John Ensign U.S. Senatorial Papers

Identifier: 2013-11
Materials cover John Ensign's career as a U.S. Senator from Nevada from 2001 until his resignation on May 3, 2011. Files are only from his Washington D.C. office, with the bulk coming from Ensign's first term during the 107th to 109th congresses (2001-2006). The collection include correspondence, speeches, schedules, legislative work on bills and hearings, news clips, reports, and some audio/visual records. A few photographs and memorabilia are also included.


  • 1987-2011



Collection is closed for research until May 2021.


73 Cubic Feet (75 boxes)

Biographical Note

John Eric Ensign was born in Roseville, California on March 25, 1958 to Sharon Lee Cipriani. When Ensign was a child his family moved to Nevada, where his mother married Michael S. Ensign, a gaming industry executive and subsequent chairman of the board of directors of the Mandalay Resort Group. At the age of 15, Ensign’s stepfather adopted him and his two siblings.

Ensign was raised in northern Nevada before his family relocated to Las Vegas where he attended high school. He graduated from E. W. Clark High School in Las Vegas in 1976, after which he attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas for several years and became a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity. He later graduated with a B.S. from the University of Oregon in 1981. In 1985 Ensign went on to receive his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from Colorado State University and began his veterinary practice soon after when he opened the first 24-hour animal hospital in Las Vegas. Before entering politics in 1994, Ensign worked as the general manager for two separate Las Vegas casinos.

Ensign’s avenue into politics began in 1994 when he won the Republican nomination for Nevada’s 1st Congressional District in Las Vegas. Ensign beat the incumbent Representative, Democrat James Bilbray, by 1400 votes. He was re-elected in 1996 and in 1998 ran against Harry Reid (D-NV) for a seat in the U.S. Senate. Reid defeated Ensign by only 428 votes, which earned Reid re-election to a third term. Ensign’s loss to Reid did not deter him however, and in 2000 he ran for U.S. Senate again against Democrat Ed Bernstein. Ensign defeated Bernstein by a 55% to 40% margin, succeeding retiring Senator Richard H. Bryan (D-NV), and becoming Nevada’s 24th U.S. Senator and the first Republican to win a Senate race in Nevada in 12 years. In his 2006 re-election campaign Ensign faced Democrat Jack Carter, son of former President Jimmy Carter, defeating him with a 55% to 40% margin in the general election. A scheduled trip to Iowa in June 2009 generated speculation that Ensign might have been considering a presidential bid in 2012, though any possible White House ambitions were dashed with the disclosure of his extramarital affair.

Despite their close competition in the 1998 election, Senators Reid and Ensign would go on to form a valuable working relationship. They often worked together on Nevada-specific issues, including their joint opposition to the proposed nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain, efforts to stymie restrictive gaming legislation that would negatively affect Nevada’s casino industry, and the promotion of bipartisan public lands legislation in southern Nevada.

During his nearly two terms as a Senator for Nevada, Ensign served on the following committees: Budget; Finance; Armed Services; Commerce, Science, and Transportation; Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP); Veterans Affairs; Homeland Security and Government Affairs; Small Business and Entrepreneurship; Rules and Administration; and Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. He also served in a variety of subcommittees within those committees. Most notably, the chairman of the Republican High Tech Task Force (HTTF), vice chairman of the Republican Steering Committee, and chairman of the Republican Policy Committee.

Senator Ensign once described himself as an independent voice for Nevada, doing only what was best for Nevada and best for the nation. Serving nearly two terms in the United States Senate, Ensign did stand up for Nevada on a variety of issues, including his aforementioned opposition of the proposed nuclear waste dump site at Yucca Mountain, his efforts to secure much-needed funding for education in Nevada, and ensuring Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act (SNPLMA) funds stayed in the state. In national and global affairs, he claimed that he supported the president’s policies when necessary, but would oppose him if and when he knew the president’s priorities were wrong.

Some of the key features of Senator Ensign’s platform, following many Republican ideals, were smaller and more effective government, lower taxes, strong national defense and an aggressive approach to combating terrorists, increased parental control in educational choices, and quality health care for Nevadans and veterans. In addition, Ensign, perhaps influenced by his history as a small-business owner before his political career, was pro-business. He often espoused sentiments which exhibited his devotion to traditional principles of family, the sanctity of marriage, and his stance as a staunch anti-abortionist. Senator Ensign’s Education High Growth Grant amendment included with the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation, signed by President Bush, provided tens of millions of extra dollars to Nevada schools. The Prescription Discount Card for seniors, an integral part of Senator Ensign’s prescription drug plan, allowed senior citizens substantial savings on prescription drugs. All of these issues are evident in legislation authored, introduced, and supported by Ensign.

During his Senate service Senator Ensign was praised by many groups for his fiscal conservatism. In 2003, the American Conservative Union named Ensign, along with Senators Chuck Hagel and Don Nickles, among the senators with the most conservative values. He was also named the most taxpayer-friendly senator by the National Taxpayers Union in 2004, and received the highest rating at the time for any senator by Citizens Against Government Waste. The National Taxpayers Union hailed Ensign as the “taxpayers best friend,” while also receiving high marks from both Citizens for a Sound Economy and the National Tax Limitation Committee. Aside from fiscal conservatism, Senator Ensign was perhaps the American Humane Society’s biggest ally in Congress, speaking out regularly against animal abuse and working to create more severe penalties for those involved in animal fighting.

Senator Ensign was an outspoken advocate of Christian principals, morals, and beliefs in his personal life as well as in the political arena, which can be seen in some of his speeches, quotes, and correspondence. As a member of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, he was the only member of the Senate that was a Pentecostal. During college at Colorado State University, Ensign reportedly became a born-again Christian and an active member of the Promise Keepers organization. While in Washington D.C., Ensign lived with other Christian lawmakers at the C Street Center—a religious house that held regular Bible studies and prayer meetings. However, he moved out of C Street Center in 2009 when news of his extramarital affair surfaced.

In early May of 2011, amid an ongoing ethics investigation, retiring Senator (and once-rumored potential Republican presidential candidate) John Ensign delivered a humble farewell speech to a nearly empty Senate floor. Prior to this, in June of 2009, Senator Ensign admitted to having an extramarital affair, a moral failing he had previously criticized vehemently during the Clinton Administration. Ensign acknowledged that his affair with a former campaign staffer and wife of his former administrative assistant took place between 2007-2008. When the husband confronted Ensign about the affair in 2008, he was given a job in a political consulting firm in Nevada that engaged in lobbying activities with Ensign campaign donors. Lobbying restrictions state that senior aides, as in this case, are prohibited from lobbying Congress for a year after leaving their posts, a requirement which the aide later claimed was irreverently ignored by himself and Senator Ensign. Moreover, this scandal was compounded further when it was revealed that Ensign’s parents had attempted to keep the affair quiet by giving more than $90,000 to the woman in question as a purported “gift.”

For these reasons, Senator Ensign resigned his post on May 3, 2011. After leaving the Senate, Ensign returned to Las Vegas and again began practicing as a veterinarian. There have been current efforts, as late as February 2014, prompted by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), for the Department of Justice to reopen a criminal investigation against Ensign for his misconduct. As of now no criminal proceedings have moved forward.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Deposit agreement, John Ensign, 7/13/2013.

Separated Materials

A small amount of photos were received and have been separated and placed in the Special Collections Photo Archives as collection number UNRS-P2014-11. Photograph collection is closed for research until May 2021.
A Guide to the John Ensign U. S. Senatorial Papers
Edan Strekal, Garrett Sanford, and Jacquelyn Sundstrand
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)