IndyMatters: Aaron Ford on gun background checks, 'dog-whistling' campaign ads and standing up to Trump

Aaron Ford in a dark jacket and bow tie during an interview

Democratic state Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford faced a tough challenge in the attorney general’s race, complete with attacks from an outside group that Ford calls racist and a final outcome that made it the closest statewide race in Nevada.

Fresh from defeating Republican Wes Duncan by a narrow margin of fewer than 5,000 votes, Ford sat down for a recording of the IndyMatters podcast on Wednesday to discuss his philosophy for the office and how it differs from the approach of staunchly conservative Republican incumbent Adam Laxalt.

Ford discussed his plans to try enacting a stalled voter-approved gun background check law — which could involve a lawsuit in federal court — and to defend the state’s marijuana industry against any potential federal crackdown. He also said it was likely the state could get involved in various legal challenges throughout the country, including defending the Affordable Care Act from a Texas-backed lawsuit that Laxalt declined to engage with.

He also addressed criticisms that flew during the campaign, including that he was too “pro-felon,” that he wanted to allow prisoners to vote and that he would make Nevada a less-safe “sanctuary state.”

Ford, 46, also spoke about how his background shapes his policy stances — he’s making history as the first African-American ever elected to a statewide constitutional office in Nevada.

Below are excerpts from the conversation, which can be listened to in its entirety here.

Question 1

In 2016, Nevada voters narrowly voted to approve an initiative requiring the vast majority of private party gun sales or transfers undergo mandatory background checks on the purchasers of the firearms.

But the initiative has never been enforced; the FBI, required to do the background checks under the initiative, refused to do so given that Nevada conducts its own background checks for retail and other firearms sales, leading Laxalt’s office to determine in an official opinion that the initiative was effectively unenforceable. A Clark County judge in August dismissed a lawsuit seeking to compel Laxalt and Gov. Brian Sandoval to implement the initiative, saying the courts could not “micromanage” the governor’s communications with executive agencies.

Ford campaigned on implementing Question 1, and said it wasn’t a “bandwagon” issue for him given his support for a similar concept by former state Sen. Justin Jones, which was approved by lawmakers but vetoed by Sandoval in 2013.

But as for actually implementing it, Ford said he first wanted to consult with Gov.-elect Steve Sisolak — who has also pledged to implement the ballot question — and figure out the best way to actually enact the policy once the two take office next year. He said no options were “off the table.” The incoming attorney general said he had already requested a bill in the next legislative session through his role as Senate majority leader that would address the topic (voter-approved initiatives cannot be amended by the Legislature until three years after they’re approved, which is why lawmakers in 2017 didn’t take up the issue).

Ford also raised the possibility of litigation in a federal court to require the FBI to carry out the background checks.

“It would be a last recourse, the federal court approach, obviously. I think there are a number of interpretations out there that have been put forth that it is really more of a ministerial duty for the federal government because laws are supposed to be construed harmoniously, such that they make sense together and can work together,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s an avenue that I think had not been pursued and something that had probably not been seriously considered, again in view of the fact that the current attorney general had already indicated that he was opposed to the idea in the first instance.”

Ford said that the most important factor was that he was starting from a position of “yes,” contrasting himself with Laxalt who vocally opposed the measure when it was on the ballot and said he wouldn’t do anything additional to implement it if elected governor.

“I’ve said on the campaign trail, I’ve said since winning this election, that I will work with anybody, whether it’s the governor, the Legislature, the federal government, police officers, whatever the case may be, to figure out a way to enforce this,” he said.

Ford also brushed aside concerns that having the state itself do the background checks — the solution proffered by Sandoval — would lead to a strain on the budget, saying he and Sisolak would be able to find funding for the program once they synergized strategies.

“The first step is to have a robust conversation with the governor-elect on what he foresees as his approach, how mine kind of meshes with that, and then move together doing the same type of thing,” he said.

Voting from prison

Ford took some heat from Republicans for testifying in 2017 that if he had his way, people would still be able to vote while in prison such as in Vermont or Maine. The comments came during a hearing in which Ford was presenting a bill that would expand voting rights restoration to a larger group of people who have been released from prison.

I'm from Dallas, Texas. I'm from the South. I'm an African American male who's grown up in the South and whose parents and grandparents were denied the right to vote,” he said. “The right to vote to me is one of the most sacrosanct constitutional rights that are out there. And I know the history of disenfranchisement. I know the history of removing the right to vote, and I know Jim Crow had a lot to do with that. So when I say that I think the right to vote should never be removed, it's coming from that particular lens.”

Ford said that as Senate majority leader, he had the power to get the bill passed to carry out such a plan, but chose not to.

“What I am doing is putting our state in its own place where folks have the ability to reintegrate back into society yet again by giving them a chance to participate in society and restoring their right to vote is integral to that type of reintegration,” he said.

