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9 Things You Might Not Know About Catherine Cortez Masto

When Catherine Cortez Masto was sworn in to Congress on January 3, she became the first Latina senator. A Democrat, the two-term former Nevada Attorney General assumed the seat previously held by outgoing minority leader Harry Reid. Read on for nine facts about this dedicated freshman senator.

1. SHE COMES FROM AN IMMIGRANT FAMILY WHO WORKED THEIR WAY UP.

Cortez Masto’s paternal grandfather, Edward Cortez, was born in Chihuahua, Mexico and immigrated as a young man to the United States, where he met Mary Tapia, of New Mexico. The two got married and started a bakery in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Edward built his own oven from earthen bricks. In 1939, Cortez Masto’s father, Manuel “Manny” Cortez, was born, and in 1940, Edward was naturalized as an American citizen. He served in the army during World War II, and when he returned home, the Cortez family moved to Las Vegas. Edward worked in a bakery and Mary spent her days as a sales clerk, while Manny attended the local public schools.

After graduating from Las Vegas High School in 1956, Manny spent three years in the army before returning to Las Vegas and marrying Joanna Musso in 1960. Cortez Masto’s sister, Cynthia, came along two years later, and Catherine herself was born two years after that. Meanwhile, Manny was attending Nevada Southern University as a pre-law student and working nights parking cars on the Strip. He eventually left college and continued working on the Strip, but in 1969, wanting to move up in the world, he got a job working as an investigator at the District Attorney’s office. In a few years, he moved on to the Public Defender’s office, where he was trained to administer polygraph tests.

A 1972 bid for local assemblyman was unsuccessful, but caught the eye of Nevada Governor Mike O’Callaghan, who appointed Manny administrator of the Nevada Taxicab Authority the next year. Then, in 1976, Manny ran for a seat on the Clark County Commission and won, eventually serving four terms. As part of his duties as commissioner, he served on a number of boards, and became chairman of the board of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) [PDF]. In 1991, he became LVCVA president, a role he held for 13 years. Manny had a very successful career in the Vegas tourism industry—in fact, he was responsible for greenlighting the city’s most famous slogan, “What happens here, stays here.” Upon his death in 2006, he was honored in both houses of Congress.

Reflecting on her family’s journey from an immigrant grandfather with a grade-school education to a father who became an important figure in Nevada’s political and business community, Cortez Masto told Mother Jones, “That, to me, is the American Dream.” She and her sister became the first in their family to graduate from college. In an interview with Fusion, Cortez Masto said, “Can you imagine my grandfather if he were alive today and saw his granddaughter who was the attorney general for eight years in the state now running to be the first Latina ever elected to the United States Senate? That’s incredible.”

2. SHE'S HAD MANY ROLE MODELS.

Cortez Masto grew up in Las Vegas, watching her parents and grandparents work hard. “Wow, my grandmother was tough,” she told Latina Magazine of her father’s mother, Mary. “You couldn’t put anything past her. She was a sales clerk and went home to work just as hard. I realized the work ethic, and I knew I had to work hard because of her.” Cortez Masto’s own mother was a bookkeeper, while her father, as previously noted, worked his way up from parking attendant to county commissioner. Cortez Masto told the Reno Gazette-Journal in 2005, “Obviously, he's always been a role model.”

Cortez Masto attended the University of Nevada, Reno, graduating with a bachelor’s in science in 1986, then went on to law school at Gonzaga University in Washington state. She moved back to Nevada, passing the bar exam in 1990 and spending a year clerking for Judge Michael J. Wendell. The judge, who had been on the bench for two decades, also served as a role model for Cortez Masto: “He had great judicial temperament,” she told the Gazette-Journal. “I just learned from him how to be an attorney … how to deal with people.”

She took her first step into politics in 1995, joining the staff of Nevada’s then-governor, Democrat Bob Miller. She was familiar with Democratic politicians: Her father had been a Democrat during his time as county commissioner and he brought prominent Democrats into his family’s life. “Gov. [Mike] O'Callaghan was larger than life and had a big impact on my family,” she told the Gazette-Journal. “My father went to school, and went into the Army with Congressman [Jim] Bilbray. Sen. [Richard] Bryan went to school with my parents.” Cortez Masto found herself thriving in the political environment, and became Miller’s chief of staff in 1998.

