Photo by Andrew James
Wife of the Party
For more than seven tumultuous months as chair of the Nevada Republican Party, Amy Tarkanian not only survived but appeared to flourish. In the playground of competing interests, strong-willed up-and-comers, disengaged onlookers and broken infrastructure, she fought bullies over the scheduling of the presidential caucus and acted as the fulcrum in balancing Tea Party demands and the need for electable candidates.
She will preside over Nevada’s Republican presidential caucus on Feb. 4 and then, barring a last-minute decision to stay in the post, she will step aside as chair. The move will give her time to focus on helping not just any Republican get elected, but one to whom she’s been married since 2001: congressional candidate Danny Tarkanian. While she says she could maintain her role as chair and advise her husband, the perception of her wearing two hats could prove a distraction to Danny’s cause.
The daughter-in-law of Jerry and Lois Tarkanian (the legendary UNLV basketball coach and longtime Las Vegas councilwoman, respectively), Amy got involved in politics in 2004 when Danny ran for the Nevada Senate and she grew frustrated by the lack of party support.
One of the factors that helped her win the job as chair last June—replacing Mark Amodei, who left to run for Congress—was that she had no desire to run for public office herself. “Every single state party chair who’s been in that position since I’ve been in Nevada has never finished the two-year term. They all used it to catapult themselves to go run for U.S. Senate, for Congress or for personal egos,” says Amy, who, at 35, is the youngest state party chair in the nation. “I just want to help, and I want the party to be stable and cohesive. And it hasn’t been that way.”
In addition to working to ensure a smooth caucus, Amy counts among her accomplishments increased fundraising and voter registration, better coordination with the national party and a good relationship with local media.
“I liked it. I’m still enjoying it. Is it easy? No. Having to deal with all the different personalities and different ideas on how things should be done, it’s definitely not a cakewalk. But it’s been very enlightening, very educational. I have grown tremendously.”