CARSON CITY — The year was 1929. Herbert Hoover was president, cool girls were called flappers and the nation was headed into the Great Depression.
That also was the last year that Republicans were the majority party in both houses of the Nevada Legislature.
That’s a long time ago.
It doesn’t have to be that way for more generations, says Chuck Muth, the libertarian-leaning conservative Republican activist, blogger, columnist and political campaign trainer.
He has spent the past 20 years shouting the conservative causes, especially fighting tax increases and holding accountable legislators who ignore anti-tax pledges. And he’s still doing so, helping conservatives who share his views run for seats in the Legislature in 2014.
But his actions have helped create a rift in the GOP between moderates and conservatives. He has become a pain in the rear for the moderate Republican leaders in the Legislature who simply wish he would vanish.
Muth leads a tea partylike effort to elect conservative Republicans even if it means knocking off moderates such as state Sen. Micheal Roberson, R-Las Vegas.
The Nevada Legislature has become a lot like Congress with Republicans holding widely divergent positions. About two-thirds of the Republican legislators are moderates, while a vocal one-third are hard-line conservatives who consistently vote no on taxes and enlarging government.
At times, it seems, Muth would rather Republicans lose to Democrats than elect moderate Republicans to office. At one point in his career, he even switched his registration to nonpartisan because of his disgust with big-spending Republicans.
“Chuck Muth is an increasingly irrelevant divider of a diminishing number of legislative Republicans,” said Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey, R-Reno.
Muth now is working to put anti-tax Republicans on next June’s primary election ballot against moderate Republican legislators who supported Gov. Brian Sandoval’s plan last spring to extend more than $600 million in taxes that otherwise would have expired.
In his anti-tax quest, Muth, 54, has angered more Republicans than Democrats.
Take Roberson. He won’t even comment publicly on his thoughts about Muth, who began calling him “Moderate Mike” about the time Roberson changed from opposing Sandoval’s move to extend taxes in 2011 to supporting the extension in 2013.
PLAN FOR REPUBLICAN MAJORITY
Muth, of Las Vegas, said he knows a way that Republicans — who now trail Democrats by 96,400 registered voters — could become the majority party in the Nevada Legislature for the first time since Babe Ruth was a baseball star.
Keep championing no new taxes. Oppose all moves to tax the Internet. Support legalizing marijuana and gay marriage, and stop making a big deal out of social issues such as abortion. With these moves, more young people would register Republican and some day the party would become the majority.
He says it is inevitable that marijuana will be legalized by voters and that the U.S. Supreme Court will uphold gay peoples’ right to marry. Like they did in the battle to abolish slavery, Republicans need to lead rather than follow Democrats, he said.
“Republicans never blow an opportunity to blow an opportunity,” said Muth, citing a phrase that began with conservative news commentator Fred Barnes.
With a grin, he said he was arrested as a 20-year-old in Baltimore for possessing two marijuana joints. And the only time he testified before Congress he called for same-sex marriage.
Such an arrest was a big deal back then when his father was a union-backing Baltimore firefighter and a Democratic state legislator. Today’s younger voters don’t care at all, he said.
Hickey, another tax-extending Republican on the outs with Muth, said the Muth plan cannot work when so many Republicans hold traditional social values.
But Muth contends the older generation of social conservatives is dying off, and Republicans need to latch onto issues to pick up younger voters.
Hickey’s distaste for Muth is intense.
“Muth’s scorched-earth tactics have resulted in destroying any bridges he ever tried to build with legislative leadership. Legislators like Sharon Angle, who pledge their voting allegiance to Chuck Muth before even listening to legislation, end up relegating themselves to the back bench in Carson City,” he said.
Hickey added it is tough for Republicans to pick up additional Assembly seats because of redistricting. Now most Assembly seats are solidly Democratic in party registration. A few are solidly Republican. Candidates aren’t dumb. Seven legislative candidates won without opposition in 2012 because the minority party realized it would be foolish to waste money on a campaign.
