John Ensign

John Ensign
United States Senator
from Nevada
In office
January 3, 2001  May 3, 2011
Preceded by Richard Bryan
Succeeded by Dean Heller
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Nevada's 1st district
In office
January 3, 1995  January 3, 1999
Preceded by James Bilbray
Succeeded by Shelley Berkley
Personal details
Born (1958-03-25) March 25, 1958
Roseville, California
Nationality American
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Darlene Ensign
Children Trevor Ensign
Siena Ensign
Michael Ensign
Residence Las Vegas, Nevada
Alma mater Oregon State University
Colorado State University
Occupation Veterinarian
Religion Foursquare Church

John Eric Ensign (born March 25, 1958) is an American veterinarian and former politician based in Las Vegas, Nevada. He was a Congressman and United States Senator from Nevada, serving in the latter seat from January 2001 until May 2011. He resigned amid a Senate Ethics Committee investigation after revelations of an affair with an aide and allegations of questionable actions taken to keep it secret.[1]

He is a member of the Republican Party and the former chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee. Ensign and his family returned to Las Vegas after his resignation as senator, where he renewed his practice as a veterinarian and works at Boca Park Animal Hospital.[2]

Early life, education, and early career

Ensign was born in 1958 in Roseville, California, to Sharon Lee Cipriani, whose father was Italian; and a father whose surname was Mueller.[3] John's father abandoned the family when the boy was four; John and his mother moved to Nevada. His mother later married Michael S. Ensign, a gaming industry executive; he formally adopted young John, who considers him his "real father."[4] The senior Ensign later became chairman of the board of directors of Mandalay Resort Group,[5]

John Ensign attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, becoming a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity. He graduated from Oregon State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1981. He received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from Colorado State University in 1985 and entered veterinary practice soon after. He became a successful businessman, opening a 24-hour animal hospital in Las Vegas. He owned two animal hospitals before entering politics.[6]

In political campaigns, Ensign frequently referred to his ancestry, noting that he is one-eighth (1/8) Filipino.[4][7][8] But, he has never met his Philippine-born paternal grandfather Mueller, who is of Filipino-German ancestry and may still be living.[4] Ensign did not learn of this grandfather's ancestry until about 1994.[4]

Political career

House of Representatives

In 1994, Ensign won the Republican nomination for Nevada's 1st congressional district, based in Las Vegas. He trailed four-term incumbent Democrat James Bilbray by a wide margin for most of the campaign. Ensign gained considerable momentum after reports surfaced that a Bilbray aide stood to make a huge profit from lands legislation sponsored by Bilbray.[9] Ensign won by 1,400 votes. He was reelected in 1996 by seven points, although the presidential candidate Bill Clinton carried the district by a large margin.

U.S. Senate

In 1998, Ensign ran for the Senate but was defeated by the Democratic incumbent, future Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, by 428 votes.[10]

Ensign won a Senate seat on his second try in 2000, defeating Democratic opponent Ed Bernstein by a 55%–40% margin,[11] to succeed the retiring Democratic incumbent, Richard H. Bryan. Ensign was reelected in 2006; he defeated businessman Jack Carter.

Ensign and Reid developed a fairly good relationship, despite their bruising 1998 contest. They frequently worked together on Nevada issues.[12]

In April 2009, Ensign was planning a June 1 trip to Iowa, the first in his career, causing speculation that he was mulling a presidential campaign in 2012.[13] Given the disclosure of his extramarital affair and cover-up in mid-June of that year, his presidential aspirations were put in limbo.[6] On July 14, 2009, Ensign announced his plan to run for re-election to his Nevada Senate seat in 2012, even though his polling numbers had recently decreased.[14]

For Sharron Angle's debate with Harry Reid on October 14, 2010, Ensign played Reid during one day of her debate preparation at the Trump Plaza in Las Vegas.[15] The Las Vegas Sun speculated in November 2010 that this might hurt his relationship with Reid, who could "man up" and oppose Ensign's re-election.[15] The Las Vegas Review-Journal noted in November 2010 that Ensign has multiple "hurdles" to re-election.[16]

