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Meet the New GOP Boss, WAY Worse Than The Old Boss

February 16th, 2012 · 6 Comments

Or, How To Lose $100,000 For the Party You Want To Lead in a Single E-mail!

Back in October, a small group of paranoid fools with their priorities completely out of whack “took over” the Nevada GOP by getting themselves elected to several key positions on the state Executive Board.  I wrote an incredibly frustrated post at the time, noting:

The lunatics started taking over the asylum, and the [Nevada Republican Party]’s budding credibility laid in tatters by mid-afternoon. […]

For years, because of the perceived dysfunction within the party activist ranks, Republican elected officials held the party at arm’s length, if they acknowledged them at all.  Sitting Senators and Assemblymen rarely attended party events or county central committee meetings, and if they did, they kept their own operations distinct.  They ran their own campaigns, used their own staff, and handled their own GOTV efforts. Sadly, this hampered the kind of coordination and resource sharing that could have made a huge difference in any number of close races.

That was starting to change.  But I bet it changes back.

Sadly, all has proceeded as I had foreseen.


Cue one of the leaders of this group of “revolutionary” stooges, the current temporary chair of the state GOP, James Smack. Yesterday, we learned from Jon Ralston that Mr. Smack inexplicably fired the volunteer Finance Committee Chair for the party, former US Senate candidate and wealthy financier John Chachas, and probably lost at least $100,000 for the party in the process (did I mention the party is broke and desperately needs money?).  This is just the latest of many acts of incompetence on Smack’s part in the short time he’s been part of the leadership of our party. 

If Nevada Republicans are to have any chance of accomplishing our primary mission – getting Republicans elected up and down the ballot in Nevada – Smack must go.  If he has any honor, shame, or loyalty to the cause of electing Republicans, he will maintain the status quo and resign the second a new, permanent chair is elected.  If not, he should be run out of town on a rail wearing a nice winter coat of tar and feathers.


A Little Background on Smack

In 2008, James Smack decided that Dean Heller wasn’t conservative enough, so he took a break from breeding his pitbulls and launched a Ron Paul inspired primary campaign against the popular incumbent.  Smack billed himself as a “constitutionalist,” but made it abundantly clear via his own website that he had no clue whatsoever about what the Constitution actually said or did.  Not surprisingly, he didn’t pose much of a threat to Heller that year.

At the same time, Smack was part of the group of Ron Paul supporters who tried to “take over” the state GOP Convention in 2008 even after it was clear that McCain would be the nominee.  When that efforts failed, and even after Ron Paul had dropped out of the race, he couldn’t let it drop.  He helped organize a “shadow” convention, which failed to get enough support to claim a quorum or any other kind of legitimacy.  His group then unsuccessfully sued the state party, costing untold thousands of dollars that could have gone toward, you know, getting Republicans actually elected to office that November.

To Smack’s credit, he decided to go legit and involve himself in a more serious way with the state party, eventually getting himself elected as chair of rural Churchill County’s GOP.  I thought maybe he’d learned his lesson.  Boy, was I wrong.


Be Careful What You Wish For…

Back when he was running to be Vice-Chair of the state party, Smack set up a little website and said this:

I believe in change and trying new, fresh ideas.  How much worse could we do than what we are presented with at this time?

Most people would see this as a rhetorical question, but apparently Smack took it as a challenge.

The group of insurgents Smack led sidelined the state chair who had been increasing the profile and credibility of the party – you can’t be too effective or connected, you see, because otherwise you’re a danged dirty RINO or something.  They spent tens of thousands of dollars on an out-of-state consulting firm called CAP Public Affairs to organize and coordinate our caucuses, and when it became clear that this organization was doing nothing, they… kept giving CAP tens of thousands of dollars and left the counties to fend for themselves.  They created bizarre, paranoia-born, last minute vote total reporting requirements, which helped lead to the endless ballot tallying debacle in Clark County.  And with weeks to spare, they approved the disastrous special night time caucus meeting – even after the idea of trying to accommodate voters who couldn’t participate had already been discussed by the whole State Central Committee and was properly rejected as being an administrative and PR disaster waiting to happen.

As the Vice Chair of the party, and the leader of a group that effectively sidelined the actual chair by design back in October, James Smack is the person most singularly responsible for all of this.

Racing team

"Crap! We barked and barked and chased and chased - I just assumed YOU knew how to actually drive the thing once we caught it!"

Creative Commons License photo credit: Matt Biddulph

Don’t Step in the Leadership

Amy Tarkanian had previously announced her resignation as state party chair the day after the Caucuses to avoid the conflict of interest that presented itself when her husband decided to run for Congress.  As Vice Chair, Smack stepped in – and damn if it wasn’t good to be the king!  On his first day, as the Clark County GOP vote-counting insanity dragged on and on, Smack boldly stepped forward to take leadership of the situation, keeping us all informed via Facebook:

I missed a couple of Superbowls (and more than a couple beers) when I was on various deployments in the Navy. It seems I didn't have my priorities straight...

Now, according to the Nevada GOP rules, in the absence of an elected chair, the Vice Chair steps in and acts as a caretaker until a new Chair is duly elected.

Most people would recognize that this isn’t a license to upend everything and bend the party apparatus to your will in as short a time as possible.  Most people would recognize that with various Lincoln Day Dinners, County Conventions, and a State Convention to plan, not to mention a general election that’s none too far away with the balance of power of the State and US Senate at stake in Nevada, maybe it’s not the best time to be summarily dismissing wealthy, connected, and successful volunteers/donors.

