Las Vegas — Elena Brady, president of the Asian-American Republican Coalition of Nevada, remembers the first time she heard that an Asian woman was running as a Republican for governor of Nevada in 2006. She was thrilled yet puzzled because she’d never before heard of the candidate, Mimi Miyagi.
Brady was in for a pair of shocks. First was that Miyagi was an x-rated film actress with more than 40 movies to her credit. The other was that she actually did know Miyagi. Under her real name, Melody Damayo, she had been one of Brady’s most active volunteers during the 2004 election. Both Filipino, the two had bonded and become friends. Brady even got Damayo elected the coalition’s treasurer.
“I thought she was just a single mom. I had no idea about her wild side,” Brady says. Indeed, one of her motives for keeping Damayo active in the coalition, Brady says, was that she wanted to help her find a husband.
“I thought she was on welfare,” Brady remembers.
Damayo laughs out loud when told this.
“Yes, that’s Elena. That was our relationship,” Damayo says. “She was like a big sister to me.”
Damayo never told any of the other Asian Republicans about her other life because she didn’t want it to be a distraction. Like them, she was totally committed to four more years of Bush-Cheney. Besides, it was a nice change of pace to just be plain old Melody for a while.
The days when Damayo could keep her two identities separate are over now that she has officially filed her papers as a candidate in the race for governor. Indeed the sheer novelty that the star of such films as Beverly Hills Geisha is running as a member of the Grand Old Party has gotten her the type of national coverage that other candidates can only dream of at this stage of the race.
The candidate certainly stands out. When she arrived for my interview with her, she was wearing a short black cocktail dress that accentuated her already surgically enhanced chest, having just returned to Vegas from a Los Angeles erotica convention.
Which provokes the obvious question: Is she serious, or is this just a p.r. stunt? After all, she cleverly staged her filing for maximum effect, appearing in a hot-pink Jackie Kennedy outfit with a large entourage. Her official campaign website includes several photo galleries of her in various provocative poses.
Yet Damayo, who turned 33 this summer, insists she’s in the race for real. She’s a single mom and an Internet entrepreneur with a laundry list of concerns about Nevada and a frustration with the state’s current leadership. Why shouldn’t she make her voice heard, she asks? If the gubernatorial bid doesn’t work out, she may run for mayor of Las Vegas next year (a town where she may not even stand out).
That she is an active Republican appears to be true. In addition to her volunteer work with Brady, supporting the party is a running theme on her personal blog, as is her support for the NRA, among… other postings.
She sees herself right at home as a Republican. The party has a long history of inclusion, going back to the days of Abraham Lincoln, she notes. Many in the x-rated film industry vote Republican, she adds, because they like their taxes low.
Damayo is something of a political junkie. She is a big fan of Fox News and C-Span and local conservative talk radio. Once a major Bush-Cheney supporter, she’s soured on them since Hurricane Katrina. Her favorite politician now is Rudy Giuliani. Her favorite pundit is Bill O’Reilly.
In my interview with her, Damayo fields a variety questions with ease, making clear from her answers that she’s a libertarian. She worships at a non-denominational Christian church. She supports President Bush’s immigration-reform plan, noting she’s a naturalized immigrant herself. Damayo opposes a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, arguing that’s anti-federalist. She calls for marijuana legalization (“It’s just a herb”), though she opposes legalization for harder drugs. She also believes brothels should be legal statewide. A bitter divorce and custody fight have made her into a firm believer in tort reform.
Damayo is even eager to discuss Nevada’s right-to-work law at some length. “If people don’t want to join a union they shouldn’t have to,” she opines.
She does break with libertarianism on some issues. She favors a higher minimum wage and is unmoved by free-market arguments against raising it. She’s worked those jobs and it was one of the worst times of her life, she says.
Her main concern as a candidate is that the state has devoted too much energy to promoting tourism and not enough to managing its explosive growth. The schools are awful, she says–the infrastructure is crumbling and the services are terrible. Damayo sends her seven-year-old daughter to a private Catholic school. She’s particularly concerned about the state’s growing violent crime rate. Her own home was burglarized a few months ago. The state hasn’t hired nearly enough cops to keep pace with growth, she says.
Damayo is open about her pornographic past: “I would never talk bad about it at all. Without it I would not have the opportunity to live the life I’m living now.” But she describes it in decidedly unglamorous, “it’s-a-living” terms. She doesn’t watch the films herself.
She doesn’t exactly recommend it as a career path either. If you have other options, take them, she says.
“It takes a certain type of personality to do this,” she says. Most burn out quickly.
She did her first film when she was only 18, after answering an ad that said: “Partial nude modeling.” It was only the second time she had ever had sex, she says. She did it because the director offered to buy her a used car.
“I was too young to even think. I just went into it,” she says.
Once you cross that threshold you cannot really go back. So Damayo went forward and got a contract with one of the major adult film companies. She retired for good from movies, she says, in 2003. She adds she no longer receives royalties from her films either, “So I’m not running to increase my sales.”
Today she maintains a website selling her films and other merchandise as well as working on the stripper circuit. The latter, she says, is where the real money is and many strippers do x-rated films solely because it enables them to demand high fees. But she’s looking to retire from that, too, she says.
Will Nevada take her candidacy seriously? She is managing to get some local press but the tone is skeptical. Nevada pundits dismiss her. “It’s a joke, period,” says Las Vegas Sun columnist Jon Ralston. State GOP officials have been noticeably cool towards her. .
Damayo isn’t deterred. “Anything I put my mind into, I do full force,” she says. “Watch out.”
– Sean Higgins is a reporter based in Washington, D.C.