Ford denied that his decision not to go that far was because he planned to run for attorney general, and such a policy might be too progressive for Nevada voters. He pointed to other criminal justice reform measures he sponsored, including a bill to launch a pilot community college program in prison.

“People need to look at my record and look at what I do. Many people know who I am and they know my heart and they know that it is not dictated by what's going to happen in the future,” he said. “I'm living in the moment, I'm doing what I think my constituents have elected me to do, and I'm representing a perspective that I think many people share.”

“Dog-whistling”

Ford made history on election night by becoming the first African-American to win a statewide office in Nevada, but he said opposition groups including the Republican Attorneys General Association made and ran ads with a “racist tinge” throughout the campaign.

Primarily, the future attorney general took umbrage with the group’s digital ad and attack website highlighting news reports that he was arrested four times on minor charges as a college student in the early 1990s, and saying Ford “knows the law in all the wrong ways.” Ford said the attacks were unfair given RAGA’s staunch support of Laxalt in 2014, despite the Republican’s documented legal troubles as a youth, including allegedly assaulting a police officer and a DUI.

“If they were disqualifying for me as an 18-year-old walking on campus at Texas A&M University, walking on campus, walking home to my dorm room, and having been arrested for public intoxication, then shouldn’t it have been disqualifying for the current attorney general who had a DUI around the same time?” he asked. “If it’s disqualifying that I had a speeding ticket that I forgot to pay, then shouldn't it also be disqualifying for the current attorney general who had a 15-year-old speeding ticket...that it took him 15 years to pay? Shouldn’t it be disqualifying? And so when you draw those distractions and those comparisons, it becomes really apparent to anyone, and not just people like me who have experienced this and who’ve lived this, that there was a racist tinge to this campaign cycle.”

Ford also said he took issue with another RAGA attack website radicalaaronford.com, saying use of the word “radical” and his caricatured, bow-tie wearing image invoked unfavorable comparisons to the Nation of Islam. He said he was grateful for Nevadans “disregarding, discarding and demonstrating to the rest of the world that we are beyond that nonsense.” But he said the attacks were hurtful.

“It was disappointing to see that it not only took place but escalated throughout the entirety of the campaign,” he said. “I was prepared for the dog-whistling, because I had said I had anticipated what I called ‘Willie Horton’ (referring to the racist 1988 presidential campaign ad) behavior in this campaign, but it was gross, to say the least.”

Changes in office

Laxalt’s tenure was marked at-times by public disagreement with Sandoval over lawsuits the Republican attorney general signed the state onto, including one in 2015 challenging the legitimacy of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program. Laxalt also signed the state onto several amicus briefs challenging abortion access in other states, which pro-choice advocates said went against Nevada voters who enshrined abortion protections created by the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade case in the state Constitution nearly 30 years ago.

Ford said he would have signed onto litigation defending DACA recipients had he been attorney general at the time and would likely involve the state in litigation from defending abortion access to protecting the Affordable Care Act from a Texas attorney general-driven lawsuit challenging the insurance law’s constitutionality. Laxalt has declined to involve the state on either side of the ACA lawsuit.

But Ford said his main difference on the job would be a closer working relationship with the governor.

“One of the difference in approaches I’m taking in my office is that I consult with the governor, and the governor-elect, before we make ultimate decisions,” he said. “And at the end of the day, the governor and I have individual duties under the Constitution to do what we think is best for the improvement of our state. And sometimes we may disagree, but it begins with a conversation, and I’m going to have that conversation with the governor before making any final decisions on anything.”

Ford was hesitant to say whether he would pursue litigation or involve the state in a case against Sisolak’s wishes.

“There will be an occasion, I imagine, very few occasions, and I hope no occasions, but if there are disagreements then we’ll have to cross that bridge when we come to it,” he said.

Ford also said he would be reviewing the entire structure of the office as part of his transition, including the Laxalt-created positions of solicitor general and a “federalism” unit designed to challenge “unlawful federal overreach.”

Sex offender lawsuit

Nevada lawmakers passed a bill in 2007 that brought the state in compliance with the federal Adam Walsh Act, which dramatically ramped up the requirements for sex offenders to register with the state. Some lawmakers have tried to roll back that bill, and people who are subject to the stricter law and its lifetime registration requirements have sued the Nevada attorney general’s office to challenge its constitutionality.

Ford didn’t take a strong stance on the litigation against the office he’ll assume.

“I don't have a problem per se,” he said about Nevada’s version of the Adam Walsh Act. “I can't speak specifically to this litigation because this is yet another example of me having to look at what's currently pending and to make an analysis off of that.”

Defending a state-legal marijuana industry

Ford said he believes the attorney general’s office should defend Nevada’s recreational marijuana industry against a potential crackdown from the federal government, and said such a defense would be a good use of the “federalism unit” Laxalt launched.

