When politicians say they’re leaving politics to spend more time with their families, it’s usually not true.
But in state Sen. Shirley Breeden’s case, it is.
Although she’d declared her intent to run for re-election in her Henderson-area district, the Democrat announced this week she was bowing out to care for her mother, who was seriously hurt in a car accident earlier this year that killed her father.
It was undoubtedly a tough decision for her, especially after redistricting left her with a six-point advantage in her district. But, the senator told the Review-Journal’s Ed Vogel simply, “My mom comes first.”
“She asked me if I was running and I said yes. She cried and said, ‘Who is going to take care of me?'” It was a request that a daughter could not refuse, although one that many other politicians may have turned down in pursuit of their careers.
Breeden was in many ways an accidental senator. Invariably described as a nice person, she spent 30 years in the Clark County School District, retiring as director of professional development education.
Recruited by state Sen. Steven Horsford, her first debate against then-state Sen. Joe Heck at the Clark County Library was disastrous. The physician and Army reserve colonel clearly knew far more than his opponent about government and governing. Even Breeden supporters shifted uncomfortably during the debate as Heck proceeded to methodically demonstrate his qualifications.
Later, Breeden came in to be interviewed by the editorial board of Las Vegas CityLife, the alternative newsweekly owned by Stephens Media of which I was then editor. Her replies to our questions betrayed a lack of facility with either politics or policy, and her evasiveness on the question of taxes was painful to watch. CityLife — by no means a conservative publication — endorsed Heck.
While Breeden didn’t do anything likely to send her to the Senate hall of fame, she did grow into the role of legislator. When she lost on her signature issue in her freshman session — banning the use of cell phones to talk or text while driving — she rebounded in her sophomore year, building a coalition that helped pass the bill.
Yes, it helped that the circumstances changed (other states adopted bans, and federal lawmakers began discussing withholding highway funds from states without bans). But in the end, she got what she wanted.
Democrats didn’t wait long to announce their endorsement of former state Sen. Joyce Woodhouse to replace Breeden. Woodhouse lost in 2010 to newcomer Michael Roberson, who is widely expected to become the next Republican leader in the Senate. Whether he’s the majority or minority leader depends in part, ironically enough, on whether he can once again defeat Woodhouse and capture the seat for his party.
To do that, Republicans have enlisted (and endorsed) former Henderson Councilman Steve Kirk, calling him a fiscal conservative with a “realistic and steady approach to governing.”
(The other district key to control of the state Senate is that of Democratic incumbent Allison Copening, elected alongside Breeden in 2008. Copening has yet to decide whether she’ll seek a second term, but if she does, she’ll enjoy a seven-point registration advantage over her eventual Republican opponent. That person hasn’t been identified, but Roberson recently boasted publicly that the candidate he has in mind “will knock your socks off.”)
However these battles play out, however, Breeden will not be there to see it, having called an end to her budding political career for reasons nobody can question. In fact, choosing to walk away from politics to take care of her ailing mother may garner her more respect in the long run than an elected title ever could.
Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/SteveSebelius or reach him at 387-5276 or SSebelius@reviewjournal.com.