No unkindness is meant in saying that Michael McDonald is a political vampire: Others
have done everything but drive a stake through his heart, and still he survives.
McDonald just won election as chairman of the Nevada Republican Party—the fourth to hold the position in three years. Now, how important the job is can be debatable. Back in the 1940s and early ’50s, the leader of Nevada’s state Senate was an Elko lawyer named Jack Robbins, and his much younger law partner asked him about whether to run for state party chair for the Democrats. Robbins said that was fine but, “They tie horses to state chairmen.”
That’s true to an extent, since no one doubts that the predominant Nevada Democrat is Harry Reid, and McDonald may have less power among Republicans than, say, Brian Sandoval. But McDonald’s ascent may mean a little something.
First, while McDonald was a talented councilman—he was, from all reports, great at dealing with the potholes and neighborhood issues that really matter—he also had the habit of putting himself in an ethical fricassee, meaning he sometimes stewed in his own juice. That can be useful for a state party chair, since that person is expected to do some serious maneuvering.
But it also sets up a potential problem for Republicans. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., is going to try to make hay out of the claims about Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley’s activities regarding kidney disease and treatment, which may have presented a conflict of interest because her husband is a nephrologist. Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., will no doubt attack his challenger, former Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, as a former firefighter and public employee, claiming that he unduly benefited from his position.
It’s easy enough to attack Heller and Heck for a variety of things. Unfortunately, Democrats won’t make much of how and whether they have benefited from their votes, nor how there’s no sunshine between Sandoval and a prominent law firm. After all, it’s only my fellow public employees who get rich at the government trough. Ahem. But Democrats can and may make McDonald an issue, too. If Republicans want to claim corruption, look at their party leader! And considering that McDonald and Frank Hawkins, the former Las Vegas city councilman he defeated for re-election amid allegations of corruption, just won a public housing contract from the city at a time when the housing market doesn’t really need additional units, more questions can be raised.
The other problem is that McDonald is a sharp politician, no question, but it’s possible that he’s being asked to make a silk purse out of an elephant’s ear. Nevada’s Republican Party has been famously incompetent and divided, having screwed up its caucus earlier this year on top of a series of missteps. Some of them have involved trying to keep Ron Paul supporters from gaining control of the party, and the Paul supporters are not going gentle into that good night. McDonald has to get the party machinery humming and get everybody working together. He may be the one to do it if anybody can. But can anybody? McDonald may just have to do some serious work in the dark of night.