As in past legislatures, The Nevada Independent is publishing a series of profiles introducing the state’s new legislature. This is the sixth installment of over a dozen. Check back in the coming days for more reports on the background, interests, and political positions of new lawmakers.
ASSEMBLY MAN GREGORY KOENIG
- Freshman Republican from Fallon, succeeding Republican Robin Titus, who is now District 17 Senator
- Represents District 38, which includes Fernley, Fallon, Hawthorne, Yerington and portions of Tonopah
- District 38 is mostly Republican (47 percent Republican, 15 percent Democrat, and 38 percent registered as bipartisan or with other political parties in the 2022 election)
- Defeated Republican Vida Keller in the primary with 57 percent of the vote. He was the only candidate for the seat in the general election.
- Will sit on Education, Government Affairs and Health and Human Services Committees
FAMILY AND EDUCATION
Koenig, 55, is a fifth generation resident of Fallon. His ancestors immigrated from Canada to settle in Nevada. Although his great-great-great-grandparents were farmers, Koenig followed in his stepfather’s footsteps and became an optician, a tradition Koenig’s son hopes to continue.
Koenig is a third-generation graduate of Churchill County High School, which his children and grandchildren now attend. After graduating, Koenig continued his undergraduate studies at UNR. He later earned his PhD in optometry from Pacific University.
Koenig runs an optometry practice with the optician Carl Robertson. They have offices in Fallon, Fernley and Yerington.
“Tens of thousands of patients in my patient base, and that’s how they know me, trust me as their doctor and they ended up trusting me as their MP too,” Koenig said, adding that he’s trying to see as many patients as possible before the session begins on February 6th.
Koenig did not grow up with big political goals.
“I mean, it’s not like I’ve been saying, ‘I want to be governor!’ since I was five years old,” Koenig said, jokingly banging his fist on his desk in his optometry office in Fallon. “And it didn’t turn out that way. It was just more organic.”
Koenig said his political career began when he went before the school board to advocate for his children as they entered the school system.
“There is one thing to complain about and two things to do about it,” Koenig said. “Instead of just complaining, I went to do something about it and then took the lead [that] kind of got into my blood.”
This newfound interest in leadership led to Koenig serving on the Churchill County School Board for 12 years, half as president. He also served as president of the Nevada Association of School Boards in the mid-2010s and was a member of the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association, an organization that oversees school athletics statewide.
In 2020, Koenig was asked to run as commissioner for Churchill County’s District 3, a position he won and then ceded to former commissioner Harry “Bus” Scharmann in August after Koenig defeated Republican real estate agent Vida Keller in June to become the new District 38 congressman . Since both candidates were Republicans, Koenig received 100 percent of the vote in the general election.
Koenig’s candidacy for the convention was encouraged by former District 38 congressman and current Senator Robin Titus, a Republican.
“[Titus] had a big hand in it. She pretty much persuaded me. It took me about a week to decide, ‘Okay, I think I’ll do it,'” Koenig said. “It took a little longer for my wife to think it was a good idea.”
Although this was Koenig’s fifth campaign, it was his first chance to represent such a large area – District 38 stretches from Fernley to Tonopah – and the first position he will hold, one with the pomp and circumstance of state office comes along. Recalling the governor’s ball he and his wife recently attended, Koenig said it was outside of their comfort zone to dress so formally.
On the school board, Koenig said he stressed the importance of building consensus with voters and other leaders, but he always stood firm when he felt strong on an issue.
“I sat in a school board meeting with a high school gym full of people who were irritated and angry, and yet I voted against the 500 people there with my conscience,” Koenig said. “So I’ll stand my ground.”
During the session, Koenig wants to be a rural voice in state affairs, particularly in his areas of expertise – education and healthcare.
“[My wife would describe me] as someone who does his homework, and yet I will assert myself and not be wishy-washy,” said Koenig.
TO THE QUESTIONS
Koenig is a newcomer to Parliament but hopes lawmakers don’t mind meddling on education issues. He wants to make sure education policies make sense for each region in Nevada, which he feels is different.
“In Churchill County, yes, a vocational education in technology makes a lot of sense because we need welders and we need farmers and we need all of those things. If you’re in … Vegas, maybe not so much,” Koenig said.
Koenig also said that although his party is very pro-school, he is reluctant.
“I think I have to see what the school choice looks like in detail,” said Koenig.
Using his hometown as an example, Koenig said he was concerned that expensive private schools could open in areas with little public education at a price above what many local students could afford if school choice were passed.
He worries that children from higher-income families could get a quality education while the public school system is struggling to keep up and provide quality education to children from lower-income families.
“Rural school choice — if you’re not careful — will only widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots,” Koenig said. “I think we have to do what’s best for every kid, not just the kids who can afford to go to private schools.”
Koenig said he is overseeing Bills looking for solutions to health workforce shortages and rural hospital shortages.
“Access is always a problem,” said Koenig. “One of my [bill draft requests] is with the Nevada State Board of Optometry and we’re thinking about maybe expanding some telemedicine because I have patients from a small town between here and Tonopah. It’s quite difficult for them to get things here.”
Another bill (BDR) that Koenig is supporting would add language to state law to help rural emergency hospitals receive Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements.
“It would serve my rural environment very well,” Koenig said.
Koenig said he did not sign a no-new-tax pledge.
“I’m not going to jump up and get excited about a whole bunch of new taxes,” Koenig said, describing himself as a supporter of smaller government. “At the same time, I look at everything and see what makes sense.”
One of Koenig’s BDRs would require people with electric vehicles to report their mileage to the government and pay taxes equivalent to what people driving gas-powered vehicles pay at the pump in the form of fuel taxes for road maintenance.
Although Koenig said people have come to him with concerns about the bill introducing new taxes, Koenig disagrees, saying the charges would be levied equally on everyone using the roads and related services.
“It’s a tax that’s already there,” he said. “I’m just trying to assert myself [it].”
Veterans affairs are particularly personal for Koenig as Fallon is home to the Naval Air Station – famous for its scenes in the film top gun Veterans make up about 13 percent of the city’s population.
Koenig said he will do whatever it takes to support veterans’ issues, which often take the form of health issues.
Koenig geographically represents the state’s second-largest rural district, behind only Rep. Bert Gurr’s District 33. He also represents several Indigenous communities including the Fallon Indian Colony, Fallon Indian Reservation, Walker River Reservation, Yomba Indian Reservation and the Timbisha Shoshone tribe.
Although Koenig said he had a good personal relationship with the native people living near Fallon, there are political differences between them. However, Koenig said he was used to working with people who disagreed with him politically.
Koenig noted that there are many issues that are not necessarily tied to political parties.
“There will be a lot of problems … that aren’t R or D problems,” Koenig said.
David Calvert contributed to this story.