LAS VEGAS — “Does my firearm make my tukhus look big?” Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore asks with a laugh as she removes her “very sleek Glock 43” from behind her back and puts it on her kitchen table.
Brooklyn-born Fiore grew up in a Democratic family and still identifies with some of that party’s issues, such as gay rights, even as she made a name for herself as a Republican in her adopted state of Nevada.
She’s done that with a canny cultivation of her image, particularly with her pin-up calendar, which shows off her guns and her gams in cheeky poses, like say, her in evening wear, hoisting an AR Pistol Extar EXP 556.
She’s been successful with legislation loosening gun laws, such as a bill she co-sponsored last year authorizing the storage and carrying of firearms in family foster homes.
She leans libertarian. In addition to her pro-gay and pro-gun stances, she favors liberalizing marijuana laws and overhauling the justice system.
Regarding the latter, she talks about the need to deemphasize incarceration, but she has also teamed up with a Democrat, Assemblyman Richard Segerblom, to pass legislation to get tough on sexual offenders who target children.
“I just don’t believe that every one of us is either 100 percent Democrat or 100 percent Republican,” she said.
First elected to the Assembly in 2012, she was in her second term when she decided to run for the GOP nomination in Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District race, an open seat created when Republican Rep. Joe Heck decided to run for the Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Harry Reid.
Fiore is a political pop star. She went from local curiosity to national figure with two high-caliber standoffs involving Nevada’s Bundy ranching clan.
The first one, in April 2014, was an armed confrontation between Bureau of Land Management officers and Cliven Bundy in Bunkerville, Nev., over unpaid grazing fees.
Fiore made headlines when she headed to the ranch to support the Bundys. The incident rekindled land use debates. The federal government owns 84.9 percent of the land in Nevada, an irritant to many ranchers.
At Bunkerville, the BLM stood down, but the issue didn’t go away.
“Whether people agree with me or not … you can’t govern at gunpoint and expect the American people not to point their guns back,” she said.
On Jan. 2, Bundy’s sons led an occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore., protesting the imprisonment of Oregon ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond – who were convicted of setting fires on public land.
Fiore, along with other sympathetic western lawmakers involved in the Coalition of Western States or COWS, showed support for the Bundys and their supporters. The standoff dragged into February, resulting in multiple arrests and one death. Fiore helped negotiate the surrender of the last holdouts.
Although she wasn’t the only emissary for the COWS cause, Fiore stood out from her compatriots. It can be hard to compete with a calendar girl who mixes New York sass and Nevada rough-hewn with blonde ambition and charm.
It’s the kind of profile that could come in handy in a Republican primary for Congress.
The primary for Heck’s seat is a crowded one on the GOP side and includes the state Senate Majority Leader, Michael Roberson, as well as Danny Tarkanian, a candidate with high name identification because of his frequent runs for office and his famous father, the late University of Nevada Las Vegas basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian.
She’s also counting on an outsider approach she hopes might help her break through the pack.
“I have to tell you I’m not happy with either party, the Democrat Party or the Republican Party. I just want to smack them in the back of the head and say, ‘You know, what the hell are you two doing?’” she said.
Or she could just come to the negotiating table with a laugh and her Glock 43.
Jason Dick is a senior writer for Roll Call. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @jasonjdick.