3. SHE MARRIED A SECRET SERVICE AGENT.

While serving as chief of staff for Miller in the late 1990s, Cortez Masto was given the assignment of coordinating the logistics of President Bill Clinton’s visit to Las Vegas. The point person on the president’s side was Paul Masto, a Secret Service agent. She later recalled, “He asked me out on a date and he said, ‘Like a good attorney, I asked you out for dinner and you negotiated for lunch.’”

4. SHE RAN FOR ATTORNEY GENERAL BECAUSE “IT WAS TIME TO STEP UP."

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Cortez Masto spent 1999 to 2001 living in Washington, D.C. and working as an assistant U.S. attorney, focusing on drug and victims’ rights cases. In 2002, she moved back to Nevada, becoming assistant county manager of Clark County (where Las Vegas is located), while her husband Paul joined the Secret Service’s Las Vegas office. In 2005 Nevada’s Republican Attorney General Brian Sandoval was nominated for a federal court judgeship, creating a vacancy, and Cortez Masto started to consider her future.

With the support of her parents and Nevada Democratic leaders like Harry Reid, she resigned from her job with the county and began campaigning to become the Silver State’s top prosecutor. “There was never any [political] position I was interested in other than being attorney general,” Cortez Masto told the Gazette-Journal. She had been watching Nevada deal with a methamphetamine crisis, widespread domestic violence, and prevalent elder abuse. She told Remezcla, “For me, those are areas—particularly when it comes to domestic violence prevention and sexual assault—that I had worked in before. I thought it was time to step up and take a leadership role and steer the ship to bring attention to those issues and find solutions to the problems. That’s when I decided to run for Attorney General for the first time in 2006.” She went on to serve two consecutive terms, the limit under Nevada law.

5. PERSONAL EXPERIENCE MADE HER PASSIONATE ABOUT PROTECTING SENIORS.

Cortez Masto had watched her own grandparents “become targets of fraud,” an experience she told Gonzaga University’s law blog was “heartbreaking.” As a result, she said, “Elder protection became my first priority as Attorney General.” Upon taking office in early 2007, she pushed the Nevada legislature to give her office jurisdiction to investigate elder fraud and abuse cases. In May 2007, the governor signed into law Assembly Bill 226 [PDF], creating a special unit within the Nevada Attorney General’s office to prosecute crimes against seniors.

6. SHE CREATED A TASK FORCE TO STUDY DOMESTIC VIOLENCE.

From 2004 through 2012, Nevada was the state with the highest rate of women murdered by men. As attorney general, Cortez Masto created a 15-person team to review the domestic-violence fatality rate and provide recommendations to reduce deaths. On the team, she and members of her office worked alongside police officers, representatives from the Division of Child and Family Services, and a member of the UNLV School of Social Work. In 2013, they released a report recommending specific actions for law enforcement, district attorneys, and local legislators in order to combat intimate partner violence. Since 2013, the domestic homicide rate against women has dropped in Nevada, but it remains nearly double the national average.

7. SHE WORKED TO COMBAT SEX TRAFFICKING.

During her two terms as Attorney General, Cortez Masto introduced over 40 state bills that were voted into law and signed by the Republican governor. She told Elle that her proudest accomplishment came in 2013 with the passage of Assembly Bill 67 [PDF], which defined the specific crime of sex trafficking (replacing previous statues on pandering) and is aimed at punishing pimps. The bill lengthens prison sentences for those convicted, requires that they register as sex offenders, and allows victims of trafficking to bring civil action against the perpetrators. Governor Brian Sandoval signed it into law in June 2013. The same day, he also signed a companion bill setting up a fund for victims of human trafficking. Masto’s office also produced a series of trafficking-awareness PSAs that aired on television in Nevada.

