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July 29, 2014

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Tea Party candidate could siphon GOP votes in bid to remove Harry Reid

Tea Party candidate Ashjian insists he’s not a plant for Reid campaign, has confidence to overcome business troubles

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Sam Morris

Jon Scott Ashjian

Tea Party's Scott Ashjian

Jon Scott Ashjian, Part 2

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  • Jon Scott Ashjian, Part 2
  • Jon Scott Ashjian, Part 1
Harry Reid

Harry Reid

Sun Coverage

Tea Party Express (1-12-10)

U.S. Senate candidate Danny Tarkanian speaks at a press conference held by the Tea Party Express Tuesday, January 12, 2009 at the Westin Casuarina. Launch slideshow »

One thing has become clear in the days since the mostly obscure political upstart Jon Scott Ashjian became a candidate for U.S. Senate: He’s no stooge of Sen. Harry Reid.

Republicans are fearful Ashjian, running on the Tea Party of Nevada ballot line, will siphon Republican votes from their effort to take down the majority leader in his re-election bid this year. So Republicans, long accustomed to the Reid tentacles reaching into every crevice of Nevada politics, have publicly floated the idea — repeated frequently in conservative media outlets — that Ashjian is a sham fashioned by the Reid campaign to save the senator’s flagging political fortunes.

If that is the case, then the much-vaunted Reid operation is in trouble, for they’ve offered up an opponent who is already struggling in the face of scrutiny.

Ashjian, a small-business owner, has an IRS lien on his property because he owes more than $200,000 in back taxes, according to the county recorder.

He has also run into questions about his business background.

The 46-year-old longtime Southern Nevada resident has owned a number of small businesses, at least one of which has faced financial problems.

According to documents obtained from the Nevada State Contractors Board through a public records request, his company A&A Asphalt Paving Co. faces a complaint for passing a bad check to a vendor last October for $981. Ashjian shut the company down a month later, he said in an interview.

Also, according to the complaint, Ashjian “failed to provide a financial statement or other evidence of his financial responsibility.”

He faces a hearing this month, during which he could have his license revoked.

Still, even with these problems, Republicans cannot dismiss Ashjian, who could drag down whomever the GOP nominates in June by pulling conservative voters who are disgusted with the Republican Party and will vote for anyone with the Tea Party name next to the candidate’s.

And although he’s a political neophyte, Ashjian, who goes by Scott, has some potential appeal.

He and his wife look like they could star in an ad for a health club.

Ashjian is familiar with Tea Party talking points and in his first interview, earlier this week on “Face to Face With Jon Ralston” on KVBC Channel 3, he showed poise, especially given that it was his first time on television and Ralston asked him questions about his problems with the Contractors Board.

Like an experienced politician, he mostly ignored those questions and returned to the talking points.

In Sun interviews, Ashjian said the IRS lien and the Contractors Board were news to him, which he said is not surprising given his sprawling business enterprise, which he said includes 27 properties.

He said he’s working with his accountant to clear up all problems, which, he said, should be accomplished in the coming weeks.

In fact, he said, the struggles of small-business men like himself were the impetus for his campaign.

“This elitist crowd doesn’t have any clue about the pain and suffering experienced by the average American,” he said. “Every small-business owner is in the same boat.”

By now the Tea Party precepts are well known: America is hurtling toward socialism, freedoms choked by taxes and government regulation, national defense weakened by appeasement of terrorists.

Like many in the movement, Ashjian has always been a conservative Republican, but has been radicalized by the events of the past 18 months, when President George W. Bush and then President Barack Obama took drastic action to save the banking and auto industries.

The oldest of eight children, Ashjian was born in Fresno, Calif., and graduated from South Lake Tahoe High School, where he was a wrestler. He completed a Mormon mission in Argentina and says he’s fluent in Spanish.

He passed up college to start a series of small businesses. He came to Las Vegas for a prize fight in 1994 and fell in love with the city. He and his wife moved here in 1995 from Fresno. They have three children.

Ashjian said he doesn’t see any difference between the major parties, with Republicans going to Washington and becoming beholden to government, lobbyists and special interests.

He frequently referenced Sarah Palin’s denunciations of the “elite” and her call for “normal people,” as Ashjian put it, to govern America.

Ashjian, who said he’s never met Reid and is definitely not a front for the Reid campaign, said his outrage has been stoked since about 2006, just before the recession began ravaging Nevada.

Asked what he believes caused the recession, he replied, “Overspending.”

This would seem to overlook the causes usually elucidated by economists: A failure to properly regulate mortgage lending in places such as Las Vegas, which led to a housing bubble; and, a failure to regulate heavily leveraged Wall Street firms, which were making gigantic bets on what turned out to be toxic, exotic financial instruments related to the housing bubble.

In an analogy that medical doctors might find troubling, Ashjian compared the economy to the human body — self-correcting organisms that do not require intervention.

“I don’t think government solves problems,” he said, later comparing the federal government to the Ponzi scheme of Bernard Madoff.

Although a political novice, Ashjian has picked up some of the techniques of seasoned politicos. In nearly the same breath, he said he has no interest in “the game” of negative politics, while quickly noting the former close connections between Reid and Republican contender Sue Lowden.

The real issue of this election, he said, is the recession: “Reach into your pocket — how much money do you have?”

Sun reporters Steve Kanigher and Joe Schoenmann contributed to this report.

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