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Rory, Rory, quite contrary
by Andrew Barbano
Sep 18, 2010 | 893 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The brown hills of the High Desert Outback of the American Dream are littered with the bones of popular local officials who ran statewide and lost. Reno mayors Pete Sferrazza and Roy Bankofier, Sparks Mayor Jim Spoo, Gomorrah South mayors Bill Briare and Oran Gragson. All failed as statewide candidates. Current Reno Mayor Bob Cashell served as a university regent and Democratic lieutenant governor before running for local office.

Clark County officials like Hank Thornley and Lorraine Hunt have likewise faltered statewide. In Mrs. Hunt’s case, she backed into the lieutenant governor’s job but lost in the 2006 GOP primary to current Gov. Jim the Dim.

The Clark County Commission is the most powerful political body in the state because it holds life or death power over the Las Vegas Strip casino overlords.

As the 2002 election loomed, Mrs. Hunt pulled what I call a George Franklin. The late former Clark County district attorney, a magnificent rogue who never went to law school, had a habit of holding a series of election year breakfast meetings with Strip casino moguls. Ole George would solicit funds for his next campaign and then, likely as not, never file and keep the money. Campaign laws were a tad looser back then.

Mrs. Hunt updated the scam. She raised a few hundred thousand for her 2006 county commission re-election campaign, then decided to run for light governor. She reportedly sent letters to her fat-cat contributors announcing her statewide move and offered to send their money back. She noted that she intended to fill out her final year on the powerful commission. Surprise, surprise, her campaign remained very well funded.

Mrs. Hunt did a very credible and responsible job as lieutenant governor, but when she tried for the governor’s job, she crashed and burned.

Which brings me to Rory Reid. Senator Harry’s kid suffers from the same malady as his old man: Neither looks like the kind of macho stud that Nevadans like to elect. Despite all his flaws, dumb statements and bimbo eruptions, in 2006 Gov. Jim the Dim was elected over Sen. Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, because he looked like a governor and she didn’t.

Nevadans vote on cosmetics.

There are three positions in American society where the public wants daddy to tuck them in at night with assurances that all is safe, well and warm: governor — not U.S. senator — president and network news anchor. Which is why NBC’s Brian Williams will always have the advantage over his lovely competitors.

Rory Reid can rightly say that as chairman of the Clark County Commission he has all the governmental experience needed to run the state. I don’t know the man personally but public officials who have worked with him say he’s very good at the nuts and bolts of the job. Alas, he looks like an untenured geology professor. Worse, he’s got the wrong experience in the minds of the voters.

I paid for that knowledge the hard way. Back in 1982, incumbent Republican Gov. Robert List was as besieged as defrocked Gov. Gibbons today. Attempting to avenge his only electoral defeat from 1974, Democratic Attorney General Richard Bryan filed against List the Lustful. The public reacted with a yawn, largely because of the bland sameness of the two major party nominees, a couple of colorless lawyers and career politicians.

In 1981, Barbara Bennett had beaten the good old boy system to win election as mayor of Reno in the biggest upset in the city’s history. She was wildly popular with a deep reservoir of good will.

I wondered how she’d do as a candidate for governor. I commissioned a poll that included Her Honor. Anyone seeing the list of questions would have thought her name was inserted as filler among a bunch of heavy hitters.

We only polled Reno registered voters, testing the heart of her strength. She got killed by Bryan, Cashell and Randolph Townsend. In fairness, please keep in mind that she had been mayor less than a year at the time. (Former Reno Mayor Richard Kirman won the governorship in 1934, many years after leaving local office.)

Pollster Brent Tyler’s conclusion: Her own constituents, while absolutely loving her, simply did not view dear Barbara in gubernatorial light. They could not make the leap that local experience translates into qualification for the state’s top job.

Therein lies Reid the Younger’s dilemma. How well he addresses it will be the measure of his fitness for office.

Barbwire TV

I’ll be producing a new statewide TV series just in time to drive a few powerful people crazy. Here’s a hint about what could be in the first edition: Middle eastern satellite network Al Jazeera is coming to Nevada because they consider us, along with (aack!) Florida as typifying this year’s elections.

What else is new department

“Ever since the 1930s, something very much like the Tea Party movement has fluoresced every time a Democrat wins the presidency: a reverence for the Constitution, a supposedly spontaneous uprising of a formerly nonpolitical

middle-class activists, a preoccupation with socialism and the expanding tyranny of big government, a bitterness toward an underclass viewed as unwilling to work and a weakness for outlandish conspiracy theories.” — Kevin Drum, Mother Jones Magazine, September-October 2010.

Be well. Raise hell.

Andrew Barbano is a 41-year Nevadan and editor of E-mail Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Tribune since 1988.
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