8. SHE’S BEEN ATTACKED FOR NOT SPEAKING SPANISH …

Though Cortez Masto became the first-ever Latina elected to the Senate, during the campaign allies of her Republican opponent, Joe Heck, argued that she wasn’t Latina enough. A former political director for Heck’s campaign quipped on Twitter that Cortez Masto’s ethnicity was only relevant to her when applying for scholarships or running for Senate, and questioned whether she speaks Spanish. Another former Heck aide criticized Cortez Masto’s campaign, calling it “Hispandering at its finest.”

Cortez Masto responded to the attacks, telling Politico: “It's a criticism for me and other Mexican-Americans. It is an attack on all of us who come here and have worked hard in Nevada to make it home.” Cortez Masto does not speak Spanish fluently, though she can often understand it. Her mother’s family is Italian by heritage, while her father was a second-generation Mexican immigrant who only occasionally spoke to her in Spanish. Cortez Masto noted to Latina Magazine that when her father and his parents moved to Las Vegas in the 1940s, there were very few Hispanic families in the area. “[I]t was about being more American for them,” she said, “that is why my generation doesn’t speak as much Spanish. During that time, it was about assimilating.”

9. ….BUT HER MEXICAN HERITAGE IS AN IMPORTANT PART OF HER IDENTITY.

With senators Kamala Harris, Maggie Hassan, Tammy Duckworth, Dick Durbin, and Chris Van Hollen. Image via Facebook.

Cortez Masto identifies significantly with her Mexican heritage, and she argues that it makes her better able to represent a state whose population is 28% Hispanic. She told Remezcla, “I’ve always felt, particularly as the Attorney General of the state, that the people that served in my office should be just as diverse as the community we are representing. I think that should be true of Congress.” She also argues that, as someone with a different background than most people in Congress, she brings “a different perspective” and promises to focus, in particular, on passing comprehensive immigration reform and advocating for Dreamers (undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children). “We’re working on a future for everyone,” she told Remezcla, “and we’re bringing families out of the shadows.”

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Grave Sightings: Hubert Humphrey
Stacy Conradt
Stacy Conradt

With the state of politics lately, it’s hard to imagine a generous act of kindness from one political rival to another. But if Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon were capable of burying the hatchet, there’s hope for anyone.

Humphrey, a senator from Minnesota, ran for president several times. In 1952, he lost the Democratic nomination to Adlai Stevenson. In 1960, of course, he faced a charismatic young senator from Massachusetts named Jack Kennedy. In 1968, Humphrey, who was vice president at the time, came closest to the presidency—but Nixon triumphed by a little more than 500,000 popular votes.


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Though he graciously admitted defeat and pledged to help the new president-elect, Humphrey wasn’t shy about criticizing Nixon. Just 10 months after Nixon took office, Humphrey stated that the administration had done “poorly—very poorly” overall, citing the increase in interest rates and the cost of living. Nixon and his team, Humphrey said, had “forgotten the people it said it would remember.” He was still making his opinions known four years after the election, turning his eye to Vietnam. “Had I been elected, we would now be out of that war,” he told the press on January 10, 1972.


Stacy Conradt

The Watergate scandal broke later that year, and Humphrey no doubt felt validated. He mounted another unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 1972, but lost the nomination to George McGovern. Humphrey briefly considered trying one more time in 1976, but ultimately nixed the idea. "It's ridiculous — and the one thing I don't need at this stage in my life is to be ridiculous," he said. The public didn’t know it at the time but the politician had been battling bladder cancer for several years. By August 1977, the situation had become terminal, and Humphrey was aware that his days were numbered.

When he knew he had just a few weeks left to live, Humphrey did something that would stun both Republicans and Democrats: He called former rival Richard Nixon and invited him to his upcoming funeral. He knew that Nixon had been depressed and isolated in his political exile, and despite the Watergate scandal and the historical bad blood, he wanted Nixon to have a place of honor at the ceremony. Humphrey knew his death would give the former president a plausible reason to return to Washington, and told Nixon to say he was there at the personal request of Hubert Humphrey if anyone questioned his motives.

