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September 30, 2014

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Cortez Masto bolsters her image to preserve her political career

Court’s dismissal of case against Krolicki left her painted as partisan bully

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Steve Marcus

Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto listens to a question during a news conference at the Sawyer State Building Thursday, Dec. 10, 2009. Masto announced at a morning news conference that she won’t pursue an appeal of the dismissal of charges against Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki.

Catherine Cortez Masto News Conference

Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto takes questions from reporters following a news conference at the Sawyer State Building Thursday, Dec. 10, 2009.  Masto announced at a morning news conference that she won't pursue an appeal of the dismissal of charges against Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki. Launch slideshow »
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Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki

Silence is rarely a good strategy in a political fight, as the other side will fill the void with attacks.

Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, or perhaps one of her several savvy political advisers, realized this, if a bit belatedly, Thursday.

Cortez Masto, one of the most popular Democrats in Nevada, took a hit Monday when District Judge Valerie Adair dismissed her high-profile prosecution of Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki.

Cortez Masto had charged Krolicki over misallocation of office funding in a case that was always viewed as legally problematic and politically risky.

He was accused of diverting money from a state college savings program he managed when he was state treasurer and using the money on a marketing program that featured his visage prominently, and doing so without legislative approval.

Long viewed as a bipartisan conciliator with broad support across the state, Cortez Masto was suddenly painted — fairly or not — as a partisan bully.

She declined to comment after the case was dismissed, and Krolicki and other Republicans went on the attack.

“This whole thing has been absurd from the very beginning,” he said.

Ryan Erwin, his political adviser, quickly floated names of potential opponents; until this week, Cortez Masto appeared to be sailing on calm seas toward re-election.

But with a news conference and a tour of Las Vegas newsrooms Thursday, as well as an appearance today on “Face to Face With Jon Ralston,” Cortez Masto is responding forcefully.

Although she announced she would not appeal the dismissal, she defended the prosecution and said Krolicki had violated public trust.

“The former state treasurer … concealed taxpayer dollars that belonged to the state of Nevada. The money was then diverted to a private marketing company to promote, by use of his own image, a program created by the treasurer,” she said.

She said her office was upholding public integrity and asserted that the indictment would have a salutary deterrent effect, despite the failed prosecution.

Kirsten Searer, a Democratic operative, said stepping out was smart politics. “Catherine is a strong communicator. It’s why she’s one of the more popular Democrats statewide.”

Cortez Masto is the daughter of the late Manny Cortez, who was a beloved Clark County commissioner and head of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. Her 2006 campaign also had the support of high-profile Republicans.

Searer said Cortez Masto was right to get out and explain the case to the public. “It was absolutely the right thing to do because she has nothing to hide. A legislative audit, her office attorneys and Department of Public Safety investigators found cause for concern in this case.”

Eric Herzik, a University of Nevada, Reno, political scientist and a Republican, said her public defense of the prosecution was her only move.

“She’s doing some serious damage control, for her professional career and for the AG’s office. They looked bad,” he said.

Herzik said she should have had a response on Day One. “No comment means, ‘I can’t answer it.’ ”

By waiting three days, her response “looks somewhat contrived,” he said.

Krolicki, whose political adviser Erwin helped effectively manage the story of his indictment at every junction, didn’t let up.

Krolicki called the prosecution “an absurd gross waste of resources and energy and precious taxpayer dollars.”

He pointed to countless government marketing programs that feature elected officials.

Krolicki defended his management of the college savings program. “We did an exceedingly fine job with these programs. We created three of the top 10 programs in the country. We were helping people go to college ... and balanced it to the penny.”

He said he intends to run for re-election, but also did not rule out a potential run for U.S. Senate against Sen. Harry Reid.

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