Nevada seeks dismissal of Laxalt election lawsuit that claims noncitizens infiltrated state voter rolls

Attorneys for the state of Nevada are seeking the dismissal of a lawsuit against the secretary of state regarding voter roll maintenance, asserting that the court does not have jurisdiction over the subject matter and that the plaintiffs have misrepresented the secretary of state’s role in maintaining voter rolls.

In the motion to dismiss filed in the First Judicial Court in Carson City on Thursday, Gregory Zunino, deputy solicitor general for the state, wrote that the plaintiffs’ claim that Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske has failed to establish a system to verify citizenship in the state’s voter registration process was “demonstrably false.”

“Plaintiffs have no legal right to invoke this Court’s subject matter jurisdiction in their mission to seize partial control of the Office of the Secretary of State,” Zunino wrote.

The lawsuit, filed in December by former Republican Attorney General Adam Laxalt, names three plaintiffs — former Republican Assemblyman Al Kramer, former Washoe County District Attorney Dick Gammick and Roger William Norman — who claim that the alleged failure of the secretary of state to keep noncitizens off the voter rolls caused their votes to be diluted and discounted because “noncitizens are on the voter rolls and have voted in the past.”

Zunino wrote that it is the counties, not the state, that maintain voter rolls, meaning the responsibility to remove noncitizens from the lists falls to the county clerks. He also noted that the secretary of state merely maintains a centralized database of voter information collected from the 17 county clerks.

The plaintiffs pointed to the state’s new automatic voter registration system, which has added thousands of new voters since last January, as a potential opportunity for noncitizens to be added to the voter roll.

However, the system does have protections against the registration of noncitizens, including a citizenship question on the primary Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) form. Zunino wrote in the state’s filing that following the 2018 election, Cegavske worked with the DMV and attorney general to develop procedures for filtering noncitizens out of the voter registration process, including the exclusion of Driver Authorization Card holders, who are commonly noncitizens, from the automatic registration process.

Zunino also questioned the plaintiffs’ choice of attorney, arguing that Laxalt, who previously served as counsel for Cegavske in his capacity as attorney general, presents “an appearance of impropriety and conflict” because the plaintiffs claim that they have relied exclusively upon “public” records.

“Plaintiffs’ counsel may have access to non-public and privileged information regarding the Secretary’s efforts to address DMV voter registration processes in 2017 and 2018,” he wrote. “Insofar as Plaintiffs have engaged an attorney who may possess information acquired from an attorney-client relationship, their choice of counsel is problematic.”

Zunino also wrote that the plaintiffs lack standing in the court and that their demands for systemic and routine checks on voter citizenship represent a matter of policy that should be considered by the Legislature rather than addressed by the District Court.

That argument stems in part from the plaintiffs’ inability to prove injury by way of vote dilution, as the plaintiffs represent just three of more than 1.4 million votes cast by Nevadans in the last election. Zunino wrote that the plaintiffs aired a generalized and speculative grievance that any voter could raise, meaning that the plaintiffs have not proven any specific injury needed for standing.

He further noted that the generalized grievance about the operation of government raises policy questions that should not be handled by the court, but should instead be addressed by legislators and executives.

This session, Republican legislators are pushing for election reforms, although officials of the Assembly Republican Caucus said the group’s official position is that the recent election was not “fraudulent.”

Assembly members John Ellison (R-Elko), Jim Wheeler (R-Minden) and Jill Dickman (R-Sparks) are sponsoring AB137, which would require proof of identity for voting in person. And several Republican legislators are sponsoring AB134, which would repeal a law that calls for widespread distribution of mail-in ballots to active voters during states of emergency.

Democratic leaders have expressed interest in making the broad distribution of mail-in ballots standard, even in non-emergency times, in order to ease participation in elections.

Election Preview: Assembly Republicans fighting to get out of the ‘superminority’ as Democrats seek to protect seats in swingy districts

Democratic lawmakers have, for the last two years, enjoyed a supermajority in the Assembly.

Because they control two-thirds of the seats in the chamber, Democrats have had the ability to pass tax increases and override vetos from the governor — should the need arise — at their discretion. The only limit on Democrats’ legislative power has been in the Senate, where Democrats are one seat shy of a supermajority.

While Senate Democrats have been eyeing state Sen. Heidi Gansert’s Washoe County seat in their quest to secure a supermajority in that chamber, they have largely been playing defense on the Assembly side.

Only five of the 42 seats in the Assembly are truly competitive this year, including four districts where Democrats narrowly won elections in 2018 — Assembly Districts 4, 29, 31 and 37. The fifth, Assembly District 2, is a potentially swingy seat that has been held by a Republican for more than a decade.

Of the remaining 37 seats, 25 are guaranteed or likely to swing Democratic and 12 are guaranteed or likely to swing Republican. Five Democrats and seven Republicans are running unopposed in the general election, with the rest of the seats likely to swing either Democratic or Republican because of the overwhelming voter registration advantages in each district.

Democrats have a 29-13 supermajority in the Assembly — meaning that they can only afford to lose one seat if Assembly District 2 stays in Republican hands.

That’s why Republicans say they have ramped up an independent expenditure operation — that is, an outside campaign not run by the candidate themselves — this cycle focused on boosting their prospects of getting out of what is sometimes referred to as the “superminority.” Assemblyman Tom Roberts, who is helping to spearhead the effort, said that the independent expenditure campaign is the result of Republicans narrowing their focus after the last cycle.

“We knew that we needed to remain focused on the seats that were winnable,” Roberts said. “We were critiqued by some donors to that effect, and so we developed a plan that was fairly narrowly focused based on voter registration.”

Between Roberts’ Nevada Victory PAC and Assemblywoman Jill Tolles’ Lead Forward PAC, Republicans have raised $117,000 this year toward those competitive Assembly seats.

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm on the Republican side,” Roberts said. “There wasn’t so much on the Democrat side, but I think they’re picking up steam so it’ll be interesting to see who can turn out the most and who can attract independents — and how the presidential race plays into down ticket races will be telling, too.”

But Megan Jones, a Democratic consultant who works on independent expenditures on the other side of the aisle, thinks Democrats’ chances of keeping their supermajority is strong. And, by comparison, Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson’s Leadership in Nevada PAC, which has existed since 2015, has raised $240,000 this year.

“The way they've been running the campaigns has been smart. They've been well resourced,” Jones said. “So I'm hopeful there. I think we have a good shot at retaining a governing majority."

But there’s a possibility that there could be significant drop off down the ballot because of the prevalence of vote by mail this cycle, Jones said, noting that Democrats, particularly those in Nevada, tend to vote less straight ticket than Republicans do.

“If you're a Republican, you're usually a Republican all the way down the ballot,” Jones said.

Though former Vice President Joe Biden is leading in the polls in Nevada, Eric Roberts, executive director of the Assembly Republican Caucus, is hopeful that Republicans could still pick up some seats even if President Donald Trump narrowly loses the state.

“I don’t know how much a candidate can truly outperform the top of the ticket,” Roberts said. “I don’t know how much range there is to separate, but that’s where Republicans have to go to find that because Trump looks like he is performing about on voter registration or a little bit below it.”

Below, The Nevada Independent explores those five Assembly races this year. Click here to read more about the Senate races and check out our election page for more information overall.

Assembly District 2

Of the five competitive Assembly races this cycle, Assembly District 2 is the only Republican-controlled seat. It is currently represented by termed-out Republican Assemblyman John Hambrick, who has represented the Summerlin-area seat since 2008.

Republicans recruited Heidi Kasama — her first name is pronounced “hey-dee,” for the record — managing broker of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices-Nevada Properties, as Hambrick’s successor. She faces Democrat Radhika Kunnel, a graduate of UNLV’s Boyd School of Law and a former professor specializing in cancer biology, in the race. Garrett LeDuff, a nonpartisan, is also running for the seat.

Hambrick won his re-election bid in 2018 by 1,054 votes, or a 3.7 percentage-point margin. Republicans currently have a 969-person voter registration advantage in the district, or 2.2 percentage points. Republicans had an 1,829-person advantage in 2018, or 4.5 percentage points.

Kasama has raised $193,000 this year, including $104,000 over the last three months. However, more than half of that three-month total, $55,450, was self-funded. She also received a $10,000 donation from BORPAC (the Board of REALTORS PAC in Las Vegas) and $5,000 each from Assemblyman Tom Roberts and the Reno-Sparks Association of REALTORS.

Kunnel, by comparison, has raised about $59,000, with about $39,000 over the last three months, including $2,000 from Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, $1,000 from SEIU Local 1107 and $1,000 from EMILY’s List.

LeDuff has not raised any money this cycle.

Kasama has about $68,000 in the bank to finish out her campaign, while Kunnel has about $26,000.

Assembly District 4

Republicans are hoping to wrest control of this northwest Las Vegas Assembly seat from Democrats this year after losing it by only 120 votes two years ago. The race is a rematch between first term Democratic Assemblywoman Connie Munk and Republican Richard McArthur, who previously represented the district between 2008 and 2012 and 2016 to 2018. 

However, there is one significant difference this year: Munk and McArthur are the only two candidates in the race. Two years ago, an Independent American Party candidate also ran for the seat, securing 671 votes that might have otherwise gone to Munk or McArthur — and made the difference in the race. 

The Independent American Party is a far-right political party, though some people mistakenly register with the party thinking they have registered as an independent, when independents are called “nonpartisans” in Nevada. Still, Republicans speculate that McArthur would have won the lion’s share of those 671 votes, enough to have secured him a victory over Munk in 2018.

Voter registration numbers between Republicans and Democrats in the district continue to be extremely close. Democrats have an 11-voter registration advantage — 0.02 percentage points — over Republicans; two years ago, Republicans had a 33-voter advantage, or 0.07 percentage points.

Munk has, however, significantly outraised McArthur in her re-election bid. Her most recent campaign finance report shows that she has raised $137,000 over the course of the year — including $67,000 in the last three months — including several $5,000 donations from local groups including White Rabbit PAC (affiliated with the Laborers Union Local 169 in Reno), the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 525, SEIU Local 1107, the Committee to Elect Daniele Monroe-Moreno and Citizens for Justice Trust (a trial lawyers PAC) and, nationally, from EMILY’s List.

McArthur, who has raised $35,000 over the year, including $34,000 in the last three months, received one $6,000 donation from Assemblyman Al Kramer and three $5,000 donations, from the Barrick Gold Corporation, Assembly Republican Leader Robin Titus and Keystone Corporation. He also received one out-of-state donation, $2,500 from the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

As of Sept. 30, Munk had about $103,000 in the bank to finish out her campaign, compared to the $36,000 McArthur had on hand.

Assembly District 29

Democratic Assemblywoman Lesley Cohen is running for re-election in this Henderson Assembly district against Republican Steven DeLisle, a dentist anesthesiologist. Cohen first represented the seat between 2012 and 2014 and again since 2016.

Cohen won her 2018 re-election bid by 1,336 votes, or 5.1 percent, in a district where Democrats had a 1,550-person, or a 3.7 percentage point, voter registration advantage. Democrats now have a slightly narrower 4.9 percentage point, or 2,233 person, voter registration advantage in the district.

Cohen has raised $93,000 this year toward her re-election bid, including $53,000 over the last three months, while DeLisle has raised about $87,000, including $66,000 in the last three months. Some of Cohen’s top donors over the last few months include Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, who contributed $5,000; Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, who also contributed $5,000; and SEIU Local 1107, which contributed $4,000.

