Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2009 | 2:01 a.m.
Of all the entrants in the Retire Harry Reid Sweepstakes, state Sen. Mark Amodei is the most puzzling, even confounding candidate.
Amodei today will announce his participation in a GOP primary that is as bizarre as it is colorful, as totally unexpected as it is potentially damaging — to the Republicans, that is. Engaging in a primary with multiple (maybe double figures) contenders who will cut one another up and force one another to spend a lot of money — it’s so, so ... Democratic of them.
But why Amodei? We can understand why Danny Tarkanian (name recognition) or ex-Assemblywoman Sharron Angle (obsession with office-seeking) or any of the other dwarves (delusions of senatorial grandeur) might want to take on a vulnerable senator in the most-watched race of next year. But why would a relatively unknown, term-limited legislator from Carson City, one with an enduring black mark on his record for a GOP primary, think he has a chance?
I ask the question because Amodei, a legislator since 1997, is undoubtedly one of the smartest, canniest and, yes, funniest members to grace the rarely hallowed halls in the capital. He knew what he was doing, which would be faint praise in almost any other universe.
But knowing that Snow White — aka state GOP Chairwoman Sue Lowden — is poised to enter the race next month, why would a man from a rural corner of the state mount a challenge to a Las Vegas woman with money, one whom the National Republican Senatorial Committee must be positively salivating for? I always thought it was the girl and not one of the dwarves who was the hero of the fairy tale.
Amodei is no Dopey, he’s mostly Happy, rarely Grumpy and hardly Sleepy. So why is he being less than Bashful about this race?
I can think of only one dynamic that could favor him — that he is North and the others are South. The only other significant northern challenger — and some will dispute her significance — is Angle, the former assemblywoman who is seeking a comeback after she almost defeated Dean Heller in the congressional race a couple of cycles ago and after repeatedly failing to qualify a Prop 13-like property tax initiative.
Amodei surely runs well outside Clark County, which is where 40 percent of the GOP votes are — maybe more by next June, depending on turnout. So maybe Amodei figures that with Snow White and Little Tark having at each other and dividing Southern Nevada, he can get enough votes in the rurals and Washoe County to win the primary. If all these folks stay in, he may be right.
But this race is not taking place in a vacuum and although Little Tark has what could turn out to be an advantage of never having won a race and thus not having a voting record, Angle, Lowden and, yes, Amodei do. And what would make the capital senator think that his opponents will not replay his performance during The Great Tax Non-Debate of 2003?
Amodei not only voted for the largest tax increase in history — before the 2009 session, that is — but he also proposed one of the most comprehensive tax packages ever seen (with Democrat Terry Care) in Carson City, one that higher estimates placed at a record $1.6 billion.
The Care-Amodei tax package would have raised or created a dozen taxes in all, including levies on gaming, alcohol and cigarettes as well as imposing a sales tax on services, increasing property and business taxes, creating an amusement tax (hello, golfers) and — hold your breath — putting a surcharge on the unemployment tax paid by businesses on each employee. One analysis put the increase at 35 percent for businesses with fewer than 300 workers and 50 percent at larger enterprises. And now, with the economy tanking and the unemployment insurance fund insolvent, businesses face a doubling or tripling of those rates Amodei would have taxed.
So he proposed a billion-dollar-plus increase with an amalgam of taxes and voted for another melange that raised almost as much money. This is an advertisement for a GOP primary? For one of his opponents, perhaps.
I haven’t even mentioned ethical questions about Amodei being a mining lobbyist while a lawmaker and being involved in an LLC with retailers boss Mary Lau while he has been a legislator.
Maybe Amodei has a strategy that will overcome all of that. Maybe he will scare out Lowden, who previously said she would defer to elected officials who want to take on Reid. (Unlikely.) Or maybe he will discover that no matter how smart or canny you are, your past will always catch up to you.