John Ensign (R-Nev.)

Former U.S. Senator (January 2001 to May 2011)

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Why He Matters

Ensign grew up in the Las Vegas casinos and became one of their primary Senate defenders. A veterinarian by trade, Ensign survived a couple of very close elections, winning by just more than 1,000 votes to join the U.S. House in 1994 and then losing to Sen. Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) by less than 500 votes in a 1998 Senate campaign.

In his relatively short Senate career, Ensign focused on local issues, working with Reid to oppose the use of Yucca mountain as a dumping site for nuclear waste and to defend the Nevada gambling industry against regulation. He toed the Republican line on issues ranging from taxes and Iraq to abortion rights and stem-cell research.

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John Ensign agrees to $32,000 FEC penalty

Ensign and his campaign do not admit to any culpability in the agreement but say they would like to settle the matter expeditiously and avoid future litigation.


Sen. Tom Coburn admonished for helping former John Ensign aide


The action against Coburn for helping a former Senate aide who was prohibited from lobbying, ending the panel’s probe into the affairs of former senator John Ensign.

John Ensign, Bob Bennett, dogs, cats and K Street

Former lawmakers find life after the Senate in some usual — and some unusual -- places.


Sen. John Ensign says he won't run again

Senator John Ensign (R-Nev.) says he won't seek re-election. Ensign, who is under investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee over an extramarital affair, made the announcement Monday in Las Vegas. (March 7)


Abbe Lowell, back at Chadbourne, inks John Ensign as client

Chadbourne & Parke announced last week that Abbe Lowell had returned as a partner after a stint at McDermott Will & Emery, and the star defense attorney is already defending a major political figure.


At a Glance

  • Career History: Chair, Senate Republican Policy Committee (January 2009 to June 2009); Chair, National Republican Senatorial Committee (January 2007 to January 2009); U.S. Representative (1995 to 1999); Veterinarian, Owner of South Shores Animal Hospital (1994 to 2001); Veterinarian, Owner of West Flamingo Animal Hospital (1987 to 1994)
  • Birthday: March 25, 1958
  • Hometown: Las Vegas, Nevada
  • Alma Mater: Oregon State University, B.S., 1981; Colorado State University, D.V.M., 1985
  • Spouse: Darlene Sciaretta
  • Religion: Christian
  • DC Office: 119 Russell Senate Office Building, 202-224-6244

Path to Power

Ensign grew up one of three children to a single mother who worked in a casino as a "change girl," giving quarters to slot machine players. She eventually married Mike Ensign, who became chairman and CEO of Mandalay Resort Group. Ensign decided to pursue a career as a veterinarian.

He graduated from Oregon State University in 1981 and then went to veterinary school at Colorado State. He returned to Las Vegas and opened his own veterinary practice with the city's first 24-hour clinic. He helped manage a couple casinos for his stepfather and was active in local politics.

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The Issues

Ensign is a stalwart Republican vote on issues ranging from taxes to social issues to national defense. A longtime member of the evangelical Christian group Promise Keepers, Ensign opposes stem-cell research and sponsored a 2006 proposal that would have made it more difficult for a minor to cross state lines to receive an abortion.

During the 110th Congress, he voted with the Republican Party 87.5 percent of the time, splitting with the party on a couple of issues that have a direct impact on his home state of Nevada.

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The Network

After joining the Senate, Ensign formed an unusually strong relationship with fellow Nevada senator Harry M. Reid (D), against whom Ensign had run a particularly tough campaign in 1998. Former Ensign Chief of Staff Scott Bensing became NRSC executive director when Ensign became the NRSC chair. Bensing was listed in Roll Call's "Fabulous 50" Hill staffers list in 2008.

Ensign is also one of many borders at C Street, a townhouse frequented by Christian lawmakers who counsel each other and study the Bible. The townhouse is run by an Arlington-based network of Christian non-profits known as "The Fellowship", which seeks to advance its values through political ties. Other residents of the house include Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Jim DeMint(R-S.C..), and Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.). Former residents are ex-House Member and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R).


