(Michael Zahara) – I attended the best attended local campaign kickoff I’ve yet seen here in Nevada. About 700+ people scurried around Rancho High School to celebrate the next phase of Ruben Kihuen’s political rise in Nevada politics, currently running unopposed for termed-out Senator Bob Coffin’s seat.
Kihuen’s political guru, Anthony Manesa knows how to produce great political events—he’s the best I’ve seen here—and I’m surprised NVDEMS isn’t hiring him to those ends.
I met a 25 year old Ruben in 2005 doing work at NVDEMS’ old headquarters and we’ve been friends ever since. I was a very strong supporter of his 2006 successful bid to oust the useless Bob McCleary, and he’s never forgotten that and he and I can speak privately and I’d like to believe that we both listen to one another and respect each others views, which are sometimes not the same page.
He’s both doubly-blessed and doubly-cursed by others in his orbit, circumstances beyond his control, and some major missteps all his own. My only concern today is that there are so many glomming on to his wave and it’s been my experience in politics that your inner-circle should be very small and very tight; the others (all of that is mostly NVDEMS dead-weight) must be corralled and contained to the second tier if you are to survive in the long term.
Like moths to the flame with a brightly burning politician, one can get severely burned by too many cooks spoiling your political broth.
He was rising to his first electoral win as Dario Herrera was on his way to a 50 month federal sentence and comparisons of the two still circulate in Democratic Party gossip mills almost daily.
That’s unfair to Ruben, but that’s politics and he’s developing a much tougher skin and letting it roll off his back. I’ve met his entire family, I’ve spied him working at CSN and saw how those kids love him and he them. Herrera is a satyr; Kihuen is the quintessential example of a very good kid from a very good family and why America welcomes her immigrant families.
Ruben Kihuen is not ‘another Dario’; but there was a classless and clueless invited Dario Herrera at the campaign launch in jeans, a peach Polo shirt and sneakers, acting the honeybee visiting every young, nubile flower in the hall, never stopping to listen to any of the speakers along the way.
Olds habits die hard, I guess and Mr Herrera, if you care about Ruben as you claim to, you may want to be aware that 700 people were watching you all evening long and your conduct was boorish, if not juvenile.
Both Herrera and Kihuen suffer the burdens and blessings of being known locally and nationally as protégés of Senator Harry Reid.
Kihuen is kind of a savior this cycle; one of the few bright spots left in a year that the entire party will suffer for Nevada’s Reid Fatigue. It was magnificent watching senior party officials and politicians bow to and take second chair to a 30 year old man who filled the place with young people still sporting homemade banners like in his high school star days—the political fear in their faces was glorious and very rare to observe—nervous politicos almost praying our loud that whatever Kihuen has is somehow contagious for them this year.
It won’t be.
We’ve placed great burdens on this young man, burdens he’s happily accepted–he is certainly not absent ego and that’s no vice, but a requirement for long-term political success–but which also caused him a major derailment in 2008 with his very public endorsement of Hillary Clinton. His having not yet completed his first term and having only gotten about 2500 votes in his first win, caused him great media derision when he was named national co-chair of Hillary’s Hispanic outreach efforts. His speaking in the first-person for her campaign fueled that derision even further.
I told Ruben then that the move was audacious and in my daily briefings to my allies on Team Obama in Chicago about what was going on here; I told them verbatim in an email that ‘Kihuen was a good ‘get’ for Clinton, but that it will cause a firestorm here.’
That it did; in spades!
I’m not sure he knew how much he was being used by Clinton, and I don’t think he cared either; he likes her very much and gambled heavily on her, and the whole media maelstrom that followed enhanced the ‘Dario’ comparisons, not snuffed them out. The English-speaking media, especially the far-lefty papers and blogs, now acts as if he’s not even there, but the Spanish-speaking media adores his ability to give ‘good interview’.
He reacted after the Hillary loss with aplomb, especially when he went back into session in the Assembly. I don’t recall him being very public at all, but head down, work-centric, and that’s helped raise his stature. He still has some broken relationships to patch up with Dems his age who still feel a bit burned and that will just take time.
Part of the burden of being so public a figure, so handsome, so in demand, is that can breed contempt and derision, and it takes a diplomatic hand to assuage hurt feelings.
He has to do that and more if he wishes higher office. Political folks can’t tell you what they had for lunch yesterday, but they’ll remember sleights and hurt feelings in microscopic detail from decades ago. The faster they’re fixed, the better off you are.
