Where groundwater gives way to warm springs, a fight continues over building a new desert town outside Las Vegas

COYOTE SPRING VALLEY, NEV. — Five wells punch the scorching Nevada desert. 

Water in this area is locked underneath the ground. It flows silently and invisibly as part of an aquifer stretching roughly 50,000 square-miles. Much of this water collected here thousands of years ago when lakes covered most of Nevada. Now wells are summoning it for human use. The problem is there’s not enough to go around. 

At the center of this tension are the five wells. 

A housing developer, Coyote Springs Investment, owns four wells, planted to one day pump water for a sprawling new community in the desert, filling the highway stretch about 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas. The remaining well belongs to the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

Coyote Springs wants to pump its wells. The water authority wants to keep most of it in the ground.

The five wells mark divergent interests with a history intertwined by a similar goal: development and the need to secure the water to make it happen. But today the housing developer and the powerful water utility, locked into past contracts, are caught in a fight, playing out in hydrologic reports and hearing rooms, over what might seem a simple question: How much water is there?

That answer is complicated by how much is at stake — a Colorado River tributary, the survival of an endangered Nevada fish and the future of development in a sweeping area outside Las Vegas.

In the early 2000s, during a period of rapid growth, Southern Nevada politicians gave Coyote Springs their blessing to develop a new community, spanning two counties (Clark and Lincoln) on empty land about 50 miles outside of Las Vegas. Thousands of homes. Golfing. Shopping. Gambling. They would call the community Coyote Springs, named for the valley it occupied. 

On a recent hot August morning, what was once planned as a Palm Springs in Nevada is still mostly empty. Two temporary street signs, for CS Parkway and F Street, mark an intersection that has yet to be paved. At least $200 million in infrastructure — flood control, fiber optics, a detention basin and wastewater treatment plants — lies around both sides of the highway. Most of it goes unused, with one exception: A well-manicured golf course meant to attract homebuyers. 

But there are no homes. State officials won’t allow it, and it has everything to do with the wells.

There was a time, not long ago, when all the political juice appeared to be flowing to Coyote Springs. Then it slowed to a trickle. Political momentum only gets you so far where water is scarce — and Las Vegas has its supply on the line. At least that’s how Coyote Springs sees it. 

“Someone doesn’t want us to develop,” says Emilia Cargill, chief operating officer for Coyote Springs Investment. “How do you stop someone from developing? You take their water away.”

In the past two years, Coyote Springs has taken the issue to court. In 2018, it sued an arm of the water authority with claims including slander and breach of contract. It has sued the state twice. In August, Coyote Springs accused state officials of taking their property: the right to use their water. 

The fight over Coyote Springs is about the collision of water, science and politics. And it reflects a broader tension facing Nevada and the modern West, a reckoning with a past in which water officials handed out legal rights to use an unsustainable amount of water: first come, first serve. 

In Nevada and elsewhere, the problem is made more severe because the law developed to view rivers and groundwater as separate stores of water, despite generations of science and observations showing that the two often act as one. In places like Coyote Spring Valley, this paradigm led past officials to overestimate the amount of water rights available to hand out.

Nevada’s water statutes follow a similar framework used across the West. That framework is meant to settle disputes, inevitable in a region where aridity is its defining character. Yet state regulators often face serious barriers to enforcing the rulebook in a manner that is cut-and-dry. 

Today regulators recognize the issue, and they are trying to tackle the problem.

But the solutions are challenging and even collaborative deals to rein in overuse end up in court. Local judges weigh in, then many decisions are appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court, which often has the final say. Every watershed is different. Yet the future, in most cases, looks similar. 

Someone is going to get less water than once promised.

The Muddy River Springs area from State Route 168 on Aug. 13, 2020. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Warm springs, hot drought

Drive a dozen miles away from Coyote Springs and the landscape changes dramatically. State Route 168 sits on top of the expansive aquifer. At first, this stretch of highway looks like the rest of the desert. It’s hot. There’s not much water. Then you arrive at the Muddy River Springs area.

The creosote bushes and prickly desert vegetation give way to palm trees and honey mesquite as groundwater discharges into a series of springs, enough to create a small river in the desert.

