Ensign: colorful, yet controversial

Ensign: colorful, yet controversial

Take horse slaughter bill out of the equation, it's still about the debt
Oct 01, 2006

Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev. Incumbent Campaign finance: $5.3 million
DVM degree: CSU, 1985
U.S. Senate Committees: Armed Services; Budget; Commerce, Science and Transportation; Health, Education, Labor & Pensions; Veteran's Affairs.
Opponent: Jack Carter, Democrat, son of President Jimmy Carter.
Campaign finance: $1.5 million.

Veterinary medicine was not on the forefront of John Ensign's mind until playing softball with a vet in college, which led to volunteering at his clinic. "The first day down there that was it," he says. "I fell in love with it." So he changed his major from marketing to veterinary medicine, thus beginning 14 years of animal practice.

Born in 1958 in Roseville, Calif., Ensign now calls Las Vegas home. He received his doctorate in veterinary medicine from Colorado State University in 1985. The senator was named the Humane Society's Legislator of the Year for 2005. Ensign is married with three children.

Despite the all-night Las Vegas lifestyle, a 24-hour animal hospital didn't exist there until Ensign opened one in 1987. He opened another clinic in 1994, where he practiced until 2001, when his Senate duties forced him to sell the animal hospital.

Although Ensign doesn't officially practice veterinary medicine anymore, it hasn't stopped fellow politicians, staff and voters from asking for consultations about their animals. "While going door to door, I've had people ask me questions about their pets," he says. "I love answering these questions to keep my mind on veterinary medicine."

Ensign, along with Wayne Allard from Colorado, is one of two DVMs in the U.S. Senate. While serving in Congress, he introduced several bills dealing with animal rights and safety, including the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act of 2005, which aims to stop animal fighting by making transportation of animals across state lines for the purpose of fighting a felony under federal law. He is currently working to pass an anti-horse slaughter bill, which bans the practice in opposition to positions taken by organized veterinary medicine. It passed in the House of Representatives.

While his love of veterinary medicine was strong, Ensign says watching the national debt and government spending rise, as well as corruption in Washington D.C., frustrated him to the point of action. So in 2000 he ran for one of Nevada's three representative offices.

Ensign served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 1999, when aspirations of a larger political impact persuaded him to make the move to the Senate, where he has served since 2000.

Skills learned during pressure situations and tragedy while working at his clinics helped Ensign in his roles as a public officer. "Being a small business owner and understanding the differences of what the laws are is very important," he says. "I wish more would have that experience of what their world is like."