“We in our state have determined that we want to have legalized adult cannabis usage in our state,” he said. “If the federal government wants to come in and try to tell us that we can't do it and undermine the 7,000 jobs that have been created … and the tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue that we've been able to receive to help our state with services, then they're going to meet an attorney general's office under my administration that will fight them tooth and nail to protect that industry.”

Democratic AGs as a defense against Trump

Democratic attorneys general have sometimes been described as a main line of defense against actions taken by the Trump administration.

“My job … is to look out for Nevada families first. That's my analysis. And we have seen Democratic attorneys general across the nation band together to push back on what they consider to be an attack on families in their respective states and across the nation,” Ford said. “And it's not partisan because if it were, we would be losing. They're winning.”

He said he “absolutely” would be on the lookout for things coming out of the administration that undermine Nevadans’ security or constitutional rights.

Criminal justice reform

Despite the change in job, Ford said he wanted to continue pushing for policies that reduce recidivism and make it easier for incarcerated people to transition back to society without returning to prison — which could include more speciality courts and using state settlement funds on diversionary programs.

“I have run on that as something very important and integral to my campaign, so I believe my role is to ensure that we have a fair and just criminal justice system,” he said. “Punish those who’ve made mistakes or made bad decisions, but also look at the underlying causes, and if they are for example mental health issues, then let’s use diversion courts like mental health courts to figure out a way to divert them from the criminal justice system. If there’s an underlying addiction issue, then let’s use drug court, let's use re-entry courts to figure out ways to keep people from recidivating, if you will. And a lot of that costs money, so utilizing settlement funds in a way that can support those types of programs and diversionary tactics, and understanding you know there has to be intention here. There has to be purposeful intent to create a better criminal justice system, and I’m determined to do that as well.”

Although Duncan, his general election opponent, ran on a theme of “A Safer Nevada,” Ford said his legislative record showed that he had backed legislation improving public safety, but that a key element involved making sure incarcerated people are given a fair chance to fully re-enter society.

“The best way is to be preventive, and to ensure that there are opportunities out there for people to get the assistance they need, whether it be better education, and legislatively, obviously that’s what they do, wrap-around services and things of that sort,” he said.

Storey County sheriff investigation

Ford supporters were vocal during the campaign in criticizing Duncan and Laxalt for not immediately dropping the endorsement they received from Storey County Sheriff Gerald Antinoro, who was accused of sexual misconduct involving a subordinate.

Laxalt’s office launched an investigation into Antinoro but ultimately did not opt to prosecute a case. Ford was noncommittal about whether he would revisit the issue.

“I can't say one way or the other whether I'm going to quote unquote reopen the investigation,” he said. “I need to analyze and look at what's in the office so I can make informed decisions on how to proceed."

Marsy’s Law

Nevadans voted this cycle to approve Marsy’s Law, which enshrines a list of rights for victims of crime into the Constitution, including the right to be notified and allowed to speak at more hearings involving the alleged perpetrator. It’s backed by billionaire Henry T. Nicholas and opposed by groups including the ACLU.

Ford and a handful of other Democrats had opposed the measure when it first emerged in the Legislature in 2015, but got behind it in 2017, voting to send it to a statewide vote.

“I absolutely had concerns about Marsy's Law in 2015. Didn't think necessarily that the protections that were being requested via a constitutional amendment were necessary because we had statutory protections already in place,” he said. “In 2017, the analysis was a little different — it was do they undermine other rights that are out there. Also, is it ultimately OK for the people to decide?”

Ford said that as Nevada works to implement Marsy’s Law, he’ll be looking at what issues other states with similar laws have experienced, and said he’ll be “figuring out where the pitfalls are as well so we can try to avoid those on a going forward basis, whatever they may be.”

287(g) agreements with immigration enforcement

Last year, Ford found himself in the middle of controversy over 287(g) agreements in which local jails cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

A bill in the Legislature sought to end them and Ford initially signed on, but later in the session, he snuffed out the effort. Republicans have said such bills would make Nevada a “sanctuary state” that is less safe.

“This issue was brought up by folks fear-mongering, folks race-baiting, folks trying to pit communities against communities,” Ford said. “Governor Sandoval, the Republican, and I agree on this as well — the sanctuary city issue is a non-issue in this state. We didn't have it, don't have it now.”

He said the 2017 bill was “trying to do was to ensure that state resources can be used for state issues.”

Immigration lawyers are critical of local jails for detaining immigrants on violations as minor as failing to pay traffic tickets, then turning them over to ICE, which initiates deportation proceedings. They say it’s unjust to attach such life-altering consequences to traffic violations, and point to the fact that not all jurisdictions have laws that allow traffic citations to escalate so dramatically.