On March 7, 2011, Ensign said he would not seek reelection in 2012 because he wanted to spare his family from an "exceptionally ugly" campaign. "At this point in my life, I have to put my family first," Ensign told reporters at a news conference in Las Vegas. The announcement was welcomed by national Republicans. Republicans have suggested he would not have survived a primary election.[17] The Senate Ethics Committee conducted a 22-month investigation of Ensign's activities. Before they released their report, on April 21, 2011 Ensign announced his resignation from office effective May 3.[1] He said that he "will not continue to subject my family, my constituents, or the Senate to any further rounds of investigation, depositions, drawn out proceedings, or especially public hearings."[18] The Committee gave its report to the Department of Justice for investigation of alleged serious violations of law.[19]

Committee assignments

Political positions

Animal advocacy

Ensign was considered one of the Humane Society's biggest allies in Congress.[20] Along with Senators Maria Cantwell (D-Wa.), Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca.), Senator Ensign—a veterinarian—was a lead sponsor of the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act, which makes it a felony to transport animals across state lines for the purpose of fighting. According to a press release from Ensign's office, "Fifty states currently have laws against dogfighting and forty-nine have laws against cockfighting. This bill complements these state laws."[21]


Senator Ensign was a member of the Congressional Cuba Democracy Caucus.

Eminent domain

Ensign had been a leading voice against the Kelo v. New London Supreme Court ruling, and introduced a bill that would blunt the effects of the ruling.[22] In Kelo, the Court ruled that local governments could use eminent domain not just for public use but for any project that involves a public purpose. Specifically, the Court permitted the City of New London, Connecticut, to force a homeowner to sell her home for new development. The decision that eminent domain could be used to issue a condemnation order on a property for a private purpose caused a backlash.

Fiscal responsibility

The conservative fiscal watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste awarded Ensign a 92% lifetime rating—the fourth highest Senator after Jim DeMint, Tom Coburn and Jon Kyl—as of 2007.[23]

In 2005, Ensign introduced legislation to the Commission on the Accountability and Review of Federal Agencies.[24] The commission would compile a list of what its members consider unnecessary, outdated, wasteful, or duplicative discretionary programs, and require Congress to vote up-or-down to eliminate all programs on the list. The proposal was similar to the process Congress uses for Base Realignment and Closure to assess military bases. It was not passed.

Prison reform

In 2011, Ensign introduced legislation that required all low-security prisoners to work 50 hours a week.[25]


In 1998, after President Bill Clinton admitted to having committed adultery with Monica Lewinsky, Ensign called on him to resign saying, "He has no credibility left."[26]

In 2004, Ensign spoke on the Senate floor in favor of the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment, which would have barred states from recognizing same-sex marriage. Ensign said:

Marriage is the cornerstone on which our society was founded. For those who say that the Constitution is so sacred that we cannot or should not adopt the Federal Marriage Amendment, I would simply point out that marriage, and the sanctity of that institution, predates the American Constitution and the founding of our nation.[27]


Ensign identifies as pro-life. The National Right to Life Committee and NARAL Pro-Choice America certify his pro-life voting record.[28][29] Ensign authored the Child Custody Protection Act in 2003, which prohibits taking minors across State lines to circumvent laws in certain jurisdictions that require parents to be involved in abortion decisions by minors.[30]

Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq

Ensign voted in support of authorizing the President to use the United States Armed Forces to "deter and prevent acts of international terrorism against the United States." This is the authorizing legislation for the invasion of Afghanistan and removing the Taliban from power.[31]

Ensign also voted in support of the President to use the United States Armed Forces "as he determines to be necessary and appropriate" in order to "defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions regarding Iraq."[32] Ensign supported the counterinsurgency policy in Iraq in 2007 and opposed withdrawing troops from Iraq in 2007 and 2008.

Filipino veterans

In April 2008 Ensign voted against a measure to expand federal benefits to Filipino veterans in the Philippines who had fought with the United States against Japan during World War II. He said he thought benefits should be used for veterans in the United States. During political campaigns, he frequently highlighted his recently discovered 1/8 Filipino ancestry. The measure passed Congress.[4]

Healthcare reform

Ensign opposed President Barack Obama's health reform legislation; he voted against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in December 2009,[33] and he voted against the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010.[34]

"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy

On December 18, 2010, Ensign voted in favor of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010 to allow LGBT to serve in the armed forces.[35]

Actions in the U.S. Senate

Chairmanship of National Republican Senatorial Committee

Ensign was elected Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC). As chairman of the NRSC, Ensign was charged with assembling a staff to win back the U.S. Senate for Republicans in the 2008 elections. Ensign chose Mike Slanker and Lindsey Slanker of Nevada-based political consulting firm November Inc. to be the Political Director and Finance Director of the NRSC.

