Augustine’s rep for political toughness extends beyond grave | NevadaAppeal.com

Augustine’s rep for political toughness extends beyond grave

by John L. Smith

Talk about a tough campaigner. Even in death, Kathy Augustine appears to be edging her opponents in the Republican primary for state treasurer.

Augustine, whose death by heart attack July 11 is being investigated, was no stranger to negative campaigning in a career that saw her win a seat in the Legislature, become state controller and survive impeachment. She surprised everyone when she announced that she was making a political comeback by running for treasurer, and the pundit consensus gave her no chance to succeed. But the crowd often has underestimated Augustine.

She not only decided to run, but she appeared to be running ahead of her primary opponents, Mark DeStefano and Joe Pitts, at the time of her death. Now she’s the answer to a current-events question.

After watching the election season become particularly nasty, one GOP insider told me, “The only candidate who isn’t going negative is Kathy Augustine.”

The unintended strategy seems to be working.

Whether it’s the result of a way of honoring Augustine’s memory or a lack of affection for her opponents, she appears to be holding her own during early voting. Republican women’s groups are pulling for her vocally in tribute, and she surely enjoys a name recognition that’s superior to that of DeStefano and Pitts.

If Augustine prevails in the primary, the Republican State Central Committee will select her stand-in in time for the general election. There are several candidates who are prepared to step in should it be necessary.

One of the more intriguing possibilities is former state Sen. Sue Lowden.

It would be difficult to find someone Augustine would have approved of more. They were close friends in politics and life.

Lowden and Augustine met while their children were attending St. Viator Catholic School. They served on committees, shared the ups and downs of raising their families and eventually gravitated toward politics. The former St. Viator moms eventually served together in the state Senate.

Unimpressed with DeStefano’s credentials and his 1989 bankruptcy, some local Republicans began drafting a plan following Augustine’s death. When Lowden agreed to stand by and then stand in her friend’s stead in the treasurer’s race, the strategy began to surface.

These days, Lowden spends most of her free time working as the treasurer of the national board of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, a charity with which she has been associated closely for a couple of decades. She also served in an executive capacity with her husband Paul Lowden’s Archon Corp., which owns the Pioneer Hotel and Gambling Hall in Laughlin.

In the Legislature, she chaired the Senate Taxation Committee and served as the party’s whip. In business, she helped to found Commercial Bank, which was bought out by Colonial Bank in the mid-1990s. She sits on Colonial’s board of directors.

Contacted Sunday night, Lowden kept her comments brief.

“I am flattered, and I’m always interested in public service,” Lowden said. “I think the position is one of the most important jobs in the state. I think the stewardship of the state’s money has been in great hands for the last 16 years, and it would be very big boots to fill.”

Of course, it all hinges on whether Augustine’s name continues to reverberate from now until Tuesday.

Republican activist Chuck Muth was the first to note the Augustine phenomenon. As president of Citizen Outreach, a public policy group that favors limited government, Muth has used a Global Automated survey to conclude that the Augustine question isn’t merely academic. The latest results show Augustine and DeStefano with 18 percent each, with 60 percent undecided.

Of course, Augustine is at a distinct disadvantage in the campaign.

Others said to be interested in the nomination include former treasurers Bob Seale and Patty Cafferata, along with Carson Treasurer Al Kramer.

Although Lowden seems like a natural stand-in for Augustine, it would be hard to argue against the experience and competence of Seale, who served as state treasurer from 1991 to 1999 and later was elected to the Assembly, or of Cafferata, who served as state treasurer from 1983 to 1987, performed as district attorney in three Nevada counties and now is a published author.

“If Kathy wins, she may have done the party a favor,” Muth says, alluding to DeStefano’s problematic bankruptcy history.

If she prevails in the Republican primary, it would be the ultimate comeback for the late Kathy Augustine.

• John L. Smith’s column, reprinted from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, appears on Thursdays on the Appeal’s Opinion page. E-mail him at smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295.