As Sen. Mo Denis became the first Hispanic majority leader in Nevada Legislative history Monday, he gave a tearful tribute to his late father and promised to focus on jobs, education and the state's tax structure.
The Las Vegas Democrat choked up as he told the story of his father and mother, immigrants from Cuba. He wore shoes that his father, Armando Denis, used to wear when he came to visit his son at the Legislature.
"I can't fill his shoes, but I will live my life in a way that honors him," Denis said. "I will always strive to make things better."
His father was a room service waiter at the former Sands Hotel. Armando Denis died in June.
"They gave up a lot," Denis said from the floor, crying. "It's not so different than immigrants who came before, or immigrants who came after. ... I'm grateful for their sacrifice."
Denis said that his first priority as Senate Democratic leader would be to create jobs. He also said he wanted to "immediately improve schools" and revenue, fight for the immigrant community and to protect Lake Tahoe.
"We must act now for a fair and balanced tax structure in the state, that's not dependent on tourism and sales tax," he said.
Republican Minority Leader Senator Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, praised Denis as a "fine man and a good friend."
He called for a bipartisan tone. "Nevadans made clear they want statesmen in Carson City, not politicians."
"Let us be different than Washington, D.C.," he said. "Let us give Nevadans a reason to be less cynical about their government."
The Note-Ables, a Northern Nevada band of 10 people with disabilities including cerebral palsy and autism, sang some of the opening songs, including "Home Means Nevada." Denis in 2009 helped pass a bill to certify music therapy and invited the group to perform.
Manal Toppozada, executive director of the nonprofit Note-Able Music Therapy Services, said she was thrilled for the opportunity to be part of the Legislature's opening day, and said she hoped it would add different voices to the legislative process.
Michelle Enrick, 40, a member of the group with disabilities, said she wasn't nervous. Enrick did note the drama surrounding Assemblyman Steven Brooks. "That one guy over there," she said, motioning across the legislative hallway. It's his first day to come back."
By comparison to the lower house, the Senate chamber was filled with a mellow level of comity and good cheer on the first day. Lawmakers introduced their families and guests. The squirming and giggles of young children could be heard.
Sen. Justin Jones' toddler, Liam, was removed at one point (by his mother) for a bout of fussiness. Later, Liam grabbed for his dad's microphone during introductions. In a display of the freshman Las Vegas Democrat's potential diplomatic skills, Jones mollified his son by giving him the microphone for a few seconds.
Jones later tweeted: "Liam teaches me patience, which I'll need up here!"
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