Electronic fund-raising reports

In September 2007, it was discovered that Ensign had used the secret hold rule to prevent a bill requiring senators to file fund-raising reports electronically from being voted on. He required that they first vote on his amendment to strengthen disclosure rules. (The "secret hold" is a parliamentary procedure within the Standing Rules of the Senate that allows one or more Senators to prevent a motion from reaching a vote on the Senate floor.)[36] Ensign insisted that, before a vote on the disclosure bill could be held, the committee would first vote on an amendment that "would force groups petitioning the Senate Ethics Committee to disclose the identity of donors giving more than $5,000", which watchdog groups charged was intended to prevent passage of the bill.[37]

2006 re-election campaign

Ensign faced Democrat Jack Carter, son of former President Jimmy Carter, in the November general election. Both he and Carter defeated token opposition in their August 15, 2006 primaries. Ensign defeated Carter in the general election on November 7, 2006, 55.36% to 40.99%.[38]

Personal life

According to The New York Times, during college at Colorado State, Ensign became a born-again Christian. He and his wife, Darlene, were active in the Promise Keepers, an evangelical group.[6] He and his wife have three children.

Ensign is a member of the Pentecostal International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. He was the only Pentecostal in the Senate. While working in Washington, DC, he resided at the C Street Center, a religious house in the capital.[39] Ensign moved out of the C Street house in November 2009, after disclosure of an extramarital affair and reports that he used his influence to have parties keep quiet about it.[40]

When in Las Vegas he attends a northwest Foursquare church.[41] He is a member of the religious and political organization The Fellowship, described by evangelical Christians as one of the most politically well-connected fundamentalist organizations in the United States.[42][43]

Affair and corruption scandal

Main article: John Ensign scandal

Between 2007 and 2008, Senator Ensign had an affair with Cynthia Hampton, who worked for a PAC supporting his campaigns. Her husband Doug Hampton was a close friend of Ensign and worked as a top administrative staffer in Ensign's Washington, DC office. The disclosure of the affair and Ensign's actions to keep it quiet, including finding other work for Doug Hampton as a lobbyist, resulted in investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Election Commission, and the Senate. In late April 2011, Ensign announced that he would resign his office as Senator on May 3.[44] In May 2011, the Senate Ethics Committee referred their report to the Department of Justice for investigation of possible violations of law.[45]

The Hamptons divorced and sold their house; Doug Hampton moved to California. In May 2012 he reportedly reached a plea deal with federal prosecutors on charges of illegal lobbying.[46] In 2014 he expressed bitterness that he had lost so much, while Ensign had escaped prosecution.[47]

Later years

Ensign and his family returned to Las Vegas. He returned to veterinary practice, establishing Boca Park Animal Hospital.[2]

Electoral history

Nevada's 1st congressional district: Results 1994–1996[48]
Year Democrat Votes Pct Republican Votes Pct 3rd Party Party Votes Pct 3rd Party Party Votes Pct 3rd Party Party Votes Pct
1994 James H. Bilbray 72,333 48% John Ensign 73,769 48% Gary Wood Libertarian 6,065 4%
1996 Bob Coffin 75,081 44% John Ensign 86,472 50% Ted Gunderson Independent American 4,572 3% James Dan Libertarian 3,341 2% Richard Eidson Natural Law 3,127 2%
Senate elections in Nevada: Results 1998–2006[48]
Year Democrat Votes Pct Republican Votes Pct 3rd Party Party Votes Pct 3rd Party Party Votes Pct 3rd Party Votes Pct
1998 Harry Reid 208,621 48% John Ensign 208,220 48% Michael Cloud Libertarian 8,129 2% Michael E. Williams Natural Law 2,781 1% None of these * 8,113 2%
2000 Ed Bernstein 238,260 40% John Ensign 330,687 55% Kathryn Rusco Green 10,286 2% J. J. Johnson Libertarian 5,395 1% None of these * 11,503 2% *
2006 Jack Carter 238,796 41% John Ensign 322,501 55% David K. Schumann Independent American 7,774 1% Brendan Trainor Libertarian 5,269 1% None of these * 8,232 1%

*Write-in and minor candidate notes: In 2000, Independent American candidate Ernie Berghof received 2,540 votes; Citizens First candidate Bill Grutzmacher received 1,579 votes; No Vote Cast received 457 votes; and Over Vote received 69 votes.

