Nevada Newsmakers

Election integrity takes center stage at Laxalt vs. Brown U.S. Senate debate

News - May 10, 2022

The integrity of the 2020 and 2016 elections in Nevada became the hottest topic in Monday's debate between the top two candidates in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate -- former U.S. Army Capt. Sam Brown and former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt.

Brown was critical of the shoddy way Donald Trump's campaign filed legal challenges to Biden's victory in Nevada, blaming Laxalt because he was co-chair of Trump's campaign in Nevada. He also was critical of Laxalt in 2016, when he was the state's attorney general, saying he knew about non-citizens voting and did nothing to stop it.

Laxalt hit back, suggesting Brown was ill-informed. He called Brown's allegations "comical."

"Sam, you need to be honest with the voters," Laxalt said in the hour-long debate televised by Nevada Newsmakers. "One, you were running in Texas when you are accusing me of doing these things that I never had the power to do," Laxalt said. "And the secretary of state, in this state, is in charge of elections and in charge of investigations."

Brown, a West Point graduate originally from Arkansas, unsuccessfully ran for a seat in the Texas Legislature in 2014, moving to the Reno area in 2018. He owns a small business helping veterans with Veterans Administration claims. He barely survived when U.S. Army troops he was commanding were attacked in Kandahar, Afghanistan in 2008.

Laxalt, grandson of former U.S. Sen. Paul Laxalt, (R-NV) and son of U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, (R-N.M.), said as Trump's Nevada co-chair, he had nothing to do with the legal challenges to Trump's 2020 loss in Nevada but agreed with Brown that the lawsuits were filed late.

"President Trump was well aware that the lawsuits were filed late," Laxalt said. "I was not in charge of any lawsuits. I was the co-chair of the campaign. I was not in charge of litigation of the Trump campaign. They hired lawyers. They filed the lawsuits so he (Trump) is as disappointed as I am that lawsuits came late to the state of Nevada, came late in a lot of other places."

Brown accused Laxalt of shirking his responsibility as a state leader of Trump's campaign.

"So as the chairman of the Trump campaign, at what point do you accept responsibility for the lack of lawyers performing, for the failure of lawsuits to be filed on time?" Brown asked Laxalt. "I just don't understand, when President Trump asked you to take that leadership position, Nevadans, who like me volunteered to get him re-elected, were counting on somebody at the top to do something and you did nothing."

Laxalt then said he was not impressed with Brown's volunteerism.

"Sam, I didn't see you in any way to volunteer to be part of that solution," Laxalt said about the 2020 post-election challenge. "I was one who had to stand on the line until the end, as the media was attacking me -- even challenging my patriotism -- someone who even served our county in uniform."

Laxalt was referring to his five years in the U.S. Navy's Judge Advocate General's Corps, including a deployment to Iraq. He said Trump's national campaign controlled the post-election strategy in 2020.

"The reality is that presidential campaigns are run by the national presidential campaign," Laxalt said. "It is always done that way. I bemoaned it and was incredibly upset that action came late but I was not in charge. President Trump understands what happened. He is not happy with it. And again, Republicans need to do a better job. This happened all across the country and this was an RNC national effort that got caught flat-footed and we simply did not get the resources that we needed here."

Nevadans should not accept Laxalt's reasoning, Brown said.

"At the end of the day, this is about, once again, Nevadans deserve better," Brown said. "And we are not going to settle for people who blame everyone else when they fail."

McConnell support

Both candidates dodged the question when asked if they would support Sen. Mitch McConnell for Senate Majority Leader if Republicans take back the majority in the Upper House in November's election. Nevada's U.S. Senate race is seen by national Republican strategists as the 51st seat they'll need for the majority, provided they don't lose any incumbents in November.

Laxalt was asked about voting for McConnell as Senate Leader three times, answering each time: "I would vote for the most conservative person that ran for leader."

Brown accused Laxalt of being coy about McConnell, saying Laxalt is already bound to McConnell.

"I have a feeling Mr. Laxalt owes Mitch McConnell his vote because he (McConnell) has even endorsed his (Laxalt's) campaign. He leaves that out when he talks about his other endorsements."

Trump, however, has already endorsed Laxalt.

"President Trump does not throw away his endorsement lightly and the reality is he has endorsed me in this race because he knows I did the best I possibly could standing up for our elections, in a state, that, at the end of the day, had a Democrat governor and two Democrat houses (in the Legislature) that went in and changed the rules," Laxalt said. " And unfortunately, there was nothing we could do about that."

