(Jim Clark) – In the 145 years since obtaining statehood, Nevada has never had to hold a special election to fill a vacant congressional seat. Governor Sandoval ended that streak naming Congressman Dean Heller to fill the unexpired term of Senator Ensign, which had created a vacancy.
Nevada law is somewhat ambiguous about candidate selection in this, our first-ever, special congressional election, but it’s clear there is no primary election. Democratic Secretary of State Ross Miller decreed that the election should be a “ballot royale,” where any one can run for the open seat. The Nevada GOP sued, petitioning the court that each party’s central committee should select one candidate. Last week, a judge ruled in the GOP’s favor. Democrats have appealed the decision in the belief that the more candidates running, the better their chances in a GOP district
A withdrawn GOP candidate said in a fundraising letter: “The Nevada Republican Party wants its attorneys to make sure that a small handful of their lackeys can choose who the Republican nominee will be, not the voters”.
Lackeys? The practice of political parties nominating their candidates for public office goes back to this nation’s founding. In Nevada, there is a detailed process by which Republican and Democratic central committee members are chosen. In the spring of each election year, Democrat and Republican parties hold precinct meetings in which friends and neighbors in given geographic areas meet to elect representatives to the county central committee as well as delegates to the county party convention.
Party officers are then elected and form an executive board to run the party’s month-to-month affairs. At the time prescribed by Nevada law, both political parties hold their biannual conventions to debate and adopt party principles (called a “platform”) and elect delegates to their state party convention. At these events, officers are elected and a statewide platform is debated and adopted. In presidential election years, delegates to the parties’ national conventions may also be elected.
Note that at all levels participants willingly volunteer and are chosen democratically by secret ballot. No one gets paid a penny for participating nor are any expenses of participation reimbursed. It is estimated that central committee membership costs about $500 per year in expenses and requires 60 hours of time.
No, central committee members are not lackeys. They are principled, informed, and motivated volunteers who work tirelessly for what they believe in. If candidate selection remains vested in them, they will do a good and fair job.
What does a “ballot royale” look like? Since Nevada has never held such a special election, we have to look to our neighbor to the west for an answer. In 2003, Californians recalled their governor, Grey Davis. California recall elections do not provide for a primary and are open to all comers. In that race, 58 Democrats, 47 Republicans, 41 Independents, 3 Libertarians, 2 Natural Law candidates, and 1 Peace and Freedom candidate filed to run for governor of California. Included were a movie star, a political pundit, a child TV star, a porn queen, among others. The biggest spender was Arnold Schwarzenegger, who won with 48%, less than a majority of votes cast. No one else received any significant vote, and six of the candidates polled one vote each.
Although the Supreme Court could decide either way, the central committees are at present gearing up to vet and select candidates. But just on the chance the “ballot royale” will be restored, 16 Republicans, 6 Democrats, 4 independents, and 1 Independent-American have already filed for the office.
Nevada’s politics are looking more like California’s every day.
(Jim Clark is President of Republican Advocates, a vice chair of the Washoe County GOP and a member of the Nevada GOP Central Committee. He can be reached at email@example.com)