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PARTY LINES: Ernaut op-ed boosts Cortez Masto’s Senate bid

Last week, we told you there likely would not be an organized, well-populated group of Republicans supporting incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto the way there was for former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in 2010.

And while that remains true, one very significant Republican came out for Cortez Masto recently: former assemblyman, political consultant and lobbyist Pete Ernaut, who is now the chief government affairs officer at R&R Partners.

In an op-ed in the Reno Gazette-Journal, Ernaut — who helped elect Govs. Kenny Guinn and Brian Sandoval — explained why he’s supporting Cortez Masto over her Republican opponent, Adam Laxalt.

“I’ve spent my whole life working to elect Republicans to office and have been honored to work for legendary leaders like Paul Laxalt and (former Congresswoman) Barbara Vucanovich,” Ernaut wrote. Note the reference to former governor and U.S. Sen. Paul Laxalt, who is Adam Laxalt’s grandfather.

Cortez Masto, Ernaut continued, “… has always put the needs of the state over the wants of any political party, and that’s one of the reasons she’s been able to accomplish so much. She’s a public servant who works hard to elevate the concerns of people in every region of the state, just like Senator Paul Laxalt, Congresswoman Vucanovich, Governors Guinn and Sandoval — all of whom remain universally respected by people of both parties today.”

And this: “Catherine always puts Nevada first, and when it really counts, she doesn’t hesitate to stand up to President (Joe) Biden or her own party. Her focus is always on what’s best for Nevada.”

The op-ed never criticizes — it never even mentions — Adam Laxalt by name, but the contrast is obvious. And coming from a lifelong Republican such as Ernaut, it’s a devastating hit.

The Laxalt campaign countered the Ernaut op-ed with an endorsement of its own, from former Democratic Nevada Assembly Speaker Bob Barengo, who served in the Legislature from 1972 until 1982, and was speaker during the 1981 session.

“As a lifelong Democrat and former speaker of the Nevada Assembly, politics has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember,” Barengo said in a statement. “I must admit I am deeply concerned with the current political environment. The Democratic party is rapidly moving to the far left while the Republican party continues to embrace fringe factions of the far right. That is why it is critical we elect smart, reasonable, level-headed leaders who will set partisanship aside and work across the aisle to deliver results for families and workers. This fall Nevadans will have an opportunity to do just that. Although I am a proud member of the Democratic party, I intend to vote for Adam Laxalt for U.S. Senate this November.”

Laxalt campaign spokeswoman Courtney Holland followed up with a shot at Ernaut:

“Pete Ernaut has given tens of thousands of dollars to Democrats over the last 20 years, including Harry Reid,” Holland said in a statement. “Cortez Masto can spend all the time she wants recruiting members of the connected establishment elite. Across the state, thousands of Democrats have and continue to switch their party registration to Republican and our campaign has the support of tens of thousands of everyday, working-class Democrats. We are proud to have earned the support of so many Democrats this year because they recognize the Biden-Masto agenda has taken a radical turn, driving our economy into a recession and forcing our working families to rely on foreign nations for everyday needs such as gas and baby formula.”

Excommunicated in the North

Amy Tarkanian, who once served as chairwoman of the Nevada Republican Party, has been on the outs with the GOP lately, thanks to her endorsements of some Democrats for constitutional offices.

When she endorsed Democratic state Treasurer Zach Conine over Republican challenger Michele Fiore, her former party called her a “failed chair” desperate to get media attention. And when she lent her name to Republicans for Ford, a group backing Democratic Attorney General Aaron Ford over GOP challenger Sigal Chattah, her home county party didn’t react well.

The Douglas County Republican Central Committee sent Tarkanian a letter, saying her endorsement of Democrats runs afoul of the group’s bylaws, and warned her of expulsion. “The Executive Board intends to consider recommending your removal as a member of the (Douglas County Republican Central Committee) as specified in our bylaws in order to protect the integrity of our Republican brand.”

Speaking of branding, among the reasons Tarkanian cited for her cross-party endorsements is the fact that Fiore is reportedly under investigation by the FBI, and that agents raided her home and questioned people at Las Vegas City Hall about her. And Chattah made headlines after a former friend revealed a text in which Chattah said Ford — who is Black — should be “hanging from a (expletive) crane.”

Tarkanian was unapologetic about her endorsements.

“I am more concerned about the state of Nevada, and I don’t want us to be embarrassed,” Tarkanian said on Friday. “I don’t recognize what’s going on.”

She said that she doesn’t attend the Douglas County party’s central committee meetings, save for the period when her husband, Douglas County Commissioner Danny Tarkanian, was running for the 2nd Congressional District. But the party’s action, she said, won’t affect her or her appearances on networks including Newsmax, Fox News, The Hill and News Nation.

“I’m still a Republican. These people can’t tell me how to think or who to vote for,” she said.

As for future endorsements, Tarkanian said she’s done for this cycle. Sorry, Gov. Steve Sisolak.

The right to remain silent

At the end of Tuesday’s long North Las Vegas City Council hearing on a rent-control initiative that featured technical debates over the wording of state law and the constitution from dueling attorneys, Mayor John Lee opened public comment by giving the most insulting Miranda-type warning ever.

“So, this is an interesting point in this conversation,” said Lee, who often narrates the meeting for observers. “I have some (public speaking request) blue cards here from some people. I don’t think they’re as intelligent as the people who spoke to us, but they are able to come up and say something.

“But everything that was spoken today looks like it’s going to be interpreted in court,” Lee continued. “So if you say something that could hurt your case, you might want to second think that. Both sides have got counsel and have paid money for this decision to be made. So if you come here and you say something that’s contrary to what your team said, it will be used against your team. So unless there is somebody here who is smarter than these gentlemen (the lawyers) that wants to come up and make a statement … just be careful when you say something. It’s going to be in a court of law and your verbiage is going to be damning or contributing to your case.”

We’ve heard public comment at hundreds of meetings in local, state and federal government over the years, and reporters on deadline are probably the foremost advocates of truncating comments that delay a final vote on an item. But the fact is, public comment is a right, and it’s a right that people can exercise regardless of their relative intelligence. (If you doubt that, attend a school board or county commission meeting sometime.)

Perhaps, in the future, if Lee wants to warn would-be public commenters or literally insult the intelligence of people who’ve come to speak at a public meeting, he might want to second think that, since what he said will be damning in the court of public opinion.


“We support geothermal energy, but it can’t come at the cost of biodiversity.” — Patrick Donnelly, Great Basin director for the Center for Biological Diversity, opposing a geothermal energy project in Northern Nevada proposed by Ormat Nevada.

Contact Steve Sebelius at SSebelius@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0253. Follow @SteveSebelius on Twitter.

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