A recent obituary didn’t get quite the attention we thought it deserved, so we wanted to talk a bit about the recent death of Ed Fike. To a lot of present-day Nevadans, you might say, Who? For those who have been around here a while—and those, like me, who spent a lot of time in politics—the name mattered a lot.
Merlin “Ed” Fike was born in Missouri in 1925. After serving in the Marines during World War II, he moved to Nevada. He started Lawyers Title of Las Vegas and Nevada Escrow Service. He also went into politics.
He ran for the assembly in 1964. The assembly was set up differently then. Las Vegas legislators ran at large, meaning not in individual districts. So he was on the ballot with fourteen other candidates. Eight of them would go to Carson City. Fike got more votes than any other Republican and finished fourth overall.
That 1965 legislative session was a big one. Nevada passed a civil rights act in the wake of the national measure approved in 1964. It also was the reapportionment session. The U.S. Supreme Court had ordered legislatures to redistrict on the principle of “one man, one vote.” Nevada didn’t really want to, but the federal courts said they had to. And they did.
But Fike didn’t run for the assembly next time around. In 1966, he ran for lieutenant governor on a ticket with Laxalt. Grant Sawyer was seeking a third term as governor, and Democrats were divided. They also divided in the primary for lieutenant governor: John Foley, of the Las Vegas legal and political family, barely defeated longtime politician and businessman Harley E. Harmon, with the runner-up Mike O’Callaghan. We’ll come back to him later.
In the general election, Fike ran just 80 votes behind Laxalt and beat Foley by a larger margin than Laxalt defeated Sawyer. Fike served as a loyal number two to Laxalt for the next four years.
He also sought another high office. In 1968, he declared for U.S. Senate. So did his fellow Republican, Washoe County District Attorney Bill Raggio. Fike won a tough primary, thanks mainly to Clark County votes. In the general election, he faced three-term Democrat Alan Bible, who had been successful at delivering federal money to Nevada. But he also was close to President Lyndon Johnson and voted with him on the Vietnam War. Fike attacked Bible over how badly the war was going and his closeness to LBJ. Bible simply emphasized good old pork barrel projects and his service to Nevada. Bible won by nearly 15,000 votes.
Then Laxalt announced his retirement from politics—yes, that proved to be temporary. Fike declared for governor and easily won the primary. O’Callaghan had a tougher primary but still won handily. In the general election, the first for governor between two residents of Clark County, Fike looked likely to win. What hurt him were allegations of corruption involving land deals near the Colorado River, and that O’Callaghan was an incredible campaigner. Fike had been expected to win, but instead lost by more than 6,000 votes. Fike was done with politics.
Ed Fike had financial problems through the years and suffered for it. But he remained active in his community and was part of some exciting political fights. He died at the age of 93.
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