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Senate Majority Leader Horsford declines to explain decision to replace veteran staffer


By Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau: Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford said he is confident a qualified candidate will be found to serve as secretary to the Senate for the 2011 session and that the upper house will continue to be run in a way that serves both the 21 senators and the people of Nevada.

Horsford, D-Las Vegas, declined to comment on why he asked Senate secretary Claire Clift to step down Tuesday after 10 years, saying it was a personnel issue and not for public discussion. He praised her years of service but said it was time to make a change.

He said the position description, when posted, will spell out the expectations and qualifications wanted in the next Senate secretary.

Clift said Tuesday only that Horsford wanted to take the Senate in a new direction and that she accepted his decision to make a change as his right as majority leader.

Horsford said the Senate secretary position will be advertised with an expectation that candidates both from within the Legislature and externally will apply for the position.

Horsford said he has no candidates in mind for the job, which is critical to ensuring rules are followed and the legislative process runs smoothly.

“I am sure there will be a strong slate of candidates who are qualified and who have experience both in legislative and government work who will apply,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno said Horsford advised him of his decision but said only that it was necessary to make a change.

Serving as Senate secretary is tough job and Clift performed well, he said.

Whoever is selected as the new secretary “will have to hit the ground running,” Raggio said.

The Legislature faces a number of serious issues in 2011, from a $3 billion budget shortfall to the redrawing of legislative and Congressional political boundaries.

Sen. Maurice Washington, R-Sparks, called the decision to replace the Senate secretary unprecedented in his 16 years of service in the Senate. Washington has been term-limited out of office and won’t be serving in 2011.

“Claire was a good lady, and I don’t think she really deserved her fate,” he said.

Washington said Horsford has the right to make a change, but that it could cause problems in the 2011 session if the new staff doesn’t know the procedures of how the Senate operates. Washington also said he does not know Horsford’s reasons for replacing Clift.

Former state Sen. Mark Amodei, R-Carson City, said he is hopeful the next Senate secretary will have clearly demonstrated qualifications for the position.

“There is a pretty specific set of things that need to happen,” he said. “Procedure is a big deal. I guess the story won’t be finished until we see who the replacement is and what the person’s qualifications are.

“If the rules become a secondary thing it creates a mess for everybody on both sides of the aisle,” Amodei said. “It creates a potential legal playground the state doesn’t need at this point in time.”

Amodei, who was termed out of office and won’t be serving in the 2011 session, said Clift served under then-Senate secretary Jan Thomas for several years before taking the position herself.

“There was some pretty good overlap,” said Amodei, who recently was named as chairman of the Nevada State Republican Party. “We had someone who knew the ropes so the process would go smoothly.”

Horsford said changes of personnel happen on a regular basis and the Senate and Legislature as a whole has and will continue to adjust to those changes.

The strong foundation created by Clift and other Senate staff will ensure the upper house continues to operate effectively for senators and the people of Nevada, he said.

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