It’s Ziser by default for the anybody-but-Reid crowd

To be honest, Sen. Harry Reid’s re-election seems as sure a thing as raging mid-summer wildfires threatening property and consuming millions of acres of vegetation.

The senator has experience. He has clout. Around 96 percent of Nevadans know his name—and more than half of those people still like him.

So Reid’s chances look great, right?

Only a handful of no-namers are running against him. Democracy’s a beautiful thing. But really. Ever hear of Natural Law Party candidate Gary Marinch? Libertarian Thomas Hurst? Independent American David Schumann rings a bell for me—but I doubt most people know much about this guy. Republicans in the ring include Carlo Poliak, Kenneth Wegner, Robert Brown Jr., Cherie Tilley, Royle Melton and the best-known of the bunch—Richard Ziser.

That’s where things could get sticky. I’ve noticed an unusual number of Ziser signs in front of homes in Sparks and businesses in Reno. And bumper stickers. I’ll bet I’ve seen more Ziser stickers than those for Bush-Cheney. I drove over the Donner Pass alongside a car sporting a Ziser sticker, and I could only wonder why anyone in their right mind would vote for such an inexperienced single-issue ideologue.

These folks must really not like Reid. Richard Ziser, you’ll recall, was the leader of the group backing the marriage protection initiative. He started his coalition in 1999 because he feared that same-sex marriage advocates would introduce legislation to redefine marriage in the 2001 Nevada Legislature.

“We thought we’d better move forward, before these guys get too far along, and stop them from what they’re trying to do,” Ziser told me in a 2003 interview. “We didn’t want to give them a chance. We felt it was important, instead of being on the defensive, to move on the offensive side and start protecting Nevada law.”

So who is Ziser and why’s he so fired up about same-sex marriage?

On his Web site, Ziser says he grew up in California, where he earned an engineering degree from California State Polytechnic and “a master’s degree from Simon Greenleaf University expanding his understanding of law, ideology and social change.” Ziser moved to Las Vegas in the 1990s and ran a casino-chip-minting business—fusing two major Nevada industries, gaming and mining! He later sold this biz.

In 1998, Ziser ran for the Clark County school board against a gay candidate. Ziser lost in the primary.

In 1999, Ziser was part of a group called Nevada Concerned Citizens, which lobbied for the rights of employers to maintain discriminatory hiring practices.

Ziser, a father of three, lives off the proceeds of real-estate investments and the like. That gives him the time for politics. Ziser’s political consultant is Steve Wark, the Republican who’s been in the news of late for unselfishly working to get Ralph Nader on the presidential ballot in Nevada.

Ziser was also in the news recently, accused of opportunistic campaigning. After President Reagan’s death, Ziser’s site offered commemorative coins with Reagan’s face to contributors of $50. This provoked the ire of prominent Nevadans, including Republican Sig Rogich, a friend of George H.W. Bush, Reagan’s vice president.

“Either the candidate or those who recommended this ridiculous marketing tool probably have more guts than brains,” Rogich, who backs Reid, told reporters.

Reid himself, with his gargantuan campaign war chest o’ dough, doesn’t seem worried about Ziser. When Reid kicked off his campaign, he refused to counter the attacks of Ziser, who’s accused Reid of using his power for “evil.”

“I’ve never met him, but I understand he’s a nice man,” Reid said of Ziser. “He presents himself well.”

So the re-election’s in the bag, right? Ziser couldn’t win a school board election.

Still. The signs and bumper stickers. Explain that.