Possible attorney general matchup: Ex-governor's son vs. ex-U.S. senator's grandson

CARSON CITY — Talk about a dream election: The Democratic son of a former governor squares off against the Republican grandson of a former governor and U.S. senator.

Nevada isn’t a state known for political dynasties.

It’s not Massachusetts with its Kennedys or California with its Browns, where sons and daughters are born ready to file their candidacies.

But Nevada soon might join the pack.

Come election night, on Nov. 4, 2014, the Nevada attorney general’s race might be a battle between Democrat Ross Miller, the son of former Gov. Bob Miller, and Republican Adam Paul Laxalt, the grandson of former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Paul Laxalt.

That would be exciting, but don’t count on it just yet.

Erik Herzik, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, said Laxalt might be reluctant to run for office for the first time in a race he probably would lose.

He questions whether any name Republican will challenge the well-known and well-financed Miller when Democrats now hold a 97,000 statewide registered voter advantage (530,000 Democrats vs. 433,000 Republicans).

“Miller has the name recognition, the voter registration advantage and he will have all the money he needs,” Herzik said about the term-limited, seven-year secretary of state. “He has proven he can not only get Democrat votes, but crossover votes.”

In an email response to a request for an interview, Laxalt said he was too busy with his legal practice now to talk about the attorney general’s race.

In several interviews early in August, Laxalt only would say he has been asked to run and is considering the possibility.

Rather than Laxalt, the Republican candidate could be Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno.

Brower said Wednesday that he has not decided whether he will run. Since he is in the middle of his four-year Senate term, he does not give up that office if he enters the attorney general’s race. Brower added that he thinks it is too early for the political season to begin.

But Herzik said Brower, a former U.S. attorney for Nevada, may have worn out his welcome among Republicans because of his constant seeking of offices.

Early in 2011, he was chosen by the Washoe County Commission to fill Bill Raggio’s unexpired state Senate seat. That summer, his party’s central committee did not select him to run for a vacant congressional seat. Then, in 2012, he won the state Senate seat.

In contrast, Miller, 37, already is busy seeking campaign contributions and endorsements, including two from police organizations.

He noted that no other Democrats have announced they will oppose him in the June 2014 primary, and so far no Republicans formally have entered the race. He expects to win.


Both political parties have a record of bypassing races they cannot win. Seven Nevada legislators won election last year without opposition. Most were in districts where their party registration far outnumbered the other party’s.

Rather than waste money to oppose incumbent Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto in the 2010 attorney general race, the Republican Party hierarchy did nothing. Masto won by 17 percentage points over political unknown Republican Travis Barrick, a Las Vegas lawyer. He spent $27,000, compared with her $618,000, on the campaign.

Barrick, 58, is waiting to see what Brower and Laxalt do first before he decides to run again.

But he expects Miller to win the race.

“He is a decent fellow. He wouldn’t make a bad AG. My Republican friends would rip my head off for saying that.”

If people want a reformer, then they should choose him, Barrick said. If they want an “apparatchik,” or establishment bureaucrat, then they should choose Miller, Laxalt or Brower.

Barrick favors placing nuclear waste in Yucca Mountain, and since the attorney general’s office advises governors, he likely would file any litigation favored by the governor.

“Politics is a rich man’s game,” added Barrick, saying he doubts he could raise more than he did in 2010.

Miller maintains he has the experience and knowledge for the job. Not only did he grow up in the Governor’s Mansion, but he has won two statewide races, served on several boards with the governor and attorney general, and regularly testified before the Legislature.

“You have to have a good understanding of any issues that face the state,” Miller said about being attorney general.

If elected, Miller said he would continue to support the state’s effort to fund the fight against the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project. He would not speculate whether he might oppose a position that the governor takes.

Masto did not support former Gov. Jim Gibbons’ request for her to litigate against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, noting that several other states already had taken cases into federal court. That forced Gibbons to appoint Las Vegas lawyer Mark Hutchison, now a state senator and lieutenant governor candidate, to handle the state’s case for free. The challenge was thrown out.

“I think the governor and I have a strong working relationship,” said Miller, who does not expect to be at loggerheads with Gov. Brian Sandoval on major issues.

As secretary of state, Miller established a business portal in his office to assist business in licensing and regulatory questions. He also tried last spring to pass a plan to use driver’s license photos to prove the identification of people seeking to vote. The idea won favor with some Republicans, however.

Before he was secretary of state, Miller was a criminal prosecutor in Clark County.

He holds a master’s degree in business administration and a law degree from Loyola Marymount University.


Brower, 49, grew up in Las Vegas and was a Navy officer. During the 2013 legislative session, his colleagues sometimes joked about him becoming attorney general.

Laxalt, 34, raised in the Washington, D.C., area, also is a former Navy officer. He was admitted to the Bar in Nevada in 2012 and has written a couple of columns in the Review-Journal expressing his conservative sentiments. He had been a member of the Illinois Bar since 2005. He specializes in litigation and government affairs.

Laxalt gained awkward national attention in the spring when former U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., acknowledged that he was his father.

His mother, Michelle Laxalt, raised him as a single parent. She and Domenici had agreed not to reveal who was his father. Both made the decision to reveal the parentage to avoid smear attempts.

While Miller is the prohibitive favorite, Herzik said his entry into the attorney general’s race shows he chickened out of the “marque fight,” that of taking a shot in running against equally popular Sandoval in the governor’s race.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.