As the year winds to a close, here are my picks for 2010’s Top 10 Nevada Conservatives.
Yes, as one of my regular readers pointed out, nobody united conservatives around the state this year better than Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. But despite this impressive accomplishment, Harry Reid is no conservative, so he doesn’t make the list.
Then again, neither does Sharron Angle. Sorry, Charlie, but you don’t blow $27 million and the single best opportunity to take out the #1 targeted Democrat in the nation by either your own or your campaign’s incompetence (probably a combination of both) and be rewarded.
#10: Sen. Mike McGinness. No, he’s no fire-breathing movement conservative. No he hasn’t signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge. In fact, he voted for the Mother of All Tax Hikes in 2003. However…the Republican state senator from Fallon was angry enough with liberal Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio’s (RINO-Reno) support for tax hikes in the last session, as well as his support for Harry Reid in this year’s U.S. Senate race, that he challenged and dethroned Sir Bill after 37 long, long years as the GOP’s Big Dog in the state Senate. That took…er, stones.
#9: Frank Ricotta. Ricotta got his start as an activist and organizer in the tea party movement at its inception in 2007. He and others successfully “infiltrated” the Clark County Republican Party and eventually took control of the operation. Alas, charlatan tea partier SpongeBob Ruckman rose up to the chairman’s position at the start of this year and proceeded to muck everything up. By summer, Ruckman had unsurprisingly crashed and burned. Ricotta took his place and is quickly and effectively moving the organization in the “right” direction.
#8: Victor Joecks. Victor is the deputy communications director for the Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI), Nevada’s only conservative think tank. But Victor’s no egg-headed geek. He has an unusual ability to look at complicated public policy issues and write about them in an entertaining and easy-to-understand manner. (He reminds me of somebody else I know; I just can’t put my finger on it.) Anyway, we need more conservatives who can communicate the limited-government message effectively, and Victor is a true rising star in the movement. Now if only I can get him to stop picking fights with people who buy ink by the barrel and paper by the ton.
#7: Mark Ciavola. If it wasn’t for Ciavola’s voice from Right Pride, an conservative organization of gay Republicans, Republicans in Nevada wouldn’t have had hardly any voice at all in Nevada politics, other than the Reid race, in 2010. Ciavola is also the new president of the UNLV College Republicans. His leadership has resulted in both organizations becoming more active in campaigns, more visible in the media, and more in the face of the opposition, especially Democrat Senate Majority Leader Stephen Horsford.
#6: Ciara Matthews. One of the few bright spots in the disastrous Angle debacle. Matthews went from the thankless, near hopeless job of communications director for the all-but-invisible Nevada Republican Party to the thankless, near hopeless job of communications director for the all-but-invisible Sharron Angle. Brash, but knowledgeable; youthful, but mature. In public appearances against Harry Reid’s spokesmodel, Matthews kicked butt. She has a very bright future in the conservative movement…if the Angle mess didn’t burn her out.
#5: Adam Stryker. A well-like political activist before joining the unsuccessful Sue Lowden for Senate campaign, Stryker didn’t quit or move away after the primary. Instead he took the challenge of Nevada state director for the wildly successful and conservative Americans for Prosperity organization….which hosted its wildly successful Right Online blogger conference in Las Vegas this summer. Stryker’s the kind of guy who gets things done, and he’s now heading an organization with both the experience and funding to do it.
#4: Joe Heck. The knock on Joe Heck as a state senator was that he was a moderate. But after switching gears from the governor’s race to the congressional race against uber-liberal Rep. Dina Titus a little over a year ago, Heck signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge and went on to preach the conservative limited-government gospel as well as, or better than, almost anyone else in the state of Nevada. Oh, and he beat Titus in a district with a LOT more Democrats than Republicans.
#3: Debbie Landis. As an early tea party organizer in Reno, Landis formed an organization called Anger is Brewing. This year she successfully transitioned the organization’s anger into action. Easily the most organized, visible and active of the tea party organizations in Nevada, Action is Brewing hosted a senatorial and gubernatorial primary debate, conducted several successful rallies and joined legal efforts to kick tea party imposter Scott Ashjian off the ballot. She also came up with my favorite sound bite of the season. When asked by a reporter what she had against Ashjian, Landis responded, “He annoys me.” A true master of understatement!
#2: Bob Irwin. First, the guy owns a gun store in Las Vegas and is one of the staunchest Second Amendment defenders in the land, as well as a Taxpayer Protection Pledge signer. That alone is enough to get on my list. But Bob also took one for the team by mounting a near-impossible challenge to Democrat Assemblyman John Oceguera, the man everyone knew was going to be the next Speaker of the Assembly and who, therefore, had big-dollar lobbyist bucks coming out his wazoo. But Irwin put together a credible campaign that scared the tar out of Johnny O, forcing him to spend money on his own race that otherwise would have gone to defeat conservative Republicans in other districts. Bully on you, Bob!
#1: Elizabeth Halseth. She’s young. She’s attractive. She’s intelligent. She has a B-E-A-utiful family, as everyone who saw her campaign signs can attest. She’s also a fire-breathing conservative. In fact, almost as soon as she publicly announced her campaign for the state assembly in the fall of 2009, she emailed me a photo of herself signing the Taxpayer Protection Pledge at her kitchen table.
With little money, no backing and no name ID, Elizabeth launched a high-profile grassroots campaign in a very crowded GOP primary field on both foot and the Internet. Then on the last day of filing last March, after Michele Fiore pulled out of the state senate race in the same district for a shot at the congressional seat, Halseth withdrew from her assembly race and filed for the state senate seat against sitting liberal incumbent state Sen. Dennis Nolan rather than let him go unchallenged in the primary.
No shrinking violet, Halseth aggressively went after Nolan and his support for a convicted rapist like nobody’s business and beat the longtime veteran.
Alas, the conventional wisdom was that while a staunch conservative could beat a liberal Republican in a GOP primary, she couldn’t win against the well-established, well-liked, well-respected, well-funded Democrat opponent in this Democrat-majority district. Elizabeth kicked his…er, donkey.
Still in her twenties, Halseth is a diamond in the rough who still needs some work on her public relations skills, especially with the media. But if she gets some good direction and takes some good advice, we could be looking at a Nevada version of Congresswoman Michele Bachmann – that’s how much potential she has. And that’s certainly something for conservatives here to cheer and celebrate as we usher in the New Year.
Sen. Halseth will be feted at our Awards Luncheon at Citizen Outreach’s annual Conservative Leadership Conference in Las Vegas this spring. She will also receive a free, one-year subscription to Silver State Confidential, a tube-sock filled with nickels (with this ongoing recession, we can’t afford quarters!) and a case of Turtle Wax.