Commentary

Republicans who would be a better U.S. senator than Adam Laxalt include…

September 1, 2021 5:05 am

A word Laxalt never utters in his campaign announcement video: “Nevada.” (Image by Golnar sabzpoush rashidi from Pexels)

Politics are polarized and elections are nationalized, to the point that qualifications, merits, or flaws of people seeking House and Senate seats have become incidental to party affiliation. If one party is going to win, it’ll win, it seems, whether that party’s candidate is a competent and accomplished public servant or a grifting carnival barker.

In 2022, with the U.S. Senate split 50-50, a candidate’s party, not the candidates themselves, will play an even more outsized role in the handful of states expected to see competitive Senate contests, like Nevada.

Control of the Senate won’t be determined by individual candidates as much as the national electorate’s read on how things are going, which party the public feels will take the nation in what they perceive to be the best direction, and how public mood translates to voter turnout. 

If Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and her likely Republican opponent, Adam Laxalt, agree on one thing, it is that the outcome of their race will play a crucial role in who controls the Senate. 

It might. Along with Nevada, there are 9 other states expected to have competitive Senate races in 2022. Depending on what happens in other states with tight races, it’s also conceivable Nevada won’t matter much at all.

Yet whatever happens, for whatever reasons, and whichever party controls the Senate, somebody is going to win Nevada’s Senate race, and being a senator is, ideally anyway, an actual job, involving actual work.

Which raises a question for Nevada Republicans: 

Adam Laxalt? Really?

Step right up

One of the jobs of a U.S. senator is putting together and ultimately managing a staff capable of carefully and competently monitoring a steady flow of problems and concerns that have a direct impact on a diverse range of constituents. That might take the form of helping local governments apply for assistance through federal programs. Or it might involve the office effectively serving as a caseworker for everything from seniors trying to clear up a Medicaid mix-up, to a small business owner struggling with a regulatory quirk, to immigrants trying to track down paperwork that’s gone missing in some agency or other.

That work isn’t glamorous. Senators don’t get invited on prime time cable news talk shows to discuss how they helped a local cooperative extension program get a soil erosion mitigation grant.

And while it’s true a senator’s staff is also built to make their boss look good back home after addressing whatever the boss believes (however misguidedly) are a state’s best interests, in most cases that does not mean feverishly working 24/7 to get their boss on national TV.

But that, not the well-being of Nevada citizens (not even Republican ones), would almost assuredly be the top priority of Laxalt’s staff, and of Laxalt as a senator.

Here is why Laxalt wants to be a U.S. Senator, as explained in language he did in the voiceover for his announcement video earlier this month, language that has been cut and pasted into campaign emails ever since:

“The radical left, rich elites, woke corporations, academia, Hollywood, and the media – they’re all taking over America. They tell lie after lie, making excuses for chaos and violence, ruthlessly enforcing conformity, canceling any who stand in their way.”

With Laxalt, you see, it’s all nationally trending memes all the time. If he has one qualification for the Senate, it is that the line between Republican elected officials and right-wing media celebrities shrivels more each day.

The man who wants to be a Nevada senator has thus far said next to nothing about Nevada – except for the bit about it deciding control of the Senate in which he so desperately wants to perform, er, serve.

Each summer he invites those he wants to emulate – Republican media celebrities – to his PAC’s annual picnic. During his accidental term as attorney general, his office was charged with defending the state’s education voucher bill. Instead of handling it in-house, he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of state money to bring in a former U.S. Solicitor General during the George W. Bush administration, the celebrated Republican lawyer Paul Clement. 

Laxalt, you see, likes to be around people who have achieved fame, in the hope he’ll get some on him.

And, at the relatively tender age of 43, Laxalt has been all but anointed the Republican Senate nominee.

Why? Trump’s endorsement? That’s proving to be no golden ticket in a GOP primary.

And it’s not as if there are no other Nevada Republicans as, ahem, qualified as Laxalt.

‘All of them, Katie’

Asked once by Katie Couric what news publications she reads, Sarah Palin answered “All of them Katie.” It’s tempting to call it a day and apply the same answer to the question, What Nevada Republicans would be a better senator than Laxalt?

