Four years ago, when Nevada voted Republican up and down the ticket and swept the Legislature and every constitutional office, I posted this on Facebook:
I’m happy to see all the Republican wins tonight. But I’m remembering all the premature celebrations, predictions of permanent dominance, and chest pounding displays of hubris by various partisans in 2008, 2010, and 2012 — all of which were followed by pathetic underperformance by whoever was in charge.
The ONLY thing Republicans won tonight is an opportunity. Ideals and philosophies aren’t enough — competent execution must become a mantra and a habit. Humility and grace in victory are a must. Real engagement with non-traditional voting blocs must begin in earnest. Governor Brian Sandoval is the model.
Good luck to us all…
Don’t ever think pendulums stop swinging, or that an over-extended bunch of politicians will suddenly discover sober, careful, competent habits of governing.
The interesting thing is that to a large degree, Republicans did deliver in the last four years. We’re building schools again due to Republican led tax base diversification efforts. Our economy is roaring compared to where we were in 2014, and expanding beyond just gaming and mining. Thousands of our children – including my own – are benefiting from expanded school choice opportunities. Public safety is improving, while fewer people per capita are in prison.
Why voters punish that sort of success is beyond me. Hopefully, though, the more Democrats work to undo the successes of the Sandoval era, as they no doubt will, the swifter the backlash will be in the next election.
Well, I shouldn’t say Republican losses are “beyond me.” Republican electoral efforts as a whole were so incompetent that they deserved to lose. I’m not talking about the hard working staffers and volunteers who were knocking on doors or making phone calls or trying to get out the vote. I’m talking about the party leaders and candidates themselves.
Good candidates do not simply appear overnight. They must be recruited, trained, cultivated for years, and sometimes supported financially, especially in a state with a part time Legislature that requires smart, qualified people to find a well-paying part-time job. This can be done either by sitting elected officials looking to extend their legacies beyond their own individual terms, or by a party apparatus able to look further ahead than the next cycle’s phone banking numbers. Sadly, Governor Sandoval never made it a priority, and the party itself under Michael McDonald has neither the skill, the cash, nor the credibility.
The candidates Republicans had were remarkably weak. Adam Laxalt may be the greatest guy in the world, but it matters that he’s only lived in the state for seven years. Worse, in a lot of ways he was openly running against the popular incumbent governor – is it any wonder he didn’t benefit from that incumbent’s successful record? Michael Roberson got a lot done, especially in 2015, but burned so many bridges after that as to make one suspicious of more self-sabotage. Dean Heller increasingly tried to please all of the people all of the time, and that never, ever works in the end. And without strong leaders at the top of the ticket, the down-ballot races will always suffer. All three were also foolishly and gratuitously hostile to this publication, losing out on opportunities to spread their message.
I wonder what would have happened if Heller or Mark Amodei had run for governor instead of Laxalt. I think it would have been a lot closer on election night.
The upside, though, is that Amodei is now the de facto leader of the state party, and his mix of pragmatism and principle, desire to broaden the party tent, and the best sense of humor in politics, is a great place to start rebuilding.
It’s interesting that Nevada, like in 2016, seems to be a national outlier – a supposedly swingy state that seems to be going harder and harder to the left, when nationally the Republicans held their own better than history would suggest. But for the shameful abuse heaped upon Justice Kavanaugh, I suspect Democrats would have taken the Senate. When you make Donald Trump look like the less-crazy one, you’re going to suffer some consequences.
Still, there was no singular “national voice” or message coming out of this election, and that is the beauty of America. Federalism lets us go off in our own directions locally, where it matters the most.
People keep talking about how great it is that so many women were elected. I agree to the extent that finally taking full advantage of the talent in a previously under-appreciated half of our population is long overdue. But beyond that, focusing on gender, as if that alone defines a person, seems frankly insulting and belittling to me. And let’s face it – for too many, there is an expectation that gender dictates “correct” opinions, and independent thinkers aren’t welcome. I bet the knitted pink hat crew weren’t out stumping for the likes of Jill Dickman, for example.
The more we see each other as individuals, rather than demographic stereotypes, the more healthy our society and politics will be.
I confess — in my less grown-up days — to having felt some despair in the past over election results that didn’t go the way I would have preferred. But just as surely as winners I like are never as good as I hoped, winners I don’t care for are never as bad as I imagine. Part of that is the brilliance of limiting and splitting government power in a republic, and part of it is that most people, regardless of party, want to be successful, and successful government generally follows the same recipe no matter which party is in power.
But there are some things that worry me quite a bit. First, I have seen first-hand how school choice can make huge differences in the lives of children. My kids still go to a public school — fortunately, though, it’s not one not mired in centrally planned one-size-fits-all bureaucratic turgidity. It also has the advantage of more money for teachers and classroom equipment, because construction costs weren’t run up by the lobbying of politically connected union bosses. And having that option – that escape valve – has been the difference between my children “doing fine” and absolutely thriving. In one session in 2015, Republican majorities did more for Nevada’s school kids than decades of Democratic teacher-union pandering. Will Democrats reverse that progress out of partisan blindness?
The other is public safety. Aaron Ford now leads a criminal prosecution office without the benefit of ever having prosecuted so much as a speeding ticket. I fear he will be hostile to law enforcement and the county district attorneys who largely backed his opponent. His former colleagues in the Legislature, burdened with misleading statistics and philosophies that run counter to the realities of the human condition, will conduct well-meaning but reckless social experiments in criminal law that will “unexpectedly” lead to rising crime rates.
Prove me wrong, Mr. Ford. I’ll be watching.
On Tuesday, a very old man was leaving the booth I was walking toward to cast my vote. A younger man was there to help him, but he was alert and grinning. On his head he wore a ball cap proclaiming himself to be a “World War II Veteran.” We caught each other’s eyes, smiled and waved as if we knew each other (those guys always seem to just know who their fellow vets are), and I cast my ballot proudly. I do so cherish the act of physically casting a vote on Election Day.
Today is not just Veteran’s Day, but also the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. It is an especially opportune time, given the crazy and yet totally routine election cycle, to remember and celebrate how blessed we are to choose our own governments at all levels on such a regular basis, the remarkable stability of our system of government over the centuries, and the astonishing prosperity is has produced. And it’s equally important to remember what real sacrifice means in keeping those rights secure.
Who knows who that smiling WWII vet voted for? Who cares? He knows what I know – that no matter who won or lost, American elections are cause to celebrate just for the fact they exist. You’ll never see me wearing black after my candidate loses out, or suddenly believing our venerable civic institutions are outmoded because another party got more of their people to the polls when and where it mattered. We are more resilient than any one election outcome, and there is so much more to our lives than politics. And if we didn’t like this election, another one is just right around the corner…
Orrin Johnson has been writing and commenting on Nevada and national politics since 2007. He started with an independent blog, First Principles, and was a regular columnist for the Reno Gazette-Journal from 2015-2016. By day, he is a deputy district attorney for Carson City. His opinions here are his own. Follow him on Twitter @orrinjohnson, or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.