He was a family friend and it is with heavy heart that we send Kenny Guinn on to his next journey. Here's hoping that he and my dad are having a drink together tonight at Heaven's Bar.
From the Associated Press:
Former Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn, a two-term moderate Republican whose tenure marked a prosperous era in a state now facing severe budget problems, died Thursday after falling from the roof of his Las Vegas home while making repairs. He was 73.
The predecessor to current Gov. Jim Gibbons was pronounced dead at University Medical Center, where he was taken after the fall, Coroner Mike Murphy said. Authorities were investigating whether the death was from natural causes or an accident.
Billy Vassiliadis, a friend and spokesman for the Guinn family at the hospital, said Guinn had been on the roof making repairs. He said Guinn's wife, Dema Guinn, found him and called 911 . Police received the call just after 10:30 a.m.
"She lost her best friend this morning," Vassiliadis said.
Gibbons ordered flags at state buildings to be lowered to half-staff and issued a statement saying, "On behalf of all Nevadans, I extend our deepest sympathy to his family and friends."
The state Senate minority leader, Bill Raggio, R-Nev., called Guinn "undoubtedly one of the best public servants who has ever served and one of the best governors we've ever had."
"He was an example of someone who was committed to working with other across the party lines," Raggio said, choking on his emotions during a telephone interview. "He still had so much to offer."
Guinn, a former Clark County school superintendent and millionaire bank chairman, was a Democrat-turned-moderate Republican who served two terms as governor from 1998 to 2007. His tenure marked a prosperous era in a state now facing huge tax deficits, the highest unemployment rate, at 14.2 percent, and the most foreclosures per capita in the nation.
"He was the right guy for the times, and he had the guts to stand up and do what was best for the citizens of Nevada," said Greg Bortolin, a former spokesman for Guinn.
Guinn was elected in his first bid for statewide office, defeating Democrat Jan Jones with 52 percent of the vote while drawing criticism that he was the hand-picked candidate of powerful special interests. He departed ranked by Time magazine as one of the nation's best governors.
During his tenure in Carson City, he overhauled government agency operations, revamped budgeting and tax collections, pushed for a major student scholarship program, fought federal plans to bury nuclear waste in the desert outside Las Vegas and sought to diversify Nevada's casino-dependent economy.
Guinn also spearheaded the biggest tax increase in state history, then returned to residents $300 million in excess revenues.
In 1999, during his first term as governor, he pushed the Legislature to approve his Millennium Scholarship program that uses tobacco company settlement funds to help Nevada students pay for their college costs at state schools.
With the state past an economic slump that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he pushed for a broader tax base and sought more funding for social services and education in the 2003 legislative session.
He was overwhelmingly re-elected in 2002, defeating longtime Democratic state Sen. Joe Neal.
"He was a dynamic force in Nevada politics and our state's business circles for as many decades as I can remember, and he had an extraordinary influence on me," said Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Las Vegas.
Berkley said she helped recruit Guinn as interim president of University of Nevada, Las Vegas, a position he accepted for $1 salary.
Guinn was born in Garland, Ark., raised in Exeter, Calif., as the son of migrant fruit pickers. He once lived in a tin shack and attended almost 30 schools as his parents followed the crops.
He won a college football scholarship and received bachelor's and master's degrees in physical education from California's Fresno State University. He received a doctorate in education from Utah State University in 1970. He taught in Fresno and San Jose while doing graduate work at Stanford University.
He moved to Las Vegas in 1964, starting as a planning specialist for the Clark County School District. In 1969, he was named superintendent of schools. He left the district in 1978 to join Nevada Savings and Loan. He later became bank chairman, president and chairman of Southwest Gas, and interim president at UNLV.
Guinn and his wife, Dema, have two sons.