DeLisle’s notable contributors include the Keystone Corporation, which donated $5,000; the Vegas Chamber, which donated $2,500; and Las Vegas Sands, which also donated $2,500.

Cohen has about $107,000 in the bank, while DeLisle has about $70,000.

Assembly District 31

Democrat Skip Daly and Republican Jill Dickman are, for the fourth time in a row, going head to head in this Washoe County Assembly district. Daly has represented the district for eight of the last 10 years — from 2010 to 2014 and from 2016 until the present — with Dickman representing the district the other two years.

In 2014, Dickman defeated Daly by 1,890 votes, or 10.6 percentage points, during that year’s red wave. Daly defeated Dickman narrowly in 2016 by 38 votes, or 0.1 percentage point, before securing a wider margin of victory over her in 2018 — 1,105 votes, or 3.8 percentage points.

Daly, the business manager of Laborers Union Local 169, is known for relentlessly door knocking his way through the district, helping him secure recent victories in a district where there have consistently been more Republicans than Democrats. Republicans currently exceed Democrats in voter registration numbers by 1,966, or 4.3 percentage points; in 2018, Republicans had a 2,376 person advantage, or 5.8 percentage points.

Daly has raised a total of $67,000 this year toward his re-election bid, including $13,000 over the last three months. That sum includes a $5,000 donation from Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, $2,500 from the Nevada State Association of Electrical Workers and $2,000 from Southwest Gas.

Dickman, by contrast, has raised $59,000 this year, including $53,000 over the last three months. She’s received significant support from fellow Assembly Republicans — including $6,000 from Assemblyman Al Kramer, $5,000 from Assembly Republican Leader Robin Titus and $2,500 from Assemblyman Tom Roberts — but her biggest contribution in the last three months was a $10,000 check from Nevada Gold Mines, the joint mining venture between Barrick and Newmont.

Daly has about $53,000 left in the bank to spend toward his re-election campaign. Dickman has $56,000.

Assembly District 37

Democratic Assemblywoman Shea Backus is fighting to keep control of this Summerlin-area Assembly seat this year. She faces Republican Andy Matthews, who was formerly policy director for Adam Laxalt’s 2018 campaign for governor and president of the Nevada Policy Research Institute.

Backus, a lawyer by trade, defeated Republican Jim Marchant, then the incumbent, in 2018 by 135 votes, or 0.5 percentage points.

Democrats currently have an 845 person, or 1.9 percentage point, voter registration advantage in the district. In 2018, Democrats had a 245 person, or 0.6 percentage point, advantage.

Matthews has far outraised Backus individually, receiving $135,000 in contributions over the last three months compared to the $51,000 Backus received. Matthews has raised $210,000 over the course of the year, while Backus has raised $132,000. But Backus has slightly more money in the bank — $132,000 to Matthews’ $130,000.

Backus has received significant contributions from labor — including $5,000 from the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 525, $4,000 from SEIU Local 1107, $2,500 from IBEW Local 357, $2,000 from the Laborers Union Local 169 and $2,000 from the Southern Nevada Building and Construction Trades Council — and her fellow Assembly Democrats. She also received $5,000 from EMILY’s List and $1,000 from Republican consultant Pete Ernaut.

A significant share of Matthews’ contributions are from individuals, but his other top donors include Keystone Corporation, Hamilton Company, MM Development Company and Cortez Gold Mine, each of which donated $5,000.

Special session draws to a close as lawmakers pass COVID liability bill exempting hospitals, schools

Lawmakers ended the second special session of the summer shortly after midnight on Wednesday after passing a heavily lobbied bill that shields many businesses from COVID-19-related lawsuits but ultimately exempted school districts, hospitals and other health care facilities from receiving the additional protections.

Members of the Assembly, after a five-hour hearing Wednesday night, voted 31-10 to grant final approval to SB4, the last major piece of legislation to advance in the special session. It mandates certain health and safety protections for hospitality workers, in addition to granting broad liability protections to nearly all businesses, governmental bodies and nonprofit groups in the state so long as they follow required local, state and federal health protocols. 

Several lawmakers described the vote as one of the most difficult of their legislative career, saying it was born of backroom deals and seemed to arbitrarily cut out important segments of the workforce. But supporters said they ultimately settled on the bill out of recognition that gaming is the lifeblood of the Nevada economy.

"Ultimately it comes down to one thing: I don't want to be back here in a few months trying to figure out where to find money on the backs of the most vulnerable among us to fill another $1.3 billion budget hole,” said Democratic Assemblywoman Shannon Bilbray-Axelrod. “We talk all the time about how we need to diversify our economy but the fact remains we are still a one trick pony — gaming and tourism fuel our economy.”

Four Democrats — Selena Torres, Edgar Flores, Richard Carrillo, and Brittney Miller — and six Republicans — John Ellison, Greg Hafen, Alexis Hansen, Al Kramer, Robin Titus and Chris Edwards — opposed the bill, which was approved by the Senate on a 16-5 vote earlier in the day.

In effect, the bill means that most regular businesses will be relatively protected from lawsuits if a customer contracts COVID-19 on the premises, so long as the company is following local, state and federal health mandates, such as ensuring that patrons are wearing masks. Customers will still be able to sue, but they’ll have to meet a much higher threshold for a court to allow their case to move forward.

The legislation also establishes protections for casino industry workers and outlines enhanced cleaning policies that large casino companies must follow, provisions the politically powerful Culinary Union has been long pushing for. Adolfo Fernandez, a Caesars Palace utility porter and Culinary Union member, died after contracting the virus in June, and his daughter, Irma, tearfully testified that she was carrying on a mantle of worker protection at his direction.

The two proposals were married together as SB4 in order to ensure that businesses — including gaming companies — and casino workers alike received the protections they wanted. 

However, while that mechanism ensured buy-in from some of the most politically powerful interests in the state, others were excluded from the process of drafting the bill. Hospitals and other health care facilities bemoaned their exclusion from the bill, schools argued against a last-minute amendment excluding them from liability protections and local health districts questioned why they weren’t consulted over new provisions that give them an enhanced oversight role over hotels.

“I share, like many of my colleagues, sentiments that this bill picks winners and losers and gives preferences to some special interest groups,” said Assembly Minority Leader Robin Titus. “I am very disappointed and hope that future legislatures will be able to right the wrongs that are being done today.”

Hospitals protest exclusion

During a lengthy public comment period, hospitals and health care workers warned that excluding health care facilities from liability protections would lead to them having to exclude vendors and visitors to hospitals, as well as think twice about transferring patients to lower-level facilities and threaten their ability to keep beds open during a pandemic.

“If we are following clear rules from the government, and in our case CDC guidelines, we should not be excluded,” said Bill Welch, CEO of the Nevada Hospital Association. “By excluding medical facilities from this bill, access to patient care will be impacted.”

Representatives of Gov. Steve Sisolak’s office tried to point to an emergency directive from April extending additional immunities from liability to providers of medical care engaged in the state’s COVID-19 response as justification for why hospitals and other health care facilities were excluded from the bill’s liability protections. 

However, Legislative Counsel Bureau General Counsel Kevin Powers told lawmakers Wednesday night that whether those additional immunities extend to health care facilities — not just their workers — is an “open question.”

“We cannot say that [the directive] provides medical facilities with the same immunity that their workers enjoy under [state law],” Powers said.

It also remained unclear as of Wednesday night who was responsible for health care facilities being excluded from the bill’s liability protections. During a hearing on the bill in the Senate early Tuesday morning, Brin Gibson, Sisolak’s interim general counsel, said the legislation was a byproduct of “some of the most important members of Nevada’s economy,” a point that several Assembly members asked about during the hearing on the bill.

Pressed during Wednesday’s hearing on who those “important members” were, Gibson demurred.

“There were myriad interests that were involved in the negotiation of this bill, from the travel and tourism industry, primarily, but there were a number of different interests,” Gibson said. “I don’t have a list.”

Sisolak’s staff, on Wednesday, acknowledged that the move was a policy decision from the governor’s office but offered no explanation as to why exactly hospitals had been excluded, other than that they believed that the facilities have enough existing protections.

At another point, the governor’s office suggested that putting in place liability protections would have been too difficult.

“This bill is around health and safety for public accommodations and also for businesses,” said Francisco Morales, a governor’s office staffer who presented the bill alongside Gibson. "To try and tackle liability protections for hospitals and medical providers ... would’ve been extremely complex, and I just want to go back and say that there are already robust protections under (state law).”

School district exemption

An amendment introduced early Wednesday carved out K-12 school districts, including charter schools, from the enhanced liability protections in the bill — a concession celebrated by two of the state’s largest teacher unions, the Nevada State Education Association (NSEA) and Clark County Education Association. 

Democratic lawmakers initially pitched the amendment as a way to ensure school districts would be more cautious about sending teachers back to school without high health and safety standards in place. Democratic Sen. Julia Ratti said it would “put our schools in the position of having to think just a little bit harder about the safety standards that they're providing.”

Legislative legal staff told lawmakers that schools would still be able to use normal litigation immunity offered under existing law, but several school districts said the lack of enhanced liability standards would open them up to liability and that they should be treated the same as other governmental entities.

“If employees and students choose not to follow health and safety standards outside of school, the district shouldn’t be at fault for their actions,” Nevada Association of School Boards President Bridget Peterson said in written testimony. “The potential lawsuits will be costly and put school districts in a financial risk at a time where our budgets are being reduced and expenses are increasing.”

Churchill County School District Superintendent Summer Stephens said districts were working hard to ensure that they could address health and safety issues as they arose and that the enhanced liability protections would put them in a better position in spite of existing liability protections written into law.

“Adding schools back into the bill does not mean schools will not protect their staff members,” she said.

In the end, NSEA lobbyist Chris Daly testified against the bill, saying that it wanted to show solidarity with workers who did not benefit from the measure.

"An injury to one is an injury to all,” he said.

Health districts excluded from drafting

The heads of Nevada’s two urban health districts said on Wednesday that they were not consulted as the legislation was being drafted, despite the fact that it newly tasks them with regular inspections of hotels to ensure compliance with COVID-19-related protocols and establishes a new enforcement role.

“It’s just another burden being placed upon the health district while we’re already overextended in our response to COVID-19,” Washoe County District Health Officer Kevin Dick said.

The health districts have also raised concerns that, while the bill appropriates additional funding to them, it only makes that funding available through the end of the calendar year. SB4 appropriates $2 million to the Southern Nevada Health District and $500,000 to the Washoe County Health District.

Michelle White, chief of staff to Sisolak, said that the governor’s office understands the health districts’ concerns about the time frame of the funding but that they are “completely confident” that the health districts “understand the critical nature of this work to protect Nevada’s employees and our economy.” She added that health districts already have existing authority and expertise with public accommodations, such as hotels, and so they seemed like an “obvious choice” to take on the new role.

“We are incredibly sympathetic with the health districts that they can do this as an expansion,” White said. “We will be a very strong partner with those health districts as we have been and can’t be more appreciative of the work and partnership that they’ve had thus far with us.”

Legislative candidates raised $1.8 million over last three months, campaign finance reports show

The Nevada Legislature Building

It’s been more than a month since races were called in Nevada’s June primary election, but campaign finance reports showing who helped legislative candidates win their contests have only just been published.