The narrow Muddy River flows beside rural communities, a former coal plant and agricultural operations, before joining with the Colorado River and emptying into Lake Mead, which stores water for sprawling cities, farms and businesses in Arizona, California, Nevada and Mexico. 

The water authority owns or leases the rights to most of the Muddy River. Officials store that water in Lake Mead, making this humble tributary a critical part of Las Vegas’ water portfolio. 

“The water that we use on both the Muddy and Virgin River to [store] in Lake Mead is probably, next to our Colorado River allocation, the most important allocation of water that we have,” says Colby Pellegrino, who serves as the water authority’s deputy general manager for resources.

Because groundwater feeds the Muddy River, the river’s flows are modeled to decrease as more wells are turned on and an increasing amount of water is pumped out of the ground. 

Different hydrologists offer different models for this behavior. But enough is known about the hydrology that state officials ruled in June that there was a significant degree of connection: When too much groundwater is pumped up, less water makes it to the springs and the river.

The dispute is over how much is too much.

And the fear is once Coyote Springs and other groundwater users crank up the spigot, it could one day leave Las Vegas with less water, despite having rights that were issued prior to 1920.

Groundwater pumping at Coyote Spring Valley is not the only threat. Other interests, including the Moapa Valley Band of Paiutes, the Moapa Valley Water District, the Mormon Church, NV Energy and the Southern Nevada Water Authority itself, have rights to capture groundwater.

Last year, the water authority argued that the area could only sustain a little more than half of what is currently used, almost one-tenth of the volume that businesses have the right to use.

Their estimate comes as the West faces a drier future. Scientists say a climate change signal is already evident in decreasing the flows of the Colorado River, the primary water source for the Las Vegas Valley. With warming temperatures, water managers in the seven states that use the Colorado River are all figuring out how to firm up existing supplies while doing more with less.

Las Vegas, with the Muddy River, is no exception.

In the Muddy River Springs area, palm trees provide a respite from the summer heat. As Patrick Donnelly, the state director for the Center for Biological Diversity, comments on the unique smell of a riparian area in the desert, he has his eyes on another pressing concern. 

Centuries ago, a two-inch fish made its one and only home in the warm springs that form the Muddy River. By 1967, the Moapa dace was listed under the Endangered Species Act, as humans severely constrained and altered its habitat, first by the flooding of Lake Mead with the Hoover Dam, then with the introduction of non-native fish and the creation of resorts and ranches. 

Groundwater pumping directly near the springs, in addition to diversions, also threatened the dace. Donnelly’s group, along with the water authority and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, have argued that turning on more wells would threaten a recovering dace population.

Each year, divers put on snorkels, enter the protected springs and assess the health of the dace habitat. In August, divers reported a 78 percent increase from last year, a jump to 2,342 dace. 

But Donnelly, the water authority and federal wildlife managers are still worried that additional groundwater pumping would reverse gains made through habitat restoration at the springs. And there is evidence to back up their claims.

Increased groundwater pumping during a stress test in the mid-2010s led to a decline in several high elevation springs, according to streamflow and pumping data. Drawing on that data, the U.S. Department of Interior concluded in 2013 that at least two springs could dry up within three years if higher levels of pumping were to continue.

"The spring levels went down with the pumping,” Donnelly said. “And they haven't recovered.” 

“This is your ultimate example of surface and groundwater as the same resource,” he added.

Reversal of fortune

Golf carts sit in a neat row at the parking lot for Coyote Springs. Military jets from the Air Force’s Nevada Test and Training Range, tucked behind the mountains, can be heard circling nearby. The $40 million golf course, a splash of green in the desert, was built to attract homebuyers. 

Behind the golf carts is a pro shop, and behind the pro shop is Cargill’s office. On one wall is a map of groundwater in the region (all flows point to Lake Mead). And taped to Cargill’s computer is a section from a ruling issued by Nevada’s top water regulator (why they can’t build homes).

“It’s all flowing down to Lake Mead,” Cargill says, nodding to the annotated map posted to a wall. “And who benefits from water going into Lake Mead? Southern Nevada Water Authority.”

Coyote Springs believes there are a few geologic caveats to that flow pattern.

