Did you see that little Washington Post blog last week about the Nevada lieutenant governor’s race? I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t. Who pays attention to a political office that is virtually a lock for an Always the Bridesmaid scenario? (Only seven past LGs have gone on to become governors, after all.)
The answer, of course, is Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid. That’s who.
Apparently, the scuttle-butt is that Reid is still shopping for his pick for a solid Democratic candidate for the LG race. Presumably, one whom he can trust to make Gov. Brian Sandoval blink when it comes time to consider running for Senate in 2016 (again, presumably against Reid).
“Team Reid is going all out to find a strong [lieutenant governor] candidate,” said Jon Ralston, Nevada’s resident political expert. “Sandoval already has recruited a strong candidate … and the Dems need one.”
Well, there’s no doubt about it that with Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto unequivocally out of the race, there’s been a hole in the Dem dream-team roster for 2014. I mean, who doesn’t like the AG who stood her ground against not just the big banks but also from Obama administration pressure to just sign on to the mortgage settlement already — in order to fight for what she thought hardest-hit-in-the-nation Nevadans deserved? (And thankfully we’ll not see Secretary of State Ross Miller on the ticket, because the last thing Dems need is an easy target for the other side to attack).
Okay, so it’s a bummer Cortez Masto is not running. I get it. But let’s move on. It’s not like we don’t have some pretty promising candidates in the mix, such as Assemblywoman Lucy Flores. The Emily’s List-backed Dem is coming off of an undeniably influence-raising session at the Legislature. But again, the rumor mill is churning that Reid is not so sure:
Democratic state Assemblywoman Lucy Flores is considering the race, according to local political observers, but she’s far from the party’s first choice. … But Reid isn’t done recruiting.
I can’t help but wonder, what the hell is Reid waiting for? They can’t all be milquetoast, middle-class, suburban white guys. (And I say that as a middle-class, suburban, white, stay-at-home mom, so save your hate-mail.) In fact, I can hardly think what would be better in terms of wooing potential voters to the booth in an off-season election year than having a popular Latina candidate like Flores, who has strong name-recognition, go up against a white Republican attorney like Mark Hutchison, who most people are going to be saying, “Uh, Mark, who?” (Hint: His highest profile gig was a failed lawsuit against Obamacare.)
No. There’s something about this that seems awfully familiar. Some other names from election seasons past are floating to mind. Remember that time when Barbara Buckley withdrew from the governor’s race after not-at-all getting heat from the senior Reid (to make way for junior Reid to totally not win the governor’s office) — nudge-nudge? Or how about when Rep. Dina Titus dared to go up against Reid’s pick (Ruben Kihuen) for Congress last year? (And she won and looks to be a in a safe seat, regardless of what Reid wants.)
As I’ve often wondered aloud, why does Reid have such a problem with strong female candidates? And is his chess-like maneuvering getting close to an end-game with party registration numbers greatly benefiting ANY Democratic candidate who is popular enough to get past a primary, especially in Southern Nevada? As Titus’ refusal to back down shows, there’s room in Nevada for strong female candidates to boast their own swagger — if they can bring the numbers and the campaign dollars.
And again, I would point out the political acumen of having a Latino or Latina Democrat in the LG race against a cardboard cut-out like Hutchison. Even amongst Republicans, last month Hutchison was trailing in third place behind Las Vegas City Councilman Bob Beers and State Sen. Sue Lowden (the latter two were at the time not yet committed one way or another about running), according to conservative lobbyists Citizen Outreach. And that’s even with endorsements from inexplicably popular Sandoval. (So much for Sandoval “anointing” the next LG, perhaps? And it would be hard to believe Hutchison getting an additional endorsement from Sandoval’s boy Rep. Joe Heck is any help, considering his recent gaffe on immigration reform that can only be described as tone-deaf, at best.) Now that Lowden, who has far more name recognition than Hutchison, has announced a committee to explore a run, it seems there may be a bloody race on the Republican side, which is all the better if Dems can get their act together for once and put up a strong candidate who can seize the opportunity.
And yet, somehow Reid is in the mix:
There are few more strategic political thinkers in American politics than Reid, who has a long history of looking around corners to limit threats from potential opponents. And there are few greater threats to Reid’s political future than Sandoval, one of Nevada’s more popular politicians.
If Sandoval cruises to reelection in 2014, which looks likely at this point, Republicans will quickly push him to run against Reid in 2016. And if a Republican holds the lieutenant governor’s office, Sandoval will have fewer qualms about resigning to serve in the Senate. Republicans close to Sandoval acknowledge the possible chain of events, though they say the governor is completely focused on running for reelection next year. …
But the lieutenant governor’s race merits special attention, and Reid’s interest in it hints that he’ll run for another term in 2016 — or at least that he wants the option to run, free of the burden of a popular opponent like Sandoval.