Under a state law approved in 2019 and taking effect this election cycle, local and state candidates for elected office are required to file reports detailing their contributions and political spending every three months, similar to requirements for federal candidates. 

But unlike federal candidates, who are required to disclose their donors and political spending ahead of primary and general elections, no such requirement was made in Nevada law for statewide or legislative candidates — leaving voters and the public in the dark on the last two months of fundraising before the state’s primary election.

Reports were required to be submitted to the secretary of state’s office on Wednesday, July 15, and cover the period between April 1 and June 30.

In total, legislative candidates reported raising more than $1.8 million and spending $1.9 million during that three-month reporting period. Candidates ended the period with a combined $4.7 million in the bank, led by Democratic legislative leaders Sen. Nicole Cannizzaro ($692,000) and Speaker Jason Frierson ($442,900).

Although only one incumbent legislative candidate lost re-election in the primary (Republican Chris Edwards), the fundraising reports shine a light into the breadth and scope of political fundraising that occurred ahead of some of the state’s most hard-fought primary contents.

Campaign finance reports also provide an inside look into what races each political party thinks will be the most competitive come November, as well as a sense of how much influence certain groups, businesses or other politically powerful interests may have come the 2021 legislative session.

Democrats currently control 29 of 42 seats in the Assembly and 13 of 21 seats in the Senate. A seat flipped in the Senate would give the party a two-thirds majority in both legislative houses.

Fundraising totals reported on Wednesday are significant for another reason: it marks the last time for several weeks that lawmakers will be able to fundraise because of blackout rules around the ongoing special legislative session. State law prohibits any legislator from collecting campaign contributions during a special session and for at least 15 days afterwards — meaning many incumbents in tough races will be at a temporary disadvantage while their opponents can continue fundraising.

Here’s a look at how the fundraising battle played out in some of the state's top legislative primaries, and the state of play in competitive districts a few months before the November general election.

COMPETITIVE PRIMARIES

Senate District 7 

Former Nevada State Democratic Party Chair Roberta Lange claimed a narrow victory of 132 votes over Democratic Assemblywoman Ellen Spiegel and, with no general election opponents, will take the seat, which covers parts of eastern Las Vegas and Henderson.

Lange, who was endorsed by the Nevada State Democratic Caucus, trailed far behind Spiegel in spending and fundraising in the first quarter but dominated in both areas in the second quarter, spending $136,000 and raising $66,000, $5,000 of which came from an in-kind donation of a poll from Nevada State Democrats. 

Her long list of donors included several Democratic senators, including $5,000 each from Cannizzaro's campaign and PACs connected to Mo Denis, Yvanna Cancela and Joyce Woodhouse. Other top donors included $5,000 from the Nevada Hispanic Leadership Fund and $5,000 from Citizens for Justice PAC, a PAC formed to combat the influence of big business and the insurance industry in politics.

The majority of her spending went to advertising. She also spent more than $18,000 on polling and gave $2,500 to Cannizzaro's campaign.

Lange ended the second quarter with just $2,600 in cash on hand, more than $139,000 less than Spiegel's war chest, and will join the Legislature in 2021. 

Assembly District 2

In a Republican primary saturated with candidates, former Nevada REALTORS president Heidi Kasama emerged victorious, with 47.9 percent of the vote. To represent the Southern Nevada district, Kasama will go toe-to-toe with Democrat Radhika “RPK” Kunnel, a law school student and former cancer biology professor.

During the three-month fundraising period in the second quarter, Kasama reported raising $16,385 and spending about $57,000 on expenses related to advertising, consultants and other costs. She ended the second quarter with about $63,600 in cash-on-hand, largely supported by $56,000 she gave her campaign in the first quarter.

Kasama’s top contributions included $3,000 from Republican Assemblyman Glen Leavitt’s campaign fund, $2,500 from Republican Assemblywoman Jill Tolles’s campaign, $1,000 from Assemblyman Tom Roberts’ campaign and $1,000 from the Business Leaders for Ethical Government PAC, which also contributed to Sen. Julia Ratti in 2018.

Kunnel’s contribution totals for the second quarter are much lower than the donations Kasama received. During the three-month donation period, Kunnel received $5,518 in contributions, $2,000 of which are demarcated as in-kind donations. She also received a $900 donation from former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid’s campaign fund.

The 2 percentage point Republican voter registration advantage in the district indicates Kasama could have the advantage.

Assembly District 4

Democratic Assemblywoman Connie Munk ran unopposed in the primary and is set to face former GOP Assemblyman Richard McArthur in the northwest Las Vegas Valley Assembly district’s general election. 

Munk, who eked out a narrow victory against McArthur in 2018 with a 120-vote margin out of nearly 30,000 votes cast, reported raising $18,154 during the second quarter, with about $280 in in-kind donations. 

Her largest contribution was $3,000 from the Citizens for Justice PAC (trial lawyers). She reported spending about $2,800 on mostly advertising and some office expenses, ending the second quarter with more than $87,000 cash on hand.

Fundraising for McArthur lagged behind Munk for the first two quarters. McArthur reported $700 in contributions during the second quarter, spending roughly $12,500 on expenses related to advertising and ending the second quarter with about $15,500 cash on hand.

McArthur defeated Donnie Gibson, the owner of a construction and equipment rental company, in the primary by securing 51.2 percent of votes to Gibson’s 48.9. That comes in spite of Gibson outspending him by more than $43,000 in the first quarter and almost $83,000 in the second quarter.

McArthur served three non-consecutive terms in the Assembly, including two terms between 2008 and 2012 and one term from 2016 to 2018. In a district where Democrats outnumber Republicans by less than 1 percentage point, the race between Munk and McArthur could be close.

Assembly District 19

Republican Chris Edwards was the only lawmaker to lose in a primary election this cycle, after being outraised in the most recent fundraising quarter by opponent and Mesquite City Councilwoman Annie Black.

Black, who easily defeated Edwards in the primary election with 61 percent of the vote, reported raising more than $67,700 during the three-month fundraising period, including $9,000 in personal loans, $5,000 in in-kind contributions from a graphics company and nearly $6,000 in contributions under $100. She reported spending roughly $30,700, including repayment of loans, and ended the period with about $27,900 in cash on hand.

Her top donors included several family members, the holding company of Planet 13 marijuana dispensary in Las Vegas, the Nevada REALTORS PAC and a PAC run by Las Vegas City Councilwoman Michele Fiore, a former legislative colleague of Edwards who once famously told him to “sit your ass down” on the Assembly floor.

Edwards reported raising $17,800, including sizable sums from Assembly Republicans Robin Titus, Al Kramer, Glen Leavitt and a PAC affiliated with Tom Roberts. He reported spending just over $28,300 and ended the period with $7,100 in cash on hand.

As no Democrats or other candidates filed to run in the race, Black will automatically be elected to the Legislature at the general election.

TOP 2020 GENERAL ELECTION RACES

Assembly District 29

Democratic incumbent Lesley Cohen will face Steven DeLisle, a dentist with several offices in Southern Nevada, in November. Cohen represented the Henderson Assembly district, a swing district, from 2012 to 2014 and lost her re-election bid to Stephen Silberkraus before reclaiming the seat in 2016.

Cohen leads DeLisle in fundraising and cash on hand at the end of the second quarter. Her $17,500 raised was boosted with a $5,000 contribution from Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton's campaign and donations from unions, including $1,500 from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, and several PACS connected to firefighters in Nevada.

After spending $1,900 mostly on office expenses, she ended the period with more than $83,000 in available cash.

DeLisle, who took 63 percent of the vote in his Republican primary, raised $11,300 this period. His biggest donor was the conservative Keystone Corporation PAC with a $5,000 donation. He also received $1,000 from the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce and $500 from Republican Assemblywoman Alexis Hansen, who represents part of Washoe County and several rural counties. 

DeLisle spent nearly $18,000 more than Cohen in the second quarter on a mix of advertising, consultants and office expenses. He has nearly $55,000 in available cash.

Assembly District 37

In one of the swingiest Assembly seats this election cycle, the Democratic incumbent Shea Backus is squaring off against Republican challenger Andy Matthews, former president of the conservative Nevada Policy Research Institute. 

Backus won the seat from Republican Assemblyman Jim Marchant by 135 votes in 2018, and Matthews beat out the three other Republicans in the primary election by carrying 49 percent of the vote.

During the second quarter, Matthews reported raising $39,182. His largest donations came in three $5,000 contributions — one from Assemblywoman Jill Tolles’ campaign, another from William Brady, owner of hospitality industry supplier Brady Industries, and the third from Keystone Corporation, a PAC supporting Nevada conservatives. 

Matthews spent more than $113,000 on expenses related to travel, advertising, consultants and office supplies, ending the second quarter with a cash-on-hand balance of $40,457. 

Though Matthews’ spending far outstripped that of any other candidate in the district, Backus has a higher cash-on-hand fund of $136,421 heading into the general election. During the second quarter she reported receiving $28,496 in contributions with top donations amounting to $8,000 from Citizens for Justice PAC, $2,500 from Southwest Gas and another $2,500 from the International Union of Operating Engineers, a union of heavy equipment operators.

Backus’ expenses for the second quarter amounted to $4,600, which went toward advertising and office expenses.

Senate District 5

There are three candidates on the ballot for the general election in Senate District 5, which includes portions of Henderson and southeastern Las Vegas. The district is currently represented by Democrat Joyce Woodhouse, who cannot seek re-election because of term limits.

Democratic candidate Kristee Watson led contributions in the district this period, reporting donations of $53,303, while Republican Carrie Buck reported $34,202 and Libertarian Tim Hagan reported none. All three candidates ran unopposed in their June primaries. 

Watson, the program facilitator for literacy nonprofit Spread the Word Nevada, saw major contributions from the Women’s Empowerment PAC, AFSCME, the Nevada Service Employees Union and Citizens for Justice. She also received $2,500 from the Committee to Elect Sen. Dallas Harris. 

Watson reported only $740 in spending and a cash on hand balance of just over $169,000. Buck has a lower reported cash on hand balance at $95,519, and the Republican candidate has been spending far more, reporting $12,386 during the same period, with nearly $12,000 of that going towards consulting.

Buck received a $10,000 contribution from the Keystone Corporation in April and $5,000 from the campaign of Republican Sen. Ben Kieckhefer. She has also received large donations from the PAC Nevadans for Integrity in Politics and Associated General Contractors.

Hagan has reported $0 in spending and $0 cash on hand.

Senate District 6

Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro narrowly won her first bid for office in 2016, and appears headed to another close contest against Republican attorney April Becker in one of the most important legislative races on the ballot.

Cannizzaro raised more dollars during the fundraising period than any other candidate — $114,000 — and ended June with more than $692,000 in cash on hand, with reported spending less than $8,800.

Her top donors included 13 entities giving $5,000, including many labor groups; AFL-CIO, AFSCME, Nevada Service Employees Union, and firefighter unions in North Las Vegas and Henderson. She also received $5,000 contributions from the Nevada REALTORS PAC, Eglet Adams law firm, the leadership PAC of Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, and the Majority 2020 PAC (which is run by Cannizzaro).

Her largest reported spending was a $5,000 contribution to Democratic state Senate candidate Roberta Lange.

On the Republican side, Becker reported raising nearly $51,700 and spending close to $58,000 during the reporting period, ending with nearly $150,000 in the bank. 

