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December 18, 2014

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Agassi: Everyone wants him in politics, and no one would want to run against him

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Mona Shield Payne

With the FIBO Innovation Award and trophy on display in the background, tennis champion Andre Agassi laughs with colleagues as they discuss the success of BILT equipment on Friday, April 26, 2013.

The text is from Andre Agassi, and it’s one of those messages that prompts the now-familiar “LOL” response:

“I’m way too sensitive and fragile ;-),” he writes, using a winking emoticon.

LOL, for sure.

Sensitivity and fragility are not the most prominent of Agassi’s characteristics. Check out any highlights of his playing career and observe his “sensitivity” while he’s flaying an opponent for one of his eight Grand Slam tennis titles.

But Agassi’s acute sense of humor is always at the fore, as is his capacity to evoke self-effacing humility in the face of grand praise.

The question posed to Agassi was hardly new and has been a topic for column fodder for a few years. Nonetheless, the idea is intriguing during any campaign season: Would Agassi ever consider running for public office?

As Agassi noted in November 2012, “I have been sought by both sides my whole adult life.”

Pertinently, Agassi has one quality valuable to any candidate for political office: The ability to raise money. His annual Grand Slam for Children charity galas have pulled in nearly $118 million over 16 years, including a whopping $26.1 million at the 2011 event at Lafite Ballroom at Wynn Las Vegas, when casino mogul and longtime Agassi family friend Kirk Kerkorian donated $18 million from his Dream Fund.

The donation was an inherently personal gesture, as Agassi’s middle name — Kirk — is a living tribute to Kerkorian. That event served as the last Grand Slam charity gala, as the money raised ensured the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy would be funded, as he said, “in perpetuity.”

Politically, Agassi describes himself as nonpartisan. But if he ever were to decide to throw his, um, Nike headband into the ring, he would be a formidable candidate.

The current governor of Nevada says as much.

“I was just with Andre at the opening of (Agassi’s) Doral Academy West charter school, and what he is doing with charter schools and education is so impressive,” Gov. Brian Sandoval said last month when I asked about Agassi during the dedication ceremony of the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame at Findlay Toyota in Henderson.

“Everybody knows about the school he has started (Agassi Prep), and now he has expanded on that. He is changing thousands of kids’ lives, thousands of families’ lives, changing the very trajectory of their lives. He is probably one of the best-known athletes on the planet, and now he’s changing the lives of kids.”

As for the prospects of parlaying that education platform into a political campaign, Sandoval said, “He would be effective, of course, in any seat. I really, really have a lot of respect for him and what he has done, his philanthropy and the way he gets out in the community the way he does. Absolutely, he’d be a great public servant.”

One of the state’s leading political operatives, Sig Rogich, agrees. Rogich says he understands the potential of Agassi in public office. An expert in the field of campaign organization and execution, Rogich was a media consultant during the presidential campaigns of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and he served under Nevada Govs. Mike O’Callaghan, Kenny Guinn and Jim Gibbons.

“I’ve known Andre since he was a little kid, and it’s tough not to like him,” Rogich says. “He’s smart, he’s a very good speaker, his presentation is good — he’s had a lot of practice around the world, and has always handled himself as a true professional.”

More important, Agassi has something to say.

“If you look back at those who have celebrity status who have done well politically, they have a message,” Rogich says. “Reagan, (Arnold) Schwarzenegger come to mind, and Andre has a lot to say about education, about how to make education accessible. ... And, he has done more than talk. He has built schools and changed lives.”

Still, Rogich says he would not advise Agassi to run for office unless he had “the desire, the burning in his belly, to do it,” because the tennis great would have to sacrifice a large measure of his freedom.

Rogich then asks the philosophical question: What is a public servant?

“I think it’s extraordinary, what he’s done, and that qualifies as public service,” Rogich says. “He basically is a public servant now.”

And, certainly, the type who can refer to himself as “fragile” in a text, and just wink it off.

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