Amid raucous debate, Nevada Republican Party conventioneers on Saturday stripped opposition to gay marriage and abortion from the party platform and endorsed Gov. Brian Sandoval for governor in the June 10 primary despite misgivings by conservatives, his criticism of the process and his absence from the meeting.
The convention also backed Sue Lowden for lieutenant governor over state Sen. Mark Hutchison, R-Las Vegas, who was endorsed by Sandoval and who also spurned the party’s move to endorse candidates before the primary.
A nominating committee proposed more than three dozen pre-primary endorsements, although the panel decided against recommending anybody in the gubernatorial race, including Sandoval. The governor was still able to be endorsed by delegates, who cast secret ballots on each race whether or not a recommendation was made.
By a show of hands, convention-goers adopted the platform as proposed by a separate committee without the two planks on marriage and abortion, following the Clark County GOP’s lead in removing hot-button social issues from the party’s statement of its principles. Some 520 delegates attended the convention, but less than half were present when the platform was adopted at about 7:30 p.m. Little debate preceded the vote, a far contrast to earlier in day.
State party Chairman Michael McDonald said it was a successful convention at the end of the day.
“I think it was about inclusion, not exclusion,” McDonald said, referring to the platform. “This is where the party is going.”
Republicans who sat on the platform committee said they decided not to deal with social issues this year because the U.S. Supreme Court and lower courts have weighed in and it doesn’t make sense for the party of “personal freedom” to have the government or the political party get involved in people’s personal lives.
“The issue was how can we back out of people’s personal lives,” said Dave Hockaday of Lyon County, who sat on the platform committee. “We need to focus on issues where we can have an impact.”
Previously, the state party platform defined marriage as “between a man and a woman,” as does the Nevada Constitution. The past document also described the party as “pro-life,” or against abortion, a stance most Republicans still agree with.
The U.S. Supreme Court, in the Roe vs Wade case, legalized abortion in the early stages of pregnancy.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals might rule this year that Nevada’s marriage law is unconstitutional. Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto recently said she could not defend the state law because of a 9th Circuit ruling in a separate case that said excluding gays from jury duty is unconstitutional discrimination. Sandoval agreed with her assessment despite his personal belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman, he said.
The convention went ahead with the endorsement process after Republicans heatedly debated whether to back candidates before the primary. A motion to kill the endorsement process failed on a vote of 205 to 271.
“I believe it is divisive to the party,” argued Roger Stockton of Washoe County. “I believe it alienates people who are within the party. We have to be the big umbrella” accepting conservative and moderate candidates, he added.
But Bill Carns of Nye County, who chaired the nominating committee, urged convention-goers to give the endorsement process a chance. He said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus backed the idea, too.
“Every single person I’ve spoken to has a misunderstanding” of the endorsements, which he said are meant to guide GOP voters. “Many of these candidates I know. Many I do not. But you need to have faith in the process.”
The secret ballots were tallied by Clark County election workers as delegates used 20 machines to vote. A candidate or incumbent had to receive at least 50 percent of the vote of delegates to be officially endorsed by the state party.
At the same time, the state party conducted a presidential preference poll to determine who among a long list of potential GOP candidates were their favorites ahead of the 2016 election.
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., won the poll, following by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in second and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, in third, according to a GOP insider. The exact vote count wasn’t immediately available. Exact vote counts were not released.
Sandoval’s endorsement did not come as a huge surprise since he faces no serious GOP of Democratic opposition and is expected to easily win re-election in the Nov. 4 general election.
Still, conservative delegates have become disenchanted with the governor for snubbing the state party and for balancing the state’s biennial budgets in 2011 and 2013 by twice extending a $600 million tax package that was supposed to expire.
Four other Republicans are running for governor in the primary, including perennial candidate Eddie Hamilton, who apparently was the only candidate to sit for an endorsement interview. The general election is Nov. 4.
Sandoval wasn’t alone in skipping the convention. U.S. Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., also was absent as well as U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., who planned to attend the Clark County Lincoln Day dinner in Las Vegas Saturday night.
The party has been riven by divisions for several years — much like the national GOP — with establishment Republicans pitted against conservative Tea Party members and voters who backed former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, for president. Establishment Republicans led the movement to kill the endorsements, while conservatives backed the idea.
Other endorsements included Adam Laxalt for attorney general, state Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, for secretary of state, Dan Schwartz for state treasurer and Ron Knecht for state controller.
In the congressional races, incumbent U.S. Reps. Joe Heck and Mark Amodei were both recommended for endorsements in Districts 3 and 2 respectively. In the 1st Congressional District, Dr. Annette Teijiero got the nod. And in the 4th Congressional District, civil rights advocate Niger Innis was endorsed instead of Assemblyman Cresent Hardy, R-Mesquite.
In the three most competitive state Senate races, the convention didn’t endorse candidates backed by the GOP Senate caucus, including Minority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, in Senate District 20. Instead, the panel recommended endorsing in Senate District 20 Carl Bunce, former director of ex-Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, Nevada presidential campaign.
In Senate District 8, the panel recommended Clayton Kelly Hurst and in Senate District 9 Vick Gill. The state Senate GOP caucus endorsed Patricia Farley in Senate District 8 and Becky Harris in Senate District 9.
The convention got off to a late start, half an hour past its scheduled 9 a.m. opening, and could last into the night. Delegates spent the morning debating the convention rules and whether to endorse candidates and didn’t get any real business done until mid-afternoon. Delegates rejected a proposal to take a five-hour break, from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., to allow convention-goers to attend the Clark County GOP Lincoln Day Dinner, which was Saturday night at the Venetian.
About 5:15 p.m., while voting went on and the convention dragged on, Lowden, Nevada Republican Party Chairman Michael McDonald and the party’s executive board bought 80 pizzas for convention-goers. The meeting finally ended at 8:48 p.m., after several hours of overtime.
Contact Laura Myers at email@example.com or 702-387-2919. Find her on Twitter: @lmyerslvrj.