Back in 2002 when senatorial son Rory Reid was preparing to run for the Clark County Commission, the story is told that his father, Harry Reid, tried to talk him out of it.
The commission is a graveyard of political careers, the elder Reid warned. Nobody ever graduates from there to a higher office.
But Rory Reid ignored Harry Reid, always a dubious proposition when it comes to Nevada politics. And his decision ruffled more than family feathers: Then-state Sen. Dina Titus had been interested in the seat herself, but backed off after Harry Reid lent his support to his son’s bid, even though the elder Reid maintained his reservations about the wisdom of the idea.
Rory Reid won the seat handily and went on to serve as chairman of the commission. He made his bid for higher office in 2010, challenging then-Gov. Jim Gibbons. But Rory Reid didn’t foresee that then-U.S. District Judge Brian Sandoval would quit the bench and make his own bid for governor. Sandoval easily defeated both Gibbons (in the primary) and Rory Reid (in the general). Ironically enough, Titus went on — after a couple of stumbles — to be elected to Congress in a district she’ll likely hold for life.
Other people have tried and failed to move from the County Commission to higher office: Dario Herrera ran for Congress against Jon Porter, but lost. Erin Kenny made a bid for lieutenant governor, and also lost. Both later ended up in prison in the wake of the G-sting strip club bribery scandal.
Commissioners Chris Giunchigliani and Larry Brown both made a bid to become mayor of Las Vegas in 2011; Brown lost in a primary and Giunchigliani lost in the general to Carolyn Goodman, wife of ex-Mayor Oscar Goodman.
And now Brown has been thwarted a second time. He put his name in play to become the next general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, notwithstanding the fact that iron-willed incumbent General Manager Pat Mulroy had already tapped her own successor, her deputy, John Entsminger.
Brown, after counting votes and coming up way short, withdrew his bid and ended up joining a commission majority Tuesday in naming Entsminger to head up the Las Vegas Valley Water District, the first step in installing him as the SNWA’s chief, too.
Even former commissioners have suffered from the Curse of the Clark County Commission: Back in 1999, ex-Commissioner Jay Bingham had to drop out of the race for Las Vegas mayor for unspecified health reasons. He’d been the front-runner, and his withdrawal cleared the way for Oscar Goodman to begin his 12-year run as happiest mayor in the universe.
Trivia question: Who is the last Clark County Commissioner to graduate from the commission to higher elected office? The answer: Lorraine Hunt-Bono, who was elected lieutenant governor and served two terms. (It was Hunt who defeated Kenny in 2002, in fact.)
A couple of other county commissioners did get better nonelected jobs after leaving the board: Bob Broadbent served as the county’s powerful director of aviation, and Manny Cortez led the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority for many years.
The sorry history of commissioners being trapped behind the Government Center dais forever is something that a couple of incumbents might want to keep in mind: Tom Collins has mused about running for lieutenant governor; the cowboy commissioner is perhaps the only Las Vegas Democrat who would be welcomed by voters in the rurals.
And current Chairman Steve Sisolak has toyed publicly with the notion of running for governor. Sisolak has positioned himself as a conservative Democrat willing to take on labor unions, a fiscally conservative guy who opposes most taxes. That’s about as close as Sisolak can get to Rory Reid’s 2010 playbook without dyeing his hair gray and donning square-framed hipster glasses.
Will the result be the same? We may yet find out, if Sisolak tries to beat the Curse.
Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or firstname.lastname@example.org.