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Hambrick recall pathetically fizzles out

Turns out, Assembly Speaker John Hambrick was never in danger of being recalled.

Not even close.

The volunteers behind the effort to oust the Las Vegas Republican managed to collect just 270 of the 4,116 signatures that were required to trigger an election — or just 6.5 percent of what they needed. (And not all of them were notarized!)

To put that number in perspective, it’s less than 10 percent of the 2,959 people who cast votes for recall volunteer A.J. Maimbourg when she ran against Hambrick as an Independent American Party candidate in 2014.

That’s the same Maimbourg who said back in January: “We’re not keyboard patriots. We go out and get the job done.” OK, then.

Hambrick was targeted for recall because, as speaker, he’s the highest-profile Republican in the Assembly who sounds squishy on taxes. Although Hambrick signed the Americans for Tax Reform pledge to never vote for a net tax increase, he also said he’d vote for taxes anyway if he got things like teacher merit pay, school choice and the “Read by 3” program enacted. “If we can get all that, I’ll take the hit on the tax pledge,” Hambrick said in March. Gov. Brian Sandoval’s $7.3 billion budget will require about $1 billion in new taxes to balance.

Conservative activist Chuck Muth — the resident agent for the PAC seeking to recall Hambrick — said it was apparent in the first month that volunteers gathering signatures wouldn’t come close to reaching their goal. (The intent from the beginning was to hit the goal quickly so a recall election could be held before the end of the 2015 Legislature.)

Muth, who enthusiastically promoted the recall, acknowledged the effort was a failure. He said the volunteer efforts were not well-organized and were hindered by infighting. But he said Hambrick’s side had spent money on fliers and phone calls discouraging people from signing the petition. “We were rolling the dice,” he said. “It was always an uphill fight.”

Muth said, however, that the failure of the recall shouldn’t be read as a sign that voters in Hambrick’s district — or anywhere else — support tax increases. There are still Republicans in districts with close voter registration who will face primary challengers if they vote for a tax increase, including Hambrick.

“It wasn’t because there’s not an intensity on the part of conservatives against this tax increase,” Muth said.

Hambrick, for his part, said he was pleasantly surprised by the results of the recall, but that he was never concerned that he’d actually have to face voters this spring. “It never crossed my mind,” said Hambrick. “I know I’m doing a good job for my constituents.”

Recalls are notoriously difficult under the best of circumstances: Signature-gatherers were required to locate voters who actually cast ballots in the 2014 election. On the other hand, they had a road map: The names and home addresses of every voter who participated in that election.

At the very least, organizers could have started with the 2,900 people who voted for Maimbourg; they clearly didn’t want Hambrick. And while Republican primary voters got plenty of door knocks, it may have been wiser in retrospect for organizers to target Democrats and offer them a chance to knock off a sitting Republican speaker.

Failure may have consequences that reverberate into the halls of the Legislature, as well. Tax supporters can point to the ultra-weak response to the Hambrick recall as evidence that voters really aren’t opposed to a tax increase, especially one that will be used to pay for education.

To counter that, opponents will be forced to throw recall organizers under the bus, saying that if a competent crew was doing the work, the recall would have succeeded, and gathering so few names is evidence only of a lack of organization, not of anti-tax passion.

Either way, Hambrick is safe behind the speaker’s podium and in his district, at least until the 2016 primary election. And now more than ever, he’s free to vote his conscience when it comes to taxes.

Steve Sebelius is a Las Vegas Review-Journal political columnist who blogs at SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or 702-387-5276 or ssebelius@reviewjournal.com.

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