Friday night I heard for the first time his evolving away from his sports superstar former life, into a maturing young man who is developing his brand and his place in the political universe.
He looked and sounded like a leader.
He’ll be taking the seat of a state senator who did absolutely nothing to build a district organization that today should be the Hispanic-oriented power-house in the valley. Senator Coffin, like all politicians here, rejected organization building fearing a challenge from within; he became isolated, cocooned, and coddled by special interests because of it. I don’t have the ‘warm fuzzies’ for Coffin that some others do for that reason.
Yes, an internal challenge can be a consequence, but when you look at the abysmal numbers on Election Day from our Hispanic communities, it’s a chance that a real leader would and should take and I’m there to help him in any way that I can toward those ends because he is my friend and because this should have been done 20 years ago.
There is a right and wrong way to go about such a challenge too.
One way to enhance his bona fides is to take a calm, but very public leadership position when the new session is gaveled in for 2011. Aside from a gigantic budget dilemma, the most important issue any post-census legislature does is reapportionment and that presents Kihuen some issues he has to navigate with great precision.
There’s not enough of a specific population concentration of Hispanics for the new seat, though that demographic will show the greatest surge in the last decade. Our African-American growth will be rather static by comparison, so the only avenue to what will be required under the Voting Rights Act to achieve ‘minority-majority’ will have to be to combine the two groups.
That’s perhaps the toughest thing to do between two groups that are natural political rivals more often than not.
The gerrymandering nonsense the 2001 legislature did to protect incumbents completely screwed every minority group in the valley and the USDOJ won’t tolerate that this time. Finally, there will be enough there for their intervention if that becomes necessary. The new seat should encompass all of North Las Vegas, most, if not all, of Lawrence Weekly’s Commission District, and a sizable chunk of the northeast valley.
That’s not going to make Shelley Berkley very happy, but that she was the honored guest at the kickoff may indicate she understands the difficulty. She can easily carry a far more Republican district; no one else can do that.
Representative Berkley also did her very best to avoid a primary challenge from Mr Kihuen for her seat. It was a deft political move by her being there; very smart of her!
And the person he has to prod and plead with is his new majority leader who sat rather morose at the kickoff only wishing he had 1/1000 of the star-power of his newest subordinate, knowing that Kihuen can run for the new seat in 2012 while remaining in the senate, and he cannot.
Horsford would have to leave his position because of the cycle he is on and that’s very unlikely as he is the highest ranking African-American the state has produced; all or nothing propositions almost always leave you with nothing, and Horsford plays it far too close to the vest to take such an enormous risk. An often bitchy and always suspicious Horsford could engineer that Kihuen’s home is gerrymandered all sorts of ways to stop his chief rival, but he’ll have no help from the GOP to those ends because they know that even with ‘minority-majority’, it make take years to elect an actual minority to the seat.
The GOP is going to be inclined to assist Kihuen in any way possible to further diminish an already-viewed-as-weak and unskilled Horsford.
Kihuen can lead in other ways too. Metro has no Hispanic Deputy Chief or Assistant Sheriff and that’s because Sheriff Gillespie is often bitchy and always suspicious and has the department’s top three Hispanic Captains very worthy of promotion (all spectacular cops, and all GOPers too, but that shouldn’t matter) all but shoveling shit at the stables today for daring to support others in 2006.
Hispanic leadership in both parties in SoNev has been silent about that indignity and that’s got to change immediately. We are the largest police department in the United States without an Hispanic in senior police leadership today.
No Hispanic seats on the Las Vegas City Council, the NLV City Council, or the Clark County Board, are also major issues and Kihuen can take a leadership role in that regard not by railing loudly against windmills, but by just calmly and consistently raising everyone’s awareness.
He also needs to expand his brand and create his own PAC to help develop other candidates but above all else, he has to dedicate himself to growing his own organization, separate and distinct from NVDEMS, to increase Hispanic participation in the political process here.
That begins with his neighbors on each side of his home and spirals outward; he’s got the talent and showed he can do it by increasing his vote total to about 4300 in 2008.
That’s a nice forward movement, but nowhere near enough and the next few years will determine the course of Ruben Kihuen’s political career.
My expertise is in House and Senate races and when I first met Ruben, my very first thought was the US House; I’ve never been wrong in my assessment about who is a good fit for which office at any level.
I’d like to think he can get there by about 2016 or 2018—but I would encourage him to try from here on out—and how he handles himself in the next few years will either pave the way, or derail him.
My guess today is that that road will be very well paved!