Nevada's Right Angle

Husband-and-wife teams in politics are nothing new. State legislators wed fellow legislators, members of Congress have married one another, and the wives of Bill Clinton and Bob Dole today serve together in the U.S. Senate.

But it is when the spouse of a sitting officeholder tries to win another office that the success factor diminishes. Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Dole were triumphant in winning Senate seats, but both were elected when their husbands’ office-seeking days were in twilight time. However, the wives of Republican Governors Pete DuPont of Delaware (1976-84) and Frank Keating of Oklahoma (1994-2002) tried to win seats in Congress when their husbands sat in the statehouse and were still viable political figures. Both lost badly. In 2002, as Republican Mike Huckabee was winning re-election as governor of Arkansas, his wife Janet was simultaneously being defeated for secretary of state.

Next year, Nevada voters will decide whether to elect Republican Rep. Jim Gibbons as governor and simultaneously nominate and elect his wife, former state legislator Dawn Gibbons, to replace him as congressman from the 2nd District (Reno-Sparks).

Even fervent fans of “Team Gibbons” concede that this political double-play won’t be easy. There have already been the predictable cries of “dynasty!” and concerns that the new “Rep. Gibbons” would be in Washington rather than in Carson City as First Lady.

Dawn Gibbons was one of four Republicans in the Nevada Assembly in ’03 to support GOP Gov. Kenny Guinn’s $836 million tax hike. Conservatives initially felt they could thwart Guinn’s record-high tax hike because of the state law requiring two-thirds of the legislature to approve any tax increase. But, in a six-to-one ruling, the Nevada Supreme Court decided that the two-thirds rule was merely a “procedural” provision and thus was less important than the “substantive” constitutional obligation of the state to fund public education.

Following the court ruling, another Republican switched his stand to favor the tax increase and gave Guinn his victory. Dawn Gibbons announced that the state budget battle convinced her not to run for re-election. Jim Gibbons’ office did not return repeated phone calls from David Freddoso, senior political reporter for the  Evans-Novak Political Report (a Human Events sister publication), asking whether he approved of his wife’s vote for the tax hike.

“There are big differences between Dawn and me,” said Gibbons’ leading primary opponent for the U.S. House nod, Assemblywoman Sharron Angle. “Dawn voted for the largest tax increase in the history of the state; I did not. She did not come to the defense of the initiative that her husband instituted [while he was a state legislator], and I did.”

Out of the Gingrich Class

A look at the record of three-term legislator Angle suggests she is less a contemporary Bush-style moderate conservative than similar to most of the hard-line Republicans in the celebrated “Gingrich Class” of ’94—which gave Republicans a majority in the House for the first time in 40 years. She is, for example, the mother of the Property Tax Restraint Initiative to place a cap on property tax increases. In addition, Angle supports securing the U.S. borders. (“We need military assistance to help the Border Patrol effectively do its job.”) and opposes the administration on “anything resembling an amnesty, such as this so-called guest worker program.”

Liberty Watch, the magazine of the Republican Liberty Caucus in Nevada, wrote of Angle: “Around the lower house, if a vote went 41 to 1, the sole lawmaker in opposition was likely Angle. Her stern dissension and steadfast anti-tax attitude has pigeon-holed her as a purist.”

Along with her small government and anti-tax positions, Sharron Angle is, as she told me during a recent visit to Washington, “the only candidate in this race who holds the pro-life position.” In addition, she was a strong backer of her state’s Constitutional Protection of Marriage Act.

But the signs are strong that the all-important Republican primary in the 2nd District will come back to the issue of taxes. Just as Gibbons supported Guinn’s tax increases, the third Republican hopeful, Secretary of State Dean Heller, “stood in the way of two petition drives in 2003 to 2004—one to repeal that $833 million in new taxes and another to prohibit government employees from holding [elective] office,” according to Liberty Watch. Also, while a legislator from 1991-93, Heller voted six times for measures to increase state fees.

In a sense, the primary for Congress may shape the message of the Republican Party in Nevada as Guinn is leaving the governorship. A primary victory by Sharron Angle would clearly send a different message for the party—and one that will make national conservatives take notice.

(Sharron Angle—Your Voice in Congress; P.O. Box 33058, Reno, Nevada 89533; 775-787-6017.


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