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Paul Laxalt U.S. Senatorial Papers

Identifier: 83-01
The Paul Laxalt U. S. Senatorial Papers are contained within 850 cubic feet, and are primarily from Laxalt's tenure in the U. S. Senate dating from his entrance in 1974 to his retirement in 1987. Due to the size of this congressional collection, few resources have been available to organize and prepare the materials for users. However, in 2014 Special Collections applied for and received a Library Services and Technology Act grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services, administered by the Nevada State Library and Archives to work with just the materials regarding Paul Laxalt's relationship with Ronald Reagan found within Laxalt's tenure in the U. S. Senate. Laxalt served as an advisor, campaign manager, and personal friend to President Ronald Reagan. These materials were organized and cataloged during 2015-2016.

Currently, the Paul Laxalt U. S. Senatorial Papers consist of one group: Ronald Reagan. This group covers the years 1975-1987 and are contained in 34.5 cubic feet housed within 42 boxes. None of the other materials have been reviewed for further organization. Group 1 is only a fraction of what is actually contained within the entire collection.

Group 1: Ronald Reagan, consists of papers, audio/visual resources, scrapbooks, and photographs that are associated with or related to Ronald Reagan and his three presidential campaigns in 1976, 1980, and 1984 and Laxalt's role as his national chairman. Other files include general White House correspondence and requests, constituency correspondence, and to a lesser degree materials relating to contentious policy issues of the Reagan Administration. Also represented are materials from Laxalt's roles as chairman of the Republican Party

Group 1 is divided into six individual series: Series 1) 1976 Presidential Campaign; Series 2) 1980 Presidential Campaign and Reagan Election; Series 3) Reagan Administration First Term, 1980-1984; Series 4) 1984 Reagan Reelection Campaign; Series 5) Reagan Administration Second Term, 1985-1989; and Series 6) Scrapbooks. It should be noted that Series 4 includes two subseries: Subseries 1) Republican National Committee and GOP Planning and Strategy; and Subseries 2: 1984 Campaign. Furthermore, it should be noted that any audio/visual resources have been listed at the end of their respective series with all items physically contained in Box 1008.

Laxalt maintained offices in Carson City, Reno, Las Vegas, and Washington, D.C. Materials retained from each of these offices are represented within this collection. Some of Laxalt's legislative staff included Ed Allison, Tom Loranger, Sam Bellenger, Carol Laxalt, Al Drischler, David Bethel, Bill Adams, and Eileen de Latour, among others.


  • 1974-1987



Restricted use for all materials except those dealing with Ronald Reagan. Materials must be used on-site; advance notice suggested.


850 Cubic Feet (34.5 cubic feet in 42 boxes available (850 cubic feet in 1001 boxes total))


Covers Paul Laxalt's career as a U. S. Senator from Nevada from 1974 until his resignation effective January 3, 1987. Files are comprised of materials retained from offices in Carson City, Reno, Las Vegas, and Washington, D.C. The initial group currently available consists of materials retained from Senator Laxalt's time as the chair for Ronald Reagan's presidential campaigns in 1976, 1980, and 1984. The collection includes correspondence, speeches, schedules, legislative work on bills and hearings, news clips, reports, photographs and some audio/visual records.

Biographical Note

Paul Laxalt was born on August 2, 1922 at St. Mary's Hospital in Reno, Nevada to his parents Dominique and Theresa Laxalt. Like thousands of other young men from the Pyrenees region between France and Spain, Dominque Laxalt arrived in 1906 in the American West at the age of eighteen with virtually nothing to become a sheepherder. He hoped that the high deserts of the Far West would offer greater economic opportunities than the old country. For many years, Dominque herded sheep on the isolated foothills and ranges of Northern California and Nevada.

As Dominique Laxalt earned money, he bought sheep. Before too long he accumulated many sheep, which he employed others to herd for him. By the early 1920s, Dominque had become a sizeable figure in the sheep business in the West. His business dealings regularly took him to Reno where in 1921 he met Theresa Alpetche. She was in the United States seeing to her younger brother, Michel, who had been injured in a gas attack in World War I. Theresa was also from a small Basque village located about an hour's drive from where Dominque was born. Shortly after meeting, the two were married and went to live on a spacious ranch near Yerington, Nevada.

In the late 1920s, amid economic depression in the West, revenues in the sheep industry began to fall. Dominque was unable to keep up with his bank loans and was eventually forced to return to sheepherding full-time. With nowhere else to go, Theresa found herself residing with Dominque in the primitive camps in the hills working as a cook for sheepherders, ranch hands, and cowboys. After several months of that lifestyle, Theresa had enough. She heard that a small Basque hotel was available for purchase for one hundred dollars in Carson City, Nevada. Without hesitation she bought the establishment, named it the "French Hotel," and moved the then small family to Nevada's tiny capital city.

