Commentary - April 13, 2017 - by Ray Hagar

By Ray Hagar
Nevada Newsmakers

State Sen. Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, has the largest legislative district in the United States.

Or at least, he likes to think so.

"There are people who say it is the largest in the continental United States, even larger than those in Alaska and Texas because they have more senators," he said this week on Nevada Newsmakers.

Since the Nevada Senate has consistently refused to expand it 21-senator membership, Goicoechea's District 19 keeps expanding. Now it is more than 500 miles long. The district is basically the eastern half of Nevada, except for the Las Vegas metro area and southern Clark County.

It goes from Owyhee in the north to Primm in the south.

"I go to the Oregon-Idaho border to the north to the California border in the south," Goicoechea said. "I run down the Utah line (on the eastern border) and I have Moapa Valley on the east side over to Overton.

"I've got 20,000 constituents in rural Clark County and most of Nye County," he added.

It's an understatement to say campaigning and regular legislative business in a district that is more than 500-miles long requires a lot of driving.

"I put 50,000 miles a year on that ol' pickup, just for senate stuff," Goicoechea said. "I'll do 1,000 miles a week. That's what I'm averaging."

Driving long distances is part of the lifestyle for many rural Nevada residents, getting back and forth between towns. Goicoechea has driven a lot in his political career. He has represented the vast expanses of rural Nevada at the Legislature since 2002 (as an assemblyman). Before that, he spent 16 years as a Eureka County commissioner.

"I kinda like to drive," he said. "I've done it all my life. And I don't mind sayin', I press the speed limit too much."

The Nevada Highway Patrol probably notices Goicoechea's special "state senator" license plates when he rolls on by. He's been stopped a few times, he said.

"I have met most of our troopers. I know most of them on a first-name basis," he said. "They are very good, as long as I am not getting too wild.

"In fact, Trooper Brown out of Austin told me, 'You can have it up to 85 (mph). If you go over that, I'll write you a reckless (ticket for reckless driving). So I dialed in about 83 mph on (Highway) 50 there, coming though his district and we get along fine."

Goicoechea goes through a truck every three or four years.

"I'm runnin' a (GMC) Jimmy now. Wore out a Dodge. Put 250,000 miles on it in three years."

He is not reimbursed by the state for the mileage.

"No, no. It comes out of your campaign or your pocket," he said.

Next redistricting at Legislature

The 2020 census seems like it is just around the corner. Goicoechea's district could expand even further in the subsequent redistricting that will take place, based on the census data. The 21 Nevada senate seats are supposed to be drawn to even out the number of constituents in each district. As the state's population continues to swell into the two urban areas of Las Vegas and Reno, rural representation will shrink.

Rural Nevada lost a Senate seat and an Assembly seat in redistricting after the 2010 census, Goicoechea said. He suspects the next redistricting will take the northern seat of Sen. Don Gustavson, R-Sparks, and move it to southern Nevada.

"Gustavson's seat will reach farther out (into rural Nevada) and we'll see somebody come out of the south and maybe pick up Pahrump and Lincoln and some of that country," Goicoechea said about the possible new senate district.

After the 2020 census, it would seem like a good time to expand the Legislature.

Rural Nevada needs more representation. You could argue the same about Washoe.

The Legislature, legally, has room to expand, said Rick Combs, director of the Legislative Counsel Bureau. Now it has 63 members -- 21 in the Senate and 42 in the Assembly. The maximum size can be 75 members, Combs said.

If the Legislature expanded by 12, to its legal limit, you'd probably see four new Senate members and eight in the Assembly, Combs said. By law, the Senate can't have less than one-third of the membership of the Assembly and can't be larger than one-half of the membership of the Assembly, Combs said.