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October 30, 2014

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With competitive drive, Hutchison sets sights on becoming lieutenant governor

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Senator Mark Hutchison asks a question during a meeting of the Senate Commerce, Labor and Energy Committee on the third day of the 2013 legislative session Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013 in Carson City.

He trucked heavy equipment all around Las Vegas when he was a boy in the '70s.

Five things you didn’t know about Mark Hutchison

• Even as a Las Vegas native, his favorite football team is the Dallas Cowboys.

“(Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback) Roger Staubach is the greatest quarterback to ever walk planet Earth,” he said.

• He has a ritual to honor his favorite baseball player, former Cincinnati Reds catcher Johnny Bench.

“I always park my car on the fifth floor of the parking garage at the airport as a tip of the hat and a tribute to Johnny Bench, who was No. 5,” he said.

• When he reads political columnists, he often turns to his two favorites: George Will and Peggy Noonan.

• Hutchison has a penchant for rock ‘n’ roll.

“I’m stuck in the '80s and '90s,” he said, listing his favorite artists as "Queen; Foreigner; Styx; Earth, Wind and Fire; even a little AC/DC."

• He once ran for the Clark County Board of School Trustees in 1996 against Lois Tarkanian.

“She destroyed me,” he said.

The oldest of four kids, Mark Hutchison followed his truck-driving dad to work at Ahern Rentals when he was 12 years old.

“As soon as I could, I drove trucks,” he said. “I wanted to be a truck driver, drove one of the big semi-trucks.”

Today, Hutchison still drives a truck, a Ford F150 with “State Senator” slapped on the license plate. He parks it behind a building in Summerlin with his name on it — Hutchison & Steffen law firm — and represents Ahern as the company’s general counsel.

Next year, he might be lieutenant governor of Nevada.

Gov. Brian Sandoval tapped the first-term senator as his chosen running mate, saying earlier this year Hutchison would make a “tremendous” lieutenant governor.

Hutchison, a 50-year-old litigator who pals around with CEOs and has vacation homes throughout the West, can recount his credentials and recite his appreciation for education, job creation and supporting small business like any political candidate.

But 35 years ago, before he was a law partner, he was a football-playing, disco-dancing kid growing up in blue-collar Mormon Las Vegas.

“I’m very much the product of a blue-collar environment and very hardworking parents,” he said. “I grew up in a very traditional LDS home and lifestyle. Church was very important to us and a very big part of our life, and continues to be now.”

His dad, Garry, would tell his son to keep his head down, work hard and get an education.

A self-described hard-charging, Type-A Bonanza High School grad, Hutchison scrapped his way through law school at Brigham Young University, started his own law firm, represented Nevada in a multistate lawsuit to overturn "Obamacare," got elected to the state Senate and, in July, announced to voters that he’s ready to lead the state.

This month, Hutchison sat in his Summerlin office overlooking a golf course with an American flag pinned on the lapel of his navy suit, his brown hair cropped short in a military crew cut. His blue eyes gleamed as he returned again and again to mentioning the U.S. and Nevada constitutions.

“Gov. Sandoval and I have a history of teaming up together and supporting and defending Nevada’s constitutional rights and legal rights,” he said.

After 2014, Hutchison said, they would continue to be a team: Sandoval, the former federal judge at the helm, and Hutchison, the bulldog litigator on deck.

If Sandoval wins re-election, there’s a chance the popular Hispanic governor might again ascend to the national stage. Sandoval might even challenge Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., when Reid is up for re-election in 2016.

That makes Hutchison a plausible Nevada governor should Sandoval vacate the office.

Hutchison says he wants to carry the banner for Nevada out of his “profound respect” for the rule of law and America’s balanced system of government.

“The same thing that motivated me as state senator motivates me now as I run for lieutenant governor — a profound respect for the U.S. Constitution, the Nevada Constitution and the systems of government that are created under those seminal documents,” he said.

When he was a kid, Hutchison’s dad took evening courses in American history and the United States Constitution. His mom, Betty Jane, walked the streets of Las Vegas canvassing for conservative candidates.

She affixed American flag stamps to every letter she sent.

Mark acted in plays that Betty Jane wrote for their Mormon church theater group.

