Election 2022

She ran the Nevada Republican Party. She just endorsed Democrats for the next election

Donald Trump and Amy Tarkanian
Donald Trump and Amy TarkanianPhoto: Twitter

Nevada’s political landscape has undergone a tectonic shift after a plethora of prominent Republicans endorsed a gaggle of Democrats running near the top of the state’s ticket.

At the center of this unexpected storm is Amy Tarkanian, a lithe, effervescent born-again Christian, and former Republican Party State Chairwoman.

Tarkanian wasn’t the only conservative with gravitas to line up behind incumbent State Treasurer Zach Conine (D) and Attorney General Aaron Ford (D). Former state Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson and esteemed Republican-aligned strategist Elliot Mallin have also endorsed the Democrats over their far-right Republican opponents.

“They predict a red wave, but here, because of the awful candidates that have made their way to the nominations, and the baggage they carry, we’ll end up with a pink tidal pool,” Tarkanian told LGBTQ Nation.

“I think it is telling that you have the former state chair of the Nevada Republican Party supporting the Democratic incumbent Attorney General, who is running against a divisive Republican nominee,” Mallin told LGBTQ Nation. “We are all willing to put aside party for what’s best for the state and country. When these candidates, are threatening, harassing, and making statements that are disgusting – and in the case of [Attorney General candidate] Sigal Chattah threatening to hang the incumbent – we simply as a society can’t allow that behavior to go unchecked. It’s about doing what’s right.”

Tarkanian married into sports royalty. Her husband, Danny, a former all-American athlete in his own right, is the son of Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Jerry Tarkanian. But GOP politics is where the two truly made their presence felt over the last two decades.

Danny Tarkanian, a current sitting commissioner in one of the fastest growing counties in Nevada, has been praised by former President Donald Trump. He is known as the pit bull of GOP politics in the state. With his wife choosing to speak out so forcefully, he was more circumspect than normal, throwing his support behind her push to save the party from itself.

“Amy has always led by example,” he told LGBTQ Nation. “She’s doing what she knows to be in the best interest of the people of Nevada, and because of this type of deep conviction, I know that our state will end up in a good place when my wife speaks out as forcefully as she has.”

As party chair, Tarkanian raised vast sums of money while overseeing a successful “first in the west” GOP presidential caucus. After stepping down from the post to focus on her family, Tarkanian re-emerged as a sensible, coherent advocate for her party’s positions. She appeared on a variety of news channels, from MSNBC to Fox, to preach a doctrine of smaller government and individual freedom, wrapping it in a common sense approach to problem solving.

Over the last 2 years, as Trump and his adherents pushed exceedingly bizarre conspiracies, including the “Big Lie,” the former party chair refused to join the madness. More recently, Tarkanian who is staunchly anti-abortion and advocates for “pro-life” causes refused to join the draconian push against individual rights, including the backlash against gay marriage.

In an exclusive interview with Tarkanian, LGBTQ Nation explored the reasons that led up to her decision, what it means for Nevada, and where her party is headed in 2024 and beyond. (Full disclosure: the author personally knows Tarkanian, as well as the Republican officials she condemns.)

LGBTQ Nation: Amy, a few months ago you were on the host committee for Colorado Representative Lauren Boebert, when she came to Nevada for a fundraiser, and many of the same people you were in that room with are now at odds with you. What happened since December? 

Tarkanian: Nevada is the greatest state in the union. Many elected officials from other states want to come here and experience our independence and culture. However, in the case of the Congresswoman, I don’t think she realized just how suspect some of the people were that day who tried to latch onto her name.

Who were those people? Care to share? 

(Tarkanian let out a small laugh) Sure. And I think you knew I would, so good question. Three, in particular, are truly harmful to our state and country. [Michael] McDonald [current Republican Party Chair], [Michele] Fiore [GOP nominee for State Treasurer], and [Attorney General nominee] Sigal [Chattah].

This week you came out against Fiore and Chattah and endorsed their opponents, Democrat incumbents, Treasurer Zach Conine, and AG Aaron Ford. You also sparred with Michael McDonald and the state party on Twitter. In this environment, with orthodoxy and loyalty at a premium, that was a giant leap. What caused this?

Where do I start? I’m a Christian, a mother, a wife, and of course an American. My loyalty is to the teachings of Jesus Christ, my family, and the Constitution. When people are under federal investigations like McDonald and Fiore are, and Sigal goes and talks about hanging our current Attorney General, who is a black male, and is just about unfit for any elected office, let alone as the top law enforcement officer in the state, due to her erratic behavior and lack of experience, I don’t owe any loyalty to a party label or initials, I owe it to America first, as an American with some platform to reach others.

First you endorsed Mr. Conine, and then followed with an endorsement of Mr. Ford. Why these two gentlemen, and what other Democrats do you plan to endorse?