In preparation for a hearing last year, Coyote Springs commissioned a geophysics consultant to study the geology within the aquifer. The analysis argues that geologic structures on the west side of the valley trap water. The finding, Coyote Springs asserts, means that they can pump groundwater without it directly affecting the springs. Simply put, there is water to build homes.

Many models show the aquifer, known as the Lower White River Flow System, behaving as a “bathtub:” If you remove one gallon of water in one area, you leave the whole aquifer with less. That is, if you pump water at Coyote Springs, you are likely to affect surface water miles away.

“Our argument is that that’s not true — that there are a lot of places where there are faults or slips or strikes underground,” Cargill said, noting the visible geologic formations in the valley.

Men ride a cart while golfing at Coyote Springs, located 55 miles northeast of Las Vegas, on Tuesday, July 10, 2018. Nevada's top water regulator is blocking the development because there may not be enough ground water to support it. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Still, enough is known about the aquifer that Nevada’s top water official, State Engineer Tim Wilson, ruled in June that the “best available data” did not support Coyote Springs assertion, even if geologic variations exist. Two days later, Wilson’s office again denied its plans to build.

In August, Coyote Springs sued the state, alleging that the state engineer’s office made a series of decisions that resulted in an “unconstitutional taking” of the water rights it needs to develop. The court filing said the state’s own science supported more groundwater pumping in the area.

Over the past year, it has accused local agencies, which once helped move the project forward, of doing the same. The fight is no longer only about hydrologic modeling. It is also about politics.

As the water purveyor for Coyote Springs, top officials at the water authority, in addition to the Clark County Commission, carry legal sway over whether homebuilding can move forward. 

Past Clark County Commissions supported the project, approving a development agreement and entitlements throughout the past two decades. In 2018, the County Commission, then chaired by Gov. Steve Sisolak, approved a zoning change and tentative map for 575 single family lots. Former Sen. Richard Bryan represented Coyote Springs before the commission.

At the time, county attorney Robert Warhola said the approval was “not going to go anywhere unless they resolve the water issue.” State water officials would still have to sign off on the plan.

Today Clark County appears to be backing away. In January, county officials started a process to acquire Coyote Springs’ land, according to records requested by The Nevada Independent.

Coyote Springs overlaps with critical habitat for the Mojave desert tortoise. Because the Mojave desert tortoise is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, the county is required to offset — or conserve — a certain amount of acreage in order to permit new development. As Las Vegas looks to expand along the I-15 to California, it needs to protect more tortoise habitat. In Coyote Springs, the county believed it had a willing seller.

An acquisition of Coyote Springs would also be a win for conservationists, too. Since the project was first proposed, groups, including the Sierra Club, have raised concerns that a faraway community would affect air quality, increase vehicle emissions and encourage sprawl. 

According to a draft proposal, the acquisition was part of a phased approach to buy land from Coyote Springs and move development plans away from building a sprawling town 50 miles away, one that might conflict with the Air Force’s operations.

The acquisition would effectively unwind development plans that had originally been pushed by one of the state’s most powerful lobbyists, Harvey Whittemore, and supported by some of the state’s top politicians, including former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Whittemore was imprisoned in 2014 for giving illegal campaign contributions to Reid, allegations stemming from a legal feud with his former business partners, Bay Area developers Thomas Seeno and Albert Seeno Jr.

Former Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani was the only vote against the zoning change and tentative map in 2018. Coyote Springs, she said, offers insight into how developers could push forward a project without the commission weighing the long-term impacts, especially in the boom years.

“It’s a perfect example of bad public policy being advanced just because we knew someone,” said Giunchigliani, who was elected to the commission in 2006 after serving in the Legislature.

In April, the proposed acquisition appeared on a draft agenda for the County Commission's approval. The item proposed acquiring roughly 6,900 acres of Coyote Springs’ land, with the Air Force, for about $35 million. Then the item was abruptly taken off the agenda. Cargill sent a letter to Marci Henson, director of the Clark County Department of Environment and Sustainability denying the county’s offer.

Cargill wrote that there was “significant disagreement” over the proposed acquisition, including the valuation and a disregard for development rights issued by the county. 

