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OPINION: Failed Reno council candidate made an easy character test look hard

Faced with the likely end of her campaign, Lily Baran let herself be tempted by Reno’s most notorious far-right donor in an exchange for one last chance to win.
David Colborne
David Colborne
Opinion
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Fifteen votes.

Only 15 votes separated progressive activist Lily Baran from Frank Perez and second place in the Reno City Council Ward 1 primary. 

Only 15 votes separated Baran from seeing her name on the general election ballot.

Baran came into the race with a well-earned reputation as a dedicated and outspoken community activist. A few years ago, she camped across from Reno City Hall to protest the city’s aggressive sweeps of homeless encampments — that earned her a misdemeanor charge that was ultimately dropped at the last minute. On behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union, she also opposed the city’s ban on whips, which she declared would “perpetuate the criminalization of the unhoused.” 

As the years passed, her work continued — as did her increasingly open interest in a city council seat. When Oscar Delgado resigned in 2022, Baran was suggested as a possible appointee by more than 50 members of the community. None of them, however, were sitting city council members, who ultimately voted to appoint Miguel Martinez instead.

It wasn’t a tremendous surprise, then, when she announced in January that she was running for city council — not as a potential appointee but as a candidate.

In 2022, there wasn’t a single Reno city council member who was willing to support Baran joining their ranks. That strained relationship with the city’s political establishment asserted itself again throughout her primary election campaign. Perez, a former library trustee, raised tens of thousands of dollars before his first campaign finance report was filed — Baran, by contrast, raised less than half as much. Perez was endorsed by several elected Democratic officials, including Assemblywoman Angie Taylor (D-Reno). Baran, by contrast, was only endorsed by Reno City Councilwoman Meghan Ebert..

Even when Baran received some support from the traditional power centers of the state, she didn’t always accept it graciously. Culinary Workers Union Local 226 endorsed her and Perez; as of July 1, however, her campaign website claimed she was endorsed by “Culinary Workers Union 224.” Similarly, Ebert’s endorsement wasn't advertised on Baran’s website, either.

Even so, she came within 15 votes of reaching the general election. 

To come so close on her own merits, and arguably her own merits alone, must have been heartbreaking. If just one elected official endorsed her, if only one large donor backed her instead of Perez, if only her ostensible political allies in the Democratic Party establishment gave her even a slightly larger crumb of support, if only —

Fifteen votes. 0.43 percentage points. Inches.

In an ideal world, an election as close as this would automatically trigger a recount. Unfortunately, current state law says otherwise. As the law is currently written, any candidate, regardless of whether a given election is close or not, may demand and receive a recount. There is, however, a catch — if they lose the recount, they have to pay for it. Worst of all, payment needs to be made in advance.

According to Reno election officials, Baran needed to deposit $50,560 for her recount to move forward — five times as much as she raised in the four months between her campaign announcement and her first campaign finance filing deadline. This time, however, she didn’t have four months. Instead, she had three days.

That’s when the devil called and asked if she wanted to dance.

Noted far-right activist and election denialist Robert Beadles made her an offer. He’ll pay for her recount himself, along with recounts for two other candidates he favors. All Baran had to do was sign on the dotted line.

Which she did.

Calling this a Washoe County-scale version of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact — the deal struck between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union that led to the joint invasion of Poland and the start of World War II — is a little unfair to Baran, but only a little. Granted, Baran is not a violent Marxist-Leninist with a penchant for robbing banks and killing political opponents. She is instead an outspoken left-leaning political activist who historically advocated for the marginalized and ran for office in open opposition to the existing political establishment. 

Beadles, by contrast, is a racist and queerphobic conspiracy theorist who’s afraid of math.

Surely if Baran would oppose anyone — 

The problem with dancing with the devil is he always leads. Thanks to Baran’s willful participation, election denialism is now no longer the sole province of overly online Trump supporters — Beadles can now claim forevermore that his election denialism is “bipartisan.” By paying for Baran’s attorney and recount deposit, he also gained control over how Baran would request her recount to be performed — by hand, naturally.

How could she? How could she bring herself to work with that man?

Legally, these are very good questions. Former Reno Councilman Paul McKenzie, who had formally complained about Beadles’ political expenses once already, filed another complaint alleging that Beadles’ $50,560 contribution toward Baran’s recount, even if provided as an in-kind donation, far exceeded the statutory limit of $5,000 that candidates are allowed to directly receive from any one source during a primary election. Since the statute responsible for governing recounts expressly requires candidates to fund a demanded recount — and does not explicitly allow interested third parties to make that deposit on the candidate’s behalf — funding a recount on behalf of a candidate may qualify as an in-kind donation.

Morally and politically, meanwhile, these remain very good questions.

Judging the effects of Baran’s aborted recount after the fact as charitably as possible, she just wasted $50,560 Beadles would have otherwise spent on some far-right reprobate on a recount effort she sabotaged through a series of contradictory email messages to the Reno City Clerk’s office. In the process, she drew attention to some potential failures by city election officials to fully cure every ballot submitted in her race. She also publicly named accomplices who contacted her campaign on Beadles’ behalf, including local political consultant Candy Greene, and prominently demonstrated that Beadles likely committed a felony on her behalf.

If Baran’s recount leads Beadles to face meaningful legal consequences for his foolishness, that’s not a terrible outcome. If that proves to be the end, that end may perhaps justify the means.

Less charitably, Baran faced and failed a series of choices.

Instead of losing a tight and tough election gracefully, she chose to accept a potentially felonious amount of money and support from the most infamously reprehensible far-right donor in Washoe County in exchange for a shot to advance to the general election of a city council race. 

Then, instead of sticking with her decision and facing the consequences of that choice, she panicked and canceled her recount behind her attorney’s back because someone publicly suggested she might have broken the law.

Then, after listening to the legal advice of an attorney paid for by the individual she likely conspired to commit a felony with, she changed her mind once more and attempted to continue the recount she had already canceled out of blind panic.

Why? Because, in a moment that called for her to demonstrate her character, she decided that the ends, no matter how petty and shortsighted — she certainly wasn’t guaranteed to win the general election if she made it on the ballot — justified the means.

In that, she and Beadles share a common value.

David Colborne ran for public office twice. He is now an IT manager, the father of two sons, and a weekly opinion columnist for The Nevada Independent. You can follow him on Mastodon @[email protected], on Bluesky @davidcolborne.bsky.social, on Threads @davidcolbornenv or email him at [email protected]

This story was updated at 10 a.m. on 7/11/24 to add information about Lily Baran's endorsement.

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