Humphrey died on January 13, 1978—and when the funeral was held a few days later, Nixon did, indeed, attend. He stayed out of the Washington limelight, emerging right before the ceremony—to audible gasps. Humphrey’s gracious act must have been on Nixon’s mind when he listened to Vice President Walter Mondale sing the fallen senator’s praises: “He taught us all how to hope, and how to love, how to win and how to lose. He taught us how to live, and finally he taught us how to die.”

Nixon wasn’t the only former foe whom Humphrey had mended fences with. Barry Goldwater, who ran against Humphrey in 1964, had this to say:

“I served with him in the Senate, I ran against him in campaigns, I debated with him, I argued with him. But I don’t think I have ever enjoyed a friendship as much as the one that existed between the two of us. I know it may sound strange to people who see in Hubert a liberal and who see in me a conservative, that the two of us could ever get together; but I enjoyed more good laughs, more good advice, more sound counsel from him that I have from most anyone I have been associated with in this business of trying to be a senator.”

After the ceremony in D.C., Humphrey was buried at Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis. His wife, Muriel, joined him there when she died 20 years later.

Peruse all the entries in our Grave Sightings series here.

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10 Surprising Facts About Alexander Hamilton
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Getty Images // Chloe Effron

The Broadway musical Hamilton, like Alexander Hamilton himself, is an improbable success story. The critically-acclaimed show has renewed America’s interest in the country's most enigmatic founding father, who rose from obscurity to help build a new nation—one where he earned friends and enemies at just about every turn. To celebrate Hamilton's birthday, here are 10 things you might not know about him.

1. HE PROBABLY LIED ABOUT HIS AGE

We know that Hamilton was born on January 11; what’s in doubt is the year in question. A native of Nevis (a small island in the Caribbean), Hamilton repeatedly said that he was born in 1757. But official Nevisian records cite 1755 as his birth year. Why the discrepancy? Perhaps his college search had something to do with it. According to Ron Chernow, whose biography of Hamilton inspired the Broadway show, “While applying to Princeton, Hamilton may have decided to ‘correct’ his real age and shed a couple of years. Prodigies aren’t supposed to be overaged freshman.” 

2. HAMILTON DABBLED IN POETRY.

For a self-educated orphan (his father had abandoned his family when Hamilton was just a boy, and his mother died not long after), the future founding father wrote with unbelievable polish. On August 31, 1772, a hurricane ravaged St. Croix. Teenage Hamilton—who’d been working on the island as a clerk—described the disaster in a letter that was eventually published in The Royal Danish American Gazette, writing, “It seemed as if a total dissolution of nature was taking place.” Little did Hamilton realize that these words were about to change his life forever. Blown away by the letter, readers quickly organized a scholarship fund for this talented young scribe. Before long, Alexander Hamilton found himself en route to King’s College (now Columbia University) in New York City.

Essay writing wasn’t his only literary passion. A number of poems have also been attributed to Hamilton. When a dear friend’s 2-year-old daughter passed away in 1774, he eulogized her in a touching tribute called “Poem on the Death of Elias Boudinot’s Child.” Another piece helped Hamilton win over his bride-to-be, Eliza Schuyler. As they courted, he sent a tender sonnet to the object of his affection. Eliza liked it so much that she placed the poem in a little bag and hung it around her neck.

3. THE OLDEST UNIT IN THE UNITED STATES ARMY IS HAMILTON’S.

According to the Army Historical Foundation, “Battery D, 1st Battalion, 5th Field Artillery, 1st Infantry Division (Mechanized), traces its lineage to Hamilton’s Revolutionary War artillery company and is the oldest serving unit in the regular army.” On March 17, 1776, Hamilton was made captain of the group, and under his leadership, it saw action in several key moments—including the Battles of White Plains and Princeton. Impressed by the young man’s valor, George Washington made him an aide-de-camp (with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel) in 1777.

The father of our country couldn’t have picked a better man. In Hamilton, Washington found an energetic writer who was fluent in French and just so happened to share most of the General’s political views. Over the next few years, these assets made Hamilton an indispensable employee. Still, as time went by, he grew tired of essentially serving as a high-status clerk. In 1781, the aide-de-camp resigned from Washington’s inner circle. Afterward, Hamilton was put in charge of a new battalion and would pull off an impressive night attack against British forces at the decisive Battle of Yorktown.