Coyote Springs, Cargill writes in the letter, was “gravely concerned” that entities, including the state engineer, the Las Vegas Valley Water District, the Southern Nevada Water Authority and Clark County, “have, and continue to, individually and collectively, take actions in bad faith” to stop the development, drive down the market price and effectively “take” away their property.

In an emailed reply, Henson said she was “surprised by the letter,” writing that the “tone and content bear no relationship to our previous discussions and communications.”

As part of the email chain requested by The Nevada Independent, Henson said Coyote Springs had not been “truthful” about being a willing seller. In response, Cargill wrote that the developers “take offense with Clark County’s assertion.” She then said the county had not been “forthright” either.

A view of Hoover Dam is seen from the Mike O'Callaghan/Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2018. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Divergent interests

The proposed acquisition was not only about the land. It was also about the water. 

According to a draft of the county’s proposed acquisition, the water authority expressed interest in buying Coyote Springs water rights to protect the Moapa dace. Such a move would eliminate increased groundwater pumping, a threat to surface water: the springs and the river. 

Where the groundwater gives way to springs, Coyote Springs and the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s interests part ways. Coyote Springs is still focused on pumping more groundwater. Today the water authority is focused on maintaining the flows of the Muddy River, where it owns and leases rights to water — water that is stored in Lake Mead.

The water authority is also invested in the Moapa dace’s recovery. Reliant on steady spring flow, the two-inch fish is considered an indicator species for the watershed’s overall health.

“We as water managers know that if you have an endangered species issue, you have a water supply issue if that endangered species is using the same source of supply as you are,” Pellegrino said.

For years, Southern Nevada politicians, the water authority and Coyote Springs appeared to be working hand-in-hand on developing Las Vegas, the water wells and securing water to construct new homes in the fast-growing region. In the 1990s, the water authority even purchased millions of gallons in water rights from Coyote Springs to augment its relatively small Colorado River allocation.

“When Coyote Springs was a big issue — or expected to set the world on its ear — two things were going on,” said Michael Green, an associate history professor at UNLV who has studied the development of southern Nevada. “One was that the [housing] boom seemed constant.”

The other had to do with different attitudes about the limits on water.

“We know more about the trends in water availability than we did 25 years ago,” he said. “The thought that we have the water or we can get the water was in people’s minds.”

In the 1980s, Las Vegas officials placed their bets on groundwater in the Coyote Spring Valley. At the time, the land belonged to Aerojet, an aerospace company that wanted to test rockets.

“We were going to buy all of Aerojet,” said Pat Mulroy, who played a key role in the agreements and deals involving Coyote Springs as the water authority’s former general manager. “We were going to buy the whole thing, kit and caboodle."

But everyone’s bets on groundwater in the valley were off; the sustainable supply was small.

As the groundwater showed its limits, the water authority turned to surface water on the Muddy River, acquiring water rights through purchases or leases.  

For Coyote Springs, this created an inevitable conflict. 

As their water purveyor, Las Vegas officials were charged with deciding whether Coyote Springs could pump its water. At the same time, they have a stake in seeing less pumping, not more, to protect the groundwater-fed flows of the Muddy River.

Since 2017, the water authority — along with state officials — have raised concerns about Coyote Springs’ efforts to use its water rights. Las Vegas water officials contend that the responsible choice, as a water provider, was to take action before Coyote Springs built homes, given the ongoing concerns about groundwater use.

But Cargill said that the water authority is "conflicted" between its multiple roles. She added that state and local agencies should have considered the water scarcity issues before entitling the project, a process that gave the developers the belief that they were allowed to build.

“We had entitlements,” Cargill said. “We had permissions to build. That’s why we bought the water. That’s why we bought the land. That's why we spent the money. We wouldn’t have spent what we’ve spent and continue to spend on a daily basis if we hadn’t had assurances that we were going to be able to develop.”


