Former U.S. Sen. Paul Laxalt says his autobiography, “Nevada’s Paul Laxalt – A Memoir,” isn’t an effort to challenge his brother, well-known Nevada author Robert Laxalt.
“That’s one Basco I don’t want to get into competition with,” Laxalt said.
Laxalt’s collection of memories, published this month, is the result of a three-year effort.
“I have a new appreciation for those who write for a living,” he said. “My biggest concern was that since this was going to be all about Nevada, and I was going to be talking about friends and family, I wanted to make sure I didn’t hurt somebody, forget somebody.”
The son of a Basque sheepherder whose father detested politicians and lawyers, this lawyer from Nevada went from waiting on Sen. Pat McCarran at his family’s French Hotel in downtown Carson to opening the Ormsby House, a successful political career and a bid for president.
The book became available in several bookstores last week and it may be ordered through publisher Jack Bacon’s website at http://www.jackbacon.com.
The book includes many tales of growing up in Nevada, times with his family and details of his early political career. It is filled with the names and often the faces of those who along with Laxalt have made their own places in history.
In the first part of the book Laxalt talks about McCarran and the senator’s influence on his political career.
“Senator McCarran was like a deity in our household. The fact that he was a man of international renown and highly controversial in some circles was of no moment compared to his real achievement: He was the champion of young Basque sheepherders immigrating to the U.S. At the time when his powerful voice was closing the door to many newcomers, he kept the ‘Basque door’ wide open.
“This led later to an ironic political development for me. When I became interested in politics, I found that most every Basque in the West was a registered Democrat. Some cynics suggested that a McCarran condition for entry to the U.S. by a Basque was that he become a Democrat. So now what about Pop, a staunch Republican? He was ‘pre-McCarran.’
“On those rare days when the senator would grace our table, he would hold court while he spoke at length (helped a bit by our good bourbon) on subjects hardly anyone in Carson City knew or cared about. Yet, he always sounded so good, and he was so well-informed that his audience listened raptly to everything he said.
“We had other political figures in from time to time, and whenever ‘brandy time’ came, the political discussions started.
“Those occasions may have been the awakening of my political interest … sort of a process of ‘osmosis.'”
The book is laced with humor, anecdotes and family photos.
Laxalt said his favorite parts of the book are the times he was talking about his mother and father and his days in Carson City.
The book is introduced by Gov. Kenny Guinn and Laxalt. Laxalt said the book wasn’t written to “fill someone’s prescription for gossip, sex or scandal, but to tell the story of a first-generation Basque kid from a small town.
“If this book inspires just one person, however modest in circumstance, to arrive at the conclusion that public office is indeed a high calling and a noble profession and then decides, as I did, to run for office, the effort will have been worth it.”
Laxalt said he wrote the book in part to preserve an important time in Nevada’s political history.
“It’s one of the reasons I wrote the book,” he said. “Those were important years for Nevada – ones nobody really remembers. They haven’t been reported on very well.”
The book tells of how, from “Momma Laxalt’s” front room at 402 N. Minnesota St. the family, usually without Poppa, watched as the votes came in: the first when he succeeded in being elected Ormsby County district attorney and his last successful race for U.S. Senate.
The decision to scrap the bid for president, however, was made at the family’s property at Marlette Lake.
Laxalt, now a political consultant in Washington, D.C., talks about bike races down Carson Street, Carson High School days, a last-second appeal to his father that kept him out of the seminary and his arrival at Santa Clara University with his mother and his five siblings in tow.
He describes his first moments at Santa Clara: “And so it was on a September day in 1940 that Theresa Laxalt entrusted me to the safekeeping of the Jesuits of Santa Clara. Although Mom’s entourage seemed perfectly natural at the time, I suspect that Father President thought that he had just been visited by the Beverly Hillbillies.”
Laxalt’s Nevada political career survived the paving of Carson’s streets, the rubber war, the golden rooster, the FBI’s dissatisfaction with Nevada and prison reform.
He himself survived World War II, where he served as a medic despite the fact that he fainted at the sight of blood, and a plane crash into San Francisco Bay.
Laxalt’s national career withstood the Panama Canal treaties; an attempt to locate the MX missiles in Nevada; an attempted communist takeover of the Philippines; Watergate; a brief respite into private life to see his mother’s dream realized with the opening of the Ormsby House; and a libel lawsuit with the Sacramento Bee.
As the story unfolds, it is easy to imagine Laxalt quietly smiling as he remembers a long forgotten event or friend.
“I renewed a lot of old memories and replowed a lot of old Nevada ground and even the Reagan years. There was a lot I had forgotten,” he said.
The book, he hopes, will keep the memories alive for all time.
“Nevada’s Paul Laxalt – A Memoir”
By phone: 775-852-2215
By fax: 775-852-2217
Kennedy’s Books, 1221 S. Carson St., Carson City
Sundance Bookstore, 1155 W. Fourth St., Reno
Borders Books, 4995 S. Virginia St., Reno
Editor’s note: The Nevada Appeal is privileged to publish excerpts from Paul Laxalt’s autobiography. The first appears on Page C1 of today’s edition and more will follow on subsequent Sundays.