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October 25, 2014

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A true Nevada political rise

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Michelle Fiore has her photo taken with attendees of the Fiore Club luncheon May 8, 2014 at the Italian American Social Club.

A Day with Michele Fiore

Michelle Fiore takes part in Alan Stock's radio program May 8, 2014. Launch slideshow »

Assemblywoman Michele Fiore steers a silver Cadillac sedan past the hobby farms, palm trees and two-car garages of the northwest valley.

In her own words ...

On guns: Fiore is the legislature’s most outspoken supporter of the Second Amendment. Google her name, and you’re bound to see an image of her holding a firearm. When she sleeps, Fiore keeps a Glock .19 within arm’s reach of her bed.

“That’s my sleeping partner,” she said.

This is the heart of Assembly District 4. It’s Fiore’s turf, and she protects it well.

She wins over voters through dogged door knocking and pasta feeds for 50 at her home. She also knows where to stand when the spotlight shines. She made a name for herself with national TV interviews during rancher Cliven Bundy’s standoff with the Bureau of Land Management.

On this day, in the wake of Bundy’s racist comments, she’s headed to a radio interview with a conservative talk show host.

At the station, Fiore continues her attacks on BLM agents, whom she called “Nazi-minded” bullies. During a commercial break, she criticizes government leaders for dividing America by race and political party. She uses Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford as an example, saying Horsford was the first person to accuse Bundy of being a racist on Twitter, while Horsford’s wife, an education scholar at UNLV, promotes the “negro student of America” in her writing.

“You talk about a racist household,” Fiore says later. “What if I went and printed an article saying the ‘white woman student of America.’ What would happen? I mean, we have Black Entertainment Television. What would happen if we started White Chick TV? Are you kidding me?”

Fiore’s off-the-cuff remarks and two-week stand at Bunkerville reveal her political strengths and weaknesses.

On paper, she is the perfect candidate for a Republican party that wants to erase the perception that it caters to big business and wealthy, older white men. Fiore is young, fiscally conservative, socially moderate, a small-business owner, one of two women in the Assembly and a telegenic critic of the federal government. The Nevada Policy Research Institute, a libertarian think tank, named her “Taxpayers’ Best Friend” after her first session in 2013.

But she has one problem, and it’s one she doesn’t shy away from: “I am 100 percent politically incorrect, and I say bad words,” she said.

Fiore is one of the most conservative members of the Nevada Legislature. But she has Democrat in her DNA.

At least, that’s what her mother says.

Lill Fiore is a lesbian and a Kennedy-era liberal who raised her daughter in Brooklyn around equality parades in the late 1970s. Michele Fiore, 43, described her neighborhood as a place where grocers knew her name and subways were her playground. Her uncles were New York City police officers who taught her how to fire a gun.

Lill moved to Las Vegas in the late 1980s. Fiore followed to be close to her and escape a relationship. She attended college but never graduated. Today, Lill and Michele co-own two home health care service companies.

Fiore got her start in politics by volunteering on committees concerned with law enforcement issues. In 2010, as the Tea Party rose to prominence, gaming mogul Steve Wynn encouraged her to run for Congress. She lost badly in a primary to Kenneth Wegner.

In her own words ...

On the BLM: Fiore stood by rancher Cliven Bundy during his April standoff with the Bureau of Land Management. She stayed in Bunkerville for two weeks and attacked the federal government on national TV and on her blog, where she wrote about the confrontation between Bundy’s family and armed federal agents.

“As Ammon Bundy was trying to get the dog off his leg, the Nazi-minded bully tased him twice, once in the neck and the second one right above the heart,” she wrote.

She re-grouped and easily won her district’s open Assembly seat in 2012.

Fiore showed up in Carson City with guns blazing.

Legislatures typically run by tradition and unspoken rules established by party leaders. In Nevada, it’s well known that freshman lawmakers are supposed to spend their first session in the background.

Fiore had her name on 95 bills. The entire 42-person Assembly considered 578.

“I didn’t get the memo that says you’re supposed to sit down, shut up and behave,” she said.

Fiore was the only Republican to vote for lifting the gay marriage ban and legalizing medical marijuana. But she also lobbied hard for a bill to allow college students to carry concealed weapons on campus. The bill never got a committee hearing.

Fiore proudly proclaims that she carries a firearm in gun-free zones. And in one of her stock sound bites, Fiore says she carries her sidearm like “her bra and panties.”

Fiore’s brash approach helped her make a name for herself early in her political career. But she has butted heads with the real firepower in Nevada’s Republican party, Gov. Brian Sandoval.

The former federal judge faced a 2013 Legislature controlled by Democrats and a budget crippled by recession. Sandoval proposed extending business and sales taxes to make up for revenue lost in the downturn, a risky move for a Republican governor. To get his budget through the Legislature, Sandoval needed to keep his party together. But Fiore didn’t go along.

She was the only Republican in the Assembly to vote against Sandoval’s budget. She voted on principle after signing a no-new-taxes pledge.

In her own words ...

On politics: As a freshman lawmaker, Fiore was a workhorse and firebrand. She had her name on 95 bills and didn’t shy away from personal attacks.

She said the chancellor of Nevada’s higher education system “has his head so far where it shouldn’t be.”

She described union members as “poor excuses for human beings.”

And she called out Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval when his candidate, Robert Uithoven, lost the race for state GOP chairman to Michael McDonald.

“Michael McDonald didn’t just win the chairmanship, he slaughtered Brian’s boy, without question,” Fiore said. “So you showed him. You showed Brian he doesn’t get to dictate to us.”

She publicly criticized Sandoval’s pick for state party chairman and Sandoval’s bill to collect DNA from felons. Fiore also took on Minority Leader Pat Hickey, the most powerful Republican in the Assembly, after Hickey suggested Republicans would have better luck in the 2014 election because, he said, minorities don’t vote in non-presidential years.

For a young, ambitious politician, attacking party leaders isn’t usually in the playbook, since they provide the networking and fundraising support necessary to turn Assembly members into state senators and eventually members of Congress.

Hickey had advice for Fiore: “Become a good friend of Brian Sandoval, and your fortunes may be helped by it.”

For other leading Republicans, that has become the proven approach to winning statewide office in Nevada.

The question for Fiore is: Can she maintain her outsider status and win higher office without Sandoval’s backing?

In her radio interview, Fiore repeatedly criticized Horsford for his handling of the Bundy standoff. She called Horsford a liar and said she doesn’t take him seriously.

“A lot of words come out of that man’s mouth with no backup, no evidence,” Fiore said.

Horsford represents Fiore in the 4th Congressional District. She may want to reverse their positions.

When asked later about her plans for the future, Fiore said: “Washington needs a lot of help.”

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