4. HE AND AARON BURR OCCASIONALLY COLLABORATED.


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In postwar Manhattan, the future dueling partners were two of the Big Apple’s top lawyers. With the Revolution over, Burr and Hamilton paid their bills by practicing law. Clients gravitated toward the two decorated veterans from all directions, and Hamilton and Burr faced off in a number of legal showdowns. Every so often, though, they’d work together on the same criminal or civil case—including People v. Levi Weeks (1800), which is recognized as the first U.S. murder trial for which we have a formal record. 

In December 1799, a young woman named Gulielma Sands mysteriously vanished. Eleven days later, her body was found at the bottom of a Manhattan well. Fingers were immediately pointed at Levi Weeks. Both the carpenter and Sands lived in a boarding house owned by Sands's relatives, and Weeks had been courting her.

In the court of public opinion, Weeks was guilty. Luckily for the carpenter, though, his older brother had friends in high places. Ezra Weeks was an architect who had supervised the construction of Hamilton’s Convent Avenue estate. He’d also done business with the Burr-founded Manhattan Company—which, incidentally, owned the well where Sands’s body was found.

(Created as a means of providing “pure and wholesome” water to New Yorkers, Burr launched The Manhattan Company with some vocal support from Hamilton. The bill Burr would eventually put before the state legislature wasn't the same one that Hamilton saw, however; Burr's true intention for the company wasn't to provide water but to create a bank that would allow him to sway future elections. The bill passed and the bank was formed; in the 1950s, it merged with Chase Bank and today lives on as JPMorgan Chase & Co. The company owns the guns used in Burr and Hamilton's duel.)

Burr, Hamilton, and Brockholst Livingston (who later became a U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice) formed Levi Weeks’s defense team. In a two-day trial, they dismantled the state’s purely circumstantial case against their client, and the carpenter was found innocent. Eventually, Weeks moved to Natchez, Mississippi, where the accused murderer reinvented himself as an esteemed southern architect. 

5. VERMONT FOUND AN ALLY IN HAMILTON.

When Vermont declared its independent statehood in 1777, it upset certain New York industrialists, who considered Vermont to be a part of their state. For decades, New York and New Hampshire both tried to claim the area. So, in 1764, His Majesty decreed that everything west of the Connecticut River (Vermont and the granite state’s current border) belonged to New York. 

There was just one problem: most Vermonters were former New Hampshirites. Upon assuming control, New York refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of land grants established there by New Hampshire transplants. Vermonters responded by taking up arms against their neighbors to the west. Local militias—including one called the Green Mountain Boys—repelled New York emigrants by force. 

Then along came the American Revolution. In 1777, Vermont petitioned the Continental Congress to acknowledge its sovereignty as a state. Thanks to opposition from New York’s delegates, however, this didn’t happen. For the next 14 years, Vermont—unable to join the Union on its own terms—existed as an independent republic.

After the war, Congress refused to acknowledge the swath as anything other than a large chunk of New York. Thoroughly disgruntled, some locals lobbied to have their mini-nation absorbed by Canada.

From Hamilton’s perspective, the prospect of a British-ruled Vermont threatened America’s security. In 1787, he was working as a New York state legislator. During his tenure, Hamilton presented a bill that would instruct New York’s Congressional representatives to recognize Vermont’s independence. This measure died in the State Senate, but, in the end, Hamilton was able to spearhead a settlement between New York and Vermont. With the empire state’s approval (and payment from Vermont to New York of $30,000), Vermont finally entered the Union in 1791.

6. IT’S BELIEVED THAT HE AUTHORED MOST OF THE FEDERALIST PAPERS.

Apart from his stint as America’s first Secretary of the Treasury, this is the political achievement for which Hamilton is best known. Published between 1787 and 1788, the 85 Federalist Papers essays urged New York’s electorate to ratify the recently-proposed U.S. Constitution. The influential documents were written under the shared pseudonym Publius by Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay. Since none of them used their real names, we can’t be certain about how many papers each man wrote. Still, general consensus credits Hamilton with 51, Madison with 29, and Jay with five.