Let me remind you again, only seven LGs have ever gone on to become governors. So this is a potentially hot contest for a rather Miss Congeniality slot, at best. The only thing it really has going for it is that it is a statewide seat. If Reid is, indeed, looking down the road to 2016 with a worry about Sandoval in his rear-view mirror, why would he think for a second that a Dem in the LG seat is going to make a difference? If Sandoval has done one thing consistently and, dare I admit it, well, it is to be a heat-seeking missile toward higher and higher office. Is there really any doubt what his true aspirations are? His disgustingly transparent approach to pimping his ethnicity for votes is just one example of it. To put it bluntly, Sandoval is only brown when it serves him to be brown, like when Politico is doing splashy stories about du jour Latino Republican governors in purple states. Or when he can use it to shore up potential endorsements from within the Latina/o community — like the Latin Chamber of Commerce who endorsed Rory Reid’s bid against Sandoval the first time around — that he otherwise doesn’t have much to do with. Well played, sir.
But that’s exactly what Sandoval is, a player. He has no heart in this game. And for all Reid’s power, the senior senator has shown a surprising lack of vision for the potential of strong female Democratic candidates who could have made our political landscape look quite different right about now. How different would things be if Reid had actually thrown some weight behind Titus’ bid for governor, against already scandal-ridden Jim Gibbons? (I mean, that turned out to be the tip of a gigantic iceberg!) Or if Buckley had stayed in the game? And the list goes back farther than that. Ellen Spiegel, anyone?
So now there’s a question mark above Lucy Flores’ head? For the love of God, why?! Don’t even try to give me some bit about Flores’ much-publicized announcement during an April legislative hearing that she had an abortion at age 16. True, Reid has a questionable record, at best, on women’s reproductive rights, especially when it comes to abortion rights. But Flores — part of a refreshing new class of state lawmakers who actually use honesty for honesty’s sake — has staked her burgeoning career as the first Latina assemblywoman on a surprising show of authenticity. And nobody better epitomizes the from-your-own-bootstraps story of redemption than Flores. (It’s even better than being a hard-scrabble boxer from a dusty mining town in the sticks.) She’s lobbied earnestly for bills that some might have shied away from out of fear of electability. And she’s incredibly popular in her district and amongst Latino/a voters. (PS: Exit polling in 2012 showed that Latinos back abortion rights by a two-thirds margin.)
And if the subsequent #fierceflores viral campaign — a grassroots response after she was threatened with violence from anti-choice activists for telling her story — proved anything it was that not only is pro-choice politics the opposite of a liability, but people and organizations and news outlets from all over the world flooded her office, my office, and the vast reaches of social media to show overwhelming support for her. If Flores could turn that kind of goodwill into cash, there’s absolutely no campaign war chest that would match hers. And she’s got the advantage of a national press corps who will eat her story up.
But perhaps this is all moot. Does Flores even want to run? Turns out the answer is an unqualified yes. Here’s what she told me via email late yesterday:
“Yes, I am [contemplating running],” Flores said. “I believe that the office provides an amazing opportunity for an energetic person with a vision to accomplish some very good things around economic development, job creation, education and just about anything that can improve Nevada as a whole. Because the office has very little official duties, it provides a very unique platform to work on issues not normally associated with the office, and to create innovative strategies for the continued improvement of Nevada.”
But Flores said she’s reticent to go for the seat without Reid’s blessing:
“I would have to make an assessment of my fundraising capacity and my viability as a state-wide candidate,” she said. “There are also many other factors to consider: Are they endorsing another candidate? Are they staying neutral? Am I still viable against a hypothetical Reid-backed candidate? I would have to make a decision based on the circumstances at the time.”
Reid’s staff did not return requests for comment.
To me this whole situation reeks of the same old gamesmanship and old-boys-network for which Reid is famous. I don’t want to pull a Kanye West here, but there are times when I wonder if, indeed, Reid doesn’t like women. And as powerful women have told me time and time again in my 13 years covering politics in Nevada, there’s a reason why there aren’t many women candidates out there who are willing to square off against Reid’s word. It certainly doesn’t help that Reid has many of the most powerful progressive grassroots organizations (and unions) indirectly on the payroll, with much-needed contributions from his associates and his staff helping largely non-profit networks. It’s hard to take advantage of the spoils and turn around and call him out.
But then again … look at Rep. Dina Titus, sitting comfortably in a fiefdom she carved out on her own terms. I’d love to see more Democrats who are willing to stand up to Reid’s mafioso-boss ways. (There’s a lesson here for some folks like my pal Justin Jones, by the way.) We have some real potential in many of the newer Legislators in Carson City — Kelvin Atkinson, Pat Spearman, Lucy Flores, to name a few. So if she’s game, why not a Flores run for LG?
I guess that’s the question that’s just going to be floating in the air for now. I’d put it to all the progressives and progressive organizations to do some soul-searching about who should really be in control of the names on the ballot. My vote now and always is that it should come from the people not a puppet-master. (And that goes for Dems and Republicans, because Sandoval is just as bad about this.)
If progressives really want to get serious about getting Nevada out of the basement on much of the most important social-index rankings, perhaps it’s time to stop waiting to kiss Reid’s ring for approval.