“You're talking to someone who got a failure to appear for a traffic ticket when I was in college,” Ford said, pointing out that Laxalt did not get arrested as he did for the same infraction because Laxalt received a traffic ticket in Maryland, which decriminalized such violations. “So decriminalizing traffic violations may be something that assists in this area as well.”

He indicated that Democratic leadership at more levels of Nevada government is likely to offer more opportunities for a discussion on immigration issues and traffic ticket decriminalization.

Relationship with law enforcement

Almost all of Nevada’s elected sheriffs endorsed Ford’s opponent in the attorney general’s race. But he indicated they could overcome that.

Campaign season presents difficulties sometimes and to be sure, the sheriffs endorsed my opponent in this race,” he said. “But to also be sure, I've had a relationship with these sheriffs preexisting this campaign and I've worked with them.”

He pointed to legislation he presented that elevates the penalties for people who attack police and other first responders because they are first responders. That bill makes such an offense tantamount to a hate crime.

Ford also vowed to continue another tradition Laxalt started — a periodic law enforcement summit that brings sheriffs together for idea-sharing.

Bridging the rural-urban divide

One of the sharpest divides in the Nevada political scene is the one between the state’s rural counties and its urban areas. Rural counties voted overwhelmingly for Laxalt and other Republicans, while urban counties helped carry Democrats to victory in most races on Election Day.

Ford says there doesn’t have to be sharp tensions between the two.

“I don't think we're stuck with it. We have to keep trying,” he said. “And what I have done over the course of my legislative career is to purposefully put me into areas where I have to talk about rural issues.”

Ford said he asked to be assigned to a committee where he could visit rural Nevada and discuss water and land issues. He chaired the Natural Resources committee in 2013, and did a rural tour during his recent campaign.

“To be sure, I didn't win in rural Nevada, but that doesn't mean I'm going to stop my communication with rural Nevada,” he said. He pointed to issues such as the opioid crisis that hit rural and urban communities alike as a place where the regions can work together.

“So finding those commonalities, figuring out ways where our state as a whole can look to address a problem from an AG's perspective, is one of the ways I hope to establish a relationship, whether they vote for me or not,” he said. “At the end of the day, voting is sacrosanct and they do what they want to with it but the person elected to these offices is beholden to the entire state.”

This story was updated at 1 p.m. on Nov. 15, 2018 to reflect that Ford is the first African-American elected to a statewide constitutional office. The first African-American elected to a statewide post overall was Nevada Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Douglas.

Tight races, high nerves as candidates vie for votes ahead of crucial midterm election

Republican candidate for governor Attorney General Adam Laxalt speaks during a get out the vote event at the Laxalt field office in Las Vegas on Monday, Nov. 5, 2018. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

On the eve of the election, a lineup of Republican candidates had crowded into a Las Vegas campaign office to fire up staff and volunteers as TV cameras rolled.

Their chants of “Adam! Adam!” and predictions that they’d be turning Nevada red on Tuesday came as early voting returns show about 22,000 more Democrats than Republicans statewide have cast ballots early. That’s a 3.5 percentage point lead for Democrats — a notable gap that Republicans hope they can close with their traditionally strong Election Day turnout and with a ground game that’s more refined than in years past.

“We're in the bottom of the ninth, we're down one, there's a runner on third base. We need to hit a home run,” said Republican attorney general candidate Wes Duncan, before urging attendees to tell everyone they know to get out and vote.

Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who’s running for governor, also projected confidence, saying he thinks voters see a clear choice in their candidates for the top statewide post.

“We feel great about this race,” Laxalt said in a speech, before shaking a few hands and avoiding the press by slipping out a back door. “We believe that there are going to be enough Nevadans to put me in the governor's office.”

With polls opening at 7 a.m., voters will have the final say Tuesday on how effective the campaigns were in turning out an unusually engaged electorate for a non-presidential year. At stake is a Senate race that Democrats need to win to have any hope of wresting control of the chamber from Republicans, the closest gubernatorial race in the country and a ballot measure that will determine the future of the state’s energy market.

Campaigns have spent much the last two weeks of October making their final pitches, flying in surrogates from President Donald Trump to former President Barack Obama in an effort to rev up support from their parties’ bases. They’ve also appealed directly to voters by knocking on doors, flooding airwaves, and crowding mailboxes in an attempt to persuade undecided voters — and cast aspersions on their opponents in an attempt to dissuade otherwise decided ones.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Sisolak tours the site of the Raiders stadium in Las Vegas on Nov. 5, 2018. Photo courtesy Sisolak campaign.

Amid a packed day of events ranging from pizza with community college students to a lunch with union workers at a hospital, Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak started Monday at a place closely associated with him — the 62-acre construction site that will soon host the $1.9 billion domed stadium on the Las Vegas Strip.

