Wagner steps out

Former Nevada lieutenant governor Sue Wagner last week ended a lifetime as a Republican, saying the party has become too extreme.

Born in Portland, Maine, in a traditional Republican family—her father was active in the Maine GOP—she was raised in Arizona and moved to Reno when her scientist husband Pete Wagner took a position with the Desert Research Institute. He was killed on a cloud seeding research flight in 1980.

Wagner was elected first to the Nevada Assembly, then the Senate, then to the lieutenant governorship. During her 1990 campaign for lieutenant governor she was seriously injured in a plane crash in Churchill County but was elected and took office on schedule.

Her productive legislative record and moderate votes made her one of the most popular Republicans in the state. In 1994 she declined to run for reelection as lieutenant governor but made it clear she was not leaving elective office for good, just taking a hiatus. “I'll be back,” she said flatly. She was subsequently appointed a state gambling regulator and ran the legislative intern program in Carson City.

After U.S. Rep. Barbara Vucanovich announced her retirement from the northern U.S. House seat, Wagner was widely expected to run. But after exploring the race, Wagner said Congress had become too extreme and uncivilized and she chose not to run. So her decision last week to leave the party was not entirely a surprise.