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The Nevada Independent

OPINION: Somehow these candidates returned

Like Emperor Palpatine in the final “Star Wars” movie, these candidates have emerged from the distant past to strike terror in the hearts of Nevada’s voters.
David Colborne
David Colborne

When you receive your sample ballot in the mail in a few months, you might be forgiven for thinking you were accidentally delivered a sample ballot from several years ago.

Remember Sharron Angle? Voters in Reno’s Senate District 15 are about to endure a reminder.

Angle served in the state Assembly from 1999 through 2005. After narrowly losing a congressional primary in 2006 to Dean Heller and a state Senate primary in 2008 against Bill Raggio, Angle rode the then-ascending conservative Tea Party wave to finally return to a general election in 2010. 

She and the Tea Party did not succeed alone, however. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the Democratic incumbent, had spent months hammering every Republican front-runner in that primary — every front-runner, that is, except Angle, who many suspected didn’t have the necessary polish to withstand the months of high-profile campaigning ahead.

With Reid’s popularity in the toilet, the race started as a possible Republican rout. Then Reid’s campaign got to work while Angle started talking. 

On the campaign trail, Angle recommended “Second Amendment remedies” if the voters elected her opponent instead of her. She claimed that Muslims were instituting Sharia Law in Michigan. When asked her thoughts on abortion, she referred to pregnancy in cases of rape and incest as “God’s plan” and later stated that young girls raped by their fathers should not abort their pregnancies — “two wrongs,” as she put it, “don’t make a right.” Instead, they should make “a lemon situation into lemonade.”

Reid’s crew recorded and amplified every single controversial position Angle ever uttered in the past three decades. Democrats responded by showing up in droves. Nonpartisan voters responded with disgust. Reid won comfortably. Angle hasn’t won a race since.

One Republican woman who did win her race in 2010, however, was former state Sen. Elizabeth Helgelien — though, at the time, she was still Elizabeth Halseth. After framing her primary election opponent, a moderate Republican incumbent, as a defender of child rapists (a framing that our friendly CEO had a decidedly unfriendly view of), she won her primary election. Then, despite a lack of experience — she was only 27 years old at the time — she surprised some by winning the general election as well.

Barely a year after she started her four-year term, she resigned. What happened before, during and after the resignation is, to put things mildly, open to interpretation.

Before her resignation, it was revealed she lied about her education (she claimed she was working on getting a master’s degree despite never coming close to finishing college) and was chronically absent from committee meetings. Meanwhile, Daniel Halseth, her then-husband and father of her three children, was arrested after a domestic violence incident involving the couple — he was later sentenced to misdemeanor coercion and battery after her resignation.

After the resignation, she posed for Maxim magazine, moved to Alaska, remarried and worked as a Realtor for a few years. Then, in 2017, she returned to Nevada and announced she was running for state Senate. After getting third in a three-way Republican primary, she faded back into political obscurity.

Then tragedy struck.

After Helgelien and her ex-husband divorced, she received primary custody over their three children. After her campaign loss in 2018, however, the two parents began to fight a bitter custody battle in court.

Their youngest daughter settled the dispute once and for all by stabbing her father, Helgelien’s ex-husband, more than 70 times.

Now Helgelien, once the youngest female state senator elected in Nevada history, is running for Congress.

There are at least two potential ways to interpret the events surrounding Helgelien’s life.

The interpretation that her campaign would likely prefer Nevadans to reach is that a young, promising woman with political ambition was quickly undermined by a controlling and abusive husband at home. Forced to rebuild her life, she found love, safety and financial security for her and her children by moving to Alaska. 

Then, for the good of her children, she moved back to Nevada so they could be closer to their father, only for him to victimize her once again by trying to take her children away. The youngest of those children, angry at the poison and abuse directed at her mother, misguidedly and tragically responded with murder. Now, strengthened through adversity, Helgelien is once again throwing her hat back in the ring.

Another interpretation is that a mendacious rookie politician who shamelessly twisted her opponent’s subpoena response into a claim he defended child rapists and lied wholesale about her education also lied about her willingness to serve in the office she was elected into. Caught in her lies by supporters, opponents and her since-murdered ex-husband, she resigned and moved her and her children thousands of miles away.

In this interpretation — which, salaciously enough, is being advanced by her former mother-in-law — she hasn't told the truth once in her adult life. According to this interpretation, Helgelien is an utterly shameless attention magnet, one who isn't above using the press generated by her ex-husband’s murder and her daughter’s conviction to build awareness for her political brand.

Regardless of which interpretation is closer to reality, one truth remains: Nevadans shouldn't be forced to care. Either she's been through enough and should seek help or she's put everyone around her through enough tragedy to last several lifetimes.

Speaking of people who should seek help, Paul White has resurfaced once again to confuse and terrify Washoe County voters.

Before he turned into a perennial school board candidate (he ran and lost in the school board trustee primary in 2020), White was best known for being the front man for Scientific Being Research Foundation, a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that was largely funded out of the pockets of David Griswold, a since-deceased businessman from Irvine, California, who had a house in South Washoe.

Under the Scientific Being Research Foundation’s umbrella, White ran the Stronghold Institute which, according to its now-defunct website, offered Bible-based programs with a Christian Science perspective — meaning a stridently anti-medical perspective — on a variety of subjects, including education, employment, drug and alcohol treatment, and physical and mental health challenges.

Under the foundation’s umbrella, White also started what he described as a “voter education and information” organization called about a year after he moved to Reno from Ventura, California. The organization quickly launched an aggressive advertising campaign featuring what it described as a “nonpartisan guide to Reno elections.” It then sent out questionnaires to every local candidate in the area.

How, ah, fair and balanced were these questions? Consider the following example: “City leadership believes that Reno shares the blame for its homeless problems because they have failed to provide sufficient housing and support services for the many homeless vagrants wanting to change their lives. Other voices in the community believe the fault lies with the many service-resistant homeless vagrants themselves who have no desire to change their self-destructive lifestyles and utilize the abundant and available support services.”

Nothing says nonpartisan quite like asking candidates if they’re with the homeless vagrants or against them. 

What thinly plausible deniability there was surrounding the organization grew thinner after it attempted to hold a “face-to-face debate” that quickly turned into a lightly attended campaign rally. Then the organization ran a full-page ad in the Reno Gazette-Journal that listed several “corruption charges” against the incumbent mayor while simultaneously claiming her opponent’s ethics were beyond reproach.

Nonprofit organizations with 501(c)(3) status such as the Scientific Being Research Foundation, it should be noted, are absolutely prohibited by the IRS from “directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.”

Though closed its virtual doors after the 2018 election and the Scientific Being Research Foundation ceased operations after its founder’s passing in 2020, White is still organizing. These days, he’s running Education Crusade, a group that claims 40 percent or more of all middle and high school students in Washoe County are using drugs and that the school district has a rehabilitation facility for physically and psychologically abused teachers.

Is any of this true? Not in the least, but it was the sort of fire-breathing conspiratorial nonsense that earned him and his wife over $300,000 from Scientific Being Research Foundation before it closed its doors in 2020. Perhaps, if he continues at it long enough, he’ll find another ideologically dogmatic conservative from California who's willing to fund his various causes.

Let’s just hope we don't make the mistake of electing him to anything of consequence before that happens.

The good news is Nevada’s voters rejected all of these candidates at least once before. The bad news is, thanks to their egos and avarice, we now have to do it again.

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, on Threads @davidcolbornenv or email him at [email protected].


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