CARSON CITY — In the wake of a bruising Democratic gubernatorial primary, Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani stumped for a couple candidates Friday. Nothing new in that.
Like the best veterans of Nevada’s political trenches, she’s made a habit of supporting like-minded office-seekers, especially women, with contributions and the sweat equity that can only be earned by knocking on doors.
What sets Giunchigliani apart from many officeholders is that she’s just as comfortable — and almost as well known — in Nevada’s capital and cow counties as its largest city. It’s part of what made many progressive Democrats believe she had the best chance to energize the Democrats and defeat Republican Party nominee Adam Laxalt.
But when Democrats chose County Commissioner Steve Sisolak after a primary campaign that at times seemed almost gratuitously mean-spirited, Giunchigliani left the stage and remained off the radar with a large group of progressive voters even more concerned about the threats Laxalt posed to policies ranging from reproductive rights to gun safety.
With the governor’s race the talk of Northern Nevada political circles, the bitter primary battle between Sisolak and Giunchigliani remains a hot topic. And that inevitably leads to one question: Despite the animus between the two, will Giunchigliani set differences aside and endorse her opponent?
Don’t count on it.
“I will do what I can to defeat Adam by reaching out to our youth, our young girls and women who have never had a place in the party, or any place else, and give them a sense of place, and training, and a voice,” Giunchigliani said. “I want to focus not just on Adam, but also make sure we get a veto-proof majority in the Legislature.”
“I’ll attack Adam wherever I can, but I am not endorsing Steve if that’s what you’re asking.”
Actually, it was what a lot of people were asking.
It’s not that Sisolak and Democratic Party officials haven’t tried to mend that fence. But Sisolak unwisely unsealed the deal during the campaign when he chose to take shots at Giunchigliani’s late husband, political advisor Gary Gray. Not even repeated entreaties by some of Giunchigliani’s closest allies in the women’s movement have been able to soften her resolve.
Some speculate that her refusal to hold her nose and make peace borders on petty stubbornness, denies the grownup political realities, and could cost Democrats the general election. But I’m not sure that’s a fair assessment.
While it may prove statistically true, it’s a lot to ask in politics, an individual competition that masquerades as a team sport.
It also misses the heart of any progressive candidacy. Progressive Democrats run for office in large part to change the status quo — not merely within the system, but within their own party.
Sisolak and his well-placed political allies may not want to acknowledge it, but Giunchigliani has already played an integral role in the governor’s race. By running a flawed but spirited primary, she pushed Sisolak out of his comfort zone and made him address some of the issues that are important to Democrats and independents who aren’t yet sold on him. It was a moment that provided a learning opportunity for him.
As for any talk of an enthusiasm gap at the top of the Democratic ticket, Giunchigliani just shrugs.
“I know I fire people up,” she said. “I can’t help it if they’re not enthusiastic. I always felt I was a better option to beat Adam. I still do. But I am a Democrat, and I will help down-ticket races. I will fight hard for the Democrats as I always have. I think I help everybody by doing that and, in the long run, hopefully they’ll make the right decision when they go to vote.”
Term-limited on the commission, the professional schoolteacher by training will leave the county office in less than six months after serving a dozen years. Add eight terms in the state Assembly from 1991-2006, and that’s nearly three decades of public service.
She’s clearly at home on the stump.
Friday found Giunchigliani in Carson City meeting candidates and partisans and residents of working neighborhoods. A stop in West Wendover — 425 miles east of the state capital — was also planned for this weekend. In short order, she reeled off eight candidates, in at least four counties, she’ll be helping to succeed.
She’s created her own political action committee with hopes of training more young people, especially young women, in the mechanics of the campaign process. The PAC is clearly a work in progress. She talks about awarding scholarships and building a new generation of advocacy and candidacy. She also enthusiastically acknowledges the improved status of women and minorities in Nevada’s Democratic Party.
There’s something more than sour grapes going on here. Giunchigliani’s working toward a Democratic Party sweep in November, but she’s doing it in her own way.
That in itself is an endorsement of a process that is often unkind, and sometimes unfair, but remains the only one we have.
Disclosure: Steve Sisolak and Chris Giunchigliani have donated to The Nevada Independent. You can see a full list of donors here.
John L. Smith is an author and longtime Nevada columnist. Contact him at [email protected]. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.