Her top contributions including $10,000 from the conservative Keystone Corporation, and $5,000 each from Republican Sen. Ben Kieckhefer’s campaign and a construction company owned by former casino executive William Richardson. 

Senate District 15

Republican Sen. Heidi Gansert emerged as one of the top fundraisers of the cycle, reporting nearly $79,000 in contributions and sitting on the biggest pile of campaign cash of any legislative Republican ($271,000) in her first re-election bid for this Reno-area district. 

Her top donors included $10,000 each from the company operating the Stratosphere and a PAC operated by former Lieutenant Gov. Mark Hutchison, as well as $5,000 from Reno Assemblywoman Jill Tolles and $2,500 from her own PAC (NV First).

She reported spending just over $74,000 during the fundraising period, which primarily went to consultant and advertising expenses.

But Democrats have endorsed and rallied around Wendy Jauregui-Jackins, a county appraiser and the sister of Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui, who both easily beat back a primary challenge in June and reported raising more than $72,000 (including $13,000 in in-kind contributions) during the fundraising cycle.

Her biggest donors included $10,000 from the federal Teamsters PAC, $5,000 each from AFSCME and labor-backed Nevada Republic Alliance, as well as donations from other Democratic elected officials and affiliated PACs; Joyce Woodhouse, Marilyn Dondero-Loop, Dallas Harris, Yvanna Cancela, Melanie Schieble, Attorney General Aaron Ford and even U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s federal leadership PAC.

Jauregui-Jackins reported only $4,500 in spending and has $117,500 in cash on hand.

Senate District 18

Republican incumbent Scott Hammond will compete against Democratic challenger Liz Becker in November in an effort to maintain his Senate District 18 seat. Hammond has held the seat, which represents the northwestern portion of Las Vegas, since 2012. 

Hammond has reported contributions of $25,000 in the second period of 2020 including $5,000 from the Keystone Corporation, and $2,000 each from District 22 Assemblyman Keith Pickard, the Nevada REALTORS PAC, Enterprise Holdings Inc PAC and Cox Communications. Hammond has reported $69,394 in spending, mostly on consulting and special event costs. He has a reported cash on hand of $23,383.

Becker, who dominated the Democratic primary with 88 percent of the vote, is a former teacher and environmental scientist who previously worked with Southern Nevada Water Authority. Becker has reported raising $23,501 during the three-month period including $5,000 from AFSCME, who also endorsed the candidate in her primary. 

Becker reported spending far lower than her opponent at $1,918.13 in the same period, with the majority going towards office expenses. While her contributions for the period were lower, Becker’s reported total cash on hand is higher than her opponents at $30,268.14.

Lawmakers free up $58 million through full sweep of car registration fees; hold initial hearing on major budget reductions

Nevada lawmakers freed up an estimated extra $58.6 million on Wednesday and took several other small steps in their quest to mitigate expected massive cuts to the state budget.

An amendment dropped late Wednesday in the state Senate to SB3 will pull the entirety of the state’s Governmental Services Tax (assessed on car registration fees) toward the battered state general fund, which is one of the changes expected to add back $58.6 million to the state’s $1.2 billion budget shortfall. Gov. Steve Sisolak’s original budget proposal called for that tax revenue stream to be split between the general fund and the state’s highway fund.

And after several sluggish days, members of the Assembly on Wednesday held their first hearing on the bill implementing the bulk of Gov. Steve Sisolak’s proposed budget cuts and heard more than an hour of irate testimony from dentists, teachers and other members of the public upset with the state’s plan to balance the budget through massive spending cuts.

Most of the information on the proposed cuts had been presented during prior presentations during the initial days of the special session. But Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson said he expected the Assembly to vote out the major budget bill sometime Thursday, after drafting and approving an amendment reflecting the Legislature’s priorities in changing the proposed cuts.

Beyond giving a tentative timeline of a vote Thursday, Frierson opted not to share many specific changes that legislators were looking to restore, beyond a desire to reverse the proposed 6 percent cut in Medicaid reimbursements and other optional services suggested to be eliminated.

“There are tons of things on there that are painful, you know having to pick between Medicaid for seniors, autism services for children, and everything in between,” he said. “These are really, really tough decisions. I believe that replenishing the cuts in Medicaid are important because it also reflects a return on our investment from the federal government, and so I think that certainly is high on my list and on the list of many of my members.”

Frierson said lawmakers were also looking to mitigate or modify cuts to K-12 education and proposed once-a-month state worker furloughs where possible. The speaker also gave a flat “no” when asked whether lawmakers had given up a push for an increase in taxes to help quell the massive budget cuts, but declined to give specifics on what tax areas the Legislature might consider.

From left, Nevada State Senators, Dallas Harris, Melanie Scheible and Yvanna Cancela arrive at the Legislature on the eighth day of the 31st Special Session in Carson City on Wednesday, July 15, 2020. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Lawmakers pass bill amended to bring nearly $60 million more to mitigate cuts

Senators voted 19-2 in favor of SB3, a bill that seeks to fill the budget gap with several tried-and-true methods the state used in the past — asking mining companies to prepay taxes, collecting delinquent taxes through an amnesty program and diverting vehicle registration taxes from roads and into the general fund.

But after a hearing over the weekend in which Republicans questioned whether more could be squeezed from those revenue sources, lawmakers approved an amendment to the bill.

The measure now sends 100 percent of vehicle registration fee revenue into the general fund in the current fiscal year, replacing the prior proposal that split GST revenues 50-50 between the general and the highway fund. The change approved Wednesday brings in an additional $47.6 million, meaning the total revenue the bill will now yield above current levels is $71.4 million.

Fiscal analysts confirmed that the highway fund will only take a net hit of about $14 million, because it is receiving $38 million from the federal CARES Act, is cutting spending on a technology project and will be furloughing employees to save about $9 million. 

Officials with the Nevada Department of Transportation had testified on the earlier version of the bill, saying that with a reserve fund of $340 million and a generous federal match on road construction projects, the highway fund could absorb the diversion without any road projects getting off track.

Another change from the amendment was a re-estimation of how much would come from a tax amnesty program. The new projection, which recalculated revenue from local school support taxes, now says the amnesty program could bring in $21 million rather than the original $10 million.

And the amendment also changed a plan to have mining companies turn in two years of payments at once. After some Republicans raised concerns about how upending the payment schedule could put local governments that depend on mining in a lurch, the proposal was amended to only require companies pay tax due to the general fund ahead of time. Tax owed to local governments would continue on its original schedule.

The substance of the amended bill attracted opposition only from Sen. Ira Hansen, who argued that mining has become a “favorite whipping boy” and is being treated differently than other industries. He said the vast majority of operations are small and not very profitable and that singling them out for prepayment could “jeopardize their economic future.”

He clarified he wasn’t speaking on behalf of the mining industry as a whole.

"I think they would rather have me not say one word about it because they understand they have a significant PR problem in the state. And they would rather just pay it and act like they're very delighted to pay it,” he said. “But the truth is, we've held a gun to their head … when in fact they're one of the best industries Nevada has ever had.”

In an Assembly hearing that didn’t wrap up until nearly 11 p.m., members voted 30-10 to pass the bill. The vote did not fall on party lines — four Democrats split from their party and voted against it, and seven Republicans voted in favor.

Assemblywomen Robin Titus and Alexis Hansen took to the floor to praise the mining industry’s contributions to the state, from shaping its nascent years to making donations in rural communities. 

But Democratic Assemblywoman Shannon Bilbray-Axelrod poured cold water on those comments.

"As a third-generation Nevadan ... I think I'm very aware of what mining has or hasn't done for this state ... it's time they pay their share, and honestly this bill doesn't do nearly enough,” she said. “So thank you for what you have to say about mining, and I'm so happy that they're here in Nevada and rake the earth ... But this is our state, and they do things and it's not right, and you know it. And it's high time they pay. And this isn't the end of it."

Nevada Assemblywoman Sarah Peters on the eighth day of the 31st Special Session of the Legislature in Carson City on Wednesday, July 15, 2020. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

The massive budget bill finally gets a hearing

Members of the Assembly finally heard the bill that will be responsible for balancing much of the state’s budget shortfall. However, the version of the legislation presented Wednesday wasn’t yet final, with significant changes expected to still come before the Assembly approves the legislation and forwards it on to the Senate.

GOP Assemblyman Al Kramer, during the question and answer portion of the hearing, asked whether the legislation’s proposed 6 percent across-the-board cuts to Medicaid were really necessary. Legislative staff said it’s not yet possible to know whether the federal government will extend federal matching dollars to the state’s Medicaid program, which would generate an additional $30 million in revenue to the state.

If that happens, the additional funding would be brought before the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee, which could restore certain programs.

The bill also contains a provision that would allow the Department of Health and Human Services to reshuffle funds within its budget as needed, subject to the recommendation of the governor and approval of the Interim Finance Committee.

The bill faced significant criticism in an hour-and-a-half-long public comment session, where members of the public and policy advocates raised a host of concerns, including the legislation’s cuts to education funding, mental health services and Medicaid. 

As proposed, the $1.2 billion in budget cuts would slash several K-12 education programs, including support for “Read by 3” early-childhood reading, school supplies for teachers, and other categorical programs that aim to help students with extra needs. The proposed cuts to K-12 programs exceed $166 million, while cuts to the Nevada System of Higher Education are about $110 million.

Several mental health-focused organizations, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness’s Nevada chapter and the Nevada Psychiatric Association, lamented the bill’s proposed cuts to behavioral health spending. Lawmakers are considering $19.1 million in cuts to public and behavioral health, with the majority coming from the Southern and Northern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services agencies, as well as additional cuts in other areas of the Department and Health and Human Services (DHHS) budget, such as the proposal to eliminate psychosocial rehabilitation coverage from Medicaid.

“I would add that when we talk about cuts to the DHHS budget it is easy to see that these cuts directly affect those individuals and families who are dealing with mental health conditions. But I want to be very clear — mental health issues are in every cut, you're looking and considering today,” said Robin Reedy, executive director of NAMI Nevada. “So when you cut behavioral health funding at DHHS during a pandemic, you're exacerbating cuts being made elsewhere.”

The legislation also faced significant opposition from several dentists and dental hygienists who testified in opposition to the proposed elimination of Medicaid coverage of adult dental care and limits on dental services for pregnant women and children. Dental professionals testified that the legislation would exacerbate oral hygiene issues that can lead to more serious medical conditions and end up costing the Medicaid system more money down the road.

“Cuts to Medicaid services will enhance the burden on a patient population that’s already at a disadvantage in terms of access to care and affordability,” said Dr. Tyree Davis, chief dental officer with Nevada Health Centers, a federally qualified health center. “By removing adult dental coverage. Some patients will choose to go without care, and may experience other costly systemic health issues as a result.”

Dignity Health, which runs three acute-care hospitals in Southern Nevada, also testified against the legislation’s proposed across-the-board cuts to Medicaid. Hospitals have long advocated for rate increases and argue that a rate decrease would make it hard for them to stay afloat financially while also caring for coronavirus patients during the pandemic.

“We have no idea what the next six months will bring,” Dignity Health lobbyist Katie Ryan said, “and we'll need all the financial help we can get to make sure we can keep our doors open.”

