Heroes: Our sixth annual salute
to Las Vegans who give a damn
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
"But I don't want to be hanging around looking like Strom Thurmond,"
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
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
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
says, to make it harder for him to get re-elected. And even before reapportionment,
re-elected in 2000 by only the slimmest margins when a gambling-funded
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.