Additional Resources

  1. Mercurio, John, "Second chance Ex-Rep. Ensign wastes no time in joining race to succeed Bryan," Roll Call, Feb. 22, 1999
  2. Lichtblau, Eric and Lipton, Eric, The New York Times, Prosecutors Won't Charge Ensign, Dec. 1, 2010
  3. Mercurio, John, "After Ensign relents, Nevada GOP plots year 2000 challenge to Senator Bryan," Roll Call, Dec. 14, 1998
  4. Belts, Emily and Pitts, Edward Lee, The World Magazine, "The C Street House," June 26, 2009
  5. Kane, Paul, "Capitol Briefing: Ensign steps down from GOP leadership post," The Washington Post, June 17, 2009
  6. Batt, Tony, "Reid against Frist's efforts," Las Vegas Review-Journal (Nevada), Sept. 20, 2006
  7. Cillizza, Chris and Kane, Paul, Sen. Ensign, under ethics inquiry, admits no wrongdoing but says he will resign, April 21, 2011
  8. Roth, Zachary, "Ensign still bringing dirty laundry home to be washed," Talking Points Memo, July 9, 2009
  9. Batt, Tony, "College betting ban resurfaces," Las Vegas Review-Journal (Nevada), March 19, 2005
  10. Washington Post Votes Database
  11. Rogers, Keith, "Nevada's senators challenge latest nuclear waste transportation policy," Las Vegas Review-Journal (Nevada), Aug. 19, 2005
  12. Tetrault, Steve, "Ensign opposes interrogation bill," Las Vegas Review-Journal (Nevada), Sept. 16, 2006
  13. "Ensign says he can block Nevada college sports bet ban," Associated Press, May 8, 2003
  14. Coolican, J. Patrick, "Hampton speaks publicly, says Ensign paid severance," Las Vegas Sun, July 8, 2009
  15. Ensign web site, resignation statement, April 21, 2011
  16. Kane, Paul, The Washington Post, Senate ethics panel appoints special counsel to investigate Ensign, Feb. 1, 2011
  17. Batt, Tony, "Ensign sees long stay in Afghanistan," Las Vegas Review-Journal (Nevada) Feb. 13, 2008
  18. Tetreault, Steve, "Senators block Bush choice," Las Vegas Review-Journal (Nevada), Nov. 17, 2005
  19. Biographical and career data taken from Almanac of American Politics, 2008 edition, and John Ensign official Web site
  20. Cannon, Lou, "For Sen. Reid, a far different playing field; Demographic changes leave veteran Democrat in jeopardy," The Washington Post, Sept. 25, 1998
  21. Rogers, Keith, "Lawmakers join to fight project," Las Vegas Review-Journal (Nevada), Dec. 20, 2006
  22. "Who are they? The 87 House Frosh," Roll Call, Nov. 14, 1994
  23. Lichtblau, Eric and Lipton, Eric, The New York Times, Senator's Aid After Affair Raises Flags Over Ethics, Oct. 1, 2009
  24. Almanac of American Politics, 2008 edition
  25. Whaley, Sean, "Obama urges 10,000 in Reno to support bailout plan," Las Vegas Review-Journal (Nevada), Oct. 1, 2008
  26. Batt, Tony, "Senate passes Ensign authored abortion legislation," Las Vegas Review-Journal (Nevada), July 30, 2006
  27. Roman, Nancy E., "Welfare bill debate to exclude Medicaid," The Washington Times, July 18, 1996
  28. Cillizza, Chris, The Washington Post, The Fix, March 7, 2010
  29. Stephens Washington Bureau, "Senate GOP falls short on fundraising," Las Vegas Review-Journal (Nevada), Aug. 23, 2008;
  30. Kane, Paul and Cillizza, Chris, The Washington Post, "Sen. Ensign Admits an Extramarital Affair," June 17, 2009