** Nevada law since 1975 allows dissatisfied voters to vote for "None of These Candidates."

See also


  1. 1 2 "Senator Ensign to Resign Amid Inquiry". The New York Times Caucus blog. April 21, 2011. Retrieved April 21, 2011.
  2. 1 2 "Boca Park Animal Hospital - Dr. John Ensign - Las Vegas, NV". Boca Park Animal Hospital. 2013. Retrieved April 24, 2014.
  3. "Senators: Ensign". Retrieved June 17, 2009.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Tony Batt (April 30, 2008). "Ensign stands firm on vote: Senator opposed Filipino veterans benefits increase". Las Vegas Review-Journal. Retrieved June 17, 2010.
  5. "Mandalay Details Spending, Share Buyback Program". Gambling Magazine. 2001.
  6. 1 2 3 Herszenhorn, David M. (June 16, 2009). "Senator Ensign Admits Extramarital Affair". The New York Times Caucus blog. Retrieved June 16, 2009.
  7. Rafael, Dan (May 6, 2009). "My postfight sit-in with Pacquiao" (interview article). ESPN Internet Ventures. Retrieved May 11, 2009. Turns out Ensign is a huge boxing fan and one-eighth Filipino, so he was excited to meet Pacquiao and have him pose for a photo with him and his kids.
  8. "Ensign Commemorates Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month". Archived from the original on June 20, 2009. Retrieved June 17, 2009.
  9. Wasserman, David; Larry J. Sabato (October 5, 2006). "October Surprise! (And a Leadership Demise?)". Crystal Ball. University of Virginia Center for Politics. Retrieved June 22, 2009. Nevada Rep. James Bilbray (D) was felled after it was revealed days before the election that his aide stood to profit millions from lands legislation he had sponsored
  10. Nevada Secretary of State – 1998 US Senate Recount Results Archived February 28, 2005, at the Wayback Machine.
  11. Nevada Secretary of State – 2000 General Election Results Archived June 22, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
  12. Freking, Kevin (June 17, 2009). "Sen. Ensign admits affair with ex-campaign staffer". The Guardian. London. Retrieved November 26, 2009.
  13. Cillizza, Chris (April 23, 2009). "John Ensign's Unapologetic Critique". Washington Post The Fix Blog.
  14. Ball, Molly (July 19, 2009). "New poll reveals Ensign's status sinking, But most Nevadans still say Republican senator should not resign". Las Vegas Review-Journal. Retrieved July 20, 2009.
  15. 1 2 Ralston, Jon (November 17, 2010). "Ensign played Reid in Angle debate prep; Angle once said dictators can have "good ideas"". Las Vegas Sun. Retrieved November 18, 2010.
  16. Tetreault, Steve (November 17, 2010). "Ensign faces hurdles running for third Senate term". Las Vegas Review-Journal. Retrieved November 18, 2010.
  17. Memoli, Michael A.; Lisa Mascaro; Ashley Powers (March 7, 2011). "Nevada GOP Sen. John Ensign won't seek reelection". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 8, 2011.
  18. "Nevada senator, facing ethics probe, says he'll resign". MSNBC. April 21, 2011. Retrieved April 21, 2011.
  19. Paul Kane; Carol D. Leaning (May 12, 2011). "Senate ethics committee: Ensign violated federal laws". Washington Post. Retrieved May 13, 2011.
  20. "Vegan in the Henhouse". The Washington Post. August 9, 2004.
  21. "Ensign Applauds Passage of Animal Fighting Bill". April 11, 2007. Archived from the original on April 22, 2011.
  22. "Kelo Anniversary Time to Take Action". June 22, 2006. Archived from the original on April 22, 2011.
  23. "2007 Senate Ratings Final" (PDF). Retrieved April 27, 2012.
  24. Riedl, Brian M. (October 26, 2005). "An Innovative and Bold Budget Proposal in the Senate". The Heritage Foundation.
  25. Brown, Robbie (February 24, 2011). "Enlisting Prison Labor to Close Budget Caps". New York Times. Retrieved February 26, 2011.
