Republicans meeting — again — to pick new speaker

Tonight’s the night! In less than an hour, Assembly Republicans are scheduled to meet behind closed doors to choose (again) who will lead them during the 2015 Legislature.

The last time this happened, the caucus voted Assemblyman Ira Hansen of Sparks in as speaker. That, to put it mildly, did not work out well.

So, Round Two. Only this time, some things have changed.

For one, Assemblyman Wes Duncan is out of the mix. He’s resigning to take a position as chief of staff to Attorney General-elect Adam Laxalt.

And because of the limited number of people available, several of the remaining available and eligible candidates have been mentioned as possible speaker-designates in fast-changing, dynamic, behind-the-scenes alliance shifting.

Although there are 25 Republicans in the Assembly, you’ve got to rule out the newly elected freshmen. They’ve got to learn where the bathrooms are and how a bill becomes a law before they can stand behind the speaker’s podium.

That lets out all the newbies: John Moore, David Gardner, Shelly Shelton, Chris Edwards, Derek Armstrong, Stephen Silberkraus, Jill Dickman, Victoria Seaman, Brent Jones, Robin Titus, Philip “P.K.” O’Neill and Vicki Dooling.

Of the remaining lawmakers, you’ve got to subtract Hansen, who already quit the speakership, and Pat Hickey, the former minority leader who was passed over for it. I’d also include Minden’s Jim Wheeler in that group, since he’s made controversial comments of his own in the past.

That leaves John Hambrick, Michele Fiore, Paul Anderson, Lynn Stewart, Melissa Woodbury, Randy Kirner, John Ellison, and James Oscarson in the running.

From that list, we can subtract Kirner, who is seen as close to Hickey (plus, like Hickey, he’s from Reno, and while Republicans seem to care about sectionalism less than Democrats, it’s still a symbolic thing). That also eliminates Ellison, who’s from Elko.

Woodbury is probably not in the running, although she’s got more experience that many others. She rarely speaks and doesn’t appear to have the naked ambition as many of her remaining peers. Stewart hasn’t been mentioned much as a contender, and also isn’t as ambitious as the others.

We’d been hearing that Anderson (of Las Vegas) was the likely choice for speaker, until a late-in-the-day announcement today that Hambrick was mounting a bid. It’s not unprecedented: Hambrick has tried unsuccessfully for a leadership position before. His appeal at this stage of the game appears to be as a compromise candidate.

But that’s hardly where the story ends. In fact, the race for majority leader is shaping up to be every bit as controversial as the bid for speaker. And while you’d expect that the person the caucus designates as speaker would be allowed to pick his own second-in-command, Republicans appear to be viewing this as a “Team of Rivals” type situation: A compromise guy in the top job, with a conservative as No. 2, instead of say, previously reported front-runner Anderson as speaker and Oscarson as his No. 2.

Enter Hansen, again. I’m told by one GOP insider that he regrets his decision to step down under fire as speaker, and may want to be considered as majority leader as a consolation prize. If that happens — or if the job goes to an up-and-comer such as Fiore — the dynamics of the session change markedly. The majority leader manages the flow of legislation from committees, and speaks on the floor as much as the speaker does. If Hansen captures that prize, all the notoriety that vanished with his resignation suddenly reappears.

Another question we’ll be waiting to see answered tonight: Will the committee assignments put in place by Hansen during his brief tenure as speaker-designate stand? A new chairman of the Judiciary Committee will have to be found, since Duncan was supposed to get that post. And if Anderson is elected speaker, he can’t also serve as chairman of the time-intensive and critical Ways & Means Committee. But will Fiore — who has signed the Americans for Tax Reform pledge to not vote for a net increase in taxes — keep her spot as chairwoman of the Taxation Committee? That will be a key indication of how the session will progress, too.

The clock is ticking! More later.

UPDATE: The Assembly Republican caucus announced tonight that Hambrick has been chosen as speaker, and Fiore as majority leader for the 2015 session. Hansen will serve as assistant majority leader, and — notwithstanding his earlier comments about slavery — Wheeler will serve as majority whip.

Other assignments:

Speaker Pro Tem: Ellison

Assistant whip (Southern): Seaman

Assistant whip (Northern): Dickman

Rural caucus chairman: Ellison

Hambrick’s success is sweeter for the fact that he’d tried and failed several times to serve in a leadership job when his party was in the minority. But now that they’re in control, he’s finally reached a longtime goal. (And it comes at the end of another, more personal battle: Hambrick’s wife, Nancy, won a battle with cancer that unfolded over the last year.)

Not only that, but Hambrick is probably the first lawmaker in history to go from the worst office in the entire building, located near a restroom and usually assigned to punish somebody those in leadership don’t like, to the best office in the building, the speaker’s suite with a private bathroom! That’s got to feel good.

But there were good reasons to choose Hambrick besides the fact that he’s a compromise candidate between conservatives and moderates (and well-liked by both). Unlike many others in the caucus (including Fiore, Hansen, and everybody else but Stewart) Hambrick will be entering his fourth term. That gives him some institutional knowledge that newer colleagues don’t have.

Still, the presence of Fiore (who was one of the most vocal lawmakers in the state when it came to defending rancher Cliven Bundy during his standoff with the Bureau of Land Management in April), Hansen and Wheeler in leadership is a signal that the GOP caucus isn’t concerned about bad press or appearances. And — depending on committee assignments, which weren’t announced on Tuesday — could make 2015 a session for the history books.

The official release is linked below.

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