Danny Tarkanian’s father, famed basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, warned him to stay away from politics.
It didn’t work.
“My father said to me, ‘Why would you want to run for public office? The people that are the most successful are the ones that lie the best, and have the most money to lie most often,’” Tarkanian, 56, recalled.
Tarkanian, a Republican businessman who’s running for Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District against Democrat Susie Lee, laughed at his father’s advice back then. Years later, Tarkanian said, he experienced firsthand the relentless attacks from political opponents.
But Tarkanian, who had just graduated college, was driven by a bigger goal: To emulate his role models, Sens. Paul Laxalt, who died in August, and Richard Bryan. Both lawmakers also served as Nevada governor.
“They were great public servants that inspired confidence, appreciation and respect,” Tarkanian said on a recent afternoon. “They inspired me to get into public service.”
Tarkanian didn’t mount a run for political office right away. He was 42 when he got into politics, after working at a law firm and coaching basketball for seven years. And his fear of public speaking — which still haunts him — made it more difficult to rally voters the way other politicians do.
But despite having run for office multiple times — including three previous bids for Congress — Tarkanian doesn’t consider himself a politician.
Tarkanian said the biggest challenge of his career is overcoming the “worst, lying deceitful” ads from better-funded rivals. He didn’t respond to attacks when he ran against Rep. Jacky Rosen in 2016 — a move he calls a “mistake.” He lost by about 1 percentage point.
“If anything they said in those ads were true, I would either be in jail or I would certainly be hiding from people,” Tarkanian said. “If a candidate is going to lie to you to get elected by running these type of ads, why are you surprised when they lie to you when they’re in office?”
Tarkanian has been criticized for supporting many of President Donald Trump’s policies, including building a border wall, but said his family’s immigrant story has shaped his political ideology. His grandmother fled to America after escaping genocide in Armenia. She had very little money and couldn’t speak English.
“She worked her tail off, gave my dad the opportunities that he had to be successful,” Tarkanian said. “To me, that’s what the American dream is all about.”
Tarkanian, a father of four, said he isn’t giving up on his dream to serve in Congress. And he’s hoping for redemption from the Democratic-funded attacks he blames for sinking his campaign two years ago.
“If you’ve got a bully and he humiliates you and rubs your face in the ground,” Tarkanian said. “Do you walk away and cower and quit, or do you get back up if you have a chance to beat him up and stop it?”
“I’ve always felt he was proud of what I try to do,” Tarkanian said, his voice breaking with emotion. “He was a very loving father.”
Education: Bishop Gorman High School, Dixie Junior College
UNLV — B.A. in business finance
University of San Diego Law School — juris doctor
Family: Wife Amy, four kids