Nevada State Senator / Fourth-Generation Legislator
By Mary Branham, CSG Managing Editor
When Nevada Sen. Tick Segerblom presses his children to consider running for the state legislature, he’s only half-joking.
That’s because Segerblom would like to see his family’s tradition of service continue into the next generation. He’s a fourth-generation legislator coming down from his mother’s family line.
“It does show a history of wanting to serve the public,” Segerblom said.
It all started in 1906 when Segerblom’s great grandfather, Johnny Bell, was elected to the state Senate from Winnemucca, a town in northern Nevada.
“His claim to fame was in 1913, when the legislature voted to allow women the vote,” Segerblom said. The bill was actually a constitutional amendment, so legislators were only voting whether to put the issue on the ballot. Bell voted against the measure.
“The story goes that he couldn’t go back to Winnemucca because the women were so upset with him, so he went to San Francisco,” Segerblom said, then laughs as he acknowledges that might very well have been the start of the family tradition of service.
“Then his daughter, I guess in revenge, ran for the state legislature as an assemblywoman from Winnemucca in 1934,” he said. She served just one term.
The tradition continued when his mother, Gene Segerblom, ran for the Nevada Assembly from Boulder City in 1992—at age 73.
Segerblom encouraged her to run even though she was a strong Democrat in a Republican district. But she prevailed because she served on the city council and had been a teacher. She served four terms.
That legacy—and the fact that his family was keenly interested in politics—prompted Segerblom’s interest in serving. He grew up in the politically active 1960s and attended school in Pomona College in southern California, where activists were protesting the Vietnam War. He then attended law school at the University of Denver and moved to Washington, D.C., after graduating and worked in President Jimmy Carter’s administration.
That began what Segerblom calls three political careers—first working in a presidential administration, then back to Nevada as the state Democratic Party chairman and then the state legislature, which he calls the lowest level of the three at which he has worked, but also the most fun.
“The whole thing is so fascinating,” he said. “I had no idea how unusual legislatures are and with such a unique skill set and experience.”
Serving in the legislature is unique, Segerblom said, because it requires individual efforts working in a group.
“One person can really make a difference in a lot of ways,” he said, “but you also have to think as a group. You can’t just go out there and do something; you also have to make sure you have enough votes to do it.”
That public service is also a lot of work.
“It’s a huge sacrifice; people have no idea the sacrifice we make, but it’s worth it,” he said.
Because of his family history, Segerblom said, he would like to improve the stature of not only the Nevada legislature, but also legislatures around the country. But legislatures are not as effective as they could be because of term limits, he said.
“The longer you can serve, the better it is, the more effective you’re going to be,” said Segerblom, a 2013 Toll Fellow. Because state legislators hold the elected office closest to constituents, their role is important. “To have our role diminished does a disservice to the country,” he said.
While he’s working on the term limits issue in Nevada, Segerblom also is focused on other things in his state, which was hit hard by the recession.
“Our number one requirement is we’ve got to increase revenue and that’s very difficult,” he said. Part of that is because Nevada requires a two-thirds majority vote for tax increases.
He’s also interested in reforming the state’s criminal justice system, which could affect Nevada’s revenue picture.
“In the 1990s, we had a thing about putting everybody in jail and throwing away the keys and that was going to solve crime,” he said. “In fact, it didn’t solve crime, but it ended up burdening us with a huge bill for our prison population.”
He’d like to see the reform address the needs of helping inmates become more productive upon release and work with people to keep them out of prison in the future.
Segerblom believes in speaking his mind and voting his conscience, and he acknowledges he’s in a politically safe district serving Las Vegas to be able to do that. He built his leadership philosophy by watching President Carter.
“I just feel he embodies what you really want, which is somebody who does what they think is right, to hell with the consequences,” Segerblom said. “You have to keep politics in mind, but at the end of the day, you want to analyze the situation and speak your mind and do what’s right.”
He believes that makes him a better legislator.
“At the end of the day, if you don’t want to rock the boat, if you don’t want to tell the truth and if you don’t want to do what you think is right, then you shouldn’t be in politics,” he said.