Candidates propped up by identity politics often get trapped in their own biography. When they seek higher office, they struggle to widen their appeal.
That’s one of the obstacles ahead for untested Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, D-Las Vegas, who’s running for lieutenant governor.
Normally, the lieutenant governor’s race in Nevada doesn’t merit much attention. A lot of, shall we politely say, “lesser” politicians have run for this unnecessary constitutional office. Some have even won.
For example, who can forget the wild Lonnie Hammargren — a Las Vegas brain surgeon who as lieutenant governor enjoyed dressing up like Teddy Roosevelt. He also paid look-a-likes to impersonate him in simultaneous parades.
Hammargren illustrated two things about the office of lieutenant governor: 1) The duties of the office require less intelligence than the average yellow lab, and 2) Lieutenant governors rarely make the jump to governor. In the history of the state, only seven of 34 have done so.
Why is 2014 so different?
Harry Reid, of course.
The U.S. Senate majority leader is up for re-election in 2016, and Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, who will cruise to re-election this fall, could decide to challenge him. Because Democrats have no credible candidate for governor this year (Fred Conquest? Please), Reid needs a Democrat to win the lieutenant governor’s race. That would give Sandoval second thoughts about leaving mid-term to challenge Reid, because the lieutenant governor would replace Sandoval if he vacates the office.
Flores, in her second term as an assemblywoman, is unopposed in the primary. She will be the top-of-the-ticket candidate for Democrats this fall. That’s a big responsibility for a little-known, unexamined, thirtysomething legislator.
I guarantee you that last year, when Reid and Democratic strategists dreamed about the 2014 ticket, they didn’t put fingers to chin and say to themselves: “If only we could get Fred Conquest and Lucy Flores.” Flores’ task is especially difficult because she’s a specialty candidate — raised up by her district not because she has done anything yet, but because she has parlayed her cultural identity into votes.
Her resume on the Assembly Democratic Caucus website highlights:
— National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators.
— National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.
— Latin Chamber of Commerce.
End of story. And it gets more glaring when you look at her Twitter feed. The further you go back, the more you wonder whether Lucy Flores did anything as a legislator that was not filtered through the lens of her ethnicity.
Her feed is filled with hashtags such as #LatinasRepresent, #Latinos, #CIR, and messages such as this one: “Conexión - Affordable Care Act: ProgressNow Nevada será el anfitrión de un evento informativo sobre la nueva ley.”
The point is not that Lucy Flores did anything wrong to get to this juncture, but that Sen. Reid needs her to widen the circles of her constituency. That takes leadership, trust and time. Finding a wider voice isn’t something you suddenly invent with a television commercial. Voters can sniff out a fake.
Is Lucy Flores a fake? Is she ready? We’ll need more information to make a better judgment, because at the time of this writing, she has only talked to one news reporter in Reno on filing day and one TV reporter in Las Vegas last week — both sympathetic to her cause.
She seems quick on her feet, displays a sense of humor and flashes a drop-dead smile. But without tougher questioning, you can’t tell yet if there’s any “there” there.
One early bad sign: She won’t take a clear stand on Question 3, the margins tax initiative to bolster education funding in Nevada. Asked on “Ralston Reports” if she supported the tax, she said, “It’s not the solution I favor.” Pressed on how she would vote and what she would tell voters, she droned: “It’s … not … the … solution … I … favor.”
That’s a coached dodge and an unforced error on the part of her campaign. If you don’t have a strong opinion on the margins tax by now, you have no business running for lieutenant governor.
Democrats need Flores to be better than that, and they need it in a hurry.
Sherman Frederick, former publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and member of the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame, writes a column for Stephens Media. Read his columns and blogs at www.reviewjournal.com/columns-blogs/sherman-frederick.