Prior to coming to the United States, Theresa had been trained at the Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris. In addition to running a boarding house out of the hotel, she also operated a small restaurant. Dominque's job kept him away from home in the hills above Carson City for long periods of time, so Laxalt and his five younger siblings, Robert, Suzanne, John, Marie, and Peter helped their mother at the restaurant. It was there, listening to the conversations of Carson City's politicians, particularly Senator Pat McCarran, that a young Laxalt had his political awakening.

Laxalt attended Carson High School where he played on the state championship basketball team. Upon graduation from high school, Laxalt headed for college at Santa Clara University in Northern California. In the summer of 1942, after the United States entered World War II, Laxalt's education was interrupted when he joined the army. He was assigned as an army medical corpsman, and in 1944 saw combat during the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines. Following Japan's surrender in September 1945, and Laxalt's discharge, he resumed his studies at Denver University where he graduated in 1949 with a Bachelor of Arts and law degree.

Laxalt's political career began in 1950 when he took the "political plunge" by running for the position of district attorney of Ormsby County and turning out the longtime incumbent, Dick Waters. After one term, Laxalt resigned in 1954 and began practicing law, which he did for the next nine years to come. Laxalt was regarded as a capable and skilled lawyer. He took on a variety of legal cases including land and water issues disputes, and others involving some of Northern Nevada's high-profile gaming and real estate figures. Laxalt's legal career afforded him a high degree of success and publicity in Northern Nevada.

Though never overly influenced by partisan politics of either persuasion, Laxalt's first run for statewide office occurred in 1962 when he ran as a Republican for lieutenant governor against former congressman, Berkeley L. Bunker. During a campaign rally in Las Vegas, Laxalt's running partner, Republican gubernatorial candidate Rex Bell, suffered a massive heart attack and died. Republican leaders from across the state encouraged Laxalt to consider taking Bell's place, but he declined and remained in the race for lieutenant governor instead. Laxalt's family and volunteer-run grassroots, "shoe-leather" campaign in the "cow counties," coupled with an ambitious radio and television campaign aimed at Las Vegas (where he had very little name recognition) allowed him to defeat Bunker by a favorable margin. Laxalt served one term as lieutenant governor from 1963 to 1967.

Hoping for an uninterrupted term as lieutenant governor, Laxalt's wishes were disrupted halfway through his term when he entered into a tough race for a seat in the U.S. Senate against incumbent Howard Cannon. In one of the closest U.S. Senate elections ever, Cannon defeated Laxalt by just 48 votes, which immediately raised suspicion of election fraud. At the same time Laxalt was dueling with Cannon for a seat in the Senate, Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater was competing with Lyndon Johnson for the presidency. It was against this backdrop that Laxalt's unique personal and political friendship with Ronald Reagan began. The two met at a 1964 Goldwater fundraising event in California where Reagan was speaking. Two years later, both were elected as governors of their neighboring states, Nevada and California. During their governorships, the men frequently visited back and forth between Sacramento and Carson City.

Beginning in 1965, Laxalt challenged two-term Governor Grant Sawyer on a platform that promoted cooperation with the federal government on issues of investigating corruption and organized crime in Nevada's gaming industry. In the aftermath of the election, Sawyer was defeated by nearly 6,000 votes. Laxalt's tenure as governor was noted for his support of corporate ownership of gaming operations in Nevada (including Howard Hughes' purchase of multiple hotel-casinos in Las Vegas), which allowed for the establishment of Nevada's first community colleges and medical school. Laxalt, along with California Governor Ronald Reagan was integral in creating the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency to protect and conserve Lake Tahoe. His other achievements included expanding the park service, promoting prison reform in Nevada, and appointing the first African-American in Nevada's history to a cabinet-level position (Willie Wynn). Laxalt made a shocking decision when he dismissed the idea of running for reelection in 1970. He believed returning to private life would be more beneficial for himself and his relationship with his wife and kids. By that point, Laxalt admitted that he'd had a "bellyful of politics."

After leaving the governorship, Laxalt's political activity was minimal. He focused his attention instead on his family, building and opening the Ormsby House hotel-casino, and practicing law. He did remain in occasional contact with Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan, but that was the extent his of political dealings during that point in this his life. Suddenly in 1973, Senator Alan Bible announced his plans to retire. In February 1974, Laxalt announced his candidacy, and easily won the Republican primary in September of the same year to face off against Democrat Harry Reid. By late 1974, however, the Republican Party was suffering from fallout created by the Watergate scandal and President Gerald Ford's subsequent pardon of Richard Nixon. Laxalt defeated Reid by a small margin of just 624 votes. At the time, given the circumstances, and the state of the Republican Party, Laxalt's victory was considered a major triumph. Senator Bible resigned three weeks early in December 1974, and Governor Mike O'Callaghan appointed Laxalt to finish out Bible's term, giving him a slight leg-up in seniority.