  • April 2017: The Las Vegas Valley Water District expresses concern that “any substantial volume of water” running through Coyote Springs’ wells could impair spring flow for the Moapa dace and Muddy River rights, most of which the water authority owns or leases. Water authority officials brought their concerns to Nevada’s top water official, the state engineer.
  • May 2018: Albert Seeno III, a Bay Area and Reno developer behind Coyote Springs, became personally involved, talking to then-State Engineer Jason King. According to Coyote Springs lawyers, King told Seeno “not to spend one dollar more on the Coyote Springs Development Project and that processing of [its development] maps had stopped.”
  • September 2018: Per a court settlement, King conditionally approved subdivision maps if Coyote Springs could prove that the groundwater could be pumped sustainably.
  • September-October 2019: The state engineer held hearings on the hydrology of the area after water users in the region submitted exhaustive hydrologic reports and modeling.
  • June 2020: After a new order on the issue, declaring that the region had less available groundwater than once previously thought, the state again recommended denial of development maps.

Records show that the limits to groundwater supply were well-established. For this reason, Wilson, the state engineer, as well as other water authority officials, have dismissed claims that Coyote Springs was short-changed or not informed of the scarcity issues in the area.

“The water issues out there had been known for a very long time,” Wilson said. 

Over the years, as Coyote Springs progressed through the local planning process, developers were warned repeatedly, Mulroy said. But they remained convinced the water was there. If Coyote Springs wants to develop today, “they’re going to have to bring water in from somewhere,” Mulroy added.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority's MX-5 well and associated facilities in Coyote Spring Valley on Aug. 13, 2020. The well is named for when the federal government sought this land for its MX Missile Program. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

A long path forward

The fight over water at Coyote Spring Valley is long from over. 

In June, the state engineer’s office issued an order capping regional groundwater pumping at 8,000 acre-feet (an agricultural term describing the amount of water that can fill one acre to a depth of one foot). It’s twice the cap that the water authority had hoped for, but it’s far less than the roughly 30,000 acre-feet that Coyote Springs had suggested was available. 

The cap means that the vast majority of groundwater rights in the area — about 31,000 acre-feet — are going to have to be restrained. The question now is how to do that equitably. 

A large amount of water in the Muddy River watershed is controlled by the Moapa Valley Water District, which provides service to the Moapa Valley Band of Paiutes and two rural communities.

Should water used to serve existing communities be prioritized?

The path toward a resolution to decide who can use their groundwater — when, where and how much — reflects a complicated future, not only for Coyote Springs but in areas across Nevada, where past state officials routinely issued more water on paper than there is water to go around. 

Correcting this problem is challenging. Decisions to appropriate, and over-appropriate, water were made decades ago. State officials did not always incorporate the same values, especially around protecting the environment, that policymakers consider now. And to fix the issue, regulators are constrained by a system of agreements, entitlements and plans that were approved in the past.

The state engineer’s order recognizes the connection between groundwater and surface water, and it proposes an approach that aims to look at the whole puzzle, not just the puzzle pieces.

But nearly everyone involved in the area found something to disagree with. At least ten water users — companies and government agencies — are participating in a judicial review in Las Vegas district court.

“I don’t think the litigation’s ending any time soon,” Pellegrino said. 

Pellegrino’s hope, though, is that litigation will yield to collaboration. As an example, she cited the Colorado River, where water users with competing interests and constituencies have opted to enter into collaborative agreements rather than gamble on the results of a lengthy fight in court.

“There is a path forward for the people who are using water [and] for the people who have water to come together, kind of like we do on the Colorado River, and say ‘Now that we know what the quantity of water is that we’re working with, how are we going to make this work,’” she said.

As the court battles continue, Coyote Springs remains focused on building homes.

“That’s what we do as a company,” Cargill said. “We’re not in the business of running golf courses. That’s not what we do. We’re not in the business of running a tortoise habitat. That's not what we do. We build homes. We build communities. We build infrastructure. We build shopping centers. That's what we do as a company. We run casinos. That’s what we do.”

And Coyote Springs has more rights to water. The groundwater is not its only source. About one hundred miles to the northeast, Coyote Springs owns ranches in Lake Valley near the small town of Pioche. 

In December 2008, the state engineer approved a plan allowing Coyote Springs to export a portion of its ranch-water to the new desert community. Although the state's order placed limits on the exportation proposal, it allowed for piping 11,300 acre-feet of water, enough water to supply tens of thousands of new homes. 

