Scott Kelley’s easy smile, helpful demeanor and casual-in-a-tie dress code all point to one fact: this man wants to be in politics.
“There are some good things I can do to help out in the community,” Kelley, 34, says of his political motivation.
As a Washoe County school board member and a self-professed go-getter, Kelley is on a mission to climb up Reno’s civic success ladder.
Step 1: Military service
Kelley joined the U.S. Army at 17 years old.
“I had done well in school and had scholarships, but I wanted to strike out on my own,” Kelley says. “I always had that love for adventure and wanted to be where the action is, so the military seemed like a great way to do it.”
Having served as the editor of Carson City High School’s newspaper, Kelley landed a spot as a military journalist with paratrooper units. He served in peacekeeping missions in Haiti, the Balkans and Kosovo, as well as in natural disaster clean-up missions in the Carolinas. His stories and photos appeared in Soldiers magazine and Stars and Stripes Europe.
“When you go to third world countries and war zones, it just makes you appreciate what we have here – how good we have it,” Kelley says.
Step 2: College and business
After returning to Nevada, Kelley continued military service in the National Guard while attending the University of Nevada, Reno.
“Those 11 years [in the military] were probably the most formative years of my life,” Kelley says. “I learned so much. The military prepared me for everything – fatherhood, being an elected official, owning a business.”
After graduating with a degree in journalism in 2004, Kelley ended his military career and launched his own real estate photography business. He now works as sales manager for Allegra Print and Imaging.
But Kelley’s career ambitions go beyond a life in sales.
“Within a year or two I’ll be going back into business again, but this time it will be the next step up,” he says of his planned future venture, which he is keeping under wraps. “This time it will make me a millionaire.” He smiles a broad, no-doubt grin.
Step 3: Civic service
In 2006, Kelley campaigned for a spot on the Reno City Council. Defeated by Dwight Dortch in that first political race, but determined to gain a foothold in local government, Kelley looked around for another opportunity. He found it in 2008 in Washoe County school board’s District E (Northwest Reno, Verdi, Mogul) contest.
“I thought, ‘The school board needs me,’” Kelley says, “‘Maybe I can get on and do some good things.’”
Within the first year of his four-year term, major changes happened within the school district. New superintendent Heath Morrison took the helm, and worsening economic troubles hammered the state’s education budget.
“Of course we’re all worried about budget cuts,” Kelley says. “We’ve already had huge cuts, and it hasn’t effected our performance yet, but a few more years of those kinds of cuts ultimately will.”
To meet the demands of a changing educational environment and work-force need, Kelley says the school district is gearing up more “signature academies” that will teach industry-based skills such as digital media, renewable resources and culinary arts. Also up-and-coming is a boost in the schools’ technology infrastructure.
“No technology can ever replace the teacher, nor would you want it to,” Kelley says, “but I can see technology replacing textbooks.”
Washoe County School District Superintendent Heath Morrison said he values Kelley’s push to expand tech capabilities in schools.
“What I love about Scott is that he’s younger than most school board members, so he has a different perspective,” Morrison says, “and his knowledge [about technology] helps move that forward.”
Step 4: Family focus
If Kelley’s determination and belief that he can succeed in politics ever wanes, his wife of four months can pick up the baton and run with it.
“I think my husband will be a senator or governor,” Brooke Westlake-Kelley says of her husband’s future.
A sales manager for a medical company, Westlake-Kelley also owns a wedding and family photography business. As Miss UNR 2005 with many pageants under her sash, Westlake-Kelley says she is not afraid of the spotlight.
“He wants to keep going up the ladder in politics,” Westlake-Kelley says. “We are passionate about our community.”
Together they have an almost 1½-year-old son, Grant, whom Kelley says “totally and completely” changed his life.
“There’s nothing that will get you to work harder and strive to be a better public official and businessperson than to have a family to support,” Kelley says.
The baby also reinforced the need for family time, and Kelley says backpacking into the Sierra Nevada is a favorite passion. Kelley also is passionate about reading – mostly political and geography books according to his wife’s survey of his nightstand.
“He likes to look back at history and find out what works and what doesn’t,” Westlake-Kelley says.
And when he and his wife have a date night? “For me a good time is going to a fund-raiser,” Kelley says with a grin that embraces his new, more mature life. “That’s my new type of party.”
Step 5: Social media
Kelley now has the maturity that parenthood brings, but he also has the social media savvy that youth embraces.
“I was the first candidate in Nevada to use social media,” Kelley says.
He used a MySpace page to engage the community during his school board run, and he now has a Facebook page with 4,169 friends and counting. That’s 4,169 potential voters who think of Kelley as a “friend,” seeing photos of smiling baby Grant, XOs from his wife and political cartoons for that savvy-yet-fun connection.
“If you don’t get deeply involved in social media, you aren’t going to get elected,” says Denny Martindale, 56, Kelley’s opponent for the school board seat.
This was painfully apparent to Martindale when Kelley won the school board race with 65 percent of the vote. Despite Martindale’s deeper experience with local government, myriad endorsements and family-man lifestyle (Kelley was single with no children at the time), voters went with Kelley.
“He could not discuss the merits of what he could do for the district,” Martindale says, but he was able to use social media to energize voters regardless.
One voter was especially drawn to Kelley’s social media campaign: Brooke Westlake. He and his wife met on MySpace after he “friended” her as part of his political “friending” blanket maneuver.
Step 6: Political entrepreneur
With his school board term ending in December 2012, Kelley says he is weighing his political options.
“I’m debating whether to run for re-election to the school board,” Kelley says. “I would win certainly, and then I would become president within a year or two, but I was thinking that maybe the citizens would want me to tackle our economy. Because if your economy doesn’t improve, … all these great things going on with the school district will start to come to an end.”
And tackle the economy he has. As a political entrepreneur, Kelley hasn’t waited for an official title to work on jobs creation.
“I met with business leaders in the community, talked to the government and came up with a strategy to bring business to Nevada,” says Kelley.
Getting the private sector involved to help identify and recruit industries that are well-suited to do business in Nevada, Kelley says, is key to bringing economic growth to the state.
“So far the governor and staff all like it,” says Kelley, who created the strategy to “help out the state” while networking with business and political leaders to study the state’s economy.
What’s the next step up on the political ladder? Kelley says that he is considering a run for the Reno City Council At-Large position.
That would be a natural step in the direction of his long-term goals: starting his own business, continuing his community involvement and seeking higher forms of public service.
“At Scott’s heart, he’s a service leader,” says Morrison, “so 10 years from now he’ll be in a political office where he can continue to do the most good.”
Interviews I am missing:
I should have talked to his parents. There must be something at the heart of such a civic-minded person. Was he this way from the time he was born? Examples of that? Also, I should have talked to a constituent to get some feedback about his effectiveness as a school board member. Again, examples to better show not tell what Scott is like.