Freshman Orientation: Democratic Assemblywoman Lesley Cohen

  • Lesley Cohen
    Assemblywoman Lesley Cohen. Photo: Nevada Legislature.

    Returning Democrat who unseated one-term Republican Assemblyman Stephen Silberkraus. Cohen was previously appointed to the seat in December 2012 after then-Assemblywoman April Mastroluca resigned.

  • Represents District 29, which includes downtown Henderson and portions of Green Valley.
  • District 29 leans Democratic (38 percent Democratic, 34 percent Republican and 21 percent nonpartisan in the 2016 election).
  • Cohen didn’t have a Democratic primary opponent.
  • Cohen won just over 50 percent of the vote in the 2016 election, besting moderate Republican Silberkraus by 212 votes, or less than 1 percentage point.
  • Serving on Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Mining (Vice Chair); Corrections, Parole, and Probation; Taxation; Judiciary committees in the 2017 session.

FAMILY AND EDUCATION:

Lesley Cohen was born in New York City in 1970 before her parents brought her to southern Nevada in 1972.

“They came from the City and didn’t want to live in a big city anymore, and when we came, (Las Vegas) certainly wasn’t a big city,” she said.

After graduating from Valley High School in Las Vegas, she earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Nevada, Reno, where she was a classmate of now-Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson.

She completed a law degree at Depaul University College of Law in Chicago in 1996 and  volunteers at Clark County Legal Services.

The vice president of Greyhound Pet Adoption of Las Vegas, Cohen owns greyhounds named Vashti (after the queen in the Book of Esther) and Babka (after the pastry featured in Seinfeld), as well as a Sheltie named Baron (for the Red Baron). Cohen also enjoys doing yoga and incorporated it into one of her campaign events.

Much of her family lives in southern Nevada, including her 96-year-old grandmother who was born the year women got the right to vote and plans to come to the opening day of the Legislature.

CAREER

Cohen worked as a family law attorney at Reza Athari & Associates before she was elected.

ON NEVADA AND THE ISSUES:

What are you proud of about Nevada? Does anything embarrass you about the state?

“It’s just such a beautiful state and I think people don’t realize that. There’s so much to do and so much to see, so many activities. People say there’s no arts, no culture. I think that’s never been true.

I wouldn’t say there’s anything that embarrasses me. There’s always room for improvement. Certainly we need to work on our education and improve our ranking. Also, we need to make sure we’re treating our state employees well. We want to attract quality employees to make sure we’re serving our citizens well.”

What are your top priorities in the 2017 session?

“Most everyone in the Legislature would say education is still a priority, and employment -- making sure we have good-paying jobs for citizens.

And then there is an issue that isn’t something that can be addressed legislatively. There are so many great services for the people in Nevada but I don’t think we’re getting the word out. That’s one of the things I love about canvassing. There are times when people have concerns and issues and I can say, ‘Let me get you in touch with this service that’s available.’

There are things that we do right in this state, where other states are following because we’re setting the gold standard. And they say we don’t do things right around here. We DO do things right around here and we don’t toot our own horn enough.”

Should we raise taxes, and under what circumstances?

“I haven’t seen a budget yet. Until I see a budget and we have hearings, until I can talk to constituents and hear from other legislators, I can’t even say.”

What might we cut in the budget?

“It’s pretty much the same thing -- I haven’t seen a budget. We’re going to have to ensure that the critical programs -- education, safety -- are funded.”

How do you plan to diversify Nevada’s economy and create more jobs?

“I’m really excited about ecotourism. I submitted a bill draft request that would dedicate two seats on the Board of Wildlife Commissioners to ecotourism to help develop the industry. It’s a billion-dollar industry, but we should be doing more to grow it. We know millennials aren’t gambling so we want to make sure they come to Nevada, and we want them taking advantage of our public lands.

You can’t go to a rinky dink gas station in southern Utah without hearing French or German being spoken. People come from all over the world to see Red Rock and Valley of Fire. People take advantage of what we have to offer and I just want to make sure we’re maximizing it.”

What should we do next on solar?

“Nevada definitely should be a leader in renewable energy. How we become the leader is really going to be the question. I’m really excited that we’re going to have a subcommittee on that in the Legislature. I want to see what we hear in the subcommittee and take those discussions back to the district and talk to my constituents.”

What should Nevada’s next step be on the stalled Education Savings Account program?

“I think our first priority has to be ensuring all of Nevada’s children have a quality education. I think right now we need to hear from all sides. There have been numerous studies that show when families are involved in their children’s education, they do better. I want to make sure parents are empowered to be involved in their children’s education. There needs to be choice,  but what that ends up meaning, we’ll have to see.”

What should Nevada’s minimum wage be?

“When the minimum wage increases, that money goes into our economy. That money isn’t going into bank accounts and being saved -- it’s going right back into the economy. I think that a person who works a full-time job should be able to support themselves, especially when they work for a business that benefits from our tax structure. What that amount is, I don’t know. I need to hear more from constituents about that and we’re going to have hearings on that in the Legislature and I’m going to need to see what happens at those hearings.”

Will you work across the aisle, and on what issues?

“No one party has a monopoly on good ideas. That’s one thing we do well in this state is work across party lines, so I’m really committed to working across party lines. I don’t think it has to be any particular issue. It’s wherever we can find consensus and wherever we can build the consensus.”

Where do you stand on recreational marijuana?

“I do not want Nevada to spend money to move this forward if a future Attorney General is required to enforce the federal law regarding marijuana,” Cohen told the Las Vegas Review-Journal before the measure passed. “However, I will comply with the will of the people in this ballot initiative and work in the Legislature to ensure that Nevada follows the best practices for safety regarding recreational marijuana and raising revenue should the citizens of Nevada (pass it).”

Do you support expanded gun background checks?

“Rapists, domestic abusers and other violent criminals should not be able to purchase guns, and closing the loopholes and enforcing existing laws will help us to find a balance of protecting our community and our rights,” she told the newspaper before Nevada narrowly passed a measure expanding the checks.

How does Nevada improve its poorly ranked education system?

“The Nevada Legislature needs to continue to work to improve education in the state and to ensure that the education initiatives passed in 2015 are implemented,” she told the Review-Journal. “Additionally, educational opportunities for our students must be increased through access to vocational and hands on training so our children are ready for the jobs of the future and high-tech businesses will want to start and relocate to Nevada.”

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This post was updated Jan. 22, 2017 to correct an error in Cohen's district number. It also reflects that she is assigned to the taxation committee, not the education committee, contrary to information listed on her official legislative biography.