As the donkey turns

In this week’s episode: Matthew Dushoff gets the brush-off

Matthew Dushoff has stepped up to be the Democratic Party’s sacrificial lamb in this year’s governor’s race—cross his heart and hope to die.<br>Photo by Bill Hughes/Las Vegas Citylife

Matthew Dushoff has stepped up to be the Democratic Party’s sacrificial lamb in this year’s governor’s race—cross his heart and hope to die.
Photo by Bill Hughes/Las Vegas Citylife

Photo By Bill Hughes

The saga started on April 13 at the Clark County Democratic Convention. Speakers were bemoaning the fact that, so far, nobody but Barbara Scott, a retired topless dancer who wasn’t in attendance at the gathering, had stepped forward to run against Gov. Kenny Guinn.

But that wasn’t entirely true. A number of party faithful knew that Deputy Attorney General Matthew Dushoff, a relative unknown who had unsuccessfully run twice for judgeships in southern Nevada, was going to jump into the race if nobody else (i.e., Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman or state Sen. Dina Titus) was going to. He just hadn’t formally announced it yet.

That didn’t last long. Dushoff says his formal announcement came when—to his shock and surprise—county party chairman Charlie Waterman called him up to give an unscheduled speech.

Dushoff answered the call and gave an impromptu address. For better or worse, he was a declared candidate.

Media attention followed. The Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Las Vegas Sun reported on the event, and the Associated Press picked up the R-J account. The AP story then ran in the Reno Gazette-Journal. The Democrats finally had their man. Sure, he hadn’t a chance in hell, but at least it was someone besides the former topless dancer.

But just a few days later, Dushoff says, party officials kindly told him that they could not support his campaign because it wasn’t viable. “They don’t want me to run,” Dushoff says.

The Democrats finally had their man. The leadership just didn’t want him.

Dushoff recounted this tale on April 21 at a restaurant near his home in Henderson. As he munched on a piece of pizza, Dushoff was reeling from his tumultuous candidacy, then a mere eight days old. He was especially smarting from a comment made in that day’s Las Vegas Sun by columnist Jon Ralston (who also has a column in the Reno Gazette-Journal). The preeminent Nevada political writer wrote: “ … Dushoff is not the person for the job—he can’t raise a dime, he has no credibility to run for the state’s highest office and he doesn’t know the issues. He’s not even a sacrificial lamb; he’s more like a sacrificial gnat.”

It was the part about not knowing the issues that had Dushoff steamed. The 36-year-old divorced father of a 2-year-old daughter wanted to prove he knows the issues. He wanted to show that no matter how much Kenny Guinn is liked—heck, Guinn’s last Democratic opponent, Jan Jones, had just been quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying she was going to vote for Guinn—he has his deficiencies.

OK, Dushoff. Prove it. What issues do you believe are important?

First, Dushoff said, Guinn could have seen the record-setting Nevada Power rate increase request coming, as the governor nominated a panel to explore the deregulation issue back in October 2000. Dushoff insisted the panel should have recognized then that Nevada Power was being reckless in its power purchasing practices.

“If he was looking at it back in 2000, and he had a panel, then how did he not foresee this problem?” Dushoff asked.

Second, Dushoff said Guinn and other leaders should have started raising money for the Yucca Mountain fight well before President George W. Bush and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham came along.

“We knew four years ago that this day was going to happen,” he said, adding that the state Attorney General’s Office could help more with the impending legal fight, therefore saving money being used on outside attorneys.

Third, he felt that Guinn has let the state’s children down by funding the Millennium Scholarship program before giving more money to public schools. He cited recent statistics out of UNR and UNLV as showing that a surprisingly high number of Millennium Scholarship recipients have had to take remedial college classes—and that 17 percent of the recipients at UNR (and an alarming 30 percent at UNLV) have failed to meet the minimum requirements of a 2.0 grade point average and completion of four classes.

“The Millennium Scholarship is a good idea in theory. It really is,” he said. “But we’re building a building from the top down.”

Dushoff believes that money would have been better spent if it had gone into the public school system, where some indicators show that students get more than $1,000 less than the national average in funding per year.

"[Millennium Scholarship recipients] are our A and B students,” he said. “What’s the excuse? We’re not teaching them well.”

Dushoff went on to talk about how Guinn could have done more to prevent the state’s current budget crunch and the medical malpractice crisis created when the largest insurer pulled out.

“When you have one insurance company doing the lion’s share of business, you’re asking for trouble,” Dushoff said.

The gubernatorial candidate was in full-fledged campaign mode. If nothing else, it looked like he’d challenge Guinn on some of the issues.

But back to this whole unwanted candidate business. How did it come to this—from impromptu convention speaker to unviable candidate?

Dushoff, while clearly frustrated that the party leadership is shying away from him, tempered his criticism of the state party. He emphasized that Terry Care, the state party chairman, had been extremely supportive of his campaign ambitions in the weeks before his sudden announcement. He said, with a serious face, that when he was informed the state party would not support his candidacy, they did it nicely and professionally. And he said that, should someone like Goodman or Titus come forward, he would gladly step aside.

There’s almost no chance of that happening following last week’s endorsement of Guinn by the Nevada State Education Association, the teachers’ union. But Dushoff promised that he’s in the race, even if the party leadership doesn’t want him because he’s not viable and hasn’t paid his dues.

“What’s paying your dues?” Dushoff asked. “Sitting around and watching the governor take it as a freebie when all these things are going on?”

Pam Egan, the Nevada Democratic Party’s executive director, said that although she was not present when Dushoff was supposedly told his candidacy wouldn’t be supported, she suspected the conversation came about because the party can’t afford to pour its resources into a campaign that’s probably unwinnable when there are so many contested races.

“It’s going to be difficult [for Dushoff] to raise money,” Egan said. “Without a track record, it’s difficult, and the party doesn’t have the resources to support the campaign on its own.”

Egan added that the party “appreciates his enthusiasm” and said that the level of support Dushoff receives would be up to the party’s membership should he end up being the Democratic nominee.

As for his chances, Dushoff said he’s in it to win, even though Guinn will have far more money than he will. And more name recognition.

“There are people who believe in me,” he said, claiming that he’s had numerous people approach him with thanks for stepping up to the plate. “I don’t stand for big money. I don’t stand for special interests.”

With that, the saga of Matthew Dushoff and his candidacy continues—no matter what his party brothers and sisters think.

Jimmy Boegle, a former RN&R editor and a current contributing editor, is the political writer for Las Vegas CityLife, where this story first appeared.