Zach is in an office that shouldn’t even have a political party attached to it. The state treasurer needs to be efficient, competent, and honest. He checks all those boxes. He’s a worthy steward of our state’s funds and understands his job and our state. His opponent, Michele Fiore, is under FBI investigation, had those massive tax liens, and simply put has embarrassed Las Vegas and our state over and over with her boorish, ugly behavior. She needs to be worried about her balance in the prison commissary, and stay away from the public’s tax dollars. As for Aaron, do we agree on everything? Absolutely not. I have had my disagreements with him and going forward, I’m sure we will have more. But, and this is what is really the most important thing, as Attorney General, we need someone who actually understands what dialogue is, what thinking before speaking means, and what being a clear-minded, prudent, responsible office holder entails. Despite our policy differences, Attorney General Aaron Ford is all of those things.

Let’s focus for a moment on those policy differences you reference. You are doing an interview with a publication that not only has the letters LGBTQ in it, but has an overwhelmingly queer reader base, one that is outraged over the recent abortion ruling and is deathly afraid of seeing gay marriage, and trans rights rolled back. Nevada has both abortion rights and same-sex marriage codified into law. The incumbent attorney general has been a forceful proponent of a woman’s right to choose, along with the rights of the LGBTQ community. How do you square up your beliefs on this matter with his? Is this just a personal grudge you have against Michele Fiore and Sigal Chattah? Why speak up now, at this flashpoint moment? 

I just said it, I put my faith front and center and America first. That’s why I’m making these endorsements. This has nothing to do, nothing, with any personal animus. The only way we can restore America’s promise is to put America first, and that means making sure the best people get elected. In that case, this means Zach and Aaron.

Again I’ll ask. How do these endorsements square with your beliefs? Do women have a right to choose? Do gays have the right to marriage?

Yes. Not only do I believe gays have the right to get married, but if I was in Congress, I would have voted to codify it into law. In fact, I publicly called out our current Republican congressman as a coward for not voting to do so.

And on the issue of abortion? Nevada is becoming a safe haven for a woman’s right to choose. You speak out on life. Sigal Chattah, as attorney general, vows to make Nevada a pro-life state, this is the litmus test for many Republicans, yet you are bucking it? How come?

I am pro-life, 100% pro-life. No question. What I’m not is a tyrant that wants a theocracy. There is a serious risk to contraceptive rights in this country right now, to gay marriage also, and I don’t want the abortion debate to be used as a way to chip away at personal freedoms. Abortions should never be performed after 15 weeks, ever, excluding the health of the mother, but if being pro-choice means being for other freedoms, including gun ownership, then my advocacy would be less about changing laws, than changing hearts.

LN:  Tell me about trans rights. You have been an outspoken opponent of transgender women in sports, specifically Lia Thomas. If Nevada enshrined transgender sports participation into law, Attorney General Ford would have to enforce it. What step is a step too far for you? Are trans women, women?

Are you really asking me to answer this right now?

Yes.

Adults have the right to live their lives as they see fit, as long as they aren’t doing anything illegal. This goes for trans people. No athletes should have unfair competitive advantages, however. Lia Thomas’ development during puberty gave her that unfair advantage and it is something that I can’t support.

Are trans women women? 

If an adult identifies as a female, or a male, and was born in the opposite gender, and it makes them happier, more productive and makes them a better person to do so, I’m happy for their happiness and peace.

That means no?

That means, in Nevada, as you well know, people can legally change their genders on their driver’s licenses and birth certificates. That’s the law, and I’m supporting Aaron Ford to properly enforce the laws as they stand and I’ll work to change the ones that need changing, but an adult’s gender is not my business and I just want to be around people who will help contribute to making the world a better place, and who will work with me to put America first, and it is irrelevant if they are trans or not.

You have battled back and forth with Michael McDonald, who has your old position within the party. He’s very close to former President Trump; he is also under investigation for his role in Nevada’s fake elector plot. You have met Donald Trump, you have pictures with him, and when Trump was President he spoke effusively about your husband. Did Donald Trump win the 2020 election?

Michael McDonald has made a career out of lying and grifting. Just because you’re a Republican doesn’t place you above the law, and in Nevada, we have too many Republicans who feel they are untouchable. We can’t have a nation that doesn’t adhere to the rule of law, and that goes for all these corrupt officials and their lackeys in Nevada as well as elsewhere.

Michael McDonald, among other things, is insistent that Donald Trump won Nevada. Did Donald Trump win Nevada?

There has been no hard evidence, nothing to show that Donald Trump won Nevada. I’ve said this over and over, this entire hunt for a smoking gun, for the proof that McDonald claims, has never materialized. It’s an embarrassment. There isn’t a shred of anything to back up what they claim. We need, as a party to be looking toward 2022 and 2024.

What other endorsements should we expect from you? Will you be changing parties?

I’m a Republican, I’m not switching sides, I’m just fighting for our state and our Republic in the best way possible. As for endorsements, well, you’ll have to wait and see.

Is there anything you want to say to our readers? 

Yes, actually. Please understand that you have straight allies and friends across the political spectrum who are aware of your fears, who are aware of your concerns, and who are ready and willing to fight for your rights as gay Americans, trans Americans, and most importantly simply as Americans.

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