Thursday, May 27, 2010

SD 7: My Take on the McClain v. Manendo Mudfight

OK, this whole thing is getting to be too much for me. I'm really sick of hearing about the whole ordeal.

Long story short, there's been plenty of chatter over the sharp negative turn in the campaigning in Senate District 7. Steve Friess has done a great job in chronicling this ugly, hot mess. Now he has chosen sides in the dispute, but I don't fault him as I'm not one to "play it down the middle" here. And in fact, I'll give you my take on all this shortly.

But first, here's Friess' quick summary of what happened.

[...] Kathy McClain, [Mark] Manendo's opponent in this very bitter race, had written in her mailer that he was 42, never married and has lived with his mom for long periods of time. When asked what that was supposed to mean, the candidate told me she was a more stable person because of her marriage and her children. But now it seems that (a) Manendo lived with his mom to care for his dying father, (b) Manendo, who's actually 43, has been in a long-term relationship for several years and (c) McClain was a single mother when she was 43 and is so proud of that choice/situation that that's part of the heroism of her life story on her site.

And now, word has leaked that McClain's campaign manager has engaged in this kind of campaigning before.

Four years ago, [Las Vegas political consultant Gary] Gray ran the campaign of now-Treasurer Kate Marshall in a primary battle against fellow Democrat Geoffrey VanderPal [...] VanderPal is gay. Gray knew that. In the waning days of that campaign, Marshall sent out a mailer eerily similar to the one Gray sent for Kathy McClain last week in which, among other things, he compared the two candidates by noting that Marshall was in a stable, married relationship with children and VanderPal was single.

Nobody can dig up the precise wording, but again it struck many gays who read it as the same sort of code: Kate's a married hetero mom, VanderPal is not.

The best part: Gay activists called Gary Gray at the time and complained. They told him the code they read into that comparison and . . . he laughed at them! He was just pointing out that Marshall has a more stable life than VanderPal, that's all, he told those who spoke to him.

And worse yet, they weren't really telling the truth.

I spoke to VanderPal today. He now lives in Texas. He confirmed all this and added another wrinkle.

VanderPal was NOT single during the 2006 campaign. He was in a long-term relationship with his partner of at least three years. So Gray, in fact, punished VanderPal for not being married when, in fact, he couldn't be married because it was and still is not legal here. At the very least, he devalued VanderPal's same-sex relationship in a way quite unbecoming of a pro-gay-marriage Democrat.

So what does this all mean? Well, I'm not Steve Friess. I don't live in District 7 (in case you missed my recent talk with my State Senator on green collar jobs), and I'm not as personally invested in this primary as others who've been talking about it. So please forgive me if I sound like I'm more detached from the situation as the other bloggers.

Kathy McClain is at fault for running with this smear in the first place. Even if she wasn't aware her campaign was going this route, she could have put a stop to it as soon as she realized what was going on. And even if it wasn't initially meant as "gay-baiting", it shouldn't have taken this long for her to examine Gary Gray's 2006 record and tell him not to repeat it in 2010.

So case closed? No, not quite.

Let's not be naive here. Mark Manendo isn't innocent, either... Or at least, he wasn't in his past record of sexual harassment.

The 2003 complaints that Manendo sexually harassed two interns set off the most public incident involving him.

The interns worked in the office of then-Assemblywoman Dawn Gibbons. According to news reports at the time, Gibbons, now the state’s first lady, said Manendo repeatedly asked her what it would take for the interns to date him.

Gibbons told reporters that while in the presence of other lawmakers Manendo had said one of the interns “has the kind of body you want to go to bed with.”

“He seems kind of sleazy,” Gibbons said at the time. “I have had it with him going around saying things about my interns. They aren’t interested in him. They want him to leave them alone.” [...]

That same year, a female staffer with the Nevada Association of Counties accused Manendo of making inappropriate remarks to her at a Carson City restaurant, where she had gone with friends.

“She felt that Mark Manendo had made inappropriate comments to her, in a public place,” said Bob Hadfield, then-executive director of the association. “It had upset her, significantly.”

Hadfield characterized Manendo’s remarks as “bizarre and inappropriate” and a “verbal attack.”

After the second incident, Democratic leadership ordered legislative staff to investigate.

No report was released, but after the session ended Manendo was stripped of his government affairs chairmanship and has since been frozen out of leadership.

Hopefully he's matured since 2003, but I'm finding a hard time completely dismissing what then-Assembly Member Dawn Gibbons' office documented AND what the Nevada Association of Counties revealed. Manendo still denies any wrongdoing, but it looks to me like his past actions opened the door for McClain's attacks. And let's not forget both of their colleagues in the Legislature seem to trust McClain more as a leader. McClain was given the green light to ascend the leadership ranks in Carson City while Manendo was held back, and 20 of 28 Assembly Democrats have endorsed McClain over Manendo.

Still, it's not like Kathy McClain is without her own scandals. Just last month, McClain had to settle a case with the Secretary of State over her misusing campaign funds on personal expenses. Now I understand that legislators are paid diddly squat and any legislator NOT coming from a mountain of personal wealth has to incur major costs to become a "citizen legislator", but that's still not a good enough excuse for McClain to use here. She should have known better, and she should have considered other, more legal options to cover her expenses.

Oh yes, and Mark Manendo has used this to attack McClain.

So both candidates have had nasty scandals, and both candidates have twisted and turned the scandals to attack each other. And honestly, it's sad that both candidates are using these attacks to avoid discussing anything serious, like the budget, economic diversification, education, and transgender equality (the DMV recently reversed its policy on drivers' licenses, but our hate crimes and anti-discrimination laws are still not trans-inclusive).

So please pardon me while I yawn and turn my attention away from this primary mudslinging again. Until either candidate starts talking about fully inclusive civil rights legislation or budget issues or green collar jobs, I'm tuning this crap out.


  1. For the record, i don't think that McClain's use of the sexual harassment issue is wrong. That's politics. I do think it's dishonest to suggest that the 42-single-mommas-boy line has anything to do with that line of attack and I also think it's wrong for journalists to legitimize unproved, anonymous allegations in print especially in the heat of the campaign. Those are my issues. She wants to hammer at Manendo, sure, whatever, voters can see through that desperation. But the Sun shouldn't be helping her do it unless they can get someone on the record to do so, someone willing to put their own credibility on the line, too.

  2. Mr. Steve-

    Well to be fair, The Sun also exposed McClain on the campaign finance issue. Even in that very story, they mentioned it again. It's not like they're completely giving her a free rise, but I can see how they're not seeing what we see in the McClain/Gray attacks on Manendo. For some reason, The R-J & The Sun are still somewhat tone deaf on LGBTQ issues.

    And she's not the only guilty party here. When Jon Ralston invited her and Manendo onto "Face to Face" last month, he tried to use the campaign funds line of attack on her. And yes, as I said in my diary, I do think McClain was wrong to do what she did. However, I also understand why she did it. It's hard for a "citizen legislator" to serve if one isn't wealthy, and Manendo was in total denial. That just left a bad taste in my mouth, along with him either not being honest or in total denial over the state budget.

    So again, I see problems with both of them. They both have had to deal with nasty scandals, and they're both trying to use the other's respective scandals to mudsling their way to victory next month. This whole race is becoming too depressing for me to watch.

    And btw, thanks for stopping by my little blog! You're always most welcome to return whenever you'd like. :-)