Nevada State Senator Keith Pickard on the eighth day of the 31st Special Session of the Legislature in Carson City on Wednesday, July 15, 2020. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Tax Department employees upset with planned layoffs

Ahead of the bill hearing, roughly a dozen state employees at the Department of Taxation wrote in to legislators to protest the planned layoffs for the division.

Under Gov. Sisolak’s initial budget plan, the division would keep 33 positions vacant (including 10 in the Marijuana Regulation Division), lay off 23 workers and close its Henderson-based office. It’s part of plans by the governor’s office to limit state worker limits to under 50, while still implementing furloughs and freezes on merit pay to help address the budget shortfall.

But department employees who emailed legislators said they were being unfairly targeted, and that the layoffs or workforce reductions should be shared more evenly across state agencies.

Erica Scott, a revenue officer with the department, said requiring so many layoffs at the agency would “gut our already small department” and that it would harm the state’s ability to ensure tax compliance and revenue.

“I cannot sit quietly while other massive departments have not a single layoff and are still getting admin paid leave as we speak,” she wrote in an email to lawmakers. “Taxation was deemed essential and I have been working diligently the entire COVID19 shut down, collecting $1,470/every hour I worked in June 2020. How am I now not considered essential when generating revenue for the state is the exact thing that I do?”

Rhonda Gallant, a revenue officer with the department who has worked for the state for the past seven years, said the combined vacant positions and layoffs would result in a roughly 23 percent reduction in staff. She said such a reduction would make it harder for the state to implement a proposed tax amnesty program (as part of SB3) waiving penalties for delinquent taxpayers if they pay their accounts due.

“It is difficult for me to see how we could successfully implement that program and generate the revenue expected if we don’t have staffing to do our normal workload,” Gallant wrote in a letter to lawmakers.

Asked about how the potential layoffs would affect the amnesty program, Department of Taxation Director Melanie Young said the office planned to partner with business agencies to announce the amnesty program, and that many of the applications or work needed to run the program could be accomplished online.

“We’ve always done more with less,” she said.

Election results: Several caucus-backed candidates prevail in primaries; one legislator loses re-election bid

One lawmaker lost his re-election bid, while several caucus-backed candidates eked out narrow victories when the final results from the June 9 primary election trickled in on Thursday.

Final but still unofficial results updated Thursday morning show that Democratic caucus-backed Senate candidate Roberta Lange and Assembly candidates David Orentlicher and Venicia Considine won narrow victories after initially trailing in the early results. Lange and Orentlicher are guaranteed victories in November because they face no opponents in the general election, while Considine is all but guaranteed a victory in her overwhelmingly Democratic district.

The results also show Republican Assemblyman Chris Edwards has lost his seat to Mesquite Councilwoman Annie Black. An incumbent losing in a legislative primary is relatively rare; only three incumbent legislators have lost their seats in a primary over the last two election cycles.

The results will become official when they are certified on Friday. Until then, here’s a look at who prevailed in each legislative primary.

State Senate District 7

Former Nevada State Democratic Party Chair Roberta Lange defeated Democratic Assemblywoman Ellen Spiegel by a narrow 131-vote margin in this eastern Las Vegas and Henderson Senate district. Lange faces no challengers in the general election.

Lange won 38.3 percent of the vote, with Spiegel at 36.9 percent and Assemblyman Richard Carrillo with 24.9 percent. More than 9,500 votes were cast in the race.

Lange's victory represents a win for the Nevada Senate Democratic Caucus, which had endorsed her. Spiegel significantly outraised both Lange and Carrillo in the race in the first quarter and had a massive war chest on hand.

Assembly District 2

Former Nevada REALTORS president Heidi Kasama won this crowded Republican primary to replace termed-out Republican Assemblyman John Hambrick with 47.9 percent of the vote. Erik Sexton, who works in commercial real estate, secured 27 percent of the vote, followed by Jim Small, a retired member of the U.S. Senior Executive Service, with 19 percent.

Kasama ran with the backing of the Assembly Republican Caucus, while Sexton was endorsed by Las Vegas City Councilwoman Michele Fiore and former North Las Vegas Mayor Mike Montandon. Small had the support of former congressional candidate and businessman Danny Tarkanian and conservative commentator Wayne Allyn Root, among others.

Kasama significantly outraised her opponents in the first quarter, and the Alliance for Property Protection Rights PAC, which is funded by the National Association of REALTORS Fund, inserted itself into the GOP primary in support of her bid.

On the Democratic side, Radhika “RPK” Kunnel, a law school student and former cancer biology professor, won the primary over Jennie Sherwood, a journeywoman electrician. Kunnel secured 35.8 percent of the vote while Sherwood won 31.5 percent. A third candidate, Eva Littman, won 23.7 percent.

Republicans have a good shot of keeping control of this seat come November, given the 2.3 percentage point voter registration advantage they hold in this district. The Assembly Democratic Caucus did not endorse a candidate in the primary.

Assembly District 4

Former Assemblyman Richard McArthur won the Republican primary in this northwest Las Vegas Assembly district with a narrow, 2.3 percentage point victory over Donnie Gibson, the owner of a construction and equipment rental company. McArthur secured 51.2 percent of votes to Gibson's 48.9 percent, a 130-vote margin.

McArthur, a former FBI special agent, has served three non-consecutive terms in the Assembly, two terms between 2008 and 2012 and one term from 2016 to 2018. Gibson, a political newcomer, was endorsed by the Assembly Republican Caucus in the primary.

McArthur will go on to a rematch against Democratic Assemblywoman Connie Munk, who did not draw a primary challenger. She narrowly defeated McArthur in 2018 with a 120-vote margin out of nearly 30,000 votes cast.

Assembly District 16

Community activist Cecelia González won this four-way Democratic primary to replace Democratic Assemblywoman Heidi Swank, who has represented the district since 2012 and opted not to run for re-election.

González secured 50.1 percent of the vote, followed by Joe Sacco, a union trade show and conventions worker with IATSE Local 720 and a REALTOR, with 23.9 percent of the vote. Russell Davis, a two-decade Clark County employee and SEIU member, trailed with 13.7 percent of the vote, and online finance professor Geoffrey VanderPal had secured 12.4 percent of votes cast.

González and Davis had split the endorsement from major Democratic-aligned groups in the race. Both candidates were endorsed by the Nevada State AFL-CIO, while González was also endorsed by the Nevada State Education Association, the Culinary Union and the Nevada Conservation League, and Davis was endorsed by SEIU Local 110. The Assembly Democratic Caucus did not endorse in the primary.

González is likely to win the general election against the one Republican in the race, Reyna “Alex” Sajdak, because of the overwhelming voter registration advantage Democrats have in the district. 

Assembly District 18

Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada attorney Venicia Considine eked out a victory over Lisa Ortega, a master arborist and owner of Great Basin Sage Consulting, in this four-way Democratic primary to replace Assemblyman Richard Carrillo, who lost a primary for state Senate.

Considine won with 39.4 percent of the vote, while Ortega secured 37.4 percent and Char Frost, a former campaign manager and legislative staffer for Carrillo, secured 15.4 percent.

Considine ran with not only with the backing of the Assembly Democratic Caucus but SEIU Local 1107, Nevada State Education Association, Planned Parenthood Votes Nevada, the Culinary Union and the Nevada Conservation League. Considine had also raised nearly one and a half times as much as Ortega during the first quarter of the year.

Assembly District 19

Assemblyman Chris Edwards won't be returning to Carson City next year after he was defeated in the primary by Mesquite City Councilwoman Annie Black. Black won with 61 percent of the vote to Edwards' 39 percent.

Black ran to the right of the already conservative Edwards, who has served in the Assembly for the last three terms. Black's victory represents a significant upset in the race as incumbents rarely lose their primaries.

Black is essentially guaranteed to go on to win the general election in November, as there are no Democrats or third-party candidates in the race.

Assembly District 20

UNLV law professor David Orentlicher, who was running with the backing of the Assembly Democratic Caucus, won this Democratic primary with 46.5 percent of the vote, defeating Emily Smith, the CEO of the Nevada Blind Children’s Foundation, by 7.7 percentage points. The seat is currently occupied by Assemblywoman Ellen Spiegel, who lost her primary for state Senate.

Orentlicher ran with the backing of almost all of the major Democratic-aligned organizations, including the Nevada State AFL-CIO, SEIU Local 1107, the Culinary Union, Planned Parenthood Votes Nevada, NARAL Pro-Choice Nevada and the Nevada Conservation League. Orentlicher raised about $5,000 in the first quarter of the year and had about $23,000 in cash on hand, while Smith raised only about $1,000 and had only $700 in the bank.

No Republican candidates filed to run in this Paradise-area seat, meaning Orentlicher will be essentially guaranteed a spot in the Legislature.

Assembly District 21

Attorney Elaine Marzola won the two-way Democratic primary in this race to replace replace Assemblyman Ozzie Fumo, who is running for Nevada Supreme Court.

Marzola received most of the Democratic-aligned endorsement in the primary, including from the Assembly Democratic Caucus, the Nevada State AFL-CIO, Planned Parenthood Votes Nevada, the Culinary Union and the Nevada Conservation League. 

Her opponent, David Bagley, is the director of operations for the stem cell diagnostics company Pluripotent Diagnostics and was also Marianne Williamson’s Nevada state director for her presidential campaign last year. He ran with the support of the Nevada State Education Association.

Marzola won 70.6 percent of votes cast, with Bagley at 29.4 percent.

Marzola will go on to face Republican Cherlyn Arrington in the general election, though Democrats hold a significant voter registration advantage in the district. Fumo defeated Arrington by 12.6 percentage points in 2018.

Assembly District 26

Republican Assemblywoman Lisa Krasner successfully fended off a primary challenge from Dale Conner, obtaining more than 83.7 percent of the vote in the Republican primary for this Reno-area district.

Krasner will advance to the general election to face off against Democrat Vance Alm.

Assembly District 31

Former Assemblywoman Jill Dickman won this three-way Republican primary to represent this Sparks-area Assembly district. Dickman secured 51 percent of the vote, followed by Washoe County Republican Party treasurer Sandra Linares with 34.1 percent of the vote and businessman David Espinosa with 14.9 percent of the vote.

Dickman is hoping to reclaim the seat she held for one term and lost by fewer than 50 votes to Democratic Assemblyman Skip Daly in 2016 and again in 2018. Daly did not face any primary challengers in the race.

Assembly District 36

Assemblyman Greg Hafen defeated challenger Dr. Joseph Bradley in the Republican primary in this rural Nevada Assembly district, which covers portions of Nye, Clark and Lincoln counties. Hafen was appointed to the seat after brothel owner Dennis Hof died weeks before the election but still won the seat.

Hafen, a fifth generation Nevadan and general manager of a Pahrump water utility company, won with 54.9 percent of the vote, while Bradley earned 45.1 percent.

Hafen is essentially guaranteed to go on to win the general election as no Democrats or candidates from other parties filed to run for the seat.

Assembly District 37

Andy Matthews, former president of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, has won the Republican primary in his swingy Summerlin Assembly district. Matthews secured 49 percent of the vote, while former television reporter and congressional candidate Michelle Mortensen won 26.3 percent.

Matthews secured a long list of endorsements in the primary, including from former Attorney General Adam Laxalt, several Trump campaign officials including Corey Lewandowski, Las Vegas City Councilwoman Michele Fiore and several current and former state lawmakers. He also was a top legislative fundraiser in the primary, outraising all other Republican Assembly candidates, including current office holders.