  26. Batt, Tony (September 11, 1998). "Ensign urges Clinton to quit". Las Vegas Review-Journal.
  27. "Ensign Defends Sanctity of Marriage on Senate Floor" (Press release). July 13, 2004. Archived from the original on April 22, 2011. Retrieved June 17, 2009.
  28. "Federal Legislation – Legislative Action Center". Retrieved April 27, 2012.
  30. H.R. 851
  31. Senate roll call vote on passage of S.J. Res. 23, September 14, 2001 (107th Congress, 1st Session).
  32. Senate roll call vote on passage of H.J.Res. 114, October 11, 2002 (107th Congress, 2nd Session).
  33. Senate roll call vote on passage of H.R. 3590, December 24, 2009 (111th Congress, 1st Session).
  34. Senate roll call on passage of H.R. 4872, March 25, 2010 (111th Congress, Second Session).
  35. "Senate passes 'don't ask,' sends repeal to Obama". December 18, 2010. Retrieved April 22, 2011.
  36. NYT Editorial staff (September 27, 2007). "Let the Sunshine In". New York Times. Retrieved April 25, 2011. The secret holder turned out to be Senator John Ensign, a Nevada Republican.
  37. Schor, Elena (September 28, 2007). "Ensign vows to keep e-filing bill in limbo". The Hill. Retrieved April 25, 2011. Ensign’s amendment would force groups petitioning the Senate Ethics Committee to disclose the identity of donors giving more than $5,000.
  38. "Election summary". 2006 Election Information. Nevada Secretary of State. Retrieved July 23, 2011.
  39. Roig-Franzia, Manuel (June 26, 2009). "Politicians' Scandals Elevate the Profile of a Spiritual Haven on C Street SE". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 6, 2010.
  40. Hinz, Janet. "John Ensign Moves Out of Storied C Street House". Retrieved August 29, 2010.
  41. Morrison, Jane Ann (March 19, 2000). "Race opens for Bernstein, Ensign". Las-Vegas Review Journal. Retrieved June 17, 2009.
  42. Belz, Emily; Pitts, Edward Lee (August 29, 2009). "All in the Family". World Magazine. Retrieved August 14, 2009.
  43. Sharlet, Jeff (2008). The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. HarperCollins. p. 18. ISBN 978-0-06-055979-3.
  44. Cristina Silva (April 22, 2011). "Timing of Sen. Ensign Resignation Raises Questions". Associated Press. Retrieved May 14, 2011.
  45. Kane, Paul; Leonnig, Carol D. (May 12, 2011). "Ethics Probe To Unveil Ensign Probe Findings In Senate Speeches". Washington Post. Retrieved May 12, 2011.
  46. [ Steve Tetreault, "Doug Hampton reaches plea deal in illegal lobbying charges",, 15 May 2012
  47. ERIC LICHTBLAU, "Documents Reveal Details of F.B.I. Inquiry Into Nevada Senator", New York Times, 29 December 2014, accessed 20 October 2015
  48. 1 2 "Election Statistics". Office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives. Archived from the original on December 26, 2007. Retrieved August 8, 2007.
Wikiquote has quotations related to: John Ensign
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
James Bilbray
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Nevada's 1st congressional district

Succeeded by
Shelley Berkley
United States Senate
Preceded by
Richard Bryan
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Nevada
Served alongside: Harry Reid
Succeeded by
Dean Heller
Party political offices
Preceded by
Elizabeth Dole
Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee
Succeeded by
John Cornyn
Preceded by
Kay Bailey Hutchison
Chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee
Succeeded by
John Thune
Preceded by
Demar Dahl
Republican Party nominee for U.S. Senator from Nevada (Class 3)
Succeeded by
Richard Ziser
Preceded by
Hal Furman
Republican Party nominee for U.S. Senator from Nevada (Class 1)
2000, 2006
Succeeded by
Dean Heller
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