LAS VEGAS—If you like your politics just a little kinky, you’ve come to the right place.
The notion of a brothel baron seeking public office would qualify as an outrage in most places, but in Nevada Dennis Hof’s state Assembly candidacy just sort of blends right in. Best known as the proprietor of the Moonlite Bunny Ranch brothel near Reno, the leading man in HBO’s Cathouse: The Series knows plenty about the ins and outs of doing business in the only state where prostitution is legal.
Now the registered Libertarian Party member wants to take his show on the road to Carson City, the state capital where prostitution is officially illegal. It’s a fact that always seems to surprise people who have watched the Nevada Legislature in action.
Hof—who tells me that “politicians give prostitutes a bad name”—is running in Assembly District 36 in the heart of Nevada’s libertarian outback, where the only good Democrat is one generally seen accelerating at high speed out of enormous and nearly empty Nye County. It’s the third-largest county in the contiguous U.S. and has a historical romance with the legalized brothel racket that only occasionally heats into scandal.
Although he lacks a political science degree, Hof’s qualifications for the job include authoring The Art of the Pimp. If he beats Republican incumbent James Oscarson on Tuesday, Hof will become the first Libertarian to serve in the Legislature.
While he’s not the first flesh peddler to get involved in politics in the Silver State, the brothel boss and consummate self-promoter’s campaign, with its implicit “constituents come first” slogan, does seem to be concerning some of Nevada’s top business leaders. In a rural district that has rarely seen a candidate collect more than $50,000 in contributions, the mild-mannered Oscarson has suddenly become a favorite of Las Vegas casino companies, bring in more than $250,000 according to the latest reports on file with the Nevada Secretary of State’s office.
Hof, who claims his opponent has actually raked in twice that amount, has largely self-funded his campaign with $55,000 as of mid-October. Despite his business, the “in-kind services” section of his campaign filing is unremarkable. Still, he’s kicked in more than enough to litter the landscape with signs and fill mailboxes with mailers calling Oscarson “The Big Selloutski” who “broke his promise to Nevada taxpayers!”
Although in an interview he’s clearly proud of his rousing success as a procurer, at least one of his mailers has lacked the small detail of his day job. He is, however, proud to have signed a pledge offered by Americans For Tax Reform, the right-wing group founded by Grover Norquist.
Oscarson’s grave sin: voting in favor of more than $1 billion in new taxes after previously cozying up to Nevada’s anti-tax conservatives. Turns out Oscarson has a real weak spot for children. He was tired of seeing the state ranked 49th in public education funding and during the 2015 session was persuaded to join a group of RINOs led by popular Gov. Brian Sandoval.
That might mean he possessed an ounce of compassion, but among Nevada Republicans that makes him a wimp.
Hof, of course, isn’t buying any of that tug-at-the heart strings stuff. A Nevadan for 40 years, he touts his record as a small businessman with 27 active corporations, and not all of them technically dependent on the sale of sex.
“I’m well known for brothels,” he says, “but it’s just a part of my business.”
It’s also a business that draws controversy like horse flies. Former NBA star Lamar Odom’s drug-related overdose at one of Hof’s brothels is just one of many incidents that have made unflattering headlines. Still, he says, most any news is good news in his business.
Hof says he’ll bring a new level of business professionalism to the Legislature, which meets for just 120 days every other year.
Hof’s candidacy has been downright understated compared to past efforts, most famously the 1978 legislative run of Cottontail Ranch madam Beverly Harrell, who crisscrossed her rural district in an RV and grabbed national press news with such winking one-liners as, “I’ll show them how to run an orderly house.”
Shirley Colletti left the management of her husband’s Joe Conforte-linked Mustang Ranch (“the most famous brothel in the west”) to serve as a member of the Storey County Commission before eventually serving time in prison after becoming ensnared in a political corruption scandal.
But never mind the sordid details. Hof assures skeptics he’s a legitimate businessman, taxpayer, and someone who knows how to combat sex trafficking—by legalizing it.
“I run a licensed business in Nevada, but all of a sudden I’m being called a pimp. Well, who better to handle the political whores in Carson City?
“Legalized prostitution is a real clean, nice business, and politics is a dirty, disgusting business, and the people that are in it can’t be trusted. The bottom line is, it’s pay to play.”
That, need Hof remind you, is something he knows all about.