Matthews will go on to challenge the incumbent, Democrat Shea Backus, who won the seat from Republican Assemblyman Jim Marchant by 135 votes in 2018. Democrats hold a narrow 2.2 percentage point voter registration advantage in the district, making it one of the swingiest Assembly seats this election cycle.

Assembly District 40

Former law enforcement officer and one-term Assemblyman P.K. O’Neill appears to be heading back to the Legislature in this heavily-Republican Assembly district after defeating his lone Republican primary opponent, attorney Day Williams.

O’Neill filed to run for the Carson City-area seat on the last day of filing, after incumbent Al Kramer announced he would not run again due to family reasons. O’Neill served one term in the Assembly between 2014 and 2016, but lost to Kramer amid a backlash against Republican candidates who supported former Gov. Brian Sandoval’s large K-12 focused tax increase in 2015.

O’Neill won 54.2 percent of the vote, while Williams won 45.8 percent. O'Neill will go onto face Democrat Sena Loyd in the general election.

Updated 6-10-20 at 6:52 p.m. to correct that Assembly District 20 is primarily in Paradise, not Henderson.

Nevada to ramp up contact tracing efforts and hire 250 people to track COVID-19 outbreaks

Nevada is preparing to significantly ramp up its COVID-19 contact tracing efforts, including hiring 250 workers, after state lawmakers approved accepting millions in federal funds dedicated to COVID-19 response.

Members of the Interim Finance Committee — a group of lawmakers that oversees spending and grants between legislative sessions — met on Monday to officially approve more than $118.5 million dollars in federal grants to help fund the response to COVID-19, including a sizable $96 million for contact tracing and expanded laboratory testing.

In a news release sent after the vote, Gov. Steve Sisolak announced the formation of a statewide COVID-19 community testing and outbreak management strategy funded through the federal grant dollars. The state will also hire 250 workers and contract with two vendors — Deloitte and Salesforce — which will work to “modernize and streamline case investigation and contact tracing with increased staffing to quickly identify and notify individuals who may have been close contacts to a person with COVID-19.”

“This plan marks a major milestone for the State of Nevada, formalizing and expanding our existing efforts to battle COVID-19 as we embrace our new normal,” Sisolak said in a statement.

Contact tracing generally refers to a process undertaken by health officials to isolate an individual diagnosed with COVID-19, and follow up with any individuals they have recently interacted with to warn them of potential exposure. A tally by NPR found states and Washington D.C. plan to hire more than 66,000 workers nationwide to help with contact tracing efforts.

The funds for the state’s contact tracing program come from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), as well as grants from the federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In addition to contact tracing efforts, they’ll help support local and tribal communities pay for sample collection kits, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and increasing resources for antibody collection.

The governor also announced approval of a standing order allowing any medical provider or trained personnel at a COVID-19 testing unit to collect test samples, which will “assist with streamlining the administrative aspects of Gov. Sisolak’s comprehensive community-based testing strategy.”

Sisolak also appointed Nevada State Public Health Laboratory Director Dr. Mark Pandori as the state’s Chief of Testing, where he will “help direct and coordinate Nevada’s immediate and long-term testing strategy.”

Sisolak previously touted a much-expanded contact tracing effort as a requisite step as the state moves into a “Phase 2” of business and societal reopenings, which began last week. Nevada’s casino industry is set to finally reopen for the first time in several months on Thursday, June 4.

Caleb Cage, the newly appointed COVID-19 Response Director, told legislators during the meeting that the expected influx of out-of-state or international travelers to casino resorts after June 4 highlighted the need to expand contact tracing.

“And as we continue to attract people back to our state and get our economy going again, this contact tracing is going to be absolutely essential,” he said during the meeting.

But some Republicans balked at the size of the federal grant and questioned how useful it would be given the declining numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths.

“It seems to me that this is an incredibly large amount of funds for a sole purpose that has gone differently than we've ever used in the past,” Republican Assemblywoman Robin Titus said.

Department of Health and Human Services Administrator Julia Peek said the funds would not only help with immediate response to the pandemic, but also help fund much-needed technological upgrades in the state’s public health system. She said the system overload caused by the sheer number of tests was leading to situations like National Guard members faxing in test results to applicable jurisdictions, highlighting the need for better technology. 

Ultimately, only two Republicans — Assembly members Al Kramer and Jim Wheeler — voted against accepting the federal grant funds. 

Other federal grants related to COVID-19 approved by the committee on Monday include:

  • $4.6 million in federal Department of Education funds to provide charter schools with emergency relief.
  • $450,000 in federal Aging and Disability Resources Centers funds to support “outreach and public education, person-centered counseling and streamlined eligibility  determinations to best fit individual needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
  • $8.8 million across three categories of federal subgrants to support services for the elderly, including supportive services, nutrition and family caregivers.
  • $8.1 million in funds to help make supplemental payments to low-income households to assist with increased home energy use during the pandemic.
  • $606,000 in two grants to child and family services in Southern and Northern Nevada, which includes “crisis intervention services, mental and substance use disorder treatment and other related recovery supports for children impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

What to watch in the 2020 primary election: Assembly and state Senate races

The inside of the Nevada Legislature during State of the State

When the dust settles on the June 9 primary election, Nevadans will have a good sense of who’s going to win about half of the seats up for grabs in the statehouse.

Party control of the Legislature is always a major objective for lawmakers in both parties, and the 2021 session will give lawmakers and Gov. Steve Sisolak the once-in-a-decade chance to redraw district boundaries during the redistricting process. 

It’s a process that could help lock in party advantages for congressional representatives, legislators and other elected officials for the next ten years (although a group is attempting to qualify a constitutional amendment creating an independent redistricting commission). Democrats control more than two-thirds of Assembly seats and are one seat shy of a supermajority in the state Senate. 

But candidates facing a massive variable — a global pandemic that has canceled the traditional trappings of a campaign, diverted attention from elections and spurred a shift to a virtually all-mail voting system with unpredictable turnout patterns.

“Under normal circumstances, a good pair of running shoes and the money to print up campaign literature could potentially be enough for a candidate to win a race simply by outworking their opponent,” said Eric Roberts of the Assembly Republican Caucus. “The old saying goes, ‘If you knock, you win.’ In 2020, that is all out the window.”

Largely unable to talk to voters at the door during the crucial weeks leading up to voting season, candidates can communicate through mail pieces — if they can drum up the money to pay for it. Businesses such as casinos that typically make sizable donations in state-level politics have seen their revenue flatline, and the effect ripples to candidates.

There are phone calls, political text messages and email missives. But what some observers think could make a difference is how well candidates leverage social media and digital advertising. 

A new challenge is the sudden shift to voting by mail. Up to this point, voting in person has been the method of choice for Nevadans, with the majority of those voters opting for a two-week early vote window.

This time, voters are receiving ballots in the mail more than a month before Election Day, elongating the voting period. With weeks left to go, tens of thousands of Clark County voters have already turned in their ballots, for example.

With ballots arriving in all active voters’ mailboxes — and in Clark County, even those deemed inactive — more people may be inclined to participate in what is usually a sleepy contest. Nevada and national Democrats filed but later dropped a lawsuit against state election officials after they agreed to send ballots to “inactive” voters, who are legally able to cast a ballot but have not responded to change of address forms sent out by county election officials.

“Truly the unknown is this vote by mail universe and who’s really going to take advantage of it, who does it leave out, how do you communicate to a universe that is 10 times bigger than what you thought you were going to have to communicate with,” said Megan Jones, a political consultant with close ties to Assembly Democrats. 

Of the 42 seats in the state Assembly, almost a quarter will be decided in the primary election. Four races will actually be decided in the primary — including three incumbent Republicans fending off challengers — because no other candidates filed to run in those districts. Another five races will effectively be decided in the primary, given vast disparity in voter registration totals making it all but impossible for the opposing party to gain a foothold. 

An additional seven Assembly members did not draw a re-election challenge and will win their seats automatically. These include Democrats Daniele Monroe Moreno, Selena Torres and Sarah Peters, and Republicans Tom Roberts, Melissa Hardy, Jill Tolles and John Ellison.

Of the 10 races in the state Senate, only one — the Democratic primary in Senate District 7 — will be determined in the primary election as no candidates from other parties filed to run for the seat. Two Senate members — Democrats Chris Brooks and Patricia Spearman — did not draw challengers and will automatically win their seats as well, while another three candidates have effectively won because of the voter registration advantages their party has in their district.

To help make sense of where the most intriguing races of this election will be, The Nevada Independent has compiled this list of races we’re keeping a close eye on, both for the storylines in the individual contests and how the outcomes could shift the balance of power heading into the critical 2021 legislative session. Additional information on these races and more can be found on The Nevada Independent’s Election 2020 page.

Senate District 7

This race is at the top of our watch list not only because it will be decided in the primary — all Democrats and no Republicans filed to run for the open seat — but because it pits two Assembly members against a former head of the state Democratic Party who has the support of the sitting Senate Democrats.

Assemblywoman Ellen Spiegel has a wide lead in the money race for the seat, which is held by termed-out Democratic Sen. David Parks. Stakes are high for the two Assembly members in the race, who are giving up their current seats to bid for the Senate seat.

Spiegel raised nearly $32,000 in the first quarter, twice that of former three-term Nevada State Democratic Party Chairwoman Roberta Lange, a Senate caucus-endorsed candidate perhaps best known for presiding over Democrats’ divisive 2016 presidential nominating process. Spiegel spent even more — $36,000 in the last quarter — and has a massive war chest of $208,000 on hand.

Spiegel, who describes herself as an “e-commerce pioneer” and now owns a consulting firm with her husband, chaired the Assembly Commerce and Labor Committee last session. She has endorsements from the Vegas and Henderson chambers of commerce. 

Lange, a retired teacher and union negotiator and now executive at a company that runs neighborhood gaming bars, has backing from the Senate Democratic Caucus, the Nevada State AFL-CIO, the Nevada State Education Association and the Culinary Union.

Trailing in the money game is Democratic Assemblyman Richard Carrillo, who only raised about $4,500 in the latest quarter. He’s spent nearly $16,000 in that timeframe and has about $26,000 in the bank.

Carrillo, a contractor who owns an air conditioning business, did not chair an Assembly committee last session and shares the AFL-CIO endorsement with Lange.

The district includes portions of the eastern Las Vegas Valley and Henderson. It has almost twice as many registered Democrats as Republicans.

Assembly District 2

Republicans are looking to keep control of this Summerlin Assembly seat this election after Assemblyman John Hambrick, who has represented the district since 2008, was termed out of office. Hambrick, 74, missed most of the 2019 legislative session because of health-related issues with both himself and his wife, who passed away in July.

The Assembly Republican Caucus has endorsed Heidi Kasama, managing broker of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices-Nevada Properties, as Hambrick’s successor, as has Hambrick himself. Kasama has lived in Las Vegas since 2002 after starting her career as a certified public accountant and real estate agent in Washington. So far, Kasama has raised about $124,000 and spent about $19,000.

But Kasama faces four other Republicans in the primary: Erik Sexton, Jim Small, Taylor McArthur and Christian Morehead. Of those, Sexton, who works in commercial real estate, has raised the most, about $69,000 over the course of the cycle. Sexton has been endorsed by Las Vegas City Councilwoman Michele Fiore and former North Las Vegas Mayor Mike Montandon.

