By ACE ROBISON
The recent Progress editorial “Where Have All the Leaders Gone?” (PROGRESS: June 25, 2018) and its observations about Republican leadership in the state of the Nevada has caused me some introspection.
There comes a time when leaders must, if they wish to be true leaders, lead; regardless of personal or political discomfort.
Time was when Nevada’s Republican leaders recognized the importance of exerting active (sometimes uncomfortable) influence on the direction of the Republican Party.
The post-Watergate late 1970s were, for Republicans, dismal times. In Nevada it was said, with tongue firmly in cheek, that there were so few Republicans that their convention could be held in a phone booth.
In Clark County the party was weak, disorganized, and poorly led. The Nevada GOP’s strength was in Reno and the rural “cow” counties. The GOP in Clark County seemed a hopeless case. Most Republican officeholders chose to smile and ignore it.
Paul Laxalt had been elected to the US Senate. Master politician that he was, he recognized the importance of a strong political party in Clark County.
In March 1977 yours truly survived a close election between the party Old Guard and a group of young Turks to become the Clark County Republican Chairman.
Senator Laxalt and State GOP Chairman Frank Fahrenkopf were involved but wisely stayed well behind the scenes and out of view.
After the election Senator Laxalt, displaying true leadership, carefully supported the reinvigorated party leadership at considerable risk to himself. Some of his most stalwart GOP supporters were on the other side of the fence. He watched and guided (from a distance) this group of young Turks.
We didn’t self-destruct as some had hoped. Instead, we restructured the party organization, developed an aggressive voter registration program and became successful in recruiting candidates for the 1978 election cycle. We so dominated the local news cycles that in the whirlwind of activities the Democrats didn’t know what had happened—until it was too late.
As an indication of GOP success in 1978 Sheriff Ralph Lamb whom most powerbrokers considered the most powerful man in Nevada, was unseated by a Republican newcomer named John McCarthy. A number of legislative seats changed as well.
By now even the Old Guard saw the handwriting on the wall and accepted the need to join the “new GOP”. By 1979 it was a re-united political organization (including the Old Guard) ready for a vigorous 1980 campaign cycle in which both Paul Laxalt and Ronald Reagan were both leading the ticket. So was Bob List who was elected governor as were many down-ticket offices. Control of the legislature shifted to the GOP.
The momentum continued into 1982 when clothing store owner and former state senator Chic Hecht unseated powerful U.S. Senator Howard Cannon.
The purpose in recounting this history is not to seek aggrandizement or praise but to emphasize that none of this would have happened had it not been for a courageous and wise U.S. Senator who recognized the importance of a strong, well-led political party to the well-being of GOP candidates and to the State of Nevada.
Laxalt could have sat back and waited but he did not. He watched, then carefully and effectively moved BEFORE the crisis, not AFTER when it was too late.
Senator Paul Laxalt was a true leader. We need more of them today—in Nevada and Washington, DC.