Laxalt's ability to accomplish much in the United States Senate during his first four years was curtailed by the fact that Republicans were the minority in both houses of Congress. Republican senate leadership rested largely in the hands of moderates or liberals. In 1975, Laxalt found himself a minority within the minority when he made the decision to endorse his friend, and former governor of California, Ronald Reagan to unseat President Ford in the looming Republican primary (it has been noted that Laxalt's political isolation during this time was made more bearable by his marriage to Carol Wilson). Laxalt was the only U.S. senator to back Reagan, serving as the chairman of his campaign. Though this decision was largely unpopular among his colleagues, polling numbers revealed that Reagan was a credible conservative candidate free of the baggage of the Washington scene. Members of the voting public gravitated toward his genuine appeal. It was a notable distinction that would pave the way for a resurrection of the Republican Party and Reagan's election to the presidency four years later in 1980. Following Reagan's narrow loss in the 1976 primary, Laxalt went on to work for the Ford campaign in the general election. Scholars have posited that Reagan's insurgency attributed to Ford's eventual loss to Jimmy Carter in November 1976.

During the Carter Administration, Laxalt found himself as the leading conservative critic of the new administration. He was responsible for opposing transfer of the Panama Canal to the Panamanian government, he also adamantly opposed legislation that allowed for "common situs picketing." His efforts thrust him into the Senate spotlight where he became a leading conservative spokesman as the 1978 midterm congressional elections approached. His efforts did attribute to an increased number of Republicans entering the Senate in 1979, though they remained the minority in both houses. Laxalt gave up on trying to fashion policy and instead focused on issues that might be used in the 1980 presidential election including the Family Protection Act, encouragement of the Sagebrush Rebellion, and promotion of the Republican Party for the 1980 election.

1980 was a big year for Laxalt, not only was he up for reelection in the Senate, but Reagan was again seeking the presidency. He did became frustrated that he was unable to spend more time participating in Reagan's presidential campaign due to his own campaign. Laxalt had spent the prior two years amid an inner circle of advisors working on behalf of Reagan's candidacy. There was serious speculation that Laxalt might be considered for the vice president slot. However, Laxalt realized that strategically, his consideration for the position was not feasible. Although Laxalt may have been Reagan's personal choice, the more moderate George H. Bush, Reagan's strongest opponent in the primary elections, was chosen as his running mate. The events of 1980 were indeed pleasing to Laxalt, not only was he reelected to the Senate by an overwhelming margin over his liberal opponent, Mary Gojack, but the Republicans gained control over the Senate for the first time since 1954, and Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter by a landslide receiving 50% of the popular vote. After Reagan's election, the media began referring to Laxalt as "the First Friend." Republicans, Laxalt included, believed that the stage was set for a great "new beginning."

In his second term in the Senate, Laxalt became a highly visible figure due to his friendship with the president and his efforts over the Panama Canal fight. Other conservatives urged him to challenge Howard Baker for the position of majority leader. Laxalt declined and instead went on to serve as the general chairman of the Republican Party beginning in 1983. He also became chairman of the powerful Appropriations Subcommittee, which had jurisdiction over the Departments of State, Justice, and Commerce. Because of this, Laxalt was included in leadership meetings with the president.

One of Laxalt's most notable victories during his period was his resistance to, and prevention of the MX missile system being located in Nevada. Another notable instance was his 1985 trip to the Philippines at the behest President Reagan. The National Security Council indicated that the country might be on the verge of a communist takeover. Laxalt was sent as an emissary to deliver a stern message to the president of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos. It was the first time Laxalt had been in the Philippines in 41 years. He met with Marcos and expressed President Reagan's concerns about the political and economic instability of the Philippines. Laxalt's trip allowed him to build a rapport with Marcos, one that may have ultimately avoided a bloody civil war in the Philippines.

Laxalt was at the zenith of his political career as the 1984 election cycle began, he was the general chairman of the Republican Party, chairman for President Reagan's reelection effort, chairman of two legislative subcommittees, and the spokesman for Republican causes. Laxalt was the intermediary between the president and his senate colleagues of both parties. As Laxalt had done two times before in 1976 and 1980, he again nominated Reagan at the Republican National Convention in Dallas Texas. The convention was something Laxalt and his colleagues in the Republican National Committee had begun planning in 1982. There was very little doubt within the party that Reagan would seek reelection in 1984. Due to an economic boom, lower inflation, reduced tax rates, decreased unemployment, and a robust gross national product, Reagan and his supporters in Congress enjoyed a high degree of popularity. So certain were Republicans that Reagan would win reelection, the campaign committee largely ignored Democratic candidate and former vice president, Walter Mondale. Reagan was overwhelmingly reelected, winning the electoral votes in all but Walter Mondale's home state of Minnesota and the District of Columbia.

