Nevada Tea Party groups steamed at candidate: Jon Scott Ashjian talks about his upstart candidacy
On Saturday, the dusty Nevada town of Searchlight – population: 700 – will be in the national spotlight when the Tea Party Express launches a nationwide bus tour from the pit-stop that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid calls home.
Headlining the self-proclaimed “conservative Woodstock”: former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
It’s an appropriate venue for the newly minted TV star – the run-up to the Searchlight event has fueled enough drama for a daytime soap. One of the major plotlines is the emergence of a “Tea Party” candidate who, established tea party groups now fear, could split the state's conservative vote against Reid and hand the Democrat a victory. (Check out our story in Thursday's paper.)
As a candidate, Ashjian is a mixed bag. He’s articulate and well-groomed, but is also saddled with debt – including a $200,000 IRS lien – and a lawsuit-checkered business record.
This week, the Nevada State Contractors Board revoked his license, which officials said also bars him from contracting work in California, Arizona and Utah.
If tea party drama is your thing, read on for excerpts from an interview last week with Ashjian, in which....
... he addresses Nevada's top GOP candidates, his tea party critics and, sort of, Rosa Parks. (You’ll see.) Answers were edited for length and clarity.
(Also, if anyone's curious, Reid will be spending Saturday in the company of men with guns.)
Ashjian said he was born in Fresno and moved to Las Vegas in the mid-1990s. He and his wife have three teenage children. He listed his top issues as job creation, banking reform and reining in government spending and estimated he’d need to raise $5 million for his campaign.
Both he and the Reid campaign have denied accusations that he's a Democratic plant to split the GOP votes.
Why try to oust Reid, who wields a lot of power in the Senate?
I believe Harry Reid is powerful. I don't think Harry Reid has done a lot for Nevada. I don't think he's used his power appropriately. I think what he's done is made us beholden to communist countries. He's not used his power for the people; he's used his power for political gain and self-ambition.
How do you expect to compete with Reid’s anticipated $25 million war chest?
I don't think Americans vote on money. Does that mean if you're rich that you can only run for office? I think that's the whole purpose of the tea party movement. Sarah Palin's claim to fame is that she asked normal Americans to run for office. That's why we answered the call.
What do you make of the tea party activists who’ve denounced your candidacy?
The tea party movement in general has been co-opted by the Republican Party. I think what Republican Party has done is used that energy in the tea party to give them a false sense of security that they’re going to do the right thing at the end of the day, which I don't think they are. …
We're not excluding anybody from our Tea Party. I think it's deceptive to say there's a list of tea parties. A tea party can consist of one person.
Can you respond to the numerous lawsuits regarding your business dealings in Nevada and California?
We're going to respond to each one of those allegations on our website. If there are business or tax issues, we're dealing with those issues. It will all be cleared up. …
We believe it's pressure from the other side that doesn't want us to run why all of this is an issue. I think Sarah Palin got more bad press than anybody and it turned out at the end of the day that 99% of it was BS.
How do you feel about GOP front runner Sue Lowden?
I think that she probably will get the nod. I think she's probably least conservative in the race. I think she's pandering to Tea Party activists who don't want anything to do with her, according to what they tell me. Their choice is not Sue Lowden.
How about Danny Tarkanian?
(Tarkanian, another GOP contender, recently suggested to CNN that Ashjian was a Democratic plant partly chosen because he, like Tarkanian, is Armenian.)
I think Danny Tarkanian is a crybaby who knows he can't win. I think at the end of the day Danny Tarkanian can make whatever excuses he wants to make, but Armenians don't make excuses. Armenians battle through adversity.
There are other Senate contenders unaffiliated with major parties. Are they a threat to your candidacy?
I think there's three people in this race: Sue Lowden, myself and Harry Reid.
Are you going to the Searchlight event?
We're going to show up. We are the Tea Party of Nevada. We may be the Rosa Parks that's not allowed on the bus, but we have our own bus. You can write that.
-- Ashley Powers
Photo: Associated Press (reid).