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PK O'Neill, campaign photo (Photo:pk4nevada.com)

An Interview with Republican Assemblyman PK O’Neill

‘If you don’t show up and play the game, the other side wins’

By Megan Barth, March 3, 2022 5:36 pm

Raised in Northern Virginia, PK O’Neill would watch Congress in action on the weekends. “It built a familiarity and interest in politics, ” O’Neill told The Globe. During his 40+ year career in law enforcement, O’Neill had his share of interacting with elected officials, but when he came to Nevada in 1980, he worked for the state division of investigation and started testifying before the legislature. “As I was testifying, I figured out two things: you can make some friends and create relationships,” he said.

One of those relationships was with a Democratic legislator who made some negative comments during O’Neill’s testimony. After the hearing, O’Neill went into his office to “clear the air” and ended up finding commonalities in that “we were working for the best of our community.” When former State Assemblyman Pete Livermore (R) decided not to run, Livermore threw his support behind ‘O’Neill and O’Neill became a freshman assemblyman for Assembly District 40 in 2015.

According to O’Neill, his freshman year was an eye-opener:

“My first year as a freshman was a learning experience–all of the policies and procedures. We were basically told to sit down, shut up and follow the leader. My vote for the commerce tax cost me my reelection in 2016. If I known then what I know today…what democrats did to the money afterwards? That money was supposed to go to education and, instead, Democrats put the revenues into the DSA (Distributive School Account) of the General Fund and now that money is used for a variety of issues including contract negotiations. This money has gone into the DSA for years and it has not moved the needle.  This vote and their actions taught me about the dishonesty in politics and that handshakes and agreements only last during the session. I regret my vote after seeing what happened to it.”

In 2020, O’Neill ran again and won. Having learned much as a freshman and from his loss, O’Neill returned as a freshman in the last legislative session with “open eyes and leery of the various bills being passed,” adding:

“The process wasn’t brand new and slowed down a bit for me. In 2021, the legislative building was closed. I joked that I was an inmate in solitary confinement. The committee hearings were done via Zoom. The peoples’ business was not conducted in front of the people. It was a very bad process. Democrat freshman conversations were difficult.

In 2015, we could talk and joke about issues, in 2021 that didn’t happen because of pandemic restrictions, plastic dividers, masks and distancing. We couldn’t build relationships to talk about the issues or legislation.  It was a tough period for all of us. Republicans still held our caucuses in person and had lively discussions over legislation. The Democrats didn’t. Our constituents couldn’t come in and talk to us.

Photoshopped image of Bernie Sanders on a divided couch in the Nevada State Legislature (Photo: Megan Barth for the Nevada Globe)

We are still conducting committee meetings via Zoom. We need to open back up. Why can’t we conduct our meetings in person is beyond me. It’s a total disservice to our citizens and I am suspect of what is being done by the Democratic majority. Without conversation for and against various programs at our hearings, the Democrats get to limit the view that is given and information that is applied and considered by committee members. We have five Democrats to three Republicans on committees. So, a resolution will pass, but with limited knowledge due to limited input from our constituents and a true understanding of all sides of the issues.

For example, minimizing criminal penalties, that passed in the last legislative session, was extremely unpopular, but the Zoom hearings made it difficult for the people to interact with their legislators. Some couldn’t get through or access the meeting. It’s unfathomable. We tried to fight it, but at the end of the day the majority rules.

During our Judiciary committee hearings, I can see and hear the progressive undertones.  Nevada is not exempt from the national progressive movement. The Democrats used the new pandemic procedures to conduct these meetings by controlling the input based on who the majority wanted me to hear from. This progressive agenda is being force fed to us without any transparency, balanced information, or ability for our constituents to vocalize their dissent. Politics is a game of numbers. The Democrats control what we hear and what we can do. Government should be fair, open and transparent. We have to have transparency.”

