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STEVE SEBELIUS: Through the looking glass

I still remember the time in October 2014 when I went to hear Bernie Sanders speak at the Culinary Training Center in North Las Vegas.

There to greet me was the only Nevada elected official to show up that day: then-state Sen. Tick Segerblom. It was, he said, a meeting of the liberal media and the liberal wing of the Nevada Democrats.

So it comes as a shock that Segerblom, now running for the chairmanship of the Nevada Democratic Party, is facing a progressive challenge from his left.

There’s room to the left of Tick Segerblom?

And I also still remember the complaints from Democrats about then-Assemblywoman and later state Sen. Barbara Cegavske. She introduced bills that still had the American Legislative Exchange Council letterhead on them! She was one of two senators to vote against the 2003 tax bill!

So it comes as a shock that Cegavske, elected secretary of state in 2014, is now being attacked from the right over her administration of the 2020 elections.

Whoever thought we’d live in a Nevada where Tick Segerblom was too conservative and Barbara Cegavske too liberal?

In Segerblom’s case, the trouble comes from younger, progressive Democrats who object to an elected official with establishment backing heading up the party, despite his liberal credentials. (Segerblom is the godfather of legal marijuana in Nevada, he once carried a bill to ban assault weapons, favors Indigenous People’s Day over Columbus Day and recently tweeted about abolishing term limits and the two-thirds tax vote requirement.)

There’s a substantial part of the Democratic Party that is frustrated with its leaders and the pace of change. They’d prefer radical action, a bold platform and a party that demands its candidates pledge to carry out its vision.

They abjure the reality that political parties exist only to raise money, recruit candidates, identify and register voters and get them out to the polls on Election Day. Parties are political machines, not think tanks. If they can’t do the job, donors and candidates will do that work outside the party instead.

This is undoubtedly the reason that elected officials such as U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto — up for re-election in 2022 — asked Segerblom to run for the state party job instead of backing his liberal challenger, Clark County Democratic Party Chair Judith Whitmer. Although Segerblom and Whitmer are both ideological liberals, Segerblom has decades of political experience in Nevada and, as he says, the scars to show for it.

It probably doesn’t hurt that Segerblom also just led the crusade to rename McCarran International Airport for former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, still the godfather of the Nevada Democratic Party.

On the other end of the spectrum, Cegavske finds herself on the outs with the Nevada Republican Party, some top figures of which have claimed repeatedly and without evidence that the 2020 election in Nevada was rigged for Joe Biden against Donald Trump.

Although Cegavske has shed nearly all traces of partisanship since winning election as secretary of state in 2014, no one who knows her believes she’d tilt an election, least of all for a Democrat. Yet Cegavske has had to fight allegations from Trump about voter fraud after both the election he won in 2016 and the one he lost in 2020. In both cases, Cegavske defended Nevada’s election results as reliable and accurate.

But Cegavske’s fellow Republicans, most notably former Attorney General Adam Laxalt, have said in news conferences and lawsuits that the election was seriously flawed, although every court to hear such claims has rejected the allegations. Each charge is a barb against Cegavske’s fair, even-handed administration of the voting; even when she disagreed with changes made to election law by the Legislature because of COVID, she did her job professionally.

In normal times, Cegavske would be praised by her fellow Republicans, especially given the fact that she alone was able to retain a constitutional office for the party in the blue-wave elections of 2018.

Instead, she’s regarded with suspicion by Republicans who trust partisan grifters over election security experts.

And in normal times, Segerblom would be regarded by even the most liberal of Democrats as both a fellow traveler and a savvy hand who’d be an excellent choice for party chairman. Instead, he’s portrayed as the establishment.

But these aren’t normal times. In 2021 Nevada, even Lewis Carroll would have trouble finding his way.

Contact Steve Sebelius at SSebelius@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0253. Follow @SteveSebelius on Twitter.

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