But “that water wasn’t intended to be the first water used,” Cargill said.

“That water was intended to be the next water used,” she added.

Any such effort to import the Lake Valley water would be years away, requiring new permits and adding significant costs.

Yet even in Lake Valley, more than a hundred miles away from Las Vegas, the future is complicated by the past. The water authority has its own storied presence in this area.

Starting in 1989, Las Vegas water officials filed for groundwater rights and purchased ranches in eastern Nevada with the goal of building a roughly 250-mile pipeline that could supplement its Colorado River supply. Coyote Springs and the water authority even have overlapping grazing permits. 

In 2008, Coyote Springs testified that its plan was to import its Lake Valley water through the Las Vegas pipeline. But after years of pushback from rural communities, tribes and environmentalists, the water authority shelved its plans for the pipeline this year, another setback for Coyote Springs.

Still, when asked if Coyote Springs was looking at Lake Valley, Cargill replied: “One fight at a time.”

Part II of this series, "New Rules,” will focus on how the problem developed and future fixes.

This story was supported by a grant from The Water Desk, an independent journalism initiative based at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Center for Environmental Journalism.

Indy Environment: Projections for fire season; EPA announces a brownfields grant

Good morning, and welcome to the Indy Environment newsletter.

To get this newsletter in your inbox, subscribe here. As always, we want to hear from readers. Let us know what you’re seeing on the ground and how policies are affecting you. Email me with any suggestions or tips at daniel@thenvindy.com. Message me to talk on Signal or PGP.

Weighing fire risk: On Friday, the National Interagency Fire Center, based in Boise, published its summer fire outlook. It found above-normal potential for large-scale fires in southeastern Nevada in June and in western Nevada in July. The report comes as fire managers are closely monitoring conditions to assess strategies for fighting fire during the pandemic. 

“Northern California and the Great Basin area are also areas to monitor closely for Above Normal significant wildland fire potential as fuels continue to dry and cure,” the report said. “Additionally, fine fuel loading is expected to be above average for the third consecutive year in the lower elevations. Those fuels will dry and cure, becoming receptive to fire by mid-June.” 

According to the Drought Monitor, about 42 percent of the state is experiencing moderate drought conditions, with a small pocket of severe drought in Lander County, western White Pine County and southern Elko County. It is a significant increase from April 30 last year, when the entire state was reported drought free.

Reno gets a Brownfields grant: The EPA announced a $600,000 grant for the city of Reno to assess contamination in a vacant corridor that used to be part of the railroad and runs alongside the Truckee River corridor. The grant still must be accepted by the City Council next week. 

The announcement on Wednesday was part of a broader agency effort to disburse $65.6 million in grants for 151 communities across the country. Reno joins several other jurisdictions across Nevada that have received funding to conduct contamination assessments — and eventual cleanups — under the national Brownfields program. A brownfield site, as defined by the EPA, is “a property for which the site’s expansion, redevelopment, or reuse may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.”

The urban area in Reno, targeted for redevelopment, includes a mix of public and private land. On a conference call announcing the grant, Reno Vice Mayor Devon Reese said the award could help spur re-development in the area, bringing economic and environmental benefits.

“Like many communities around the country, our economy has certainly been very hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Reese said. “And these much-needed funds do come at an opportune time to help us continue to revitalize our downtown and our urban core, which [has been] an important initiative for the city of Reno in recent years”

Delayed compensation: High Country News published a story this week investigating the bureaucratic roadblocks facing Indigenous downwinder communities that file claims with the federal government, responsible for above-ground nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site. 

Under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, downwinders who were exposed to nuclear testing and contracted radiation-related diseases are eligible for a one-time payment. But the program sunsets in July 2022, even as the lasting effects of radiation could continue causing diseases in a generation that is growing older. As the article documents, Indigenous downwinders have faced challenging barriers in getting their claims processed.

‘The new normal is abnormal:’ Former Desert Research Institute President Kristen Averyt will serve as the state’s first climate policy coordinator. Averyt, who has a background in Colorado River research and was one of the scientists who shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for work on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, spoke to The Nevada Current this week. This line is good. “People talk about a ‘new normal,’” she said. “The new normal is abnormal.”

