As a political and government affairs consultant, people often ask me my opinion on the qualities that make a person a good politician.
I always start my answer with a qualifying statement: my training and experience allow me to judge whether a person would be a particularly good candidate for public office. It takes nothing more than common sense to figure out whether a person is effective after they get into office.
When consultants evaluate someone’s potential as a candidate, we look at a number of things. Is the person a particularly gifted speaker? Can he frame his ideas and visions in a way that appeal to the voters? Is she energetic, telegenic, photogenic?
Another important factor is the candidate’s ability to raise money. Like it or not, it takes cash to buy television commercials, send political mailers to thousands of households and pay for staff. As Las Vegas gets bigger, the prices for all these things continue to rise. If a candidate cannot raise enough money to run an effective campaign, then his or her ability to get elected is severely hampered.
Other questions we ask include: is the candidate right for the seat? If he or she is Republican in a heavily Democratic district, then obviously it’s going to be hard to get elected. Perhaps the candidate is anti-abortion when most voters in the district are clearly pro-choice.
These factors do not always mean a person can’t beat the odds and get elected. It happens in cities all over this country. But it doesn’t happen very often, and when it does, there are usually extenuating circumstances (perhaps their opponent was indicted half way through the race or caught embezzling money).
As you can see, very few of the qualities that make a good candidate matter one iota once the person is in office. There are many effective elected leaders who won’t win beauty pageants, are not great orators and raised very little money in their successful election.
The good ones, however, dedicate themselves to their constituents. They put in long hours at their jobs, and then go home to answer calls or respond to letters from residents asking for help. They attend breakfast, lunch and dinner meetings with community organizations seeking support. Their time is never their own, and many personal projects are put on hold to make sure they effectively represent their district.
The politicians we consider to be excellent are rarely in the news because they don’t seek headlines. They don’t put out press releases when they do something to help their constituents. They don’t look for projects that will give them television exposure or allow them to get some good pictures for a brochure.
In other words, they do not spend every waking moment after becoming elected trying to gct re-elected. They are content to do the job at hand, and let their record speak for itself. Who are these “good politicians” in Las Vegas? Think about it. Use a little common sense. The answer should be quite apparent.
At the conclusion of last year’s Nevada Legislature, Republican operatives told anyone who would listen they were going to embark on a candidate recruitment process unlike the state of Nevada had ever seen. Their goal? Take back the state Assembly.
The Democrats, who currently enjoy a 28-14 advantage, seemed to take the challenge seriously, and Majority leader Richard Perkins immediately put his energies toward fundraising. His leadership political action committee (PAC) rose more than $100,000 that he could use to help his flock stay in office.
Fast forward to the close of filing in mid-May of this year. The Republicans found out just how hard it is to recruit candidates for offices that force you to leave your job for six months ever other year (and get paid a pittance for the sacrifice).
The GOP found competitive challengers against three incumbents, and has a decent chance to pick up one other open seat. Top on the list is Assembly 15, where former Legislator Jack Close will challenge first-term incumbent Kathy McClam. Close will try to regain the position he gave up in 1998 when he ran for the State Senate and lost to Terry care. He held this Assembly seat for two terms, but received no challenge in the district, which has a 2,000 voter Democratic majority.
The good politicians dedicate themselves to their constituents. They put in long hours at their jobs, arid then go home to answer calls or respond to letters from residents asking for help. They attend breakfast, lunch and dinner meetings with community organizations seeking support. Their time is never their own, and many personal projects are put on hold to make sure they can effectively represent their district.
McClain proved a tremendous grass-roots campaigner and has been keeping in touch with voters. She sends out quarterly newsletters and birthday cards. For Close to win, he is going to have to outwork her, which isn’t going to be easy.
In Assembly District 21, veteran Gene Segerblom will receive a challenge from David Brown. Republicans have been salivating over this seat ever since the Henderson portion began to become more prominent. Segerblom as always gets heavy support in the high-turnout Boulder City precincts, but will have to get her message out to the new areas of the district. She will not give up the seat she has held since 1996 without a fight.
Assemblyman Bernie Anderson’s northern Nevada seat takes up most of Sparks and is known as one of the most conservative districts in the entire state. There is a slight Republican edge, but Anderson grew up there, and knows the politics well. Challenging him this year is the same person he defeated in 1998, school teacher Patti McCleland. Sources say her failed attempt taught her a lesson about campaigning and she will be back in force. However, the Judiciary chair is no slouch when it comes to grassroots and will leave no stone unturned.
Back in the South, the one open seat that should provide some fireworks is Assembly 16. Democratic incumbent Kelly Thomas was roundly criticized after his first term and decided against running for re-election.
The slight Democratic advantage should favor challenger John Oceguera, who ran unsuccessfully in 1998 in another district. But Republican Jack McClary has been working since last August and has support from key groups like Home-builders and commercial developers. The district has elected GOP representatives in the past, so voter edge isn’t going to be that much a factor.
These races will be the ones to watch as Campaign 2000 gets underway and heads toward the September primary and November general elections.