Democratic Senate Candidate Fudges Family History

Catherine Cortez Masto falsely claims she was first in family to attend college

Catherine Cortez Masto / AP
June 21, 2016

The Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Nevada has repeatedly misled voters about her personal history, a review of publicly available information shows.

Former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto has said on numerous occasions that she and her sister were the first members of her family to attend college.

"My grandfather immigrated to this country from Chihuahua, Mexico. It was through his hard work, and the hard work of my parents, that my sister and I were the first in our family to go to college," she said in a statement last month.

She has repeated that claim on at least four other occasions. It is a key component of Masto’s biography, which frequently alludes to her family’s humble roots. It is also false.

Masto’s late father, Manny Cortez, attended Nevada Southern University, which later became the University of Nevada Las Vegas, according to friends and press accounts of his life.

A 2006 Las Vegas Sun obituary noted that Cortez "attended Nevada Southern University, which today is UNLV, and later received an honorary degree from the Community College of Southern Nevada."

A biography of Cortez on the website of the Clark County, Nevada, government says he "attended Nevada Southern University, the predecessor to UNLV."

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.), who Masto is running to succeed, also noted Cortez’s time at Nevada Southern.

"A product of Las Vegas schools, he held a degree from Nevada Southern University," Reid, a longtime friend of Cortez’s, said in a speech on the Senate floor on the occasion of his passing.

Masto’s campaign attributed the discrepancy between reality and her public statements to "misleading Republican opposition research" in a statement, but did not dispute that the statements were false.

In 2003, UNLV gave Cortez an alumni award, though Reid’s suggestion that he graduated from the school appears to have been mistaken. While Masto has claimed that she and her sister were the first in her family to attend college, she has said on other occasions that they were the first to graduate.

News accounts suggest that Cortez dropped out of college in order to pursue lucrative business opportunities in Las Vegas.

Initially an arm of the University of Nevada Reno, Nevada Southern was not a degree-granting institution until 1964. Students at the Las Vegas campus generally relocated to Reno in order to conclude their studies.

According to a 1977 article in the Las Vegas Sun, Cortez opted to stay "on the Strip in the mainstream of the money" rather than return to Reno to complete his studies.

Other U.S. Senate candidates this cycle have made inaccurate statements about their biographies.

Kathleen McGinty, a Democrat running in Pennsylvania, falsely claimed to be the first in her family to graduate from college. Jon Keyser, a Republican running in Colorado, said he was the first in his family to obtain a degree, when in fact it was his grandmother.

Published under: 2016 Election , Nevada