Las Vegas Sun

May 25, 2018

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Trailblazing Nevada attorney speaks to women in politics and the state’s big challenges


Christopher DeVargas

Frankie Sue Del Papa is a former secretary of state and attorney general in Nevada.

Former three-term Nevada Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa was the state’s first female AG and secretary of state. She ran for governor in 1998 and for the U.S. Senate in 1999, dropping out of both races for a lack of campaign funds — a big issue she says female politicians face.

Despite retiring from politics in 2002, Del Papa is still a practicing attorney and active in the National Association of Attorneys General. In 2008, she was the co-chair for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in Nevada and most recently stumped for Clinton ahead of the 2016 election.

President Donald Trump wants states to decide reproductive rights. How might this affect Nevada?

In the 1990s, there was a referendum filed in Nevada supporting Roe v. Wade by then-Republican Lt. Gov. Sue Wagner. It passed overwhelmingly. If the U.S. Supreme Court were to kick Roe v. Wade back to the states, Nevada’s law would stand because that referendum cannot be changed unless there is another vote by the people.

What is your position on Roe v. Wade?

My position is that (abortion) is a private matter between a woman, her family and her physician. It’s not a matter for government intervention. ... It was an issue during the last presidential election. A lot of people, myself included, voted for Hillary to safeguard this and other like-minded precedents.

Is America ready for a female president?

I think Hillary was one of the most qualified people to run for the presidency. You can be the best candidate and still lose.

We don’t know the extent of Russian hacking of our elections and how it affected her; hopefully, we will get to the bottom of that. She didn’t get that many breaks. Look at the comments made about her by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who confessed that when her poll numbers were high, they created a Benghazi special committee to make her numbers drop.

I believe that in my lifetime, we will see a woman president. Nevada went for Hillary. It may not be a Democrat. It could be a Republican woman, like (former South Carolina governor and current U.S. ambassador to the UN) Nikki Haley. But it could be someone like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren or California Sen. Kamala Harris.

There’s an element of luck in all of this — you have to really want to win and pay your dues from here to there. The hideous thing today is what it takes in terms of money to win an election. Sometimes it’s true that women have a harder time raising money, but then you take a case like California’s 2010 gubernatorial election, where Republican Meg Whitman spent $160 million of her own money and still lost to Jerry Brown.

Campaign finance is the big issue. We are a nation whose officials are largely either campaigning or fundraising most of the time and not governing. If the public really understood what was at stake here, more people would be in favor of public financing of political campaigns.

Is Nevada ready for a female governor?

I think we will have one. (U.S. Rep.) Dina Titus made a good run; (former Las Vegas Mayor) Jan Jones made a good run.

Nevada has a long history of electing female constitutional officers. We just elected a female U.S. senator who is extremely qualified. We’ve had an attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer, controller. Two of the four members of our state’s congressional delegation are women. ... You don’t vote for someone just because she is a woman — you vote for her because she is the most qualified person for the job.

Were you surprised by the election of President Trump?

Yes. There were so many opportunities President Trump gave as reasons to not vote for him. One of the worst was when he said he could stand on Fifth Avenue in New York City and shoot someone and his people would still support him. How could you vote for someone who would say this and believe it? Then there was the comment criticizing Sen. John McCain, known as a war hero. I kept thinking, “This is the end.”

Do you see a Trump impeachment in our nation’s crystal ball?

It’s a different circumstance because both houses of Congress are Republican (controlled). We’ll have to wait and see what the long-term effects are (of the ongoing Justice Department investigation).

What effect did the women’s marches have on the future?

The women’s marches in America and all over the world were important. They gave people hope. In Reno, where I live, they said 800 people were going to march, then 10,000 showed up. ... After the marches people need to think, “What else can I do individually, in my community, my state?” I decided I would vote with my checkbook. I wrote a lot of checks to Planned Parenthood, to environmental groups.

What do you miss about being Nevada’s attorney general?

I miss the ability to make a difference on a grand scale. I had a great run of 22 years of public service. As secretary of state, I was proud of what we did with voter registration. As AG, it was my privilege to modernize the office. Every day I got to try to make a difference and work with very good people. I did a lot of consumer protection. I established a Medicaid fraud unit. ... I created the first statewide domestic violence commission. ... I got involved with teen pregnancy prevention after we had an 11-year-old give birth to a baby. ... There were a lot of people who were right there with me, a lot of unsung heroes and heroines.

What are some of the most pressing issues facing the state?

Despite the winter we had this past year, I think water is going to continue to be a big issue for this state. ... Issues related to infrastructure are also important because Nevada has grown and is again growing so quickly. We have potholes in streets the size of moon craters. When you look at Nevada’s aging population, that is the reason Gov. (Brian) Sandoval and other governors have been as concerned as they have about Medicaid. Then states have to provide nursing homes. Growth brings a lot of things with it.

Have you seen the world of politics change over time?

The rules are different today than they were in my day. It was less of a partisan time.

I created a lot of coalitions, working with Republican AGs on many issues. I still believe you have to build as many partnerships and personal relationships as you can.