During his senatorial career Laxalt served on the Labor and Public Welfare Committee, the Appropriations Committee, the Judiciary Committee, and as national chairman for all of Reagan's presidential campaigns. Beginning in 1982, when Republicans regained the majority in the Senate he became the chairman of the Judiciary Committee's Regulatory Reform Subcommittee and the general chairman of the Republican Party. In Laxalt's two terms he participated in the first and second sessions of the 94th Congress (1975-1977), the first and second sessions of the 95th Congress (1977-1979), the first and second sessions of the 96th Congress (1979-1981), the first and second sessions of the 97th Congress (1981-1983), the first and second sessions of the 98th Congress (1983-1985), and although his political involvement began to wane in 1986, his career covered the first and second sessions of the 99th Congress (1985-1987). The papers and materials located within this collection reflect these congressional activities and the committee positions held by Laxalt. They also offer insights into the legislative, political, and democratic processes in the United States Senate.

After the successes up to and including Reagan's reelection in 1984, Laxalt again began to tire of politics. He had been in the Senate for ten years and his friend was now a lame duck president. As his second term progressed, Laxalt privately decided it was the appropriate time to make a graceful exit from the Senate. Amidst pressure from friends, colleagues, and staffers and much self-reflection, Laxalt retreated to Marlette Lake, his Sierra Nevada refuge and made his decision to retire effective in January 1987. He offered his support to Jim Santini. Santini ran a hard campaign but lost the race to then-Congressman Harry Reid. Despite Laxalt losing his seat to the Democrats, the Republicans still managed to hold a slight majority in the Senate. Although Laxalt threw around the idea of running for the presidency in 1988, and even formed an exploratory committee, he eventually ditched the effort when he failed to raise his designated campaign funding goal. He did remain politically active helping with the George Bush campaign in 1988 and acting as an advisor for Senator Bob Dole's 1996 presidential bid. Laxalt continued to work in Washington as a political consultant and lobbyist with his business, "The Paul Laxalt Group," but maintained his ties with his home state and his beloved Marlette Lake.

Laxalt's legacy is lasting, from the son of a Basque sheepherder to the best friend of one of America's most beloved and admired presidents. His independent instincts and distinctive political style allowed him to accomplish many of the goals he set for himself. One initiative that Laxalt derived great personal satisfaction from was the intern program that he established during his tenure in the Senate. College-age students were given the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. and work in Laxalt's Senate office for the equivalent of one semester. The program was responsible for turning out several individuals who went on to prominent careers in government including Nevada's current Governor, Brian Sandoval. On August 2, 2012, Governor Sandoval declared that the date should be therefore designated as "Paul Laxalt Day."

Further reading on Paul Laxalt can be found in his memoir Nevada's Paul Laxalt: A Memoir (Reno, Nevada: Jack Bacon and Company, 2000), and in Laxalt's The Nominating of a President: The Three Nominations of Ronald Reagan as Republican Candidate for the Presidency (Reno, Nevada: Native Nevadan Publications, 1985).

This project is made possible by a Library Services and Technology Act grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services, administered by the Nevada State Library and Archives. With its support, these important materials from our political past are now available.


Group 1: Ronald Reagan

Group 1, Series 1
1976 Presidential Campaign
Group 1, Series 2
1980 Presidential Campaign and Reagan Election
Group 1, Series 3
Reagan Administration First Term 1980-1984
Group 1, Series 4
1984 Reagan Reelection Campaign
Group 1, Series 4, Subseries 1
Republican National Committee and GOP Planning and Strategy
Group 1, Series 4, Subseries 2
1984 Campaign
Group 1, Series 5
Reagan Administration Second Term 1985-1989
Group 1, Series 6

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Paul Laxalt in 1983.

Separated Materials

Photographs are placed in the Special Collections Photo Archive as collection number UNRS-P2015-12.

As part of the Library Services and Technology Act grant, a small selection of documents and photographs from Group 1 that highlight aspects of the Laxalt-Reagan relationship were scanned and can be found in our Digital Collections exhibit entitled "'The First Friend' of Ronald Reagan; Senator Paul Laxalt and Presidential Politics" :


A Guide to the Paul Laxalt U.S. Senatorial Papers
Edan Strekal and Jacquelyn Sundstrand
September 2015
Description rules

Repository Details

Part of the University of Nevada, Reno. Special Collections Department Repository

Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center
1664 N. Virginia St.
Reno Nevada 89557-0322 USA
775-682-5724 (Fax)