The political family

Early voting has begun in the municipal elections, including the one getting the most attention: Who will have the honor of following hizzoner, Oscar Goodman? It may stay all in the family. Polls have favored Carolyn Goodman, though County Commissioners Chris Giunchigliani and Larry Brown have been trying to catch up,with City Councilman Steve Ross and a large field behind them.

Carolyn Goodman’s entry changed the dynamic of the race, which hadn’t changed long before when Giunchigliani jumped in.  But this race has its quirks anyway.  Here are a few to consider:

It isn’t common for family members to try to succeed each other, but local politics often have been a family affair — except the politicians haven’t tended to be husband and wife. The combinations have included just about every permutation imaginable, including mothers and daughters (statewide, Barbara Vucanovich and Patty Cafferata; locally, Thalia Dondero and Marilyn Dondero Loop) and fathers and sons (you may have heard of Harry and Rory Reid), as well as siblings and other family groupings.

Husband-and-wife teams have been more unusual.  The most successful pair to come immediately to mind is Keith and Karen Hayes — he was a district judge whose most prominent case was the Howard Hughes “Mormon Will” trial, and she served as a county commissioner. Steve Wolfson is a Las Vegas city councilman while his wife Jackie Glass is a district court judge.  Bob Price was an assemblyman and his wife Nancy was a regent who just lost a bid for the House.

Dawn and Jim Gibbons also may come to mind, but we are still trying to forget him, so let’s move on.

Many of the husband-and-wife teams haven’t been all that successful at winning office, partly due to timing and opposition, but in some cases perhaps because voters wanted nothing to do with a potential dynasty. One of the more interesting combinations was Sam and Peggy Cavnar.  He ran for several offices while she served in the Assembly and eventually lost the general election for the House to Harry Reid in 1982.  Like the Cavnars, Jack and Joan Kenney sought more offices than they won, but they, too, were in there punching. Longtime Las Vegans may remember Charles and Virginia Catt. He ran for several posts, and she served as Democratic committeewoman — an insider and an outsider, much as today, Giunchigliani has held several offices while her husband, Gary Gray, has been a leading campaign operative.

Does that help or hurt Carolyn Goodman? She undoubtedly has picked up some of the animus of her husband’s opponents, but he’s likely to do her much more good than harm.

Historically newcomer politicians seem to fare better in seeking the Las Vegas mayor’s job.  The longest-serving mayor was Oran Gragson, who had never held elective office when he first ran in 1959. He went on to serve four terms. Ernie Cragin served three terms, and had never held office before running in 1931. Jan Jones hadn’t held office before winning the first of her two terms in 1991, nor had Oscar Goodman ever ventured into the political arena before the first of his three overwhelming victories in 1999. 

Giunchigliani and Brown seem to be moving in the opposite direction of most politicians in running. The two are county commissioners and the Clark County Commission is unusual in its power, thanks to the Strip being in the county rather than the city. Unlike in many places where politicians start at the local level and then seek state office, several Nevada legislators have
left Carson City for the commission. This includes not only Giunchigliani, but the incumbent she defeated, Myrna Williams. Tom Collins also made the switch, as did Dario Herrera and Erin Kenny, who went on to other problems (as in the G-Sting corruption trial). Brown had been on the city council before running for county commission and now seeks to return to that board.

Why?  Presumably, they could have more of an impact on policy with the county, but Jones and Goodman did a lot to glamorize the Las Vegas mayorship.  The job long has had more to do with public relations and encouraging development than actually being able to do a lot about it, but Jones and Goodman were hard-charging — Jones with the Fremont Street Experience and other downtown changes, Goodman with the 61 acres that boasts the Smith Center for the Performing Arts, the Ruvo Center, and the World Market Center.  They have made the job more interesting.

Besides, when you’re on the county commission, you’re less likely to get your own martini glass.

Michael Green professor of history at CSN.