Former Nevada GOP legislator Sue Wagner turns nonpartisan

Sue Wagner, a former lieutenant governor, gaming commissioner and lawmaker in both the Assembly and state Senate during the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, could have been the first female governor.

That’s always been the conventional wisdom in Nevada’s political world. But a 1990 plane crash that caused Wagner, now 74, devastating injuries spoiled the Reno resident’s aspirations to occupy the Governor’s Mansion.

One reason Wagner was such a hot prospect for governor is because she was able to work across the political aisle. She was a moderate Republican who was socially liberal, especially when it came to protecting women’s right to choose abortion.

In 1990, she worked to pass a referendum that prohibits Nevada from amending abortion laws without first winning approval in a referendum. Those laws adopt the tenets of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that said a woman has a right to have an abortion in the early stages of her pregnancy.

Well respected, Wagner always has operated at the left edges of the Republican Party, which might have been one reason her legislative colleagues didn’t add her to the state Senate Hall of Fame until 2013, she said this past week.

Still, it stunned GOP watchers when Wagner last week decided to quit the party and register as a nonpartisan voter. She said she was fed up with Tea Party conservatives pushing the party to the far right — and out of her comfort zone.

The political move was a long time coming. In 2010, Wagner refused to back Republican Sharron Angle, a Tea Party conservative, in her race against U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.

“The reason I quit is I’ve just had it up to here with many different issues,” Wagner said in an interview with the Review-Journal. “Republicans want to get rid of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). And they just hate Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood does so much for women’s health — mammograms, birth control.”

Wagner said the party left her before she left it. She blamed the highly partisan politics of today on the caucus system, where each party’s members get together to strategize, often leading to battles and gridlock.

“My dad was really active in the Republican Party in Maine,” Wagner said with some sadness in her voice after an adult lifetime with the GOP. “I thought, ‘I’m 74 years old, who the heck cares’ ” if she leaves the party, she added.

But her departure from the GOP made national news on the Huffington Post and on MSNBC, where she appeared for an interview. Although she hasn’t been politically active for years, she’s considered a GOP icon and role model.

In fact, Neena Laxalt said Friday that Wagner’s example prompted her to quit the GOP, too, and register nonpartisan. Laxalt is the daughter of former U.S. Sen. and Gov. Paul Laxalt, one of Nevada’s most prominent GOP leaders in his time.

Laxalt’s move is less surprising. She recently revealed that she has endorsed Secretary of State Ross Miller, a Democrat, for attorney general in the 2014 election. His GOP opponent is Laxalt’s nephew, Adam Laxalt.

— Laura Myers


One hopes state Sen. Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, wasn’t thinking of actor Kevin James and “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2” last spring when he introduced the tax credit bill to give taxpayer dollars to movie companies that film in Nevada. That coming movie will receive $4.3 million of the state’s largess to leave the malls in New Jersey for those in Nevada. It is the first award made under Ford’s law.

The first “Mall Cop” received an extremely low 5.2 score from moviegoers on the Internet Movie Database website for its low-brow and seemingly unfunny humor. USA Today trashed it: “The last name Blart may be the funniest thing in the movie, so that’s a hint on just how bad this shopping-center saga can be.”

But the film did make James a star, and there are a lot of people out there — and here — who privately will admit they loved it. You see the first “Mall Cop” cost $26 million to make, but made $146 million at the box office. That begs the question: Why is Nevada paying a company to film here when it can afford the expense itself? Maybe Nevadans will get a discount?

— Ed Vogel


The Review-Journal broke the story Wednesday on how former firefighter and Assembly Speaker John Oceguera could be earning an annual pension of about $121,000, ex-UNR football Coach Chris Ault about $250,000 and others more than $100,000. But on that same day, state Department of Health and Human Services Director Mike Willden quietly was telling a state committee he was celebrating his 40th year with state government.

With 40 years of service and a current salary of $127,721 a year, Willden would earn about $2,800 more a year if he retired now, according to the pension calculator on the Public Employees Retirement System website.

“If there ever was a definition of service to the state, it’s him,” Gov. Brian Sandoval said. “He is the patriarch of state employees. He has universal respect among legislators and is as honest as the day is long.”

That also was clear Wednesday when he told members of the new Public Health and Wellness Committee that with better financial management by him, more money could have been spent on mental health.

Willden did not spend all the money allocated for mental health during the past fiscal year, so some reverted to the state general fund. That doesn’t mean it is lost. The Legislature can reallocate it back to mental health. This happens all the time.

“We left money on the table,” Willden told the council.

— Ed Vogel


Jerri Strasser, registered nurse at University Medical Center in Las Vegas, has announced her candidacy for the Assembly District 5 seat being vacated by Assemblywoman Marilyn Dondero Loop, D-Las Vegas. Loop is running for the state Senate.

Strasser, a Democrat and 45-year Las Vegas resident, said she is running “to put the priorities of the middle class back at the forefront of Nevada politics.” She said she finds herself on her job helping the sick and most vulnerable and wants to bring the passion that motivates her with patients to the Legislature “for my friends and neighbors.”

“Jerr is selfless, and I know she will make an outstanding advocate for Assembly District 5 residents in Carson City,” said Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas.

Strasser is the chief nursing steward at UMC for the Service Employees International Union.

There are about 1,900 more registered Democrats in her district than Republicans.

— Ed Vogel


Nevada on Jan. 27 celebrated an anniversary of sorts — the 63rd anniversary of the first nuclear weapon detonation at the Nevada Test Site, now known as the Nevada National Security Site. The 40-kiloton “Ranger” was dropped from a plane at Frenchman Flat.

More than 800 atomic weapons tests were conducted there before the practice ended in 1992. Most were conducted underground in shafts 600 to 5,000 feet deep. The test ban treaty of 1962 banned above-ground blasts.

The Review-Journal was able to get a nice photo of the Ranger flash at 5 a.m. Jan. 27, 1951, from Indian Springs. It also carried interviews from a number of residents who claimed to have witnessed the explosion. Most of them were on mountaintops, although the headline was “Vegans Atom-ized.”

The best quote came from a man playing craps at the Golden Nugget.

“Must be an A-bomb,” said the man after feeling the tremors. He then returned to his game.

— Ed Vogel


Not long ago state government was releasing hilariously dumb TV public service announcements warning teens about the dangers of sex that insulted their intelligence. Telling teens to just say no isn’t going to work.

But now the state has released a brilliant PSA warning teens against the dangers of drunken driving. The announcement tells them exactly what they can expect for drunken driving, including paying a lawyer as much as $10,000 to defend them in court. Treat teens with respect and they might get the message.

— Ed Vogel

Contact reporter Laura Myers at lmyers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919. Follow her on Twitter @lmyerslvrj. Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901. Follow him on Twitter at @edisonvogel.


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