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December 22, 2014

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The Policy Racket

Sandoval: Sen. John Ensign replacement will be named before May 3

Governor says speculation is premature, but Rep. Dean Heller is expected to get nod

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Karoun Demirjian

Greg Korte, who runs a general contracting company in Las Vegas, swung past Sen. John Ensign’s office with his wife Nicole and their three kids Friday to pick up Senate floor passes they’d been promised in a letter from Ensign. They were surprised to discover the senator’s office closed for Good Friday — and that he’d resigned a day earlier.

Click to enlarge photo

John Ensign announces he will not seek another term during a news conference at the Lloyd George Federal Building in Las Vegas on Monday, March 7, 2011.

WASHINGTON - Gov. Brian Sandoval has 10 days to pick a new senator, and he's apparently going to milk it for every second it's worth -- even though it's almost certain who his pick will be.

“Under Nevada law, the governor has the authority to make an appointment of some qualified person to fill the vacancy, who shall hold office until the next general election," Sandoval said in a statement released Friday. "Under Nevada law, there is no established timeframe for making such an appointment."

Subtext: Don't rush me, people.

“Pursuant to the relevant law I expect to announce an appointment before the resignation effective date of May 3. I take very seriously the importance of this appointment, so to speculate on potential candidates for appointment before then would be premature.”

It's true that Sandoval could pull a surprise move; he is the governor after all, and he does have the authority to appoint anybody he wants. Perhaps a cousin. Or a favorite Little League baseball coach from back in the day. Even the mailman. Or, in all seriousness, another member of the Nevada GOP with his or her eye on that Senate seat.

But Sandoval has already endorsed Rep. Dean Heller for Senate in 2012, and given the boost Heller would get 18 months down the line from assuming the title of "senator" and the experience and incumbency that comes with it, Heller seems his most sensible choice. That's leading many are wondering why Sandoval is dragging his feet with formalities.

But Heller is in no rush.

"Governor Sandoval has the authority to appoint individuals to the U.S. Senate and I will respect whatever decision that he makes," Heller said Thursday night.

Eight U.S. senators in Nevada history have been appointed, the most recent being Paul Laxalt on Dec. 18, 1974.

Five senators died in office – George Nixon in 1912, Francis Newlands in 1917, Key Pittman in 1940, James Scrugham in June 1945 and Patrick McCarran in 1954. Three senators resigned early to allow the incoming Nevada senator to gain seniority. They were Berkeley Bunker in 1942, Ernest Brown in 1954 and Alan Bible in 1974.

None of those appointments created other vacancies in the congressional delegation, as Heller's departure would -- a succession issue that's occupying the state GOP's attention as it awaits Sandoval's official word.

Sun reporter Cy Ryan contributed to this report.

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