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Gov. Sandoval says premature to speculate on U.S. Senate appointment, Democrats want open selection process


By Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau: As Gov. Brian Sandoval today said it is premature to speculate on who he will appoint to replace GOP U.S. Senator John Ensign, Democrats in the Nevada Legislature said they will seek a resolution urging a “fair, open, and transparent process for appointing a temporary replacement.”

Ensign announced yesterday he is resigning from the Senate. Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., who announced earlier he would run for Ensign’s seat in 2012, is viewed by political observers as the favorite to win the appointment. If Heller is appointed, he could run as the incumbent in 2012.

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., has announced her intent to seek the Senate seat in 2012 as well.

Ensign, who had previously announced he would not seek re-election, surprised a lot of people in Nevada with his decision to resign effective May 3. The Senate Ethics Committee is investigating Ensign over events related to his affair with a former aide.

The news of Ensign’s resignation was first reported by Nevada political commentator Jon Ralston via Twitter.

In response to a flurry of speculation about his replacement, Sandoval today released a statement about the selection process.

“Under Nevada law, the governor has the authority to make an appointment of some qualified person to fill the vacancy, who shall hold office until the next general election,” Sandoval said. “Under Nevada law, there is no established time frame for making such an appointment. In Nevada’s history, only eight U.S. Senators have been appointed, most recently Paul Laxalt on December 18, 1974.

“Pursuant to the relevant law I expect to announce an appointment before the resignation effective date of May 3,” he said. “I take very seriously the importance of this appointment, so to speculate on potential candidates for appointment before then would be premature.”

Nevada Legislative Democrats also weighed in on the appointment process today, saying they will pursue a resolution asking for a public review of potential appointees, “in response to reports of potential deal making.”

The resolution will call for the governor to release a public time-line, including a window for those interested to apply, as well as a time frame for the public to review qualified applicants prior to the governor’s decision on the vacancy. The U.S. Senate seat must be filled in a timely manner, but a public process for doing so will not inhibit that imperative and will allow for a more informed, deliberative decision, Democrats said in a news release.

The Senate does not belong to any particular party; it belongs to the people of Nevada,” said Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas. “This decision is too important not to be done in the light of day.”

Democrat lawmakers noted that when state Senator Bill Raggio resigned in mid-term in January, the Washoe County Commission, which was charged with making the temporary replacement, conducted public and transparent hearings and required all qualified applicants to apply.

“If the public deserved an open and transparent process to replace a state Senator, then certainly they deserve no less when appointing a U.S. Senator,” said Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas. “This is a time to put people before politics and do this right.”

If Heller is appointed, it will create further political ripples in Nevada. Heller’s appointment to the Senate would leave a vacancy in his District 2 House seat, requiring a special election. A number of Republicans, including former U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle, and current state Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno, have expressed an interest in seeking the seat. Democrats are likely to seek the seat as well.

List of appointed U.S. Senators from Nevada:

1912: First appointed Senator was W.A. Massey (R) who was appointed on July 1, 1912, to succeed George Nixon (R) who died on June 5, 1912.

1918: Charles Henderson (D) appointed on January 12, 1918, to replace Francis Newlands (D) who died on December 24, 1917.

1940: Key Pittman (D) died November 10, 1940, 5 days after being re-elected. Berkeley Bunker (D) appointed on November 26 to full the Senate seat until the next general election.”

1942: James Scrugham (D) defeated Bunker in the primary. Bunker resigned December 6 to provide Senatorial seniority.

1945: Edward Carville (D) appointed on July 24, 1945, to replace Scrugham who died on June 23, 1945.

1954: Patrick McCarran (D) died while campaigning on September 28, 1954. Ernest Brown (R) appointed on October 1, 1954, to succeed McCarran. Lost general election to Alan Bible (D) and subsequently resigned on December 1 to give Bible seniority. Bible appointed on December 2, 1954.

1974: Alan Bible resigned on December 17, 1974, to give newly-elected Paul Laxalt (R) seniority. Laxalt appointed December 18, 1974.

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