He loved to compete.

“Every day we had to run a mile, first thing we did,” said Tom Burns, owner and managing partner of Cragin & Pike Insurance in Las Vegas and Hutchison’s former middle school classmate. “He (Mark) came up to me and said, ‘Come run with me, and if you run with me you’ll finish in first place.’”

Hutchison competed in sports at school, attended discos at church, joined the Boy Scouts and graduated from Bonanza in '81. In his early adult years, he took his Mormon mission trip to the exotic locale of Columbus, Ohio.

He didn’t travel much.

He told a group of Republican women this month that he once went to Mexico on a trip as a Boy Scout but otherwise didn’t leave the country again until he traveled to Israel this year with other elected Nevada Republicans.

He’s had other things occupying his time.

Hutchison met his wife, Cary, at the Red Rock Young Single Adult Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Las Vegas shortly after graduating high school in 1981. Since then, they’ve had six children.

“Mark always says he has three passions in his life: his family, his work and his church,” said John Steffen, his legal partner and co-founder of Hutchison & Steffen. “You can’t overflow his plate. However much you give him, he can still get it done, and he gets it done really well.”

Steffen said Hutchison has a rare ability to doggedly pursue a case, hound his opponents and still pal around on good terms with everybody after a lawsuit ends.

Lawyers who have argued against him in court also say Hutchison always puts in the hours and does his homework.

“He’s as tough as they get, but he’s always fair and honest, so I’ve always had a great deal of respect for him based on that,” said Terry Coffing, a partner at Marquis Aurbach Coffing who has sued Hutchison’s business clients many times over the past 20 years.

At Hutchison & Steffen, Hutchison expects hard work out of his homegrown team of lawyers. But he also pays to take the whole staff and their families to Disneyland every year, Coffing said.

The firm has won awards from the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada for the free representation the firm’s lawyers have provided to victims of domestic violence.

“Their firm has done just an incredible amount of pro bono work,” said Lynn Etkins, development director at Legal Aid.

At the Legislature this year, Hutchison parsed testimony and interrogated lobbyists speaking before committees.

A state agency representative didn’t give him a straight answer one afternoon. So Hutchison held aloft a piece of paper like evidence in court and said “have you seen this document?”

The direct question prompted a direct answer: yes.

Hutchison also made unlikely allies at the Legislature. A conservative Republican, he worked with Sen. Tick Segerblom, a liberal Democrat, to push through a bill that will allow for medical marijuana dispensaries to be established in Nevada.

“I got involved in that legislation because I have great respect for the Nevada constitution, and the Nevada constitution says that Nevadans are to be given access to medical marijuana,” Hutchison said, calling the bill one of his primary legislative achievements.

But although Hutchison is affable and hardworking, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll escape the political mudslinging.

Segerblom is quick to praise Hutchison for his hard work, but he also says that Hutchison is “just way too conservative” and “out of the mainstream.”

Here’s a look at the highlights of his record from his first session:

Amending the constitution to approve same-sex marriages? Oppose. Mandating background checks for private-party gun purchases? Oppose. Amend the constitution to remove the mining industry’s constitutional tax rate? Support. Authorize Clark County to raise the gas tax? Support. Authorize people in Nevada without legal documentation to drive vehicles in Nevada? Support.

Hutchison’s legislative record and high-profile litigation attracts criticism from both the right and left.

Democrats, who do not yet have their own candidate for lieutenant governor, criticize Hutchison for suing to overturn Obamacare.

“It says something about his values that he led the charge to take us back to a time when insurance companies could deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions,” said Zach Hudson, spokesman for the Nevada State Democratic Party.

He referred to Hutchison as a “partisan legal attack dog” for the GOP.

Republicans who view Sandoval as too moderate also aren’t happy with Hutchison, whom they view as too malleable and too willing to compromise conservative ideals.

None of this really seems to concern Hutchison.

In his office, he counted the reasons he’s ready for the job: his respect for the constitution and his philosophy of limited government, his experience running a small business, his community life as a father and a public school graduate.

The lawyer is looking for his next job as advocate.

His client? The governor.

“Being a team member with the governor in this position, I think, affords a great opportunity,” he said. “It’s the right job at the right time.”

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