RENO — A Nevada Republican is trying to unseat an incumbent Democratic assemblyman in a blue-collar district in Sparks to become the first openly transgender person to serve in a state legislature.
Lauren Scott used to be a Democrat who worked on Sen. John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign, and she has her picture with Vice President Joe Biden on her campaign website.
“A lot of people thought my candidacy was a bit of a joke,” said Scott, adding most voters were unaware that she served eight years in the Air Force and founded a company that manufactures semiconductor instrumentation.
“A lot of Republicans said, ‘Why aren’t you running as a Democrat? You’ll never win as a Republican.’”
Scott ran two years ago but lost the GOP primary to ex-Sparks Police Commander Ken Lightfoot, who then lost to Democrat Mike Sprinkle. She won the June primary with the help of an endorsement from Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, who appointed her to the Nevada Equal Rights Commission in 2012.
The hugely popular governor’s backing combined with signs of disinterest in an off-year election among Democrats has Scott pleasantly surprised about her chances on Nov. 4.
“They are kind of seeing through the fog that there is a lot more to Lauren Scott than just a fluffy civil rights advocate,” said Scott, 50, who received a Commendation Medal during Operation Desert Storm.
Erick Herzik, political scientist at the University of Nevada, Reno, isn’t surprised there’s been little public discussion of Scott’s gender identity.
“It’s almost like a stealth issue,” Herzik said, noting Nevada’s distinct libertarian streak.
“But at the end of the day, you still have some lingering concerns, especially among more conservative members of the party who really aren’t accepting of a transgender candidate,” he said.
Adam Kahn, who lost the GOP primary to Scott, acknowledged he was encouraged by potential donors “to use her gender against her” but never considered that “tactless” approach.
“Lauren’s sexual identity is not the challenge in the race,” Kahn said.
Sprinkle insists his approach hasn’t changed since he captured the open District 30 seat in 2012. He’s raised three times as much money — $66,111 to Scott’s $18,145 as of Oct. 14 — in a district where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by 13 percent.
“My focus then was the same as now — connecting with my constituents. They know who I am,” said Sprinkle, a longtime firefighter and paramedic. “My district is blue-collar men and working women so when I look at an issue, that is what I’m thinking about — what is best for the middle class.”
As for Scott’s gender?
“I certainly would not comment on where she stands on anything,” Sprinkle said.
Scott knows some Repub- licans are “leery” about the fact she was a Democrat until she first registered non-partisan in 2009.
“But the quick quip to that is Ronald Reagan was once a Democrat and that typically shuts them up,” she said, describing herself as a 1912 Progressive Party-type Republican.
Scott told Facebook followers her credentials were buoyed last week when Sprinkle was endorsed by the left-leaning weekly Reno News & Review — “Proof: I’m not a liberal.”
She acknowledges her underdog status, and notes even some anticipated allies like the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund decided against endorsing her.
“We were going to need some magic fairy dust to get us there,” Scott said. “But now, the statewide movement is doing that for us.”
If the heavy Republican turnout in early voting puts Scott over the top, she likely would be the first openly transgender lawmaker seated in a legislature.
In Wyoming, Democrat Larissa Sneider of Evanston won an unopposed House primary, but has raised a total of only $40 and is considered the longest of long-shots in a bid to unseat incumbent Republican Gary Piiparinen. He won in 2012 with 91 percent of the vote in the rural southwest corner of the state where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats by a 5-to-1 margin.
Two years ago in New Hampshire, Democrat Stacie Laughton became the first openly transgender candidate elected to a legislature, but resigned before being seated.
Other Democrats have run competitively but lost — most recently Dana Beyer in a Maryland Senate primary in June, and Paula Sophia in a runoff for the Oklahoma House in August.
Scott likes to joke, “I am the last trans standing.”