Laxalt was referring to a new Nevada law that allowed election officials to mail ballots to all active registered voters during emergencies declared by the governor, which is the way the Covid election of 2020 was handled. The governor's office and both houses of the Nevada Legislature were controlled by Democrats at the time.

Amnesty for undocumented residents

Both candidates took a hard line against amnesty for any non-documented residents seeking to become U.S. citizens. Brown, however, said he knew someone whose legal immigration process to citizenship took 27 years.

"It should not be that way," he said. "We can talk about that (long process) but amnesty is not something we should allow."

Laxalt criticized current Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, (D-NV) for walking lockstep with the Biden Administration's immigration policies. It was one of many instances where he criticized the incumbent Democrat during the debate. The winner of the GOP primary will meet Cortez Masto in the general election.

"Amnesty is off the table," Laxalt declared. "I don't support amnesty in any form. This is something that has created a magnet, incentivizing people to come in. We need a moratorium and a secure border. All that needs to happen immediately, frankly, to save the security and law and order in our country."

Fighting inflation

Brown came up with perhaps the most controversial proposal of the debate when he suggested that the Federal Reserve Board raise the interest rate as much as 2.5 percent to fight inflation.

The Fed, however, has been more conservative in its fight against inflation, raising the rate 0.5 percent last week, which is in line with market expectations, some experts said.

"It is congressional spending that is driving inflation," Brown said. "It also doesn't help that we also have a Fed (Federal Reserve Board) that has become a partisan tool of the (Biden) administration. They ought to be raising interest rates on a much more aggressive level to combat inflation.

"They are talking about, 'Well maybe we'll do a half-point here, half point-there,' " Brown said. "No, the answer is that when we have runaway inflation that is at the highest it has been for over 40 years, they should be raising rates at 2.5 points or more, immediately to try and combat that."

When Shad suggested that could plunge the nation into a deep recession, Brown doubled down.

"I am not saying it would be pretty or easy," he said. "But I am talking about what we need to do is ensure we are doing the right thing, even if it does cause pain. The damage they are doing by this runaway spending is going to have a longer negative impact on our country unless we take the appropriate economic steps of raising interest rates."

Laxalt blamed the Biden administration for inflation, especially in the energy sector.

"A huge piece of where we are today is the Biden agenda of the radical Green New Deal," Laxalt said. "They (Biden administration) pledged they were going to kill fossil fuel, day one. And he signed a bunch of executive orders, day one, and this started what happened with our energy, which is a huge piece of our economy."

Laxalt said Biden "should wake up tomorrow and finally reverse course. He needs to get us back to President Trump's America First energy independence. It worked. We were a net exporter (of energy products). Fuel was at all-time lows and this was all part of the economy booming, with wages being at an all-time high and inflation being at consistent solid levels."

Same-sex marriage, abortion issue

Both candidates were asked about the chances of Nevada's same-sex marriage protection being undone in the wake of a potential U.S. Supreme Court decision, striking down the Roe v. Wade abortion protections.

"I think that is a pretty wild hypothetical," Laxalt said. "We need to see what happens with this leaked public opinion. But as I said, the Democrats are going to start spinning all of these tales of woe and they are going to go completely overboard and say all of the past precedents in all the Supreme Court history is all going to be overturned now. I think that is wrong. This is what Democrats do. They divide the populace. They demagogue issues. But here is the good news, though: People are on the them and are tired of it."

Added Brown: "This is an issue where I don't think there is any chance is overturned."

Yet he said there is a larger issue:

"The broader question is, why is government in the business of marriage to begin with? This is what Americans are tired of, a government that wants to get further and further involved in people lives," Brown said.

Brown and Laxalt agree that if Roe v Wade is overturned, the abortion issue should return to the states. Both men are also "pro life."

"I have always been pro-life and my position of being pro life was fortified by my own personal experience," said Brown, referring to the Afghan battle that almost killed him.

Laxalt said he was born out of wedlock and grateful for his life.

"I hope people will have a chance to live, like I have," he said.

Laxalt, a lawyer, also opined on the future of Roe v Wade.

"As far as the future of Roe, it is quite clear that Roe v Wade was invented by the Supreme Court," he said. "Scholars have know that forever. It has been taught in law school, since I went to law school a few decades ago and it was always better left returned to the states. It is because it was put at the federal level that made it such a divisive and highly-charged issue."

Three other candidates are in the GOP primary for U.S. Senate. They include, Sharelle Mendenhall, a businesswoman and former Miss California and Mrs. Nevada. She is joined by William Hockstedler and perennial candidate Carlo Poliak.

Early voting begins May 28 and continues until June 10. Primary election day is June 14.

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