Clashing in heated debate, attorney general candidate Adam Laxalt on Saturday accused his opponent, Ross Miller, of a conflict of interest for accepting $70,000 in gifts while in public office, and Miller bluntly said his foe doesn’t understand some of the laws the AG must defend.
Laxalt repeated his pledge not to accept gifts if he wins public office and said he would propose legislation to ban future attorneys general from accepting gifts, including from lobbyists who might sway policy.
Miller, heatedly objecting to Laxalt’s insinuation that gifts influence him, said he routinely discloses all he receives, including for educational opportunities that helped him in his current job as secretary of state. He suggested other public officials probably haven’t disclosed as much as he has after Laxalt said Gov. Brian Sandoval and Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto had reported only $1,000 in gifts.
Miller also noted he repeatedly has introduced legislation to define gifts and improve transparency, although the efforts have failed.
There clearly was no love lost between the candidates at the first attorney general debate of the campaign season. The general election will be Nov. 4.
“My opponent has been in office for eight years and has shown a reckless pattern of taking gifts,” Laxalt said. “This is the kind of thing that concerns me.”
Miller, grimacing in anger, shot back that the only reason his $70,000 in gifts has received attention is because he has made everything available for the public to examine.
“The entire reason that that’s out there is because I went above and beyond and disclosed those items, which many public officials aren’t doing,” Miller said. “He has completely mischaracterized these gifts.”
Laxalt, a Republican, and Miller, a Democrat, faced off in the debate sponsored by the Nevada Press Association, so many of the questions dealt with Nevada’s open meeting law and access to public records.
Laxalt, in answering questions about the separate laws, appeared at some points to mix up the two issues. Miller called him out.
“My opponent has clearly demonstrated that he doesn’t understand the difference between the open meeting law and public records law,” Miller said, then attacked Laxalt for not disclosing his military records.
Laxalt, a former U.S. Navy judge advocate general, has released some positive performance reviews after negative notes about his job performance at a private Las Vegas law practice leaked. But he has not provided other records from his military service, some of which is classified from when he handled terrorism cases while serving in Iraq.
Miller asked why Laxalt doesn’t release his military records if he’s so committed to transparency and providing the public information.
“He’s been sitting on military records,” Miller said, adding, “We don’t know who he is, what he stands for.”
Laxalt, in response, knocked Miller for focusing on climbing the political career ladder while Laxalt after law school joined the Navy to serve his country. He said only 15 percent of those who applied were accepted into the JAG corps.
“What I stand for is service,” Laxalt said, then suggested Miller seems to think he’s entitled to the attorney general’s job. “I know he cannot understand how anyone could challenge him for this office.”
Both candidates come from well-known political families: Miller’s father is former Democratic Gov. Bob Miller, who attended the debate, and Laxalt’s grandfather is former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Paul Laxalt, R-Nev.
Review-Journal columnist Steve Sebelius moderated the hourlong debate at the Aliante in North Las Vegas. About 50 people attended, primarily journalists attending the press association’s meeting.
The morning debate was not televised, but was videotaped and will be posted on the press association’s website, http://www.nevadapress.com/.
During the debate, both candidates noted they had received key endorsements from the law enforcement community.
Laxalt said he has been endorsed by 15 of Nevada’s 17 county sheriffs as well as eight district attorneys.
Miller, a former Clark County prosecutor, said he has been endorsed by a dozen law enforcement unions representing 4,000 prosecutors and police.
On the issues of open meetings and public access to government records, both Laxalt and Miller argued for more transparency and easier access, although Miller was more specific in his answers.
“I think that transparency is one of the most important issues we face as a state and as a community,” Laxalt said when asked whether he would vigorously enforce Nevada’s open meeting law. “There’s nothing more sacred than making sure that backroom deals aren’t happening.”
Miller said he has a history of cracking down on members of both political parties and would not let even his friends get away with breaking the law.
“It’s imperative we … hold public officials accountable,” Miller said. “I intend to be very aggressive.”
On public records, both candidates said government should provide easy and quick access and not charge exorbitant fees for copies. Miller also said the law needs to be clarified to better define public records, another thing he has been pressing during his two terms as secretary of state.
On a more general topic, both Miller and Laxalt said that as attorney general they would carry out the governor’s requests when he asks the AG to sue over an issue, even if they don’t agree with him.
Cortez-Masto refused the governor’s request to have Nevada join a lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act, for example, joining a number of Democratic AGs who refused to oppose Obamacare.
“If the governor directs (it), I’m required to file a lawsuit,” Miller said, adding he has a good relationship with Sandoval and will “work with him.”
Laxalt said Cortez Masto should have joined the Obamacare lawsuit.
“It’s the job of the AG to file a lawsuit if the governor orders it,” he said.
Both men pledged to do the job without politics in mind.
Laxalt, in his closing statement, focused mostly on Miller’s gifts. He said he was offended Miller suggested Sandoval and Cortez Masto might be “hiding gifts” or not fully reporting them. And he suggested Miller was compromised by his close relationship with lobbyists.
“We all know my opponent is the candidate of lobbyists,” Laxalt said. “I have no support from lobbyists in Nevada. … Why do all these special interests want to spend all this time with my opponent?”
Despite his statement, Laxalt campaign consultant Robert Uithoven is a lobbyist.
Miller said in his closing statement that he’s more qualified for the AG job, noting he has prosecuted murderers and criminals and imposed record fines on candidates who violated fundraising laws.
“I’m ready for this job,” Miller said. “I am the only candidate who has enforced Nevada law.”
Also in the race is Independent American Party candidate Johathan Hansen.
Contact Laura Myers at email@example.com or 702-387-2919. Find her on Twitter: @lmyerslvrj.