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Running for office a family affair for Larsens

Updated July 29, 2022 - 3:51 pm

Flemming Larsen always dreamed about running for office, but the restaurateur quickly changed his mind when a Republican state senator asked his wife, April, to run instead.

The plan was, Flemming would become April’s campaign manager and her chief of staff in Carson City, negotiating bills with senators and using their combined business acumen to best represent her Henderson and East Las Vegas constituents.

But that plan didn’t last.

After some encouragement, Flemming decided to follow his dream and run for office himself.

So now, both April, 47, and Flemming, 53, are running together, side-by-side for the overlapping state Senate District 21 and state Assembly District 12. They want to join state Sen. Ira and Assemblywoman Alexis Hansen, both R-Sparks, as the second legislative power couple in Carson City.

The Larsen platform is simple: improve public safety by supporting police, better education with school choice and combating the ongoing water crisis. After both won their Republican primaries last month — April running unopposed for the Senate nomination and Flemming coming out on top in a five-candidate field for Assembly — each is now making their pitch to their potential future constituents.

“I (look up) to Ronald Reagan. He was able to work with Democrats and negotiate,” Flemming said. “He didn’t always get what he wanted, but he was able to cross the party lines and go play golf afterward. Being in business, you have to walk to the line. Can’t be too tough, can’t be too lenient. The big inspiration behind it all is trying to achieve that common goal of working together.”

Butcher shop beginnings

Despite their political aspirations, neither of the Larsens ever wanted to be career politicians. They run a chain of restaurants and steakhouses in Las Vegas and Southern California — appropriately named Larsen’s Restaurant Group — with Flemming as the day-to-day lead and April running the numbers as CFO. They met nearly 30 years ago at one of Flemming’s California restaurants.

The food service industry chose Flemming at a young age. He started working in his Danish immigrant family’s butcher shop at 15 but couldn’t stand it by the time he turned 21.

“It was cold, I worked at five o’clock in the morning. Zero social life. I worked six days a week,” he said. “So I decided to open a restaurant.”

Using a Sears credit card and business acumen from managing a grocery store and the butcher shop, Flemming’s first restaurant was born.

Seven years later, that restaurant grew into a chain which he sold and re-invested into his first steakhouse, the same one where he and his future wife eventually met in 1999. At the time she was a single mother of two boys, struggling to pay bills as she went to night school to become a dental hygenist.

“Her attitude was was so positive all the time. You would never know that she was a struggling mother and couldn’t make ends meet. Her kids were her world, and it was really inspiring to meet somebody like that,” Flemming said.

But now, 22 years together and one more son later, that difficult background is helping April connect with her potential constituents, and she hopes it will let her better represent them in Carson City.

“Sometimes I look back and think, ‘Wow, I made it through that,’” April said. “It didn’t come from just sitting around. It wasn’t handed to me. It’s hard work and perseverance. That’s really all I can do is encourage people. I’ve lived it. I understand. We’re gonna get through it.”

Couple commitment

It may sound like a lot to both live and work alongside your partner, but it’s not unprecedented for Nevada, or the Larsens.

Since 2018, Ira and Alexis Hansen have represented Sparks and rural Reno in the state Senate and Assembly as a couple. Ira started in the assembly in 2010, and moved to the Senate in 2018 when Alexis took over his Assembly seat.

“It’s been a good experience as a couple, but painful as the minority party,” Alexis Hansen said. “We said we wanted to do this all together, but we don’t see each other much. The Legislature is just so fast paced.”

Despite sharing their lives together, the Hansens don’t always vote together. Each of them being independent is key to their success, she said.

It’s a model the Larsens want to emulate, they said. They already work together managing their restaurant business, so working together in Carson City is just one small step further.

“What we do every day is steaks and payroll, now it will be policy and politics,” Flemming said.

Even if only one of the pair wins election — April has a challenging race, facing longtime legislator and Democratic incumbent state Sen. James Ohrenschall — the pair would be just as close as if they were both elected.

“If she wins and I lose, I’ll be the happiest man in the world because I’ll be supporting my senator and wife,” Flemming said. “Same if it was vice versa, she would come to Carson City and be my backbone.”

Flemming is running for an open seat after Assemblywoman Susie Martinez declined to run for re-election after being elected executive secretary-treasurer of the Nevada AFL-CIO.

California ex-pats

The Larsens didn’t even want to move to Nevada, at least at first. They decided to leave Los Angeles nine years ago, citing a deteriorating political climate and wanting a safer place to raise their three sons.

“The climate in California was very hostile,” Flemming said. “We felt like L.A. was being run into ground. Safety wasn’t a top priority anymore.”

They landed on three options: Texas, Arizona and Nevada (originally, in that order).

Like many non-Nevadans, they thought Las Vegas wasn’t much more than the Strip. The “Sin City” reputation loomed in their minds. But then they took a drive through the suburbs and found a place they loved: Henderson.

“We needed a place where we could raise our kids and financially grow our business. That was our ultimate goal,” April said. “The beautiful thing was that Nevada provided all of that.”

Said Flemming: “We said we were going to give it a year and decide if we wanted to stay or not. Two years later I asked (April) if she wanted to move back to California and she said, ‘No! I’ll visit family, but I’m not going to go back at all.’”

Ramping up campaigns

Now with Election Day about three months away, the Larsens are beefing up their campaigns and rolling out their community programs. Their districts are nearly identical — spanning the northern edges of Henderson and Lake Las Vegas up through Sunrise Manor in East Las Vegas — and extremely diverse.

Both districts are plurality-Hispanic, about 40 percent each, they said, and reaching out to those constituents has been a top priority as they begin to knock on doors and talk to voters.

“I think Reagan said it best, Hispanics are really Republicans, they just don’t know it,” Flemming said. “I think that they’re always told what to do. They’re always told who to vote for and how to vote. But when it comes down to it, family, God and jobs is what Hispanics are all about. And I think everybody in our district pretty much agrees on the same things.”

For April, that means sharing her life experiences, going from being a single mother and struggling to make ends meet to working at the executive level of a successful business.

“In what we lack in knowledge, we always compensate with hard work, because that’s the key,” April said. “If we just put forth the work, we can accomplish anything.”

She brought out one of Flemming’s commonly-used phrases.

“Experience isn’t expensive. It’s priceless.”

Contact Nick Robertson at NRobertson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @NickRobertsonSU on Twitter.

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