Jim Small, a retired member of the U.S. Senior Executive Service, has raised about $56,000 over the course of the cycle. Small has been endorsed by former congressional candidate and businessman Danny Tarkanian and conservative commentator Wayne Allyn Root, among others.

The other two Republican candidates in the race — McArthur and Morehead — have raised no money.

The Alliance for Property Protection Rights PAC, which is funded by the National Association of REALTORS Fund, has also inserted itself into this primary, sending negative mailers highlighting Sexton’s DUI arrest last year and accusing Small of having a “hidden past” as a “liberal Democrat,” while in other mail pieces boosting Kasama’s “strength,” “courage,” and “optimism.”

Meanwhile, both Sexton and Small have been punching back at Kasama for her ties to the REALTORS in other mail pieces. 

In one, Small argues that Kasama financially supports Democrats because the Nevada Association of REALTORS donated tens of thousands of dollars to Democratic candidates in 2018, the year she was president of the association. In another, Sexton criticizes the National Association of REALTORS’ budget, which was created when Kasama served on the association’s finance committee. 

Whoever wins the Republican primary will have a good shot at winning this lean Republican seat, where 37 percent of voters are Republican and 34.7 percent are Democratic. The Assembly Democratic Caucus has not endorsed in the primary, though journeywoman electrician Jennie Sherwood was backed by the caucus in the general election last year and is running again this cycle. Three other Democrats are also running for the seat: law school student and former cancer biology professor Radhika Kunnel, Eva Littman and Joe Valdes.

Of the four candidates, Kunnel has raised the most, about $27,000 between this year and last year, while Littman has loaned herself $25,000, Sherwood has loaned herself $5,000 and Valdes has raised $100.

A tenth candidate in the race, Garrett LeDuff, is running with no political party and has raised no money so far in his race.

Assembly District 4

The Nevada Assembly Republican caucus is looking to win back this swing seat lost to Democrats last election cycle by backing a political newcomer, Donnie Gibson, who will first have to defeat a primary challenge from former office-holder Richard McArthur.

Officially backed by the Assembly Republican caucus, Gibson is the owner of both a construction and equipment rental company, and sits on the board of several industry groups, including the Nevada Contractors Association and Hope for Prisoners. During the first quarterly fundraising period, he reported raising just over $51,000 and has nearly $86,000 in cash on hand.

But Gibson faces a tough challenger in former Assemblyman McArthur, who has served three non-consecutive terms in the Assembly; two terms between 2008 to 2012, and then one term between 2016 and 2018. He raised just $520 during the first fundraising period, but has more than $28,000 in available campaign funds. McArthur previously served with the U.S. Air Force and was a special agent for the FBI for 25 years.

Democratic incumbent Connie Munk did not draw a primary challenger, and reported raising more than $52,000 during the first fundraising period. Munk flipped the seat to Democrats in 2018, defeating McArthur by a 120-vote margin out of nearly 30,000 votes cast. 

Assembly District 7

Democrat Cameron “CH” Miller, who most recently served as Nevada political director for Beto O’Rourke and Amy Klobuchar’s presidential campaigns and has had a 20 year career in the entertainment industry, is running with the backing of the Assembly Democratic Caucus for this North Las Vegas Assembly district. The seat is held by Assemblywoman Dina Neal, who is running for state Senate.

While Miller has been endorsed by most of the Democratic-aligned organizations — including SEIU Local 1107, the Nevada State Education Association, Planned Parenthood Votes Nevada, the Culinary Union, NARAL Pro-Choice Nevada and the Nevada Conservation League — his one primary opponent, John Stephens III, has been endorsed by the Nevada State AFL-CIO.

Stephens is a former civilian employee of the Las Vegas Metro Police Department, former steward for the Teamsters Local 14 and a self-described political scientist, writer, exhibitor and Las Vegas library employee.

Miller has raised about $21,000 so far in his campaign, while Stephens has not reported raising any money.

Whoever wins the Democratic primary is likely to go on to win the general election against the one Republican candidate in the race, former Virginia Beach police officer Tony Palmer, as the district leans heavily Democratic with 54.3 percent registered Democrats, 22.7 percent nonpartisans and only 18 percent Republicans. Palmer has raised about $2,000, mostly from himself, in his bid.

Assembly District 16

Four Democratic candidates are running in this open seat after Assemblywoman Heidi Swank, who has represented the district since 2012, opted not to run for re-election. 

The Assembly Democratic Caucus has not endorsed any candidate in the race. Cecelia González and Russell Davis have so far split the major endorsements from Democratic-aligned groups. Both candidates were endorsed by the Nevada State AFL-CIO, while González was also endorsed by the Nevada State Education Association, the Culinary Union and the Nevada Conservation League, and Davis was endorsed by SEIU Local 1107. 

González, a community activist who plans to begin a doctoral program in multicultural education at UNLV in the fall, has raised a little more than $5,000 in her campaign, while Davis, a two-decade Clark County employee and SEIU member, hasn’t reported raising any money.

A third candidate in the race, online finance professor Geoffrey VanderPal, has loaned himself a little less than $4,000 in the race, while Joe Sacco, a union trade show and conventions worker with IATSE Local 720 and a REALTOR, has raised about $500.

Whoever wins the Democratic primary is likely to win the general election against the one Republican in the race, Reyna “Alex” Sajdak, as Democrats have an overwhelming voter registration advantage in the district, representing 47.1 percent of all voters. Nonpartisans make up another 27.3 percent, while Republicans represent only about 18.2 percent.

Sajdak has loaned herself only $260 in the race and received no other contributions.

Assembly District 18

Assemblyman Richard Carrillo has opted not to run for re-election to this East Las Vegas Assembly seat, which he has represented since 2010. He is running for state Senate.

Venicia Considine, an attorney with Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, is running with the backing of the Assembly Democratic Caucus for the seat and has been endorsed by SEIU Local 1107, Nevada State Education Association, Planned Parenthood Votes Nevada, the Culinary Union and the Nevada Conservation League.

However, she faces three other Democrats in the primary, including Char Frost, a former campaign manager and legislative staffer for Carrillo; Lisa Ortega, a master arborist and owner of Great Basin Sage Consulting; and Clarence Dortch, a teacher in the Clark County School District.

Considine has raised nearly $24,000 in her bid so far, while Ortega has raised a little less than $17,000 and Frost has raised about $8,000. Dortch has not yet reported raising any money.

Whoever wins the Democratic primary will go on to face Republican Heather Florian in the general election, though they are likely to win as Democrats hold a 24-point voter registration advantage over Republicans in the district. Florian has not yet reported raising any money in the race.

Assembly District 19

Assemblyman Chris Edwards is running for a fourth term in this rural Clark County Assembly district, but he faces a challenge from Mesquite City Councilwoman Annie Black, who is running to the right of the already conservative Edwards. Black most recently ran for Nevada Republican Party chair, losing to incumbent Michael McDonald.

So far, Edwards has raised about $17,000 in his re-election bid, to Black’s $2,600, which includes a $1,000 contribution from Las Vegas City Councilwoman Victoria Seaman and a $500 contribution from former Controller Ron Knecht.

Whoever wins this primary will go on to win the general election in November, as there are no Democrats or third-party candidates in the race.

Assembly District 21

Assemblyman Ozzie Fumo, who has represented this seat since 2016, is not seeking re-election this year and is running for the Nevada Supreme Court. The Assembly Democratic Caucus has endorsed attorney Elaine Marzola to replace him.

Marzola has received most of the Democratic-aligned endorsements in the primary, including from the Nevada State AFL-CIO, Planned Parenthood Votes Nevada, the Culinary Union and the Nevada Conservation League, while her one Democratic opponent in the primary, David Bagley, has the backing of the Nevada State Education Association. 

Bagley is the director of operations for the stem cell diagnostics company Pluripotent Diagnostics and was also Marianne Williamson’s Nevada state director for her presidential campaign last year.

Marzola has raised about $44,000 in her race so far, while Bagley has raised $20,000 in in-kind contributions from himself.

The winner of the Democratic primary will go on to face Republican Cherlyn Arrington in the general election. Arrington ran for the seat in 2018, losing to Fumo by 12.6 percentage points. Democrats have an 8 percentage point voter registration advantage in the district over Republicans. Arrington has raised a little less than $15,000 so far, including a $4,000 contribution from herself.

Assembly District 31

Former Republican Assemblywoman Jill Dickman hopes to reclaim a seat she held for one term and lost by fewer than 50 votes in 2016. But the manufacturing business owner is in a three-way primary, most notably with Washoe County Republican Party treasurer Sandra Linares. 

The Washoe County seat is held by Skip Daly, a four-term Assembly member who works as the business manager for Laborers Local 169 and has several notable endorsements from organized labor groups, including the Nevada State AFL-CIO and the Culinary Union.

Republicans have a registration advantage of more than four percentage points, but nonpartisans also make up about 21 percent of the swingy district.

Dickman raised just $116 in the first quarter of the year but has more than $99,000 cash on hand for the race. Linares, an educator and Air Force veteran, reported raising more than $24,000 in the first quarter but has about $20,000 in her war chest.

The other candidate in the race is Republican David Espinosa, who has worked in the information technology sector and served on boards including the Washoe County Citizen Advisory Board. He reported raising $7,000 in the first quarter of the year and has about $500 on hand.

The winner of the three-way contest will face off against Daly, who does not have primary challengers. He raised $31,000 in the first quarter and has $98,000 cash on hand.

Assembly District 36

Appointed to fill the seat of brothel owner Dennis Hof — who won this Pahrump-area seat in 2018 despite dying weeks before the election — Republican Assemblyman Gregory Hafen II is facing a primary challenge from Dr. Joseph Bradley, who ran for the district in 2018.

Hafen, a fifth generation Nevadan and general manager of a Pahrump water utility company, and has been endorsed by multiple sitting Republican lawmakers, the National Rifle Association and was named “Rural Chair” of President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign in Nevada.

Hafen has raised nearly $89,000 since the start of the election cycle, including $26,600 in the last reporting period, and has more than $55,000 in cash on hand.

His primary opponent is Bradley, a licensed chiropractor and substance abuse specialist with offices in Las Vegas and Pahrump. He ran for the seat in 2018, coming in third in the Republican primary behind Hof and former Assemblyman James Oscarson.

Bradley has raised more than $68,000 in his bid for the Assembly seat since 2019, and had more than $43,000 in cash on hand at the end of the reporting period.

Bradley’s campaign has tried to tie Hafen to Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, who as a member of the Clark County Commission voted on a replacement candidate after Hof’s death. Sisolak did vote to appoint Hafen to the seat, but the decision was essentially made by the Nye County Commission because of Nevada’s laws on appointing a new lawmaker after an incumbent leaves office or passes away. Hafen was appointed to the seat with support from 16 of 17 county commissioners in the three counties that the Assembly district covers.

Because no Democrats or other party candidates filed to run in the district, the winner of the primary will essentially win a spot in the 2021 Legislature.

Assembly District 37

A crowded field of well-funded Republican candidates are duking it out in a competitive primary to take on incumbent Democrat Shea Backus, one of several suburban Las Vegas districts Republicans hope to win back after the 2018 midterms. Voter registration numbers in the district are nearly equal: 38.1 percent registered Democrats 35.7 percent registered Republicans and 20.5 percent nonpartisan.

