It’s easy to spend someone else’s political capital.
This is what makes writing opinion columns fun. I can point at some piece of legislation or some obstreperous legislator and point out flaws, real or perceived. It makes for great entertainment, even if it’s perhaps not the soundest of foundations to base public policy upon. It’s also what makes it endurable, if you get elected, to caucus with a minority party — no, you’re not going to get any of your bills passed, but at least you can spend your days describing what you might do in some hypothetical alternative universe in which you actually have political capital to spend.
It’s a lot like being an opinion columnist, honestly, but with a fancier title.
When you’re spending your own political capital — when you’re in a position to pass public policy and be held accountable for the results of each policy, regardless of your intentions, and remember, policy outcomes don’t care about your intentions — you’re going to act with a bit more humility and moderation than you might otherwise. Yes, you might have good ideas, or you might be surrounded by people with good ideas, or your base of electoral support might be built upon voters who collectively possess uniformly good ideas (hold your laughter, please), but what if you’re wrong? Your constituents and political career are ultimately the ones who will pay the price for your hubris.
An intuitive sense of this, and its consequences, is what used to keep the Republican Party in Nevada sane, at least north of the 37th parallel (Beatty, in other words). Sure, there are always going to be gadflies and opinion columnists with brilliantly clever opinions, but they’re never the ones who pay the price when their ideas go wrong. Better to stick to the business of governing with some measure of humility and equanimity, safe in the knowledge that doing just good enough doesn’t cost people their homes, their jobs, their health care, and, most importantly, your election if things go wrong.
The discipline instilled by paying in political capital for the consequences of their actions is what produced Republicans like Paul Laxalt, Bill Raggio, and Brian Sandoval, all from Washoe County. Yes, they each had an ideology, and no, it wasn’t mine, but their loyalty to their ideologies were restrained by the material and electoral consequences of their actions. Paul Laxalt, for example, ran for governor on a platform of increasing federal involvement in Nevada’s gaming industry, even though Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson was still in the White House — and he won.
Due to the relatively even split between Republicans and Democrats in Washoe County, Washoe County’s politicians have always had limited political capital to spend, regardless of party affiliation. If they want to stay elected long, they have to invest it judiciously. This isn’t a county where the Culinary Union can anoint their Democratic slate and run the table while Republicans loudly vent their wishes from the sidelines, like in parts of Clark County, nor is this a county where the Republican best connected to the biggest local church is guaranteed a seat merely for placing their name on the ballot, like in rural Nevada. Consequently, Republicans have to actually govern in the interests of their constituents here, or they’ll find themselves swiftly replaced by other, better politicians — and, to their credit, many of them rose to the challenge.
The days when Washoe County reliably produced more competent Republicans than most places in this state, however, may be reaching an end.
First, there’s the curious case of an anonymous Republican city councilman who thinks he’s running for secretary of state.
This particular city councilman has virtually no name recognition in the biggest little city in Washoe County, in no small part because he’s a councilman for the second-biggest little city in Washoe County. If nobody knows who he is in Reno, I guarantee you nobody in Clark County — home to more than 70 percent of Nevada’s registered voters — has even the faintest idea why they should care about someone who thinks they’ve been elected by voters in Sparks, as if what must presumably be Station Casinos’ latest resort is some sort of representative democracy.
(Save your hate mail — I live a block from Sparks city hall. Yes, it’s a real city, and yes, it’s older than Las Vegas. None of that means people in Clark County know anything about my city, nor have any reason to. Before you get upset, however, tell me a single fact about Henderson. Just one. You can’t, because Henderson doesn’t exist.)
If the subscriber count to his YouTube channel is any indication (at the time I’m writing this, his account has six subscribers), this column might be the best thing for his nascent statewide political career — which, if you’re wondering, is why I’m carefully avoiding mentioning him by name. I know a thing or two about longshot campaigns. Building name recognition from absolutely nothing is the first, most immediate challenge, and I’m not particularly interested in helping him overcome that challenge.
Luckily for everyone, he’s not particularly dangerous. He’s just trying to raise his profile by pretending more than a dozen people think he’s qualified to run for a statewide office since he won exactly one contested city council election five years ago. The same cannot be said for our county assessor, Mike Clark.
For reasons which only made sense in Mike Clark’s head, if they made sense anywhere, our county assessor decided it was the best of ideas to mail envelopes filled with a two page typo-riddled rant about “political skullduggery,” plus several pages of — let’s call them “supporting documents,” which, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal, included a photo of a current county official in a swimsuit for some reason — to the home addresses of several elected officials, county employees, and some journalists for good measure. Further demonstrating his questionable soundness of body and mind, he decided to use someone else’s return address and apparently guessed at the necessary postage he needed to pay for each envelope — both of which, according to This Is Reno, earned the attention and ire of the United States Postal Inspector and the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office.
You do not want to be on the bad side of the United States Postal Service.
Needless to say, assuming your name is not Mike Clark, you are not currently the Washoe County assessor, and you lack the common sense to infer any of this on your own, mailing anonymous typo-filled letters and photos of county employees with incorrect postage and a fake reply address to hundreds of people is a fractally bad idea. Meaning, no matter how closely you examine each and every component of this idea, and no matter how far away you look at it to get a big picture understanding of whatever context compelled our county assessor to do this, it always looks like a bad idea. There is no universe in which any or all or any possible combination of any of these steps could ever be a good idea, nor part of one.
This is especially true when you’re an elected official with, at least on paper, a job to do — a job which he will now be doing at home since he successfully creeped out everyone on the county’s payroll.
Even so, for all of Mike Clark’s faults and his Chernobyl-esque loss of professionalism and composure, he’s still better hinged (less unhinged?) than my county’s potential contribution to the next Republican gubernatorial primary.
The final evolution of the increasing unseriousness of Washoe County’s Republicans isn’t an elected official at all. Instead, he’s a personal injury attorney with a seemingly bottomless billboard budget who wants to exorcise Satan from the Governor’s Mansion, punch the COVID-19 “plandemic” in the face, was “Trump from the jump,” and, just for good measure, believes the October 1 shooting was a conspiracy perpetuated by Steve Sisolak and Joe Lombardo to launder money and ban guns.
If Nevada’s lucky, Gilbert’s gubernatorial run has a lot more to do with promoting his inevitable pivot to talk radio than it does with any sort of serious intent to actually run for governor. If Nevada’s really lucky, however, Gilbert’s actually serious. If he is, we’ll all collectively watch an entire field of Republican gubernatorial primary candidates have to answer, on live television, one simple question:
Who is the current president of the United States?
Unfortunately, we in Washoe County will all watch as the man whose billboards we pass on our daily commutes loudly gets the answer wrong. Then we’ll all have to wonder how so many Republicans up here lost their attachments to reality and common sense while we continue voting for absolutely anyone else.
David Colborne was active in the Libertarian Party for two decades. During that time, he blogged intermittently on his personal blog, ran for office twice as a Libertarian candidate, and served on the Executive Committee for his state and county Libertarian Party chapters. He is now the father of two sons, an IT manager, and a registered non-partisan voter. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidColborne or email him at [email protected].