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Political legacies clash in Nevada attorney general race

By David Yates | Oct 2, 2014

CARSON CITY, Nev. (Legal Newsline) – The heirs of two of the Silver State’s best-known political icons are each seeking to extend their family’s legacy by becoming Nevada’s next chief attorney.

Come November, Nevadans will see two memorable surnames on the ballot, Secretary of State Ross Miller, son of former Gov. Bob Miller, and Adam Laxalt, the grandson of former U.S. Sen. Paul Laxalt.

Born in Reno but raised in Washington, D.C., Laxalt, the Republican nominee for attorney general, says his Nevada roots stretch back 150 years and that his “family has done nothing but serve the state of Nevada.”

“My grandfather came from a very small town in Carson City, Nev., and was the son of a sheepherder,” Laxalt said while addressing his family history. “It’s remarkable how in this country you can be born as the son of sheepherder and go on to become a U.S. senator. I can’t travel anywhere in this state without people expressing their fondness for my grandfather.”

A “confidant” of President Ronald Reagan, Laxalt says two of his grandfather’s lasting accomplishments when he served as governor in the late 1960s included driving the mob out of Las Vegas with the Corporate Gaming Act and implementing the state’s community college system.

“If the people of Nevada believe I can accomplish just a fraction of what my grandfather did, they know I’ll benefit them,” Laxalt said.

With a dad who just happens to be the longest-serving governor in state history, Miller can stand on his family lineage as well.

Although the Miller campaign declined all requests for an interview, Erik Herzik, professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Reno, says that despite serving so long, Miller’s father really isn’t known for major accomplishments.

“He (Gov. Miller) was well liked and basically catered to core Nevada interests – gaming, mining, low taxes and school teachers,” Herzik said.

“That may sound harsh, but the state basically boomed throughout his terms – with a brief recession in ‘91 which Miller handled well and did so without forcing much legislative action. Miller is still a stalwart name for the Democrats, but his low-key demeanor also didn’t make him any kind of lightning rod for Republicans."

When it comes to name recognition, Herzik hands the advantage to Miller, as his father’s term as governor was more recent and therefore fresher in the minds of Nevadans.

“Both Ross Miller and Adam Laxalt are trying to tap their family legacies,” Herzik said. “Ross Miller has also run before so he has already test driven the family name in politics. He certainly gets help from his parents who have helped Ross with crossover connections to Republicans who were friendly with the Millers during his gubernatorial terms.”

While Miller may have more in-state Republicans siding with him, prominent Republicans from across the nation are rallying under Laxalt’s banner.

In May, the 35-year-old first-time candidate received an endorsement from former Vice President Dick Cheney, a friend of his grandfather, who called the former Naval officer and Iraq War veteran “courageous” and of his pending campaign said "no state race is as important as this one."

And in February, former Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld helped kickstart Laxalt’s campaign with a $5,000 donation, campaign finance records show.

“Laxalt has … a tougher road to tap the legacy as the memory of Sen. Laxalt is fading,” Herzik said. “Adam Laxalt is a first-timer in terms of running for office and, despite the name, is seen as somewhat of an outsider to Nevada. He is being endorsed by many stalwart old-line Republicans, but doesn’t get the crossover support Ross Miller has received --- thanks largely to dad Bob Miller.”

Tougher road or not, Laxalt’s family name helped him net nearly $600,000 in donations in the first six months of 2014, giving him a two-to-one fundraising edge over Miller in that timespan.

“Part of Miller’s made-up campaign is to act like I’m not raising money,” Laxalt said. “We’ll meet him head to head on spending.”

Legacies and the perks associated with an illustrious family name notwithstanding, the two candidates will not only have to measure up to their patriarchs, but also fill the shoes of the current attorney general, Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto.

Term-limited, Masto carved a reputation for herself on two fronts – for her fight against human-trafficking and outsourcing lawsuits against big banks.

In February, she also became known as the attorney general who was sanctioned for bringing a frivolous lawsuit, which was handled by an East Coast law firm, against Lender Processing Services, now called Black Knight Financial.

As previously reported by Legal Newsline, a Clark County district judge ordered Masto to pay legal and discovery costs to the defendant, believed to amount to $1 million, after the state failed to come up with evidence supporting a lawsuit accusing the firm of defrauding homeowners.

Uncertain about Laxalt, Herzik said he believes Miller would “likely certainly be more like Masto – especially in outsourcing work.”

Throughout his campaign, Laxalt has made transparency in government one of his central issues, promising, if elected, the Office of the Attorney General will have an open and competitive bidding process for contracting outside counsel, and that he’d also push for implementing contingency fees limits paid to outside firms.

Nonetheless, Laxalt says hiring law firms to sue businesses is not one of the two primary goals he has set for himself as attorney general.

Over the past decade, Laxalt says the role of attorney general has grown and become more significant, especially with a president currently in office who is overly fond of executive powers.

“Obama overreach has created a larger roll for the attorney general office to defend state rights,” Laxalt said. “We’ll use the office to fight the Obama Administration. Our second role is to protect Nevada business and jobs – that’s what I’m focused on.”

And the goals of the two candidates four years from now?

Laxalt maintained he was not looking past this year’s election, saying he would “make an impact than get out.”

Miller, on the other hand, may only be biding his time.

“Win or lose, I think both of these ‘legacies’ remain in the Nevada political future going forward,” Herzik said. “Ross Miller is clearly targeted as a gubernatorial contender. In fact, had (Republican Gov.) Brian Sandoval been term-limited and not so overwhelmingly popular, Miller would have run this election.”

Reach David Yates at elections@legalnewsline.com

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