Las Vegas Sun

August 18, 2022

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Jon Ralston:

Nevada’s Godfather fixes the primaries

Film buffs will recall the terror with which the young Vito Corleone’s friends talked of The Black Hand, an invisible but palpable organization whose wrath was universally feared.

Far be it from me to suggest Godfather Harry Reid helms a criminal enterprise as Don Fanucci did in “The Godfather: Part II.” But recent events only reconfirm that the Senate majority leader’s unseen hand controls all within the Democratic Party with a ruthlessness and efficiency that La Cosa Nostra would envy, striking terror into all Democrats within his domain.

Indeed, so far this cycle, only one person has (so far) stood up to Nevada’s Black Hand, and that is ex-Rep. Dina Titus, who has yet to accept an offer she couldn’t refuse. But the rest of the Democratic dominoes have fallen nicely into place, with nary a fingerprint from the Black Hand. But you don’t need to be Columbo — or perhaps Eliot Ness is more apt — to solve this mystery.

The plot is easy to follow, and actually, like a Mafia story, has moments of comedy, too:

Perpetually ambitious Democratic state Sen. John Lee announced in August that he was running for Congress. He did so implying Black Hand sanction, but clearly that was not so and he was soon publicly snubbed. No horse head in his bed; just a majority leader’s door slammed in his face.

Reid favored his Nevada legislative counterpart, Steven Horsford, who was in a safe district but would prefer not to spend money winning a primary, especially because the GOP had dreams of an upset. So a few weeks ago, the Sun’s David McGrath Schwartz broke the story that Lee was reconsidering his congressional bid, complete with nonsense that the state needed him and he was being asked to lead in Carson City. Must be the same mysterious folks who had asked him to run in the first place. (I am convinced there is one group of always-nameless people who “ask” people to run for office.)

But Lee’s retreat, pushed by The Hand, caused a problem in the legislative matrix. Two ambitious Assembly folk — Kelvin Atkinson and Dina Neal — had announced they were running for the state Senate. Neal was running for Horsford’s seat and Atkinson was slated to take Lee’s spot.

But The Hand is nothing if not nimble.

First, the Atkinson-Lee primary had to be dealt with. Since Lee was good enough to get out of Horsford’s way, the Godfather surely believed that the senator should be primary-less in his district.

So, suddenly, Atkinson was equivocating about which Senate district he would seek, even though Neal lives in Horsford’s and he does not. But while Atkinson’s ambition was unchained, he certainly could be guided once The Hand became involved.

If Atkinson ran for Horsford’s seat, then what of Neal? Another primary? Alas, the freshman — Neal — had to learn a hard lesson.

Just three weeks ago, the daughter of former Sen. Joe Neal told the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Ed Vogel that she was running for Horsford’s seat, the one her dad held for decades. Wrote Vogel: “Neal said she spent several months deciding whether to run for the state Senate or keep a safe Assembly seat. ‘I like the people in the Assembly,’ Neal said. ‘But when I look at the new district lines, it makes perfect sense that I run.’ ”

Perfect sense, eh?

Well, on the Friday after Thanksgiving, surely pushed by The Black Hand to put out a news release in the black hole of news coverage, Neal came to her senses:

“When I was elected to the Assembly, I made a pledge to the community. I need to continue my work in the Assembly for our neighborhoods and our children. After much reflection and support of members of the community, I have decided to stay in the Assembly and continue the work I began last session.”

Much reflection! I told you there was some comedy.

That set the stage for this week’s release by Atkinson, who announced in an errata-filled news release that he was running for Horsford’s seat, even though he has to move there: “After much reflection, discussion with my family and members of the community, I have decided to formally announce for the 4th Senate District. I have long standing ties with the community there.”

Much reflection! Where have I heard that before?

So the matrix was set, the Democratic world was back on its axis, The Hand had set all things right.

There is, of course, that pesky primary in Rep. Shelley Berkley’s seat, where The Hand prefers the Great Hispanic Hope, Ruben Kihuen, over Titus. But after releasing a poll that shows her ahead by 66 percentage points (hello, name ID), Titus seems to be sending a message to the Godfather that he doesn’t hear very often:

Talk to the hand.

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