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STEVE SEBELIUS: Cortez Masto isn’t anti-cop

It’s a rule in politics: Attack your opponent on her strengths and knock her off balance.

It’s a rule Republican U.S. Senate nominee Adam Laxalt followed in May, when he touted his endorsement from the Public Safety Alliance of Nevada. That group, made up of police unions — including the Las Vegas Police Protective Association — backed him this year. In 2016, the union was part of a coalition that endorsed Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto instead.

“Instead of helping law enforcement, Cortez Masto has been focused on pushing the agenda of anti-police radicals in her party that undermines cops at every turn,” Laxalt said in a statement at the time. “I am focused on helping law enforcement to keep Nevada safe, and I will always have their backs. Voters should know that, as our next senator, I will oppose defunding the police and ensure our officers have the tools they need to do their jobs.”

It’s a bold charge, but one that’s hard to reconcile with Cortez Masto’s history.

First, Cortez Masto served for two years as a federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C., where she worked with police to put criminals behind bars.

Second, Cortez Masto served as attorney general in Nevada for eight years, where she developed a reputation as a crusader against domestic violence and sex trafficking. She did a good job, but don’t take my word. The man who succeeded her called her a “role model.”

That man? Adam Laxalt.

Third, Cortez Masto is married to a cop. And not just any cop: Paul Masto is a retired U.S. Secret Service special agent who protected presidents of both parties and ended his career as the assistant special agent in charge of the Las Vegas field office. It’s hard to push a radical anti-police agenda when you’re married to a fed.

Fourth, her record in the Senate is anything but radically anti-cop. She has voted for police funding, for legislation to combat law enforcement suicides (which was signed by then-President Donald Trump) and for a bill to fight the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Fifth, she has law enforcement support. She has been endorsed by the Nevada Law Enforcement Coalition and the Nevada Association of Public Safety Officers, which includes Henderson police officers and supervisors, North Las Vegas police supervisors, state law enforcement officers including the Capitol Police, attorney general investigators, Gaming Control Board agents and university police.

“If she (Cortez Masto) has gone to the dark side, I’d sure as hell like to know what she did to go to the dark side,” says Rich McCann, the former executive director of the association who still works as the group’s Carson City lobbyist.

It’s absolutely true that members of the Public Safety Alliance of Nevada did switch support from Cortez Masto in 2016 to Laxalt this year. The group formed after 2020, when the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis roiled the country and led to anti-police protests that turned violent in many places.

Several police unions, including Metro’s Police Protective Association, split from a coalition of law enforcement unions, a reaction to how many on the left and in the Democratic Party embraced sweeping calls for reform, including the “defund the police” movement. (Cortez Masto, by the way, has never embraced defunding police, although she has called for reforms in the wake of the Floyd murder. But she has voted for laws that would limit federal funds to local governments that defund their police.)

The alliance, which also includes Metro police supervisors, Las Vegas city marshals, Reno police officers, school police, the Washoe County sheriffs and supervisors and the Police Officers Research Association, see things differently than McCann, said John Abel, the Las Vegas officer who works as an alliance lobbyist in Carson City.

Abel said the alliance doesn’t think Cortez Masto is anti-cop but recognizes the best way to stop laws they don’t like — such as the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021 — is to have the upper house in GOP hands. (For the record, Cortez Masto did not co-sponsor the Senate version of that bill, which has not come up for a vote.) “It’s not that she’s (Cortez Masto) super anti-police because she’s not,” Abel says. “I firmly believe that she’s not anti-police.”

Indeed, it would be hard to find many people who would say Cortez Masto is anti-police, unless they are running against her. Then, a solid record of law enforcement support becomes a good political target.

Contact Steve Sebelius at SSebelius@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0253. Follow @SteveSebelius on Twitter.

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