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John Ensign
Sen John Ensign official(2).jpg
United States Senator
from Nevada
In office
January 3, 2001 – May 3, 2011
Preceded by Richard Bryan
Succeeded by Dean Heller
Chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee
In office
January 3, 2007 – January 3, 2009
Preceded by Elizabeth Dole
Succeeded by John Cornyn
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 (age 66)
Roseville, California, U.S.
Political party Republican
Darlene Sciaretta
(m. 1987; div. 2019)
Children 3
Education Oregon State University (BS)
Colorado State University (DVM)

John Eric Ensign (born March 25, 1958) is an American veterinarian and former politician who served as a United States Senator from Nevada from 2001 until his resignation in 2011. A member of the Republican Party, Ensign previously represented Nevada's 1st congressional district in the House of Representatives from 1995 to 1999. Following his resignation from the Senate, Ensign returned to Nevada and resumed his career as a veterinarian.

Early life, education, and veterinary career

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

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. Ensign became a successful businessman, opening a 24-hour animal hospital in Las Vegas. He owned two animal hospitals before entering politics.

In political campaigns, Ensign frequently referred to his ancestry, noting that he is one-eighth (1/8) Filipino. As of 2008, Ensign had never met his Philippine-born paternal grandfather, who is of Filipino-German ancestry. Ensign did not learn of this grandfather's ancestry until about 1994. The Senator was conferred the Order of the Knights of Rizal with the rank of Knight Grand Cross of Rizal by Filipino dignitaries in 1997.

After resigning from the U.S. Senate in 2011, Ensign returned to Las Vegas with his family. Ensign then renewed his practice as a veterinarian and opened Boca Park Animal Hospital.

Political career

U.S. 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. However, Ensign gained considerable momentum after reports surfaced that a Bilbray aide stood to make a huge profit from lands legislation sponsored by Bilbray. Ensign won the election by 1,400 votes and was reelected in 1996 by seven points, although Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton carried the district by a large margin that year.

U.S. Senate

In 1998, Ensign ran for the Senate but was defeated by the Democratic incumbent, future Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, by 401 votes.

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

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. In the 2008 elections, Democrats gained 8 seats, and after the party switch of Arlen Specter in 2009, the Democrats gained a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

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%.


On March 7, 2011, in the midst of a Senate Ethics Committee investigation, Ensign said he would not seek re-election in 2012. The announcement was welcomed by national Republicans, who suggested he would not have survived a primary election. 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.

Ensign became the first United States Senator from Nevada to resign, besides Alan Bible, who resigned seventeen days before the end of his term to give his successor an advantage in seniority.

Senate committee assignments

  • Committee on the Budget
  • Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation
  • Committee on Finance
    • Subcommittee on Health Care
    • Subcommittee on Taxation, IRS Oversight, and Long-Term Growth
    • Subcommittee on Social Security, Pensions and Family Policy
  • Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs

Political positions

Animal advocacy

Ensign was considered one of the Humane Society's biggest allies in Congress. 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 transformed into a felony the transport of animals across state lines for the purpose of fighting. According to a press release from Ensign's office, "Fifty states currently have laws against dog fighting and forty-nine have laws against cockfighting. This bill complements these state laws."

Health care reform

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

Prison reform

In 2011, Ensign introduced legislation that would have required all low-security prisoners to work 50 hours per week.


In April 2008 Ensign voted against a measure to expand federal benefits to Filipino veterans in the Philippines, then a U.S. Commonwealth, against Japan during World War II. He said he thought benefits should be used for veterans in the United States. The measure passed Congress.

Personal life

According to The New York Times, during college at Colorado State, Ensign became a born-again Christian. He and his now ex-wife, Darlene, were active in the Promise Keepers, an evangelical group. He and his ex-wife have three children. In 2019, the couple were reported to have divorced after 31 years of marriage.

Ensign is a member of the Pentecostal International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. During his Senate tenure, 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. Ensign moved out of the C Street house in November 2009, after disclosure of an extramarital affair and reports that he influenced others to keep quiet about it.

When in Las Vegas he attends a northwest Foursquare church. 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.

Electoral history

Nevada's 1st congressional district: Results 1994–1996
Year Democrat Votes Pct Republican Votes Pct 3rd Party Party Votes Pct 3rd Party Party Votes Pct 3rd Party Party Votes Pct
1994 James 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
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 Edward M. 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

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: John Ensign para niños

  • List of federal political scandals in the United States
  • List of Asian Americans and Pacific Islands Americans in the United States Congress
  • List of United States senators expelled or censured
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