Photo By Dennis Myers Sen. Joe Neal, who devoted more than 30 years to public service in Nevada, is leaving the Legislature.

Some elections are defined as much by those who are not running as by those who are. This year some significant figures decided not to appear on the ballot.

Nevada Supreme Court Justice Deborah Agosti is stepping down because of serious health problems and surgeries, but her departure may be good for her mental health, too. In July 2003 the court released an opinion in the tax dispute between the governor and Legislature that created a furor. It was a per curiam opinion, so no single justice needed to sign it, but Agosti as chief justice chose to do so.

That made her a lightning rod. She was subjected to a torrent of abuse, such as Las Vegas columnist Vin Suprynowicz’s characterization of her and her colleagues as “yellow worms beneath an overturned rock…”

There are people who have never known Nevada politics without Sen. Joe Neal in it. The Clark County economic populist has been a voice for the poor from the day he set foot in the Nevada Legislature 30 years ago. Along the way he became one of the casino industry’s chief targets and even lost the support of his own party’s timid leaders when he was the Democratic nominee for governor.

One of the people who helped bring civility back to the Reno City Council chose not to run for reelection this year. Toni Harsh spoke for quality of life over power politics in the city. “I feel very strongly that I was elected to represent my constituents, and the climate at the council table did not allow that,” she says, and she did not want four more years of beating her head against a brick wall.

Harsh will try to have more impact through her group, Voices of Truckee Meadows, than she had as a city council member, but says, “I really will miss that aspect to my life, being a public servant. And I think I did a good job.”

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...