Oh, but not James Smack.  Once again, he took to Facebook to let us all know how hard he was working.

A couple days later, we learned that to Smack, “rolling out a new plan for” means “getting rid of.”

He sent Chachas an imperious and condescending E-mail relieving him of duty, but allowed that if Chachas still wanted to sit near the throne of King James, he could submit a “short resume with accomplishments and objectives for evaluation in the process of selecting a chairman for the Finance Committee.”

Chachas replied with a gloriously scathing E-mail that perfectly captured the problems Smack has helped to create within the state party.  It was actually pretty restrained and professional, frankly – my response would very likely not have been able to be reproduced by the Sun or any other family newspaper.  The exchange was then leaked to the press, which I’m sure Smack didn’t mind, given his commitment to transparency.

It’s hard to know what Smack was thinking, or what his grand plan is.  Does he have a replacement already in mind?  Perhaps he’s planning on cutting a personal check for $100,000 to help Republicans get elected in this state (like Chachas was), since he’s seemed to have taken a break from suing those Republicans for awhile.


John Chachas ran for US Senate in 2010, but in spite of putting in a lot of personal money, didn’t get a lot of traction.  He grew up in Nevada, but left for college and never really came back.  He was largely dismissed as a rich carpetbagger trying to buy a Senate seat for himself, and many people assumed that once the race was over, he’d move back east and leave the Silver State in his rear view mirror.

Chachas was impressive during the race on the occasions when I saw him speak or debate.  He clearly was doing his policy homework, and cared about the issues.  It’s a shame, especially in retrospect, that he hadn’t lived in Nevada longer – he would have been a formidable, serious, and probably winning candidate, and a great Senator.  His economic background and personal energy would have been an incredible asset in Washington.

So when I heard he was sticking around, volunteering his time, and putting serious money where his mouth was in an attempt to help make the state party relevant and effective, I was extremely pleased.  Not only was he bringing badly-needed cash, but he was bringing even MORE badly needed credibility.  Is there anyone else in the state with such a background (successful money-guy with a Harvard MBA) who would agree to dive into our mess of a party?  We were incredibly lucky to have him on board.

But now?  We’re still lucky that Chachas intends to stay active and involved, with or without the party.  But there are a lot of other potential donors and activists out there.  Why would any of them come in, and risk being treated so contemptibly?  Why would any of them give money to a guy who has proven himself to be so galactically inept at making good use of that money in the first place?

More importantly, how do you convince voters to trust their children’s futures to a party that tolerates and even seems to encourage such inept management and leadership?


So why would Smack kick Chachas to the curb so casually?  The kindest answer is that Smack meant well, but just has astoundingly bad judgment and is incomprehensibly, suicidally incompetent as a party chair.  The more likely answer, given Smack’s behavior to date, is that Chachas wasn’t “pure” enough as a conservative, somehow, and so he had to be purged. (Although I suppose these two things aren’t mutually exclusive.)

Once again, it’s the politics of subtraction.  And you don’t win elections that way.  How many times do these people have to fall on their faces before they get that basic concept?


James Smack is widely expected to either run for State Chair himself, or to try to orchestrate the ascension of one of his fellow travelers (probably former Vegas City Councilman Michael McDonald, a guy with a troubling history in Nevada politics).

If the state party is foolish enough to let this happen, the politics of subtraction will have won the day.  The party will no longer be useful or effective as a tool to get Republicans elected – indeed, that goal, which ought to be primary, will be an afterthought.  Candidates who wish to win will be on their own, and their job will be much tougher. Party credibility will take decades to recover.

(Some counties, like Washoe, are already acting on a local level to make sure this doesn’t happen, and that our party stays relevant to the candidates we support.  But that can only take you so far – since we’re all impacted by our legislature and Congress, we need the entire state party apparatus on board.)

I’m not saying that James Smack gets a paycheck from Harry Reid or Barack Obama, but it would be hard to determine what he would be doing differently if he did.


Smack Must Go

If the party is to survive – perhaps even yet thrive! – in this year’s election cycle, we can’t continue on this path.  We need new, effective, and sane leadership at the state level that can restore our credibility, fundraising ability, and electoral effectiveness.

Maybe Chachas himself will step in – that would be fantastic.  Another great option would be Dave Buell, Washoe County’s current chair.  Not only has Dave limited Smack ‘n’ Company’s damage at a local level here in Washoe, but he’s been on the correct (but sadly losing) side of every bad decision made by the state party in the last several months. He has a tremendous ability to cut through BS, and there is a lot of BS that needs cutting through right now.  I don’t know why either of them would want the job, but God bless them if they decide to take it on.

But as long as Smack remains in any kind of position of “leadership” within the party, donors and activists will question if their time or money are well spent with the Nevada GOP.  (If Buell or Chachas take over the head post, Smack will still be Vice Chair, so simply electing a better chair won’t be enough.)

The caucus mess was probably forgivable in the end – I was ready to forget it and look forward to November.  But Smack’s treatment of John Chachas is not forgivable or excusable.  Worse, it is a horrible harbinger of the things to come if he stays.

That means that James Smack has a huge opportunity to show he cares about electing Republicans more than he cares about himself.  He can step aside now, and let someone else step in to clean up the mess.  If he does that, he’ll have my respect and gratitude.  If not, well…

And after all, as Smack himself once said,

I believe in change and trying new, fresh ideas.  How much worse could we do than what we are presented with at this time?

As a party, let’s please, please, PLEASE not continue to find out.

Tags: Nevada Politics · Republicans