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PARTY LINES: AG candidates stumble on abortion referendum

For the last time, people: Nevada’s abortion protections are enshrined in state law, not in the state constitution.

That fact was lost on the two Republican candidates seeking to replace incumbent Democratic Attorney General Aaron Ford when they appeared for a debate on the “Nevada Newsmakers” television show Thursday.

In response to a question from host Sam Shad, Sigal Chattah said that “Ballot Question 3” in 1990 embedded abortion rights into the constitution. But other than getting the year right, Chattah was wrong on everything else.

In fact, Ballot Question 7 in 1990 was a referendum on NRS 442.250, a state statute that legalizes abortion up until the 24th week of pregnancy, and thereafter if a doctor determines the mother’s life is in jeopardy. Because the statute was upheld by a vote of 63.5 percent to 36.5 percent, it cannot be changed without a subsequent vote of the people.

Shad followed up, saying he thought the matter was in statute, not the constitution. (He was right.) But Chattah again insisted – incorrectly – that it was.

In fact, much like the U.S. Constitution, abortion does not appear anywhere in the Nevada Constitution.

Chattah’s opponent, attorney Tisha Black, could have exploited the mistake, but instead agreed with Chattah, a rare bit of agreement during an otherwise contentious debate. “It is in the constitution,” she said.

No, it’s not!

Chattah clarified her position as “pro-life” and said the law should protect prenatal life once a heartbeat is detected. Black said she’d make no changes to Nevada law, since the people had spoken on the matter back in 1990.

The pair also agreed on another fundamental point: They both said they would not defend “government policies and programs” that they personally disagreed with if they were elected attorney general. That runs counter to the basic job of the attorney general’s office, which is to function as the state’s lawyer, and defend the executive branch against challenges to its policies and programs.

In the past, attorneys general have frustrated governors when they’ve failed to defend the state. For example, then-Democratic Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto in 2010 refused to join a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act when directed to do so by then-Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons, contending such litigation was frivolous and no state-specific issue required Nevada to be part of the litigation. (That’s despite a state law that specifically orders the attorney general to sue when the governor so directs.)

Asked how she’d interact as attorney general with Gov. Steve Sisolak if he’s re-elected, Chattah said, “If he exercises abuse of power as we have seen, I would put him in his place.”

Too soon!

Speaking of Chattah, the headline on one of her news releases was designed to catch the eye, but maybe not in the best way. “TRUTH SQUAD: Meet a Real-Life Liberal Black Snowflake.”

Turns out, the release was not about a Black person, but about Tisha Black, and how Black had donated money to Democrats in the past.

But that might not have been the best approach for a candidate who had to fend off allegations of racism recently, after saying Ford, who happens to be Black, should be “hanging from a crane.” Chattah explained that she had no racial intent with that turn of phrase (she apparently uses it all the time, including about herself), but still.

Did not get the memo

The Nevada Republican Party has always marched to the beat of its own drummer, which is a nice way of saying it does some wacky things sometimes. And a recent state party convention was no exception.

Although President Donald Trump, the leader-in-exile of the entire GOP, has offered his “Complete and Total Endorsement” to gubernatorial hopeful Sheriff Joe Lombardo and U.S. Senate contender and ex-Attorney General Adam Laxalt, the party had some other ideas.

The party’s central committee on April 30 backed Reno attorney Joey Gilbert for governor and endorsed Sam Brown for Senate.

The Gilbert thing makes sense: He’s the Trumpiest of the candidates running (except maybe for Eddie “Mr. Fix It Now” Hamilton). Gilbert himself has said – correctly – he was “Trump from the jump” while nobody else was.

And Brown’s endorsement reflects the fact that Laxalt is apparently not well-liked within the party, which is a hurdle in a primary.

The two candidates shouldn’t fear: Lombardo and Laxalt are probably going to win their respective primaries, and collect most of the GOP vote in general. But it’s still not a great sign when the ostensible front-runners fail to get party backing, especially after they’ve received the nod from Mar-A-Lago.

Oh, the party did endorse Rep. Mark Amodei for re-election in the 2nd Congressional District over rival Danny Tarkanian.

Endorsing … and suing?

In addition to Trump, Lombardo also has the endorsement of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, the union that represents sworn police officers. Union President Steve Grammas interviewed Lombardo on a podcast and affirmed not only his union’s endorsement, but that of the Public Safety Alliance of Nevada, as well.

But as always, the relationship between management and labor is a delicate one. More recently, Lombardo’s department was sued by Grammas and his union over allegations the department failed to follow rules about interrogating officers in cases of alleged wrongdoing, rules that were established in the collective bargaining agreement signed by the Metropolitan Police Department and the union.

So, does the police union still support the man at the top of the department they’re suing on behalf of officers? Grammas declined to comment on the situation.

Contact Steve Sebelius at SSebelius@reviewjournal.com. Follow @SteveSebelius on Twitter.

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