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STEVE SEBELIUS: Democrats look to take back party


Danielle Monroe-Moreno hasn’t done anything to deserve this.

The four-term assemblywoman from North Las Vegas is hard at work in Carson City, serving as speaker pro tem of the Assembly and chairwoman of the most important committee in the Legislature: Ways and Means.

That’s why a lot of her friends are asking if she’s crazy for seeking yet another job, and a thankless one at that: chairwoman of the Nevada State Democratic Party.

Even Monroe-Moreno said she was initially skeptical of taking on the job, rejecting the idea at first and trying to recruit others to do it. But the more she thought about it and prayed about it, she says, the more it seemed like the right thing to do.

“It was just time,” she said in an interview last week in her office in Carson City, where the 2023 Legislature has just begun.

Ever since a slate of well-organized but doctrinaire progressives took over the party in 2021, Democrats have had to work around the party that the late Sen. Harry Reid ran as a tight ship. After the progressives, who were affiliated with the Democratic Socialists of America, won top party positions, the entire professional staff resigned. They formed a party-in-exile, dubbed Nevada Democratic Victory, that defended legislative seats, kept three of six constitutional offices and re-elected the vulnerable U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto.

About the only significant loss was Gov. Steve Sisolak’s defeat at the hands of Republican Joe Lombardo, but even that contest was close.

It turns out, controlling the party wasn’t essential to victory. But it sure would make things easier.

Hence Monroe-Moreno’s bid, alongside a slate of well-known establishment Democrats. They would love to take the party back, especially given Nevada’s newfound importance as the second in the nation on the presidential primary calendar. (Well, maybe 1.5st in the nation; Nevada has been forced to share a primary date with New Hampshire.)

“A lot of things start at the top, with leadership,” Monroe-Moreno says. “You set the tone.”

Plus, Monroe-Moreno says it would be nice to attend functions with Democrats from other states without being asked about the state party falling into the hands of progressives, some of whom talked openly about primaries featuring more liberal Democrats targeting moderate ones. “It’s extremely embarrassing to be asked about that,” Monroe-Moreno says.

A former corrections officer in Arizona and Nevada, Monroe-Moreno doesn’t show any fear, although you could forgive her if she did. This is the party whose 2016 state convention descended into chaos, with the then-Chairwoman Roberta Lange escorted out by armed security because of threats.

But 2024 looks to be calmer. For one, President Joe Biden may run again, and if so, may not face a primary challenger. For another, progressive champion Bernie Sanders may not make another presidential bid. (It was fighting and distrust between the Sanders faction and the one supporting Hillary Clinton that caused so much trouble in 2016.)

But if the progressives are good at anything, it’s organizing. They were able to win the state for Sanders during the 2020 caucuses and win the state party’s top seats the following year. Surely, Monroe-Moreno doesn’t want to end up like poor state Sen. Carrie Buck, who tried to become chairwoman of the Clark County Republican Party only to lose after a bitter court fight.

“I haven’t lost an election yet,” Monroe Moreno says. “If we lose, it won’t be from lack of putting the work in. But we’re not going to lose.”

She will lose sleep, however, since the election is March 4.

For her part, Whitmer said in a statement announcing her bid for re-election that she was left with a party in debt (former party members deny this, and fundraising records don’t reflect it). But she says she’s turned the party around.

“I’ve always made certain that our party lives its values and puts action ahead of rhetoric — from making historic investments in our rural county parties to rolling out our Down Ballot Initiative to supporting our staff as they unionized and more,” she said in a statement last week announcing her re-election. “No matter the challenge our party’s gone through, my administration has led our party in emerging stronger and more capable than before. We delivered on our promises, and we’re just getting started.”

But it’s clear that the former party regulars, many trained by Reid, want to live out the senator’s No. 1 value: winning. And they are just getting started as well.

Contact Steve Sebelius at SSebelius@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0253. Follow @SteveSebelius on Twitter.

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