Nevada Smith: Is Chachas really a carpetbagger, and do you care?


Say a fellow is born and raised in Ely until his last year of high school, when his folks send him to a better school in a neighboring state.

From there, he is accepted to Columbia University and later goes to the Harvard Business School. That’s right: From Ely to the Ivy League.

After that, the sky’s the limit. He excels as an investment banker in New York for more than a decade. All that time he’s active in politics as a cocktail party contributor to mostly conservative causes.

Spotting what he believes is a rare political opportunity, he moves back to Nevada and announces his intention to take on the most powerful politician in the history of the state.

Immediately the shouts of carpetbagger begin.

But is John Chachas really a carpetbagger, and will conservative Nevada voters really care even a little bit?

It’s a question I’ve pondered in recent weeks while studying the sprawling Republican primary field as it jockeys for position and take advantage of the opportunity to run against a hamstrung Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. I’ve come to the conclusion that Chachas isn’t so much of a carpetbagger that it will prevent conservatives from listening to his forceful rhetoric when it comes to fixing the economy and rethinking the state’s total opposition to Yucca Mountain.

He’s obviously a political opportunist, but then opportunism is part of politics. While a lot of folks get involved in politics for good reasons, I haven’t met many who attempted to gain high political office without being opportunistic.

Chachas is a third-generation Nevadan. He comes from a prosperous family that owned the Cleveland Ranch in Spring Valley. His father was a successful lawyer and businessman. The family built a Safeway store, owned an auto dealership, created residential developments, and invested in gold mining claims and real estate.

In a recent conversation with Chachas, I heard him speak with authority on the economy and education. I heard him say he favored using Yucca Mountain as something other than a hole in the ground (meaning reprocessing, a common theme for primary Republicans).

Listen to Chachas, and you’ll hear an intelligent guy who is sure to the point of cockiness of his positions, beliefs, and opinions.

You’ll also hear him talk about shooting his first mule deer at age 11. He’ll remind you he owns five guns. He’ll also talk about the time he branded and castrated cattle on the family ranch.

Stand still for a few minutes and Chachas will verily gush about how much he loves Nevada despite the fact he hasn’t chosen to live here in a couple decades.

Meanwhile, everyone knows Reid is the Senator from Searchlight. He conjures his hard-rock mining heritage and hard-scrabble-and-sagebrush upbringing every day in Washington. In many ways, Reid defines the Nevada experience, and when he departs Washington on a break he returns to a home in Searchlight.

But Reid is also a guy who has fought hard to win and retain a job that has kept him a long way from Nevada for the better part of the last three decades. Now Reid is scrambling to remind jaded Nevada voters that he still shares their values and concerns and is doing his best to help them through the roughest recession in a generation.

If a candidate reflects your views and values, do you care that he hasn’t lived in Nevada for a couple decades?

Contact me and tell me your thoughts for a future column.

Is Chachas a pretty boy investment banker from New York, or a local boy who made good and is returning to make his mark in his home state?

Maybe he’s a little of both.

Question is, do you care?

(This column was originally published in the Pahrump Valley Times, Ely Times, Eureka Sentinel, Mesquite News, Boulder City Review, Tonopah Times, and Goldfield News.)