Dressed in a reflective vest and steel-toed boots after touring the site, Sisolak largely pivoted away from questions about President Donald Trump’s effect on the race and whether he felt confident about his chances after the first two weeks of early voting, acknowledging only that it remained “tight.” Flanked by a posse of union members, the Democrat jumped at a chance to extol the help his campaign has received from organized labor and the benefits of large-scale construction projects.

“You’re looking at between these two sites, here and the (Las Vegas) Convention Center where we’re going, it’s 30,000 construction jobs,” he said. “That’s putting a lot of people to work. Those aren’t numbers. It’s important to understand those are families, there’s a family and a person behind every one of those numbers.”

Clark County Democratic Party Chair Donna West speaks with police officers about a suspicious package found during a canvass launch event in front of her home in Las Vegas on Monday, Nov. 5, 2018. The package was later found to contain campaign literature. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

Democratic Senate candidate Rep. Jacky Rosen spent the lunch hour talking to supporters at the home of Clark County Democratic Party Chair Donna West, whose garage has been a home base for canvassers. Rosen’s campaign, on guard in the tense political climate, called for police after finding a suspicious package outside West’s home.

Police carefully opened the cardboard box. To the relief of those gathered, the only thing inside was campaign literature.

Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Dean Heller’s Twitter account showed he was doing interviews with Reno media outlets, visiting Northern Nevada campaign offices and making calls to supporters on Monday to get out the vote in his closely watched race.

In Henderson, a trio of men wearing cowboy hats were seen walking on a sidewalk Monday evening carrying a large sign for nonpartisan candidate Ryan Bundy, along with Nevada and “Don’t Tread on Me” flags. On the opposite side of the busy street was a megaphone-wielding man carrying a sign for Laxalt, whose campaign is seen as the one with most to lose to the conservative Bundy.

Foot soldiers

Behind the candidates are small armies of dedicated, if tired, staff and volunteers.

Off a busy street in Reno on Friday afternoon, Amanda Flocchini sat at a table in an office cluttered with campaign signs to re-elect Heller. Flocchini, a recent UNR graduate, was four days away from finishing her first campaign, making phone calls and knocking on doors in an attempt to bolster the Republicans’ ground game in Northern Nevada.

What she expected for the next four days: “Probably not a lot of sleep.”

“It’s really about trying to make as much voter contact as possible,” Flocchini said.

On Thursday, a few miles from the Heller basecamp, Pam Jonidis was preparing her campaign materials to go door-knocking just after hearing from Heller’s opponent, Rosen, who stopped at the Democrats’ Sparks campaign office.

Jonidis described herself as having been an apathetic voter in the past, rarely going out to vote and campaigning once for former President George H. W. Bush in Florida. Jonidis is no longer a Republican, and she said her partisan leanings have shifted even further to the left since 2016.

“This year, the last two years, I’m so disgusted at what I’m seeing happen in my country,” Jonidis said. “Not only President Trump. [It’s] everything that happened in Congress this year.”

The path to victory for statewide candidates is likely to run through Flocchini’s and Jonidis’s backyards — Washoe County. While Democrats work hard to boost turnout in blue Clark County and Republicans appeal to their red base in the rural counties, Washoe is the famously purple swing county that has the potential to make or break campaign on either side of the aisle.

And Democrats bested Republicans in Washoe County during the two week early voting period, securing an 1,800-vote lead. Democrats’ statewide lead is boosted by a 47,000-person lead in Clark County, which was mitigated by a 27,000-person lead for Republicans in the rurals.

Those numbers look more like what they do during a presidential year, which usually sees higher levels of voters turning out than a midterm election. Total turnout in the two-week early voting period was at about 40 percent compared to about 25 percent in the 2014 midterm. And organizers like Flocchini and Jonidis, who have been working on the ground, said it was apparent that voters across the spectrum were paying attention this year.

“We’re really pleased to see [the high turnout],” Deanna Spikula, the Washoe County registrar, said on Monday. “It’s going to be busy out there if we see the same amount of turnout as we did in early voting. We’re glad people are engaged in the process.”

Eric Herzik, who chairs the political science department at UNR, said he thought the surge in engagement was a reaction to the divisiveness of the Trump presidency.

“Democrats really see some of their core constituencies at risk,” he said. “The core Trump Republican Party just wants to confirm his greatness. You’ve got two sides that are entrenched and just talking past each other.”

But the high numbers of turnout this year may also be a byproduct of the effort that the Democratic and Republican parties in Nevada have put into the midterm election this year with so much at stake.

The Republican voter turnout operation has traditionally lagged behind that of Democrats. But the Republican National Committee landed early in Nevada this year — in June 2017 — and has built up a massive voter data operation and volunteer infrastructure that they are hoping will carry them to victory. In August, Republicans hit one million voter contacts in Nevada, more than they had contacted during the entire 2016 cycle.

