Learning From the Masters

As his mayoral days dwindle down to a precious few, the question is, how much influence will Oscar Goodman continue to wield at City Hall? The easy answer is, much more than if Chris Giunchigliani had been elected mayor. But the new mayor is Carolyn Goodman, and while she would be unwise to try to ape her husband (anyone who succeeded would require a bionic liver), there is much she can learn from him.

Founding and running The Meadows School required skills a mayor might have and need. But along with whatever she digested in 12 years as a mayor’s wife, she can learn from him about sides of the government and the community she couldn’t know as he does.

Many Americans claim to want amateurs in politics—note our country’s supposed disdain for professional politicians. But they have to learn somewhere. Yes, they can study issues, but they look different on the inside than they do on the outside. They also have to know how to get things done, and while some such talents are innate, picking up tips and techniques along the way is vital.

Nevada has a history of political mentoring, some of it direct, some by osmosis. Sen. Pat McCarran (1933-54) put dozens of Nevadans through law school and sired a generation of Nevada political leaders. Sen. Howard Cannon spent four terms (1959-83) delivering for constituents and doing his job so quietly and well that few today give him much thought. But those who worked in his office included a young law student, Shelley Berkley, and a young college professor, Dina Titus, both of whom have had former students and aides go into politics.

Mike O’Callaghan was a party activist and governor (1971-79), a hearty Irishman whose favorite student became his lieutenant governor: Harry Reid. Different as they were, until his death in 2004, O’Callaghan was probably the one Nevadan who could tell Reid, by then a national power, where to go and how to get there.

That in itself poses problems. Neither party has a gray eminence whose advice and wisdom matter deeply; the powers tend to be officeholders such as Reid, and they understandably have to think of their own elections before the party. While he helped his son Rory become a county commissioner, Reid wasn’t in a position to mentor him during his gubernatorial campaign; he was fighting for his own political life, and that hurt the younger Reid. Among other Democrats, former governor and senator Richard Bryan offers wise counsel but has tried to stay out of politics as much as possible since retiring from office.

Republicans are similarly lacking. After his tenure as governor and U.S. senator, Paul Laxalt remained in Washington, although various Republicans who worked for and with him went into politics. Republican national committeeman Bob List is a former governor but hasn’t established himself as a dominant force. The late former Gov. Kenny Guinn might have assumed that position, but his support for a tax hike made him anathema to many in his party when he might have been an honest broker between the party’s wings—and former state Sen. Bill Raggio has met a similar fate.

Two state officeholders may reflect even closer mentoring relationships. Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto’s father, Manny Cortez, was a longtime county commissioner with many old friends who supported her (Republican Sig Rogich crossed party lines for her). If Secretary of State Ross Miller eventually runs, as expected, for higher office, he has a built-in adviser: His father, Bob, Nevada’s longest-serving governor, knows some pretty valuable tricks of the political trade.

Children and siblings of politicians often enter politics. Sometimes, even husbands and wives do. But no case of a wife prominent in the community in her own right succeeding her husband in office compares with this one. In the past 12 years, Oscar Goodman has made his share of history. Carolyn Goodman now will make some—and if she needs advice, she knows where to turn. In ordinary cases, close advisers aren’t all that prominent. This case is not ordinary.