Frank Fahrenkopf is a former Reno attorney who served as chair of the Nevada Republican Party and the Republican National chair during the Reagan years. He is now a gambling industry lobbyist in Washington, D.C. He cochairs the Commission on Presidential Debates, a private organization that gave the two parties bipartisan control of the debate process.
You’ve become a much more bipartisan figure than you once were.
Well, since I’ve taken on the debate commission, and I left my job as chairman of the party, the debate commission has to be bipartisan in order to have credibility. So Paul Kirk, who was the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and I formed it. We agreed that we would not get involved in partisan races for the presidency. Some of our board members can—Caroline Kennedy, who’s been on the board from the beginning, has taken a very active role [in Barack Obama’s campaign] this time. But as chairmen, we thought that we shouldn’t. And then when I took the job with the AGA [American Gaming Association], I mean, representing the industry—those people who oppose gaming are in both political parties, and those who favor it. So you have to pull in your partisanship to be an effective lobbyist and represent the industry. So, yes, I am a little less partisan than I was.
On your other hat, as a gambling lobbyist, what is on your front burner?
Fortunately, the only real issue that we have in Congress and that will probably be around for the remainder of this year is this whole question of internet gambling and what’s going to happen with internet gambling. There are three or four pieces of legislation, one that would legalize internet gambling on a federal level with federal regulation and federal taxation [Fahrenkopf emphasized the word federal each time he spoke it, as though he were saying satanic], which we of course oppose, and I don’t think that’s going anywhere. I think there’s only one piece of legislation with internet that has a chance of passing, and it’s a bill that was introduced by [Nevada representatives] Shelley Berkley and Jon Porter that calls for a federal study by the National Research Council, the National Academy of Sciences to determine whether or not the technology, the software, really exists that regulators like the Nevada Gaming Control Board and Commission, and the New Jersey Bureau of Enforcement—whether that technology’s there so that they really could enforce it, regulate it, with appropriate law enforcement oversight, protection of people who have gambling problems and so forth. And I think that’s got a good chance of passing.
When you were GOP chair, did you ever dream that Las Vegas would become the money mecca for candidates it has become?
Never. Never would have believed it.
Do you miss being in the middle of politics?
No. I was there a long time. I did two presidentials. I did two national conventions. I don’t know how many times I chaired the Nevada Republican [convention]. So, you know, been there, done that. The debate commission for me is my across the board contribution to the American political system. I’m very proud of what we’ve done over the years. Good enough for me.
Are you ever coming back to God’s country?
I don’t know. I don’t know. I’ve been back there [D.C.] 25 years now, Dennis—25 years! And it’s really, really hard to believe. The difficulty, of course, is the kids get settled down. My grandkids are living there. I’ve got one daughter still working in the White House. She’s one of the president’s lawyers. She’s been there for four years.
So you’re rooted.
You get kind of rooted. But every time I come back, when I flew in here today and I looked at the clear blue sky and the mountains, it brings back these little pangs.