Democrats, meanwhile, have revved up the so-called Reid machine, named for former Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, which has helped propel their party to victory over the last few election cycles including the blue wave of 2016. The Culinary Union, a critical part of the machine, has had 350 guest room attendants, bartenders, bellmen, cooks, and others working up to 12 hours a day canvassing through Election Day and will have knocked more than 385,000 doors and had one-on-one conversations with 84,000 voters across the state.

Though Democrats lead in early voting — including the slim lead in Washoe County that Herzik described as “significant” — it’s not looking like a “blue wave” year just yet. Herzik said that depends on today’s turnout and another increasingly big factor: the independent voter.

In the last decade, the number of active registered nonpartisan voters in Nevada has increased to about 22 percent of the electorate. This year, they have been courted by all sides. Out of the 629,922 voters who cast ballots in early voting, about 21 percent were nonpartisans.

Candidates themselves even seem prepared for a range of possible outcomes as the state’s top races remain in doubt. Duncan quickly listed off a host of issues he could work on with Democrats if Laxalt were to fall short, including mental health treatment, transitional housing and psychiatric ERs.

“You’re going to have to work with whoever is in the governor's office to try and do the best for the state,” he said.

Keeping an eye on the polls

With two tight races for Senate and governor, partisan and federal observers are expected to join voters at the ballot box. On Monday, the Department of Justice announced that it selected Clark County and Washoe County as two of the 35 jurisdictions where the agency would send personnel to monitor local compliance with federal election laws.

Spikula, the Washoe County registrar, called the decision routine, noting that the department sent monitors in 2016. On Monday morning, two of the monitors came to the office to share contact information and introduce themselves to county officials, Spikula said.

“They’ve been here in 2016, and we welcome all of our observers to come, whether they be partisan observers or any other observer that wants to watch the process,” she said.

On Monday, U.S. Attorney Dayle Elieson also announced that Allison Reese, an assistant attorney, will handle complaints filed with the Justice Department. Such complaints would cover issues such as voter intimidation and or buying and selling votes. Unlawful behavior can be reported to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division online or at 800-253-3931.

 

Laxalt, Duncan took max contributions from pro-Trump Eastern European businessman

An Eastern European businessman who made headlines for his links to a large contribution to a pro-Donald Trump Super PAC has contributed maximum donations to Republican candidates for governor and attorney general.

Igor Fruman, an Eastern European businessman tied to the “virtually unknown” company Global Energy Producers LLC, made maximum $10,000 contributions to Adam Laxalt and Wes Duncan on Nov. 1, according to their most recent campaign finance reports filed with the secretary of state’s office.

A company called “Global Energy Producers LLC” with links to Fruman and executive Lev Parnas made a $325,000 contribution to pro-Trump Super PAC America First Action in May, making them one of the largest contributors to the PAC. The group was accused of breaking campaign finance law in June after the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center filed a complaint asserting that it was highly unlikely the company would have enough capital to make such a large political contribution only one month after it was founded.

According to The Daily Beast, Fruman was born and Belarus and lived in Ukraine before immigrating to Miami in 2004, but still holds extensive business ties in the country. He has also contributed $100,000 to a joint fundraising committee supporting House Republicans and to other committees supporting Trump, Florida Senate candidate Rick Scott and Florida gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis.

In a statement sent to The Daily Beast, a spokesperson for the company said the donation was “100% legal” and that the donation made to the pro-Trump PAC was a “small fraction” of the company’s operating costs.

New Ford ad focuses on family, personal history

Focus: Democratic attorney general candidate Aaron Ford

Who’s paying for it: Ford’s campaign

Size of buy: Six figures

When it starts: Oct. 30

Where it’s running: Statewide

The gist: The 30-second spot highlights Ford’s wife, Berna, and three children, Alexander, Aaron and Avery, who proudly tout their dad’s accomplishments including his five diplomas and a law degree, and sponsoring bills to “protect kids and seniors” in the state Senate.

Watch the ad below:

Democratic attorney general candidate represented Trump property in 2011 lawsuit

Aaron Ford in a dark jacket and bow tie during an interview

On the campaign trail, Democratic attorney general candidate Aaron Ford has sought to portray himself as a staunch opponent of President Donald Trump.

But seven years ago, Ford had a very different relationship with the future president — serving as an attorney for one of Trump’s Las Vegas businesses in a complex property rights lawsuit.

According to court records, Ford was one of five attorneys contracted to represent Trump Ruffin Tower I, LLC — the entity that owns the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas — in a 2011 property case alleging Trump engaged in “unscrupulous practices” to induce buyers to purchase units at the hotel at an inflated price. On his 2017 financial disclosure form, Trump listed himself as the President and Director of the entity — which he funded with Treasure Island CEO Phil Ruffin — between 2005 to January 19, 2017.

