Only in Nevada: State GOP chairman lobbies for Democratic special interest

In 2003, despite being deemed an ethics transgressor by a state tribunal and despite federal authorities sniffing around him, Michael McDonald still had a friend in the Culinary union.

"Michael has been a strong supporter of unions and working families," Culinary political director Glen Arnodo told the Review-Journal shortly before McDonald lost his re-election bid. Nine years later, having metamorphosed into the chairman of the state Republican Party, McDonald still has a friend in the Culinary.

At least the union is paying him – or still paying him back for being a friend to working families -- to be its representative, which is about as incongruous a pairing as you can imagine. But there, on Tuesday night, was the state GOP boss, whose efforts in 2012 to win the state for Mitt Romney and other Republicans were antithetical to the union’s efforts, standing before the city of Las Vegas Planning Commission: “Michael McDonald here today representing the Culinary union,” he said.

This amazing scene – Republican Party chairman wearing label of the Democratic Party’s most potent special interest – is the exclamation point to a classic serpentine tale emblematic of Nevada’s incestuous political world. It’s also a larger morality – or lack thereof – tale, where special interest folks look the other way to back a politician who will be their guy and then later pay him back (and he eagerly accepts the money) even if the only thing they have in common is the soothing feeling that only mutual backscratching can bring.

By the time that 2003 election occurred, it’s not as if McDonald was an unknown quantity to the Culinary. He had been elected eight years earlier as a relative unknown policeman and gradually became known as an effective inside player at City Hall.

But by the time Mayor Oscar Goodman took over City Hall in 1999, the preternaturally polite cop had been exposed as operating in shades of gray. He tried to block a rival strip club project on behalf of his pal, topless mogul Rick Rizzolo, who later went to prison. He advocated or – ”provided information” – for his private sector boss on a sweet deal with the city. He landed in hot water with the Ethics Commission. And, finally, the FBI started looking into his activities at some point, although it never moved forward.

This is the man the Culinary embraced in 2003 and now employs as its local government lobbyist.

After his elective career ended in disgrace, McDonald began hanging around GOP meetings and he clearly saw his political comeback as the chairman of the party. “Michael is still fully entrenched with the Republican Party,” says a site dedicated to his run for state chairman, -- a site that contains one of the more hilariously air-brushed biographies you will ever read. He was elected last April, on the eve of a thoroughly disastrous cycle for the Republicans in which the McDonald-led party was bypassed by the Mitt Romney campaign and the Republican National Committee.

This is the man the Culinary embraced in 2003 and now employs as its local government lobbyist.

But why?

“We have a long history of working with Mike,” Culinary political director Yvanna Cancela told me. “There's no reason why party lines should change that. We work with Republicans.”

But McDonald is not just any Republican. He is the head of the party, at least nominally.

Without even wondering why the Culinary would need an outside lobbyist for such a task, much less Michael McDonald, I have to ask: Is this not bizarre? Hath not a union any Democrats to hire?

I asked Cancela how long McDonald had been a lobbyist for the union. Still waiting for that information.

It certainly would be interesting to know how soon the union began paying McDonald after that 2003 loss and why the relationship continued despite his morphing from nonpartisan friend to working families into partisan leader whose job is to beat the union's candidates. McDonald did not respond to an email Thursday or a phone call Friday.

But there he was Tuesday, the man who once reveled in the nickname “Councilman Pothole,” trying to juice the Culinary’s request to make trailers on its site permanent structures. The Planning Commission staff said no, but McDonald would not be deterred.

"We'd love to have a permanent building here,” McDonald told the commission. “Our growth at the Culinary was at a faster rate...."

We? Our? My goodness.

Ultimately, the panel agreed to the request, albeit with a three-year review to see if the structures should be removed. But it was a win for McDonald. And the union.

Maybe that's why this is the man the Culinary embraced in 2003 and now employs as its local government lobbyist.