The Senate and Assembly Caucus take questions from the press after SB-1 passes the Legislature (Photo: Megan Barth for The Nevada Globe)

When asked how redistricting impacted Assembly District 40, O’Neill stated:

“We are a strong +14 Republican District…for now. I am concerned as the redrawn district incorporates more of Reno– which will impact more of the Rurals.  I am always suspicious of the districts drawn by the Democrats. I enjoy the game, but Republicans need to plan for the long game, so we are fighting. We have filed a lawsuit. I contributed some funding for it and have raised some money.

Republicans are personally paying the legal expenses for our lawsuit, but Democrats are using tax payer money by using an outside law firm to pay for their representation to defend themselves. They don’t have to do that. We have legal staff in the Legislature who represented and presented redistricting plans for the special session, but now the democrats are using a private firm to assist them. I am disappointed in the various Republican party meetings that there isn’t more noise around this.

When you are in the minority, you are in the minority and we have a tremendous opportunity to come back strong and take back all the constitutional officers in the State Senate and Assembly and correct what happened in last two sessions. In the 2023 session, there will be a lot of bills introduced to correct mistakes that were made in 2021.

One of my big goals is to keep our 16 Republican seats and grow to 19. We have an opportunity to take the majority. We will have a large number of incoming freshman. I would like to see that these freshman understand the process and do not feel forced or pressured to go through a bill, so I will support a strong mentoring program for them to help them out. policies and procedures instead of the past where we were told to sit down, shut up, and follow the leader. A strong mentoring program for freshman to help them out.”

Reviewing the State of the State given by Governor Sisolak, O’Neill didn’t mince words:

“Giving the State of the State in an off-year was confusing to me. This address should have been given to the Legislature instead of in an empty stadium. This was a purely political speech for his re-election campaign. The amount of money he has, billions in federal money, and he is using it to create operations that are going to require ongoing costs and funding. He is obligating the future of Nevada with money we don’t have.

He is buying votes. He out to be paying attention to the problems he has created. For example, the 36-page audit of the Department of Corrections was under his watch. The audit revealed his agency was overcharging inmates for medical treatments and commissary items, amongst other things. The agency is short on staff and has shut down some operations. The Governor has not taken an active part in addressing needs of staff and inmate safety.

There needs to be a more concerted effort in addressing things, instead of passing the buck. He has to pay attention to current business. He is spending money that we won’t have and obligating the State. We are in a pandemic of emergency edicts which has destroyed many lives, businesses and the economy. Many of our issues have been exacerbated by the pandemic and his emergency powers. This has not been healthy for our economy or the mental status of Nevadans. This pandemic did help to feed the progressive mantra that government will provide for you and will care for you. Free enterprise has built this country and will pull this country out of this mess and the problems they have created. The Democrats of old are not the Democrats of today. John F. Kennedy is rolling over in his grave.

As O’Neill looks forward to winning in November, he promises to reintroduce Assembly Bill 142 which creates a Nurses Compact and continue his work with veterans. He is also concerned about the integrity of Nevada’s elections.

“One of my issues which upset me in this last session, was that Democrats blocked AB 142. I created this bill to allow the state to join the Nurses Compact.  Nevada is at the bottom of nurse-to-patient ratio. We need nurses but we have created a difficult licensing program.  By creating this compact, we can attract and keep nurses that we desperately need. 39 states have done this, but heavy unionized states fight it. The Democrats fought me on this bill and shelved it. They wouldn’t allow my bill to come out of committee. Democrats claim to care, but they passed SB420 and no one knows how much it is going to cost. Testimony said it would drive medical providers out of this state, but Democrats didn’t care. They simply passed it.

I did get a bill passed to support our veterans and I will continue working with veterans groups to identify the issues the many issues they face. We try to make our state Veteran friendly but we have a long way to go and I enjoy working and hearing from them.

I also look forward , Good Lord and God willing, that we can clean things up. We have lost confidence in our elections. I get emails regularly that individuals think their vote is a waste of time and won’t matter. You must vote or else the other side wins. If you don’t show up to play the game, the other side wins.”

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