Ford’s involvement in the case, which has not been previously reported, came during his time as an associate attorney with the law offices of Snell and Wilmer, where he specialized in “commercial litigation and dispute resolution, with an emphasis in contract and real estate disputes, employment law and public/education law.”

Ford, now a partner at Eglet Prince, is the Democratic state Senate majority leader. He has been a consistent critic of Trump both before and throughout his campaign for attorney general, hinting that he would involve Nevada in various lawsuits against the administration on health care, reproductive rights and voting rights.

But seven years ago, Ford and other attorneys at Snell and Wilmer defended Trump’s property in a lawsuit that sought to overturn an arbitrator's decision preventing 300 buyers from backing out and receiving a refund of their initial deposits for luxury condominium purchases at Trump’s Las Vegas property.

Asked if the candidate regretted representing Trump, Ford’s campaign manager instead pivoted to Republican candidate Wes Duncan’s support of Trump and declined to speak to any specifics of the case.

“Trump Ruffin Tower 1 was a client of Snell & Wilmer and Aaron Ford was assigned to this case, several years before the 2016 election, but Ford believes Donald Trump is creating chaos and confusion in Washington that is hurting Nevadans,” his campaign manager Jessica Adair said in a statement. “His actions need to be checked, and that is what Aaron Ford will do as Attorney General.”

The initial complaint said that Trump took full advantage of the booming real estate market in 2006 to heavily promote the condominium units, claiming the developer and future president used the situation to “manufacture a purchasing frenzy” by claiming the units were close to selling out and “rapidly rising” in price.

“None of these reports were true,” the complaint states. “Trump’s repeated claim that units were selling out was based on nothing more that non-binding reservation forms signed by prospective purchasers.”

Most of the unit sales happened between 2005 and 2007, and a group of buyers sought to back out of the deal once the economy began tanking. Trump told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in October 2008 that he had “never seen anything like it” amid news that only 21 percent of the 1,284 condos at his recently-opened property had closed. “Historically, the banks will call me and beg for end loans. But they don't do that anymore because the banks are really out of business."

The complaint — which references a sealed deposition with Trump — claims he admitted the purchase agreement was “one-sided” and “presented on a take-it-or-leave-it bases” to prospective buyers. The complaint stated that Trump made “material misrepresentations” about the units, saying they were smaller and closer to the ground than advertised in a building eight stories smaller than they had been led to believe, and that the purchase agreement waived their right to a jury trial, no right of notice and cure in the event of a default and giving Trump the ability to terminate the agreement without prior notice if the buyers failed to “timely” pay a deposit or close on the agreed date of closure.

But the 2011 case in District Court avoided those issues and instead focused the 2010 decision of an arbitrator in Trump’s favor that found the buyers couldn’t get out of the purchase contracts and get a refund of the deposits.

In their response brief, attorneys for Trump said the references were “alleged fraudulent actions” not pertinent to the facts of the case, and that the plaintiffs were seizing on a “novel claim” as a form of “buyer’s remorse” to get out of purchases for the condominiums. They wrote that the buyers failed to demonstrate that the arbitrator “manifestly disregarded” the law in their decision, the threshold needed for a judge to reverse the decision.

Ford’s involvement in the case includes filing a supplemental brief submitted to the court that highlighted a substantially similar case where a separate District Court judge had denied a request to revise a decision made in arbitration related to refunding deposits made on purchase agreements for a luxury condominium.

Ultimately, District Court Judge Gloria Navarro sided with Trump, saying that the highlighted “fundamental disagreements” between the plaintiffs and arbitrator did not rise to the level required for a judge to reverse the arbitrator’s decision.

“Plaintiffs might not agree with that interpretation of the contractual language, but mere disagreement with an arbitrator’s contractual analysis is not sufficient to warrant vacatur,” she wrote.

Eric Trump, an executive at the Trump Organization and the president’s son, told the Las Vegas Sun after the ruling that the decision would have a “crippling effect” on what he called frivolous “buyers’ remorse” lawsuits and arbitration hearings.

Although the case was appealed to the 9th Circuit Court, the plaintiffs themselves moved to dismiss the case in November 2011.

New ad claims Duncan wants to 'outlaw' abortion, targeted Planned Parenthood in AG's office

Focus: Republican attorney general candidate Wes Duncan

Who’s paying for it: The campaign of Democratic attorney general candidate Aaron Ford

Size of buy: Six figures

When it starts: Oct. 25

Where it’s running: Reno

The gist: The latest ad from Ford’s campaign features nurse and midwife Lorraine Garcia criticizing Duncan’s stances on women’s reproductive issues, including a claim that Duncan stands with President Donald Trump and wants to outlaw abortion, citing remarks the former Assemblyman made at an awards banquet for a crisis pregnancy center that “we need to continue to fight for life at every stage.”

