Twisted tale sure to endure in state political lore

CARSON CITY — Whether it will end up as the all-time top Nevada political story or fade to some lesser status, there was agreement Friday that the life and death of Kathy Augustine is one for the history books.

There is no question that the former state controller’s life is an amazing chapter in Nevada political history, said Eric Herzik, the chairman of the Department of Political Science at the University of Nevada, Reno.

But Nevada has had other noteworthy chapters, Herzik said, from the impeachment of U.S. District Judge Harry Claiborne in 1986 to the much-repeated — although inaccurate — tale of Nevada Sen. Key Pittman, who was said to have died before Election Day in 1940 but was kept on ice until after his re-election so that the appointed replacement would have to be a Democrat.

"As a political story, it’s not in the Top 10," Herzik said of the Augustine saga.

"But as a twisting of the political and personal, then it’s up there."

Guy Rocha, who serves as the interim administrator of the Nevada State Library and Archives and is the man who debunked the Pittman myth, said that while there are other sensational political and personal events in Nevada political history, Augustine’s case will remain significant because it involves both public and private arenas.

"I don’t think it can be duplicated anywhere in Nevada political history," Rocha said.

In the political arena, there was the case of state Treasurer Ed Malley and state Controller George Cole being removed from office and sent to prison in the 1920s for embezzling state funds, Rocha said. It ranks as one of the biggest political scandals in Nevada history.

In the personal arena, Rocha offered the case of state Supreme Court Justice Frank McNamee, who was criminally assaulted by a hitchhiker whom he picked up in 1965. The judge never recovered from his injuries, dying in 1968.

"But for Kathy Augustine, her political demise and personal demise, there is nothing like it," Rocha said. "It exceeds any political scandal and personal tragedy.

"It’s going to go down as No. 1."


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