But some sorting is in order, so … 

Nevada Republicans who would make a better U.S. Senator than Adam Laxalt include (but certainly are not limited to):

Brian Sandoval. Laxalt wants people to think that he’s one of the Republican Party’s top national candidate recruits for 2022. If Sandoval had ever signaled anything other than a hard no to the prospect of running for Senate, Mitch McConnell and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, along with oodles of other national sources of campaign cash, would turn their backs on Laxalt in a heartbeat. That goes double for the resort industry, who would love having Sandoval in the Senate. If the stars – and the infrastructure and reconciliation bills – align, Democrats feel confident they can beat Laxalt. Sandoval would terrify them. Alas, the aforementioned hard no. Sandoval, by the way, demonstrated his confidence in Laxalt’s fitness for office by declining to endorse his fellow Republican for governor in the 2018 general election. 

Ben Kieckhefer. If you’ve watched the Reno-area state senator in exchanges with state policy professionals during a legislative hearing, you know why he’s on this list. He’s reasonable, he can be sharp, his questions reflect a work ethic, and he seems to be of the mind that the best way to succeed in public office is to have some idea of what you’re talking about. Laxalt is not dumb. But Kieckhefer is smart.

Barbara Cegasvke. Quit laughing. The secretary of state who concluded the Big Lie crowd (of which Laxalt was a charter member) were, well, big liars, presumably would have two chances in a Trump Party primary: slim, and fat. But having her in a primary with Laxalt, correcting and dismantling his speculative musings about what really happened in 2020, would be a hoot to watch, as well as a service to the state and to democracy in America. And can any thinking person conclude Laxalt would be a better senator than Cegavske? Also, just saying, she’s won seven times as many elections in Nevada as Laxalt, including twice as many statewide ones. Then again, she lost a congressional primary to Danny Tarkanian once. (Would Danny Tarkanian be a better senator than Laxalt? Pick ‘em).

Mark Amodei. The representative from Nevada’s ruby red congressional district knows the process, knows the people, knows how to build a congressional staff, and already has shown he can play well with Democrats in the Nevada delegation (Laxalt doesn’t even play well with people in his own party; see Sandoval reference above). Amodei doesn’t seem to know much or maybe even much like Southern Nevada (ditto Laxalt). But the resort industry’s D.C. lobbyists (who would prefer working with Amodei to working with Laxalt betcha) would keep him posted. And say what you will about Amodei, he’s pretty laser-focused on Nevada. Or at least part of it. No one has ever said that about Laxalt.

Jill Tolles. Who? Like Kieckhefer, she has on occasion exhibited a respectful regard for reason as a state legislator. And here’s her statement on the 2020 election. It makes her another person that McConnell would gladly make sure had plenty of money in the general (and maybe before), since he wishes Trump would go away and despises the prospect of candidates like Laxalt yammering on about Trump’s stolen victory. 

Sam Brown. This is the one Nevada Republican who is actually running against Laxalt in the primary, with thus far scant indication of support from Nevada Republicans. Here’s a line from Brown’s launch video:” I believe we need representatives who put aside personal ambition.” Hmm, sounds like he’s got Laxalt’s number. Brown was severely burned while serving in Afghanistan. His story is compelling. His qualifications are less so. But perhaps the clearest reason Brown would be a better senator than Laxalt (other than “All of them, Katie”) is because in his announcement video he says, more than once, a word that Laxalt, in his, never utters: “Nevada.”

So many others. Former congresspersons Joe Heck, Jon Porter, and John Ensign (whose career-ending affair with his best friend’s wife who was also his wife’s best friend seems quaint after Trump). Gubernatorial candidate Joe Lombardo (who can doubt he would be a reliable back-bencher?) or his advisor, prominent law firm principal Mark Hutchison. Republican legislators Heidi Gansert (former Sandovalian), Greg Hafen (dude who got into office after Dennis Hof died; displacing Laxalt would be part of a piece?), and Scott Hammond (who was behind the school voucher bill that Laxalt embraced chiefly as a means to rub shoulders with a famous lawyer). Apologies to the probably dozens of others not mentioned.

To be fair to Laxalt, there are some Nevada Republicans who would make a worse U.S. senator than him. Cliven Bundy and sons. Probably. And of course Michele Fiore.

And what of Nevada’s most recent GOP senator, Dean Heller? He hopes to relive those glory days of 2018, when he as senator and Laxalt as gubernatorial candidate shared the top of the ticket, by sharing it again in 2022, but this time switching places. It is tempting to say Heller would be worse than Laxalt, but careful consideration forces one to call it a toss-up.

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Hugh Jackson
Hugh Jackson

Hugh Jackson was editor of the Las Vegas Business Press, senior editor at the Las Vegas CityLife weekly newspaper, daily political commentator on the Las Vegas NBC affiliate, and author of the Las Vegas Gleaner political blog. Prior to moving to Las Vegas, he was a reporter and editor at the Casper (Wyoming) Star-Tribune.

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