7. THE LAST LETTER THAT GEORGE WASHINGTON EVER WROTE WAS ADDRESSED TO HAMILTON.


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Two days before he died, America’s first President sent a dispatch to his former aide and cabinet member. Hamilton had recently argued that “a regular Military Academy” ought to be established, and his old mentor praised the idea. In a 1799 letter that would be Washington’s last, the elder statesman told Hamilton that such a place would be “of primary importance to this country.”

8. HE FOUNDED THE NEW YORK POST.

Established by Hamilton in November 1801, the paper was originally known as The New York Evening Post. The founding father conceived his new publication as a megaphone for the anti-Jefferson Federalist Party—which he’d also created. Hamilton himself generated many of The Post’s early editorials. “He appoints a time when I may see him,” editor William Coleman explained, “… as soon as I see him, he begins in a deliberate manner to dictate and I to note down in shorthand; when he stops, my article is completed.”

9. HIS ELDEST SON ALSO DIED IN A DUEL.

Then-Vice President Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton in Weehawken, New Jersey on July 11, 1804. It was almost a case of deja vu: Three years earlier, another Hamilton had died under eerily similar circumstances. 

Like his father, Philip Hamilton was a bit quick-tempered. In 1801, the 19-year-old had a deadly run-in with George Eacker, a prominent Democratic-Republican lawyer. On July 4, Eacker delivered an Independence Day speech in which he not only denounced Alexander Hamilton, but asserted that the former Secretary of the Treasury would be willing to plot the violent overthrow of President Jefferson.

From then on, Philip harbored a passionate grudge against Eacker. Four months after the inflammatory address, the young Hamilton went to take in a show at New York’s Park Theater with his friend, Richard Price. Inside, they caught sight of Eacker. Bursting into his theater box, Hamilton and Price savagely heckled the attorney. Eacker—not wanting to disturb his fellow patrons—told them to meet him in the lobby, grumbling “It is too abominable to be publicly insulted by a set of damned rascals.”

“Who do you call damned rascals?” the teenagers shouted. A fistfight might have broken out right then and there, but Eacker diffused the situation by suggesting they all cool off at a nearby tavern. But the change in scenery did nothing to calm anyone involved: Later that night, the lawyer received a curt letter from Price challenging him to a duel. 

The ensuing Price-Eacker standoff was an uneventful affair, with both men failing to shoot their opponent. In the bloodless duel’s wake, Philip hoped that he might persuade Eacker to take back his insulting comments if he, too, apologized. Instead, Eacker flatly refused. Feeling that his honor had been intolerably attacked, Philip felt he had no choice but to issue a dueling challenge of his own—which the angry Jeffersonian accepted. 

Both combatants arrived at Weehawken on November 23. Each came brandishing a pistol provided by Alexander’s brother-in-law, John Baker Church. After the smoke cleared, Eacker would walk away unharmed—Philip would not. A bullet entered the young Hamilton above his right hip, tearing clear through to the left arm. Mortally wounded, Philip died the next day.

By all accounts, Alexander Hamilton was never the same man after his son’s untimely demise. When Burr and Hamilton met to settle their own score, they used the pistols from Philip’s duel.  

10. THEODORE ROOSEVELT WAS A BIG FAN.

Telescope Teddy was fascinated by all things Hamilton. In TR’s mind, this founding father stood tall as “the most brilliant American statesman who ever lived, possessing the loftiest and keenest intellect of his time.” Moreover, Roosevelt saw in Hamilton “the touch of the heroic, the touch of the purple, the touch of the gallant.” Our 26th President even found time to study the man while sitting in the Oval Office. Roosevelt read 1906’s Alexander Hamilton, An Essay on The American Union by historian Fredrick Scott Oliver. Before long, he was praising the book to Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts, Secretary of State Elihu Root, and Whitelaw Reid, America’s ambassador to the U.K.

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