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Arranging second place

Gov. Brian Sandoval has thrown his support behind Sen. Mark Hutchison of Las Vegas for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor. If any other Republicans were considering running, Sandoval has effectively told them to rule themselves out.

When a governor chooses his running mate in a state where the two do not run together on a legal ticket, it’s always risky. It subverts the right of Republican primary voters to make their choice and can make the governor look arrogant. It undercuts the Nevada model of having these two offices independently elected instead of, as in the case of the vice presidency, having one subservient to the other.

In addition, it makes the candidate for governor responsible to his party for the choice of the candidate for lieutenant governor if anything goes wrong. In 1982, Republican Gov. Robert List was facing a difficult re-election race. Surveys showed he was enormously unpopular. He decided to recruit his own running mate and chose Lloyd “Tag” Taggart.

Taggart was a former aide in Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His family was prominent in Clark County, the owners of a concrete company, WMK Transit Mix.

It was a fiasco.

There were already a couple of minor candidates for the GOP lieutenant governor nomination, and List’s intervention infuriated them. Then, a few days after he announced his candidacy, Taggart took it back. He dropped out of the race on the day before the filing deadline. Since List’s role had kept other major candidates from running, Taggart’s withdrawal left the party with no serious candidate for lieutenant governor. List ended up running with a little-known candidate who was angry at him for his intervention — and List’s strength within the GOP was once again sapped.

Things went better for Lt. Gov. Rex Bell in 1962. At the end of April that year, on the same day that Democratic Gov. Grant Sawyer filed for re-election, Republican Bell announced his candidacy against Sawyer and said he was considering choosing a running mate, with Cliff Young of Washoe County and Fred Settelmeyer of Douglas County on his list.

When Bell officially filed his candidacy eight weeks later, his choice was a different candidate — former Ormsby County District Attorney Paul Laxalt.

As it happened, both these anointments ended up unexpectedly. List lost re-election along with his unknown running mate, Bill Boyd. But the GOP nevertheless won the lieutenant governorship because Democrat Bob Cashell, who defeated Boyd, switched to the Republican Party on Aug. 12, 1983. And Bell died before the 1962 election but Laxalt was elected lieutenant governor and went on to become governor and U.S. senator.

The team that worked out best did not result from a candidate for governor choosing his running mate for lieutenant governor. That was Gov. Mike O’Callaghan and Lt. Gov. Harry Reid, elected in 1970.

The two men were old friends. Reid had been a student of O’Callaghan’s in high school. Reid’s home life was less than happy, and O’Callaghan became a father figure and mentor for him.

O’Callaghan had lost a race for lieutenant governor in 1966 and became the Democratic nominee for governor in 1970. Reid, a member of the Legislature, ran for lieutenant governor and both were elected.

As lieutenant governor, Reid had a close working relationship with his former teacher and felt he got more consideration from the governor than any other person serving in that post in recent state history. O’Callaghan gave him numerous assignments, in and out of the state, which widened his experience and helped build his resume for his political career.

It is doubtful the state has ever had a team that worked closer in those two offices. And it happened without artificial arrangements.

Dennis Myers is a veteran and Nevada journalist.

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