NORTH LAS VEGAS — Secretary of State Ross Miller touted his work enforcing Nevada’s election law while his opponent Adam Laxalt pointed to his legal experience in the military in a debate over who should be Nevada’s next attorney general.
Democrat Miller and Republican Laxalt squared off Saturday morning at the annual Nevada Press Association convention in North Las Vegas, fielding questions about public records, sparring about the ethics of politicians accepting gifts and comparing resumes.
“My broad range of legal experience makes me most qualified for this job,” said Laxalt, 36, a first-time candidate who worked as a private attorney in Las Vegas for three years and previously served as a judge advocate general in the U.S. Navy.
“I have experience solving real problems,” said Miller, 38, pointing to his work as a prosecutor in the Clark County District Attorney’s Office and noting that he investigated even organizations friendly to his party during his two terms as secretary of state.
The forum, held before Nevada journalists and moderated by Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Steve Sebelius, focused largely on how the attorney general would enforce public records laws. Miller cited examples from his work in campaign finance disclosure as secretary of state, while Laxalt spoke broadly in favor of transparency but acknowledged he was unfamiliar with some of the finer points of open meeting and public records laws.
Asked whether there should be a cap on the fees public agencies can charge to pull up public records, Miller pointed out that there’s a real cost to assigning staff members to the task and processing documents.
“We’ve absolutely got to set a rate that’s reasonable,” Miller said. “We don’t want a standard in place that allows people to shut down government ... It’s got to be reasonable, and there’s got to be balance.”
Laxalt said he believed transparency is essential and said he was willing to “roll up his sleeves” and work on the issue just like he’d done in the military, but he also said he didn’t know what would constitute a reasonable fee.
The two sparred about politicians accepting gifts, an issue prominent in attack ads run against Miller. Laxalt criticized Miller for taking more than $70,000 in gifts over a five-year period and vowed he would not accept any.
“My opponent has shown what I believe is a reckless habit of taking gifts,” Laxalt said. “I think it makes people wonder if their government works for them or for special interests.”
Miller shot back, saying many of the gifts he accepted were scholarships for educational seminars that have made him a stronger leader. He added that he’s disclosed more information than most politicians would because he’s a champion of transparency and wants voters to make their own judgments about the individual gifts.
“The entire reason that’s out there is I went above and beyond to put that out there,” Miller said. He also challenged Laxalt to disclose more records from his personnel file.
“We don’t know who he is or what he stands for,” Miller said.
The personnel file became an issue this summer when an unflattering job performance review from a Las Vegas law firm was leaked to the press.
The candidates also fielded questions about whether they’d defend Nevada laws that they might disagree with. It stemmed from an instance in which Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto declined to sue over President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, in spite of then-Gov. Jim Gibbons’ request.
Laxalt said he couldn’t foresee a situation in which he’d decline to follow a lawsuit that the governor requested.
“The last thing I want to do is to send a message that I wouldn’t enforce laws,” Laxalt said. But “If it was something that I felt was somehow unconstitutional, I’d have to very much evaluate that.”
Miller said it was hard to say what he would have done in the same situation, but said he would decline to sue “only in the rarest of circumstances.”
“You can certainly envision statues in place that would be clearly unconstitutional and based on those, I wouldn’t defend those,” Miller said, giving examples of laws requiring people to wear a Star of David or reinstituting slavery. “The attorney general is the state’s top attorney. That individual has to be a true leader.”