Another Angle to Nevada's GOP Primary

Voters historically don’t like defeated candidates who cry foul. Richard Nixon understood this in 1960. Al Gore in 2000 did not.

Last week, after the certification of Dean Heller as the winner of the Republican primary for Congress in Nevada’s 2nd District (Reno), conservative runner-up Sharron Angle charged that many Republicans had been disenfranchised and called for a new primary. Former state legislator Angle, a favorite of the conservative Club for Growth and the House Conservatives Fund, apparently fell short of moderate Heller (who is Nevada’s secretary of state) in the August 15 primary by a microscopic 421 votes out of more than 70,000 cast. Heller edged Angle 35.9% to 35.3%, with the remainder going to Assemblywoman Dawn Gibbons, wife of outgoing Rep. Jim Gibbons, the Republican gubernatorial nominee.

Angle’s lawyer, Joel Hansen, has filed a statement of contest in Washoe District Court, citing 17 reasons for nullifying the results and holding a new primary. Among the reasons, he cited lack of training for election workers, polling place workers’ not showing up on time and more than 100 poll workers’ not having Republican ballots.

“We want to give all disenfranchised voters an opportunity to exercise their right to vote,” Angle declared in a fighting press release calling for a new primary.

Although some Republicans are dismissing Angle as a sore loser, she is by no means fading away. Ron Pearson of the Conservative Victory Fund and Mike Bober of the House Conservatives Fund, both of whom weighed in for Angle before the primary, told me they felt the present circumstances merit her action. Nevada State GOP Chairman Paul Adams agreed and told the Reno Gazette-Journal: “When elections are run in a way that people who want to vote cannot, there is a fundamental problem with the integrity of the entire election process. Sharron is in a position to expose and fix those problems.”

Jerris Leonard, R.I.P

When Jerris Leonard died of complications of liver cancer July 27, the former Wisconsin state legislator, Nixon Administration Justice Department official, and trial lawyer was universally mourned as a dedicated public servant and good-natured person who never had an unkind word about anyone.

A graduate of Marquette University and its law school, Leonard was elected state assemblyman at age 25 in 1956, moved on to the state senate in 1960 and became majority leader in 1966. Leonard wanted to run for governor in ’68, but when incumbent Gov. (1964-70) Warren P. Knowles opted for re-election instead of a Senate race, fellow Republican Leonard made a late-starting (and eventually unsuccessful) bid against Democratic Sen. (1962-80) Gaylord Nelson.

As assistant U.S. attorney general for civil rights, Leonard came under criticism from conservatives for not fully embracing the “go-slow” approach to court-ordered school desegregation that would have permitted some public schools in the South to wait a full year before complying with federal court orders. But the issue was settled relatively quickly when the Supreme Court made its “desegregate at once” decision in 1969. President Nixon told reporters that, while he did not agree with the decision, the administration would enforce it. Leonard oversaw what would be major school desegregation throughout the South without violence or major incident.

After two years in the civil rights “hot seat,” Leonard was named the first head of the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, distributing millions in federal money to upgrade local police departments and prisons. At one point, former Atty. Gen. Ramsey Clark testified before the House Black Caucus and denounced the LEAA for giving local law enforcers “repressive” riot-control devices. Leonard fired back that no such funds had been dispensed under the Nixon Administration. He also noted that on Aug. 31, 1968, Clark himself approved an award of $79,000 to the state of Louisiana to purchase machine guns, automatic rifles and an armored personnel carrier.

Retiring from government in 1973, Leonard served as counsel for the Republican National Committee under Chairman George H. W. Bush and as a private attorney represented such diverse clients as former heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali (who said that the U.S. had unfairly denied him conscientious objector status during the Vietnam War) to Arizona Republican Gov. Evan Mecham (who was impeached in 1989 for misuse of funds).

Veteran conservative leader Paul Weyrich recalled: “I covered Jerris when I was at WISN-TV in Milwaukee and he was majority leader of the Wisconsin State Senate. From that position through his service in the Nixon Justice Department, through operating his own law firm, I have never seen him deviate from conservative principles. For the better part of the past decade I had the privilege of co-chairing the Wednesday lunch with him that is sponsored by Coalitions for America and held at Free Congress Foundation. During that time, he was always a gentleman, even when he profoundly disagreed with whoever was on the agenda.”

Leonard, who never failed to have time to mentor young conservatives in Washington, was 75.

Primary Returns

It’s Harris: After spending more than $3 million of her own money and her campaign staff’s going through several incarnations, Rep. Katherine Harris did win the Republican nomination for U.S. senator from Florida last week. But the months of negative publicity had taken their toll on the two-term lawmaker and one-time Florida secretary of State. Harris won the primary with about 49% of the vote. Her closest competitors were trial lawyer William McBride (30%) and retired U.S. Navy Adm. LeRoy Collins (namesake-son of a former Democratic governor of the Sunshine State) with 15%.

Harris now faces an uphill race against Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

The Rest of the Story: While Harris’s campaign attracted the most media attention, there were other significant contests in Florida. Conservative State Atty. Gen. Charles Crist handily defeated former State Insurance Commissioner Tom Gallagher for the GOP nomination for governor. Crist is now the fall favorite over Democratic Rep. Jim Davis to succeed lame-duck Republican Jeb Bush.

The GOP nomination to succeed Crist as attorney general was won by former Rep. (1980-2000) and 2000 Senate nominee Bill McCollum, best-known as one of the House managers in the 1999 Clinton impeachment trial.

The most heated GOP primary for an open House seat was in the 13th District (Sarasota) vacated by Harris. With five GOP hopefuls running, the winner was millionaire car dealer Vern Buchanan with 32.3% of the vote. Buchanan is considered a strong conservative and appears in good shape to keep the seat in Republican hands.

There was no surprise in the 9th District, which Republican Rep. Mike Bilirakis is leaving after 24 years. The congressman’s son, State Rep. Gus Bilirakis, had frightened off most significant primary competition and won nomination over minimal opposition. Considered a cinch for the fall, Gus is considered cut from the same philosophical cloth as his father (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 87%).

Jim Davis’s Tampa-based 11th District was the only open Democratic-held district in Florida. To no one’s surprise, Democrats nominated Kathy Castor, daughter of former State Superintendent of Public Instruction and ’04 U.S. Senate nominee Betty Castor. She is the favorite to keep the seat in Democratic hands this fall over Republican Eddie Adams, Jr., an architect.