By Ray Hagar, Nevada Newsmakers
Mike Willden, chief of staff to Gov. Brian Sandoval, said Friday on Nevada Newsmakers that he will retire at the end of Sandoval’s final term, which ends this year.
Willden has worked in Nevada government for 45 years. He is considered to be one of the most knowledgeable people in state government, with a deep understanding of the history, personnel and budgets of the many departments that make up Nevada government.
“Quite frankly, I plan on retiring — that’s the current plan — when Gov. Sandoval leaves,” Willden said. “I told him I’d stay until the last day he wants me. I’ve made no commitment beyond then. I plan to retire. I’ll find another job.”
He ruled out working as a political consultant, although his long relationships and inner-knowledge of state government would probably be in high demand.
“I don’t know what a consultant looks like,” he said.
“Like I said, I only have one goal: The governor says we are going to run through the finish line to the first week in January (when the new governor comes in) and that is our plan,” Willden said.
Willden, however, offered his services to Nevada’s new governor to help with the transition of power from Sandoval’s administration.
“I would certainly be more than willing — I am a proud Nevadan — and I would be more than happy to help with the transition.” he said. “But I am not looking to be a chief of staff for four more years again. I am committed to Gov. Sandoval and his administration, then I’ll probably retire and look to mow lawns.”
Willden’s lawn-mowing reference was about his first job with the state. As a student, he mowed lawns, did repairs and supervised work crews at the state’s Caliente Youth Center for troubled teen girls. Later he became a case worker in the Health and Human Services Department.
Before working as Sandoval’s right-hand man, Willden was director of the Department Heath and Human Services, first appointed in 2001 by then-Gov. Kenny Guinn.
The Department Heath and Human Services is considered the largest and most complex department in state government, with more than 5,400 employees.
Willden was named as the governor’s chief of staff in 2014. Willden said one of Sandoval’s priorities for his last year in office is presenting a solid transition plan to the new governor.
Sandoval’s recommended budget for the new governor will probably be as much as $500 million more than the current $8.2 billion general fund budget, Willden said.
“So we are probably looking at a $8.5 billion budget (to propose),” Willden said. “This biennium, we are at an $8.2 billion budget. Probably looking at the economic forecast, (we’re seeing a future two-year general-fund budget of) $8.5 billion or $8.6 billion, $8.7 billion.”
“We are going to continue to work hard and develop a budget that Gov. Sandoval would be prepared and pleased to present to the 2019 Legislature,” Willden said. “We are working on figuring out what his 110 bill drafts would look like, just like he would be presenting them in 2019.
“We will be prepared, that first week in November, whoever is governor, to start the positioning and handing off bill drafts, policies and procedures and things we are working on.”
Sandoval wants part of his legacy to be about a strong transition, Willden said.
“There is always a joke in the governor’s office that some governors leave you with a desk full of memos and with others, there’s nothing,” he said. “And so we believe we should be able to — almost like you are running a relay — be able to hand the baton to the next governor. And hopefully, they will see the good work that we’ve done and hopefully be able to move forward with the state.”
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