980.

He's also been a civil rights pioneer, someone who's never shied away from fighting the system. He takes credit for instituting the coroner inquest system in Nevada, making it so an
independent entity investigated deaths.

"At the time, whenever there was a police shooting, the police investigated themselves," Neal says.

Heading into the 2003 Legislature, Neal says that he intends to keep fighting for what he believes in, no matter which way the political winds are blowing. One thing you can be sure
that Neal will fight for this coming year: the abolition of the death penalty. Throughout his 30 years as a state senator, Neal's been a vocal death penalty opponent.

"I've never supported any issues regarding the death penalty," he says. "I've never thought it was right for the state to be killing folks."

He was on the Death Penalty and Related DNA Testing Committee, a committee set up by the 2001 Legislature. While Neal was unsuccessful in getting his fellow legislators to consider
abolishing capital punishment entirely — something Neal will undoubtedly continue to
unsuccessfully fight for — he did have some successes.

The committee recommended that mentally retarded inmates should not be put to death, and that three-judge panels should not be allowed to decide on the death penalty when juries are deadlocked on capital punishment. (Incidentally, the U.S. Supreme Court issued rulings in line with the committee's recommendations shortly after the recommendations were finalized.)

Neal also vows to fight for public power company ownership. He vows to do everything he can to help the Southern Nevada Water Authority take over Nevada Power. The Legislature will decide this year whether government entities can orchestrate hostile takeovers of utilities.

"That's a long-standing grievance of mine," he says.

Beyond 2003, Neal's status as a legislator is anybody's guess. He's not the most popular
guy with the Democratic Party leadership these days — he hasn't been for the last decade or
so since he was beaten by Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, as the Senate party leader — nor is he
likely to be able to raise a ton of money. His Senate district has been reapportioned, Neal
says, to make it harder for him to get re-elected. And even before reapportionment, he was
re-elected in 2000 by only the slimmest margins when a gambling-funded candidate almost
knocked him off.

While Neal says he'll remain a Democrat for now, if he runs again, don't be surprised if it's
as an independent.

"We're in bad shape," he says of the state Democratic Party. "It's only the Democratic Party
in name now."

Considering all this, it's a good bet that the 2003 Legislature will be Neal's last as a state
senator. If that's the case, it will truly be the end of an era.

— Jimmy Boegle

Copyright © 2002 Las Vegas CityLife

[NOTE: Sen. Neal is the only elected official to achieve the above distinction
and has done so three times in the past five years]



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