Nevada brothel lobbyist put friendly face on often-reviled industry

For half a century, George Flint has toiled on behalf of legal brothels in Nevada

Most lawmakers in this state capital simply call him "Georgie," a soft-spoken old opinion-swayer with a cane who revels in his political incorrectness.

For half a century, George Flint held court in the hallways of the Legislature here, most lately in the first-floor coffee shop, at the round table nearest the elevators, so he didn't have to walk too far on his gimpy left leg and two replaced hips.

Flint is Carson City's oldest working political advocate, toiling on behalf of the world's oldest profession — the lone brothel lobbyist in the only state to sanction legal prostitution.

Even at 81, he had intended to keep working, but a heart attack hit him last month. So now he's calling it quits to a career of using a folksy, lean-over-the-fence style to advocate the legal pleasures of the flesh.

The subject makes some lawmakers queasy, so it came as a surprise when the speaker of the House visited Flint's hospital bed with some news.

Forty-one of 53 legislators had signed a proclamation declaring April 12 as "George Flint Day" at the capital, marking his "outstanding and valuable contributions as Nevada's longest-standing senior lobbyist." Flint keeps the document by his convalescent hospital bed, where he can continue to absorb the power of the gesture.

"George should be a scholar on how to be a lobbyist," said Democratic Sen. Mark Manendo, who helped organize the decree. "People just love him, especially the old-timers."

Most admit that Flint isn't what you'd expect. He's a doting great-grandfather who — unlike cigar-chomping Joe Conforte, one of his brothel-owner bosses — never sashayed around town in a $2,000 suit with several slinky women hanging on his arm.

Flint is savvier than that. He collects art, is an amateur expert on Napoleon and has traveled much of the world. But for decades he represented the interests of the 300-odd legal prostitutes working in the state's 17 brothels, shady hideaways with names like the Love Ranch, Angel's Ladies and the Cherry Patch II.

Oh, and there's another thing: Flint is also the son of two preachers, an ordained Pentecostal minister who runs Chapel of the Bells, a quickie wedding salon in downtown Reno. He can lecture on the history of adultery and paraphrases Scripture discussing politicians who avoid him: "In the latter days, men's hearts will fail them for fear."

He's also a keeper of secrets: In the old days, lawmakers who fought him in public later discreetly sought freebie coupons at a brothel just 10 minutes from the Legislature. Flint has also challenged the holy-rollers, insisting Jesus' best friend was a so-called fallen woman — Mary Magdalene. If a prostitute was good enough for Christ, he reasons, she ought to be good enough for the fine people of Nevada.

At times, it's also been good enough for Flint: Decades ago, he occasionally visited brothels — not as a lobbyist, but as a client: "I've never hidden the fact I've tasted that merchandise."

Mostly, however, Flint was just a good lobbyist. With a well-timed slap on the back, he put a friendly face on an industry many found repulsive. Years ago, the famed Mustang Ranch threw a steak and lobster party for legislators. Three showed up.

He's also cagey, jokingly advocating a tax on all bedroom sex because, of course, everyone would over report.

Born in San Pedro, Flint spent his youth in Wyoming, where brothels were illegal but accepted. A sportswriter in high school, he later studied theology at the College of the Open Bible in Des Moines.

In 1963, he was a married father of four running a wedding chapel in Reno when he heard about proposed legislation against the wedding industry. He drove to Carson City and persuaded lawmakers to retract the bill. "I made a note: Georgie, you better get involved," he said. "It was my baptism into lobbying."

In 1985, some 14 years after prostitution became legal here, he began representing an industry threatened by AIDS, speaking out in support of laws designed to protect sex workers and their clients.

Many members of the Nevada Brothel Assn. attribute their longevity to Flint. "George would challenge commissioners who often didn't know what they were talking about," said Joe Richards, who once owned three brothels. "When George is gone, the industry's going to be history."

For years, Flint chased a desert mirage: Twelve of Nevada's 16 counties allow brothels; he wants them welcomed statewide.

That means bringing brothels to Las Vegas, supplying legalized sin to Sin City. Now, the 30,000 to 50,000 illegal sex workers in southern Nevada bring crime and drug use. Making brothels legal, he insists, would put that shadow economy out of business.

Not everyone agrees.

In 2010, when Flint approached Barbara Buckley, then speaker of the Assembly, "She said, 'George, get the hell out of my office,'" he said. "I told her, 'I get the hint; I'll come back later.'"

Later, when he made his case to former Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie, the lawman cut him off. The lobbyist recalled: "He said: 'Flint, you don't need to explain anything to me. But let me tell you something: Keep your [butt] out of Clark County.'"

Buckley recalls that she liked Flint far more than his industry. "He's a character. He cared about his work," she said. In a meeting to discuss a proposed state tax on brothels, Flint went on the offensive. "Oh, the puns," Buckley recalled. "He said, 'What would you tax — this or that?' I never want to relive that again."

These days, Flint knows that troubled times lie ahead: Thanks to Craigslist and burgeoning sex-for-sale websites, legal prostitution is imperiled in Nevada.

Of the state's remaining brothels, only a handful make a profit, he said. His budget for political contributions has dropped from $100,000 annually to $20,000.

And he senses a shift in public attitudes too. This year, 17 freshman lawmakers bring a new generation with modern ideas. Sighed Flint: "Another anti-brothel movement can't be far off."

But the one-man brothel lobbyist has a successor in mind: his own daughter, Margaret, who currently advocates for animal rights. Trouble is, she doesn't want the job. "I don't have a passion for brothel workers," she said. "That's my dad."

Flint will miss the fine art of brothel opinion-swaying: "My heart is there. It's hard to give up."

Twitter: @jglionna


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