Why Lee-Spearman Matters

State Sen. John Lee is a Democrat—but only nominally, according to his critics, who tend
to be in the party’s liberal and moderately liberal wing. He faces a primary challenge from Pat Spearman, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and chaplain. And her challenge could well be successful.

Several labor and environmental groups, and other strongly Democratic organizations, are targeting him with mailers and phoning. They support Spearman, who has been impressive in television interviews and stating her platform, which hits most of the notes to be expected from a Democrat.  Spearman’s biography on her website delves deeply into her military background, educational experience, and work as a pastor.

Meanwhile, Nevada Priorities PAC has unveiled ww.therealjohnlee.com, which says his record on abortion “mirrors Sharron Angle’s,” and it doesn’t get any nicer from there. The page attacks him on LGBT issues and the environment. It provides some detail on his blinkered bill to make it easier to have guns on college campuses (though 14 other state Senate Democrats disgraced themselves by voting with him, perhaps in a useless effort to endear themselves to the National Rifle Association; perhaps because they knew the Assembly would do their job for them and kill the bill). It also says, interestingly, “He is also frequently patronizing, condescending and sexist in his conversations with female lobbyists and other women in the legislative process.”

Lee’s website features the slogan, “For us, our families, and Nevada’s future.”  One of the three highlights on his home page is “Family Man,” complete with a family photo of several generations of Lees. His biography includes references to his wife deciding to be a stay-at-home mother and his commitment to the Boy Scouts—which resulted, it notes, from his membership in the Mormon Church. He also refers to his community and business experience, including as a banker.

So, both candidates have put their best foot forward. Can Spearman expect attacks from Lee?  It will be interesting to see whether and how he is critical of her. But this race presents some interesting possibilities.

The culinary and teachers unions have maintained radio silence. Spearman clearly would seem closer to their ideology. But the statewide teachers’ organization has refused to endorse John Oceguera, who fought with Lee at the last session, because he isn’t pro-teacher enough for them, so consistency might be an interesting issue here. The fun part will be if Spearman wins the primary and those who didn’t endorse her will fall all over themselves to “help” her in the general election. That’s less likely to happen to Lee, who would pick up independent and Republican support anyway.

Democrats might learn a lesson from this race. Consider Indiana, where longtime Sen. Richard Lugar lost his re-election bid to a challenger so far to the right that he falls off, and Utah, where another longtime senator, Orrin Hatch, moved from right-wing to downright nutty to try to fend off a challenge and still wound up with a battle on his hands. In a solidly Democratic district, as Lee’s is, dinging a Democrat who leans well to the right of his party might serve as a message to his colleagues.

Oddly enough, both Lee and Spearman have demonstrated a commitment to higher education, Lee with hoping to change the funding formula and Spearman with comments about fairness. That’s one vote for sanity.