PHOTO/DENNIS MYERS Brian Krolicki and Stephanie Tyler posed at the 2013 Nevada Legislature. Twenty-three years earlier, as young political aides, the two were among five people in a small plane that crashed on a campaign trip in Churchill County, killing one and injuring the others. Tyler later served as a Republican senator from Washoe County.

Brian Krolicki, who stepped down as Nevada’s lieutenant governor last month, is calling for a fundamental change in the way the office is elected. He believes the governor and lieutenant governor should be elected on a ticket together instead of each being elected independently.

Krolicki had legislation drafted to accomplish the change, and it will be up to his successor, Mark Hutchison, whether to pursue it with the office’s endorsement.

“I just think it’s prudent and as I look around the country I find it to be a good management practice,” Krolicki said.

Half the states elect their governors and lieutenant governors jointly. In another 18, each is elected independently. In the remaining states, succession to the governorship is through other officials, such as secretary of state.

Krolicki believes if the two officials were elected together, it would lead to better working relationships and would prepare lieutenant governors better for a governor’s death or resignation. He relates the idea to how businesses operate.

“If you’re a Fortune 500 company, shareholders expect to have clear lines, which our situation does, but also of grooming and familiarity,” he said. “It is terribly important for the lieutenant governor to have the complete trust of the governor.”

“If there is a disjointed relationship or a transition with an individual who is not apprised of the state policies, I think that person misses a step in the state transition,” Krolicki said. “I think the public should have an expectation that that person [the lieutenant] is regularly in the room and has the confidence of the CEO, and that’s the governor.”

He also said the public should be able to expect “awareness and training and capability immediately if the governor has a bad day.”

Whether two candidates on the same ticket would foster trust is far from clear, however. A lot would depend on how they—particularly the lieutenant governor candidate—got onto the ticket. In the federal model, the presidential candidate chooses his or her running mate in a convention setting, and the convention delegates usually ratify that choice. Thus, the vice president is dependent politically on the president.

But at the state level, nominating conventions are a thing of the past in Nevada—they were last held in 1908. In other states, candidates for governor and lieutenant governor often run independently in their party primaries and then go onto the ticket together. Thus, the lieutenant governor candidate is not dependent on the candidate for governor, and they are often uncomfortable running mates.

In one case in Nevada, in 1982, the Democratic candidates were running independently, Richard Bryan for governor and Robert Cashell for lieutenant governor. Shortly before the election, full-page newspaper advertisements mysteriously appeared around the state urging votes for Cashell and for Bryan’s Republican opponent, Robert List. As it happened, the two Democrats—Bryan and Cashell—were elected, but the newspaper ads generated suspicion between them. They had a very tense working relationship after taking office.

Krolicki’s proposal would prevent such machinations, since the option of splitting tickets in the way the ads proposed would be eliminated. But he acknowledges that how to comfortably match up two candidates on a ticket in a state with primary elections has yet to be worked out.

“I think that is something that—should this bill have any legs—that is a point that needs to be discussed,” he said this week.

Tobacco initiative

His long years in office—Krolicki served as deputy state treasurer for eight years, treasurer for eight years, lieutenant governor for eight years—gave him an exposure to state government workings that were valuable to any officeholder. Now, thanks to term limits, he is carrying that head of institutional knowledge away with him, of no further use to state government.

Krolicki first came to public notice on Sept. 3, 1990. He and his employer—GOP state treasurer candidate Bob Seale—plus lieutenant governor candidate Sue Wagner and her aide Stephanie Tyler, and Seale’s wife, Judy—took off from the Fallon airport in a twin-engine Cessna 411 piloted by Seale. The plane went down a few minutes later, killing Judy Seale and inflicting a range of injuries on the others. Krolicki crawled out and went for help.

After Seale’s election that November, Krolicki became deputy state treasurer, the beginning of a quarter century of public service that included two terms as treasurer and two as lieutenant governor.

Krolicki is one of a vanishing breed, a moderate Republican who works congenially with Democrats and has, in the past, cut into the Democratic vote. He never saw the cards fall quite his way in terms of moving to the governorship or federal office. When he was the logical Republican candidate for governor in 2010, lobbyists and other kingmakers lured Brian Sandoval out of a federal judgeship to run and froze out other candidates. In the same time frame, a possible U.S. Senate race was complicated by his indictment for misappropriating state funds and false accounting. The indictment was thrown out of court, but it ate up precious weeks of time for organizing and fundraising.

In some ways, his departure from elective office is well timed. He has three children who are approaching college age, and he speaks of his need to make some money for that reason.

But one of his biggest disappointments comes not from campaign politics but from a policy matter. On June 5, 2008, he issued a report calling for securitization of the state’s tobacco lawsuit settlement moneys—basically, cashing out the settlement and investing the money.

The proposal was given serious consideration in the Nevada Legislature, but ultimately fell victim to politics. It was approved by the Republican Senate, but Democrats in the Assembly did not want to award such an accomplishment to him, and it failed there.

“I feel today, as I felt back 10 years ago, that it was a tremendous missed opportunity to protect these moneys,” Krolicki said. “Some of them are used for smoking cessation and hindsight has shown that to be a valuable tool.”

But it is not just the smoking issues that trouble him. The settlement left the state at the mercy of smoking vagaries, with the annual amount fluctuating, which left the state unable to control its use of the money. In addition, Krolicki thought it was unhealthy public policy for the state to be in bed with the tobacco corporations.

“The state could have divested itself of the risk of being clients of the tobacco interests,” he said. “The revenues have subsequently declined, and Nevada would be receiving significantly larger amounts if we had taken our share out.”

Several years before Krolicki’s proposal, Democrats shot down another version of the same idea sponsored by Republican Assemblymember Lynn Hettrick.

Krolicki noted that government actually has more of a stake in the sales of tobacco than the corporations, because most of the checkstand cost is in taxes and fees.

“Government makes more money from each package than the industry,” he said

That is not a good role for government, he believes.

When he took office as lieutenant governor, that official chaired the state tourism and economic development commissions, an arrangement created during Cashell’s tenure. In 2011, Sandoval persuaded the legislature to remove the lieutenant governor from that role in economic development. He still holds a seat on the commission.

“I’m proud of what we did,” Krolicki said. “The lieutenant governor has primary responsibility for tourism and economic development. Tourism remains the centerpiece of the lieutenant governor’s portfolio. Economic development, which I chaired for six years, was a great pleasure.”

Krolicki has said several times that he is keeping his options open for a return to public life. But numerous Nevadans who have left elected office with the intention of returning have found that in this meanspirited political era, they preferred private life and found no reason to go back. That was the case with one of his fellow passengers on that ill-fated Cessna, Sue Wagner. It has also been true of numerous state legislators.

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Dennis Myers

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...