GOP HAS UPHILL BATTLE
David Damore, a political science professor at UNLV, believes it would be next to impossible for Republicans to pick up the majority of legislative seats in both houses in Nevada in coming years because more voters are minorities and they generally favor an increased government role in education and health care.
Also hurting chances for a conservative Republican majority, added Damore, one of Muth’s neighbors, is the shift of money from Northern Nevada to Southern Nevada.
Unless the state money pie is increased, the conservative north may find its services cut — and have no choice but to back higher taxes, according to Damore.
This change was most notable in the 2013 Legislature by the shift of some higher education spending to the south. That forced cuts at Western Nevada College in Carson City, Truckee Meadows College in Reno and Great Basin College in Elko.
Damore said Democrats won’t admit it, but they probably enjoy Muth’s criticism of moderate Republicans since they figure that it will help them in the end.
A former Clark County Republican chairman and executive director of the national American Conservative Union, Muth continually has faced opposition from moderate Republicans. He said Republicans tried to prevent him in the 1990s from writing columns critical of party members and leadership when he was a consultant to the state party.
He added they have gone to the editors of rural newspapers, for which he now writes free columns, to try to silence him.
National anti-tax leader Grover Norquist, whom Muth calls a friend, honed his sharp opposition to tax increases and the need for an anti-tax pledge. And former Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, sharpened his Libertarian leanings.
Hickey is right about there being a divided Republican Party in Nevada, which might in part be because of Muth’s influence. Of the 25 Republican legislators, 16 could be called “Sandoval Republicans” since they sided with the governor on issues such as continuing taxes last spring.
The other nine might be called “Muth Republicans” or tea party Republicans because they voted no on taxes and almost always take conservative positions.
But in 2011 when the state taxes first were extended, 12 Republicans in the Legislature took the no-taxes position.
“I was tea party before the tea party was coined,” Muth said.
While few people remember, Muth once was a political candidate. He lost a 1996 race for state Senate to then Sen. Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas. The results weren’t even close — Titus, 20,565 votes, Muth, 13,085.
“I learned I could be more effective if I helped elect 10, 15, 20 Republicans to the legislators,” he said.
ALLY IN TROUBLE
Unlike the Assembly Republican Caucus that reprimanded Assemblyman Jim Wheeler, R-Gardnerville, for saying in August he would support slavery if his constituents wanted it, Muth defended him.
He said Wheeler was “stupid” for mentioning using slavery in his example, but right for saying he would back his constituents against the wishes of lobbyists and pressure from fellow legislators on actual bills before the Legislature. Wheeler typically supports Muth’s views on tax increases and enlarging government.
Muth had an indirect role in Wheeler’s slavery statement. When Wheeler first ran in 2010, Muth blogged about the candidate over his campaign statement that he would always support his voters. Muth said he questioned whether Wheeler even would support slavery if that’s what voters wanted. He cannot remember whether Wheeler responded, although Wheeler said he did.
He met Wheeler over coffee two weeks ago and noted the assemblyman is contrite for using the slavery example.
“It is going to be up to Jim if he wants to fight,” he said. “The people in his district will decide if he will be re-elected.”
Muth said many Republicans do not understand his political strategy, which he says is simple: He wants to defeat moderate legislative Republicans in districts where they don’t have to be moderate to win. He does not oppose moderate Republicans in Democrat-dominated districts.
As an example, he said Assemblyman Lynn Stewart, R-Henderson, did not have to be moderate and support taxes to win in his district. In contrast, Assemblywoman Melissa Woodbury, R-Henderson, won in a Democratic district so he would not try to take her out for supporting tax extensions
Yet he acknowledges he goes against his philosophy when it comes to Roberson. Muth said he could not back Roberson even if a Roberson victory gave Republicans control of the Senate. They trail now by 11-10.
“There is an exception to every rule,” Muth said. “Michael Roberson just lied (about not backing taxes in 2013).”
Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal. com or 775-687-3901.