The ad also says Duncan “pushed an agenda targeting Planned Parenthood,” a reference to an inquiry by the Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt’s office — where Duncan previously worked — into women’s health clinics after a series of online videos suggested they had illegally sold tissue from aborted fetuses.

Watch the ad below:

Ad claims campaign contributors and supporters of Duncan tell a 'frightening story'

Focus: Republican Attorney General candidate Wes Duncan

Who’s paying for it: DAGA NV People’s Lawyer Project, which is funded by the Democratic Attorneys General Association

Size of buy:  $987,000

When it starts: Oct. 23

Where it’s running: Las Vegas and Reno media markets until Election Day

The gist: The ad, which was launched alongside a microsite called wesduncansfriends.com, highlights various campaign contributors and supporters of Duncan’s campaign that the ad says tells a “frightening story.”

These include Storey County Sheriff Gerald Antinoro, who has been dogged by accusations and lawsuits accusing him of sexually inappropriate behavior including an ongoing investigation by California police into his possible involvement in an alleged forced sexual assault by three men against his former girlfriend at a Lodi hotel in 2015. Both Duncan and Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Laxalt distanced themselves from Antinoro this year after announcing the sheriff’s endorsement in 2017.

It also highlights campaign contributions made to Duncan’s campaign from Las Vegas bar owner Darin Feinstein, who was accused of harassing a female customer in 2014 (the case was later settled) and Dotty’s owner Craig Estey, who “allegedly held a gun to his then-wife's head and threatened her life” in 2005.

Watch the ad below:

New ad attacks Duncan for attending AR-15 auction days after mass shooting

Focus: Republican attorney general candidate Wes Duncan

Who’s paying for it: Democratic attorney general candidate Aaron Ford

Size of buy: Six figures

When it starts: Oct. 18

Where it’s running: Las Vegas

The gist: The 30-second ad centers around an audio recording of an auction for an AR-15 style rifle at the 2018 Carson City Republican Party Lincoln Day dinner in February, about four months after the mass shooting on the Las Vegas strip and three days after a mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

The ad states that Duncan attended the fundraiser and auction, listing the final price of the auctioned-off firearm and stating the former assemblyman is “auctioning off our lives for $750.” Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock used several AR-15 style rifles during his deadly rampage in 2017.

“Wes Duncan’s lack of judgment is stunning and callous,” Ford’s campaign manager Jessica Adair said in a statement. “What kind of person raises money for political gain by auctioning off the same type of used in so many mass shootings just 17 days after the autopsy reports of the October 1 victims were released and 3 days after the Parkland shooting? This type of behavior shows, once again, Duncan to be unfit to serve as Nevada Attorney General.”

Duncan said in a statement responding to the ad that it used a “fabricated” photo and someone else’s voice, and that it was inappropriate to use the mass shooting in a political ad.

“Aaron Ford’s ad callously exploits the pain of 58 families who just experienced the worst year of their lives all for the sake of his political ambition and desperation to win. This ‘say anything, do anything’ brand of gutter politics reveals what voters will confirm for him on November 6th: that he is bereft of substance, devoid of character, and lacks the moral leadership to serve the state as the next Attorney General,” he said.

Watch the ad below:

New RAGA ad links Ford's legislative gaffe and college arrest

Aaron and Berna

Focus: Aaron Ford, Democratic candidate for attorney general

Who’s paying for it: The Republican Attorney Generals Association

Size of Buy: “Large” six figures

Where it’s running: Las Vegas

When it starts: Oct. 12

The gist: The ad connects two favored attacks against Ford, the state Senate majority leader. It leads off with a clip from the 2017 legislative session in which Ford states that he doesn’t know the state’s definition of “larceny,” and then transitions to recent reports about Ford being arrested in the early 1990s, including once for stealing tires.

Watch the ad below:

Retired police union leader defends Ford from 'trash' attacks in new campaign ad

Aaron Ford in a dark jacket and bow tie during an interview

Focus: Democratic candidate for attorney general Aaron Ford

Who’s paying for it: Ford’s campaign

Size of buy: Six figures

When it starts: Oct. 3

Where it’s running: Reno

The gist: The ad centers on retired Las Vegas Metro officer and former police union leader Dave Kallas, who defends Ford’s record amid “trash” being thrown at his candidacy — a likely reference to reports that Ford was arrested several times as a college student and for past liens on unpaid taxes.

Kallas cites elements of Ford’s biography — including his past poverty and his five college degrees — and tells viewers to not believe attacks against him from his Republican opponent, Wes Duncan. Duncan has launched at least one television ad attacking Ford, and the national Republican Attorneys General Association has targeted him in multiple campaign ads.

Watch the ad below:

Updated at 3:32 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 8, to reflect that Wes Duncan's campaign is running a critical ad against Ford.