Four Republican candidates filed to run in the district, including two former congressional candidates who have each raised more than six-figures in contributions: Andy Matthews and Michelle Mortensen.

Matthews is the former president of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a libertarian-leaning think tank and was former Attorney General Adam Laxalt’s policy director for his failed 2018 gubernatorial run. He has been endorsed by a bevy of Nevada and national Republicans, including Laxalt, several Trump campaign officials including Corey Lewandowski, Las Vegas City Councilwoman Michele Fiore and several current and former state lawmakers.

Matthews has also been one of the top legislative fundraisers during the 2020 election cycle, outraising all other Republican Assembly candidates including current office-holders. For the first reporting period of 2020, he reported raising nearly $35,000, but has raised nearly $189,000 since the start of 2019 and has early $115,000 in cash on hand.

Mortensen, a former television reporter who ran for Congress in 2018, has also been a prolific fundraiser. She reported raising about $12,500 during the first fundraising period of 2020, with more than $115,000 raised since the start of 2019 and had more than $92,000 in cash on hand at the end of the last reporting period.

But they won’t be alone on the primary ballot. Jacob Deaville, a former UNLV college Republican chair and political activist, has raised more than $19,600 since the start of 2019 and had roughly $9,400 in cash on hand at the end of the reporting period. Another Republican candidate, Lisa Noeth, has not filed any campaign finance reports.

The primary election winner will get to challenge incumbent Shea Backus, who wrested the seat from Republican Jim Marchant in the 2018 election by a 135-vote margin. She reported raising more than $52,000 over the first fundraising period, and has more than $108,000 in cash on hand. Backus, an attorney, did not draw a primary challenger.

Assembly District 40

Former Assemblyman P.K. O’Neill is making a comeback bid after serving one term in the Assembly in 2015 and losing re-election in a campaign focused on his controversial vote for Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval’s tax package.

Two-term incumbent Al Kramer decided at the last minute not to seek re-election in the district, which includes Carson City and portions of Washoe Valley. According to The Nevada Appeal, he said he and his wife need to take care of her 94-year-old mother in Ohio and attend to their own health issues, and will not be in Carson City often enough to serve in the Legislature.

O’Neill is a former law enforcement officer who previously served in the Nevada Department of Public Safety. But his path back to the statehouse is complicated by a primary challenge from the right from Day Williams, a lawyer who is running on a platform of repealing the Commerce Tax that O’Neill supported.

O’Neill has the fundraising advantage, raising more than $13,000 in the first quarter and reporting about $10,000 cash on hand. Williams reported raising about $2,300 and has about $1,200 in the bank.

Whoever wins the Republican primary is likely to win in the general — Republicans have a nearly 15 percentage point advantage in the district. The three Democrats in the race are former Carson City Library director Sena Loyd, software engineer Derek Ray Morgan and LGBTQ rights advocate Sherrie Scaffidi, none of whom have more than $500 cash on hand.

Other races that have a primary

  • Senate District 11: Republican Edgar Miron Galindo, who has been endorsed by the Senate Republican Caucus, faces off against Joshua Wendell. However, the winner faces an uphill battle against Democratic state Sen. Dallas Harris in the general election in this overwhelmingly Democratic district in Spring Valley, where Democrats have a 19.5 percentage point voter registration advantage over Republicans.
  • Senate District 18: Democrat Liz Becker, who has been endorsed by the Senate Democratic Caucus, faces Ron Bilodeau in the primary. The winner will go on to face Republican state Sen. Scott Hammond in this lean Republican northwest Las Vegas Assembly district, where Republicans have a 3 percentage point voter registration advantage over Democrats.
  • Assembly District 5: Republicans Mac Miller, Retha Randolph and Mitchell Tracy face off in the primary. But they’ll have a tough time in the general election against Democratic Assemblywoman Brittney Miller in this district, where Democrats have a 9 percentage point voter registration advantage over Republicans.
  • Assembly District 6: Democrat Shondra Summers-Armstrong is running with the backing of the Assembly Democratic Caucus to represent this Assembly District that encompasses the historic Westside of Las Vegas. She faces one opponent, William E. Robinson II, in the primary. There are also two Republicans, Katie Duncan and Geraldine Lewis, who will face off in their own primary. The winner of the Democratic primary is all but guaranteed to defeat the winner of the Republican primary in the general election, as Democrats have a 52.5 percentage point voter registration advantage over Republicans in the district.
  • Assembly District 10: After being appointed to the seat in 2018, Democratic Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen is running for her first election in this overwhelmingly Democratic district, where there are more than twice as many Democrats as Republicans. Nguyen has one primary challenger, Jesse “Jake” Holder. The two other candidates in the race, Independent American Jonathan Friedrich and Republican Chris Hisgen, do not face primary challenges. Democrats are likely to retain control of this seat in November because of their overwhelming voter registration advantage.
  • Assembly District 14: Democratic Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton is running for her sixth and final term in this East Las Vegas Assembly district, where Democrats make up more than half of all registered voters. She faces a primary challenge from James Fennell II. The third candidate in the race, Libertarian Robert Wayerski, does not face a primary. With only 163 registered libertarians in the district, Democrats are all but guaranteed to hold onto this seat in November.
  • Assembly District 15: Democratic Assemblyman Howard Watts is running for re-election in this East Las Vegas Assembly district. He faces a primary challenge from Democrat Burke Andersson. A third candidate in the race, Republican Stan Vaughan, does not have a primary. Democrats are overwhelmingly likely to win this seat in the general election as they hold a 30.8 percentage point voter registration advantage over Republicans.
  • Assembly District 17: Democrat Clara “Claire” Thomas is running with the backing of the Assembly Democratic Caucus in this overwhelmingly Democratic North Las Vegas Assembly district and does not face a primary. Two Republican candidates, Sylvia Liberty Creviston and Jack Polcyn, will face off in June. However, Thomas is likely to win the general election come November because of Democrats’ voter registration advantage.
  • Assembly District 20: Democrat David Orentilcher is running with the backing of the Assembly Democratic caucus but faces three other Democrats in the primary: Zachary Logan, Michael McAuliffe and Emily Smith. Whoever wins the primary is guaranteed to win the general election as there are no Republican or third-party candidates running in the race.
  • Assembly District 26: Republican Assemblywoman Lisa Krasner faces one Republican challenger, Dale Conner, in her re-election bid for this overwhelmingly Republican Assembly district where Republicans hold a 10.7 percentage point registration advantage over Democrats. Though one Democrat, Vance Alm, is running for this seat, Republicans are likely to hold onto this seat come November.
  • Assembly District 29: Democratic Assemblywoman Lesley Cohen is running for re-election to this Henderson Assembly district, where Democrats hold a narrow 5.6 percentage point voter registration advantage over Republicans. While she doesn’t have a primary challenge, she will face one of two Republicans, Steven Delisle or Troy Archer, in the general election.
  • Assembly District 30: Democrat Natha Anderson is running with the backing of the Assembly Democratic Caucus to represent this Sparks Assembly seat where Democrats hold a 10.2 percentage point voter registration advantage over Republicans. She will face fellow Democrat Lea Moser in the primary. The winner is likely to win the general election over Republican Randy Hoff and Independent American Charlene Young because of Democrats’ significant voter registration advantage in the district.
  • Assembly District 35: Democratic Assemblywoman Michelle Gorelow is running for re-election in this southwest Las Vegas Assembly district, where Democrats hold a 8.5 percentage point voter registration advantage over Republicans. She does not face a primary challenge. However, two Republicans, Jay Calhoun and Claudia Kingtigh, will face off in a June primary. Gorelow will face the winner of that primary, as well as nonpartisan Philip “Doc Phil” Paleracio in November, though she is likely to win because of the Democratic voter registration advantage in the district.
  • Assembly District 38: Republican Assemblywoman Robin Titus faces a primary challenge from Jeff Ulrich in this overwhelmingly Republican rural Assembly district, where there are more than twice as many registered Republicans as Democrats.

Lawmakers approve disbursing $6.2 million in emergency management funds to combat coronavirus

Nevada Legislature building

Nevada lawmakers have given final approval to disburse more than $6.2 million in emergency management funds to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lawmakers on the Interim Finance Committee met virtually — a first, according to committee chair and longtime lawmaker Maggie Carlton — to approve moving the funds out of a state Disaster Relief budget account to the state’s Division of Emergency Management. It’s the final step in a two-part process initiated last week by a vote of the Board of Examiners (composed of the governor, attorney general and secretary of state).

Of the approved disbursements, $1.25 million will be the state’s match for a federal emergency management grant, while the remaining $5 million will go directly to the emergency management division for the acquisition of emergency supplies and the “immediate assistance” of state, local, county and tribal governments. 

Justin Luna, head of the state’s Division of Emergency Management, told lawmakers that the funds would help state officials act “quickly and responsibly” to purchase personal protective equipment and other needed materials needed to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, adding that the current request was likely the first of many-to-come requests for emergency funding.

“This amount for emergency response cost may be much higher,” he said. “We may be requesting additional funding in the future, depending on how the response to this emergency goes.”

Although that request was approved unanimously, lawmakers were more divided on a request by the office of Attorney General Aaron Ford to transfer $2 million in settlement funds to the United Way of Southern Nevada for temporary rental and mortgage assistance. Though final distribution is still undecided, the office said $1.6 million of the funds would likely go to Southern Nevada while the remaining $400,000 would be disbursed through all other counties in the state.

“Rent is still due, and thousands of Nevadans will still owe back rent,” Attorney General Chief of Staff Jessica Adair told lawmakers during the meeting.

Some Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, questioned the usefulness of the grants given the moratorium on evictions and late fees ordered by Gov. Steve Sisolak last month. Republicans also raised concerns that the funds were not being evenly distributed to other counties, and should be kept in reserve given the state’s likely budget crunch, including a request by Sisolak for state agencies to begin preparing for budget cuts.

“Frankly now is not a good time to use state resources to support a non-state program,” Kieckhefer said.

Adair said the funds would help families avoid the “anxiety” of watching bills pile up while they’re unable to work, and help stem a sudden surge in evictions because of rent nonpayment once the eviction moratorium is lifted.

Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, a Democrat, said disbursing the funds on a geographic basis alone would not make sense, given the uneven distribution of positive COVID-19 cases throughout the state.

“I think that we should make sure as shepherds of the state’s dollars, in this outbreak throughout the state, that we send the money where the problems are and where the cases are,” he said. “I don’t know that an artificial designation of region really serves to address the problem. I’m disappointed that’s become an issue.”

Ultimately, legislators approved the spending allocation with four no votes — Kieckhefer and Assembly Republicans Robin Titus, Jim Wheeler and Al Kramer.

The attorney general’s office estimated that the funds would assist up to 1,000 households in the state, with disbursement expected to begin in May 2020 (Nevada has just over 1 million households statewide). The settlement funds stem from the state’s $13 million share of a multi-state class action settlement against Wells Fargo.

Assemblyman Al Kramer

INDY FAST FACTS
Al Kramer

Office: Assemblyman, District 40
Party: Republican
In current office: 2016-present
Birth year: 1948
Job: Computer programmer, accountant
Education:
Brigham Young University (B.S.)
Claremont Graduate School (M.B.A.)
Other public offices held:
Carson City Treasurer (1994-2014)