New utility ratemaking: The Public Utilities Commission of Nevada released a concept paper last week outlining the process for exploring new ratemaking structure for electric utilities. 

The Mountain Pass mine: The Pentagon is investing in a processing facility for the country’s only rare-earth minerals operation. Even if you haven’t heard of the mine, you’ve probably passed it. It’s tucked away off of I-15 in California, about 15 minutes from the Nevada border and about an hour from Las Vegas. Right now, processing the minerals (used in wind turbines, electric cars and military weapons) is done in China. Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Pentagon is helping fund an on-site processing facility to reduce that dependence. 

A groundwater market on hold: A District Court judge ruled last week that a novel program to conserve groundwater violated a basic principle of Nevada water law. The program, now in its second year, looked to create a more fluid market for buying, selling and trading water rights in Diamond Valley, a basin outside of Eureka County. At the same time, it looked to reduce overall pumping from a water supply that regulators had, over many years, allowed to be pumped at rates that were unsustainable. 

The program continues to be closely watched not only in Nevada but across the arid West. It is seen as a possible model for fixing a common regional problem of overallocation, when there are more rights to water on paper than there is water to go around. The state, county and/or a group of irrigators, all parties to the case, could appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.

Watching the well: Dozens of Fernley residents checked into Zoom last week for a meeting to discuss a federal project that could result in a reduction of local groundwater, the Mason Valley News reports. For years, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and other Truckee River water users have been providing input on ways to maintain the largely unlined Truckee Canal after a breach in the diversion flooded hundreds of homes in 2008. 

But the proposed fix — to line the canal — is complex and controversial. Although the project could increase the canal’s efficiency in a basin with little water to spare, it will leave Fernley with less water. Because the canal is unlined as it passes through Fernley, water flowing through the canal seeps into the groundwater, forming a portion of the domestic water supply.

Grazing sheep to reduce fire-risk: Federal land managers announced plans to release about 800 ewes in the Humboldt Toiyabe National Forest in the foothills near Reno. By grazing sheep, the U.S. Forest Service is hoping to reduce invasive vegetation, including cheatgrass, a fuel that frequently exacerbates the severity of wildfires throughout the Intermountain West. Dogs and herders will monitor the sheep, according to a press release. Because the area is a popular hiking spot, a fuels specialist with the agency is urging hikers to keep their dogs on leashes: “No matter how well trained a dog is, their instinct to chase could put them and the sheep in danger.”

Coronavirus at the lake: The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency is eyeing a phased approach to boating in 2020: limiting boating, in the first phase, to boats that only launch from Lake Tahoe. The agency issues different decals, as part of its aquatic invasive species program, depending on whether boats launch solely from Lake Tahoe or travel in and out of the basin. 

Former Clark County commissioner on pipeline: Former Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, who ran in the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial primary, wrote an op-ed in the Las Vegas Sun on the Las Vegas pipeline. Giunchigliani, a board member of the Great Basin Water Network, wrote that “the project is an outdated, costly vision dreamed up at a time before terms like climate change and urban sprawl were in the lingua franca of Las Vegas residents.”

In defense of Mayor Goodman

The evolution of the role of mayor in the biggest little city in Clark County includes all manner of white people trying to hustle atop city government, including force-of-nature Oscar B. Goodman. In what follows, we’ll roll down memory lane as fast as a high speed rail from Victorville to Las Vegas until we come to Carolyn Goodman, a.k.a. the conductor of this week’s locally based and globally spotted train wreck.

In the ‘70s and ‘80s, the position of the mayor of Las Vegas was either ceremonial — as with always smiling, ribbon-cutting, central casting favorite Bill Briare — or a sort of wheeler dealer position — as in the case of “ethical” business guy Ron Lurie. In the ‘90s, under ice cream and car dealership spokeswoman (and Stanford grad) Jan Jones, the job became one of head cheerleader. Then with the 1999 election of national figurehead, mob lawyer, gin spokesman and pulpit bullyboy, Oscar Goodman, the role became one of super cheerleader. Oscar was like no other and to many (like me) he epitomized Vegas.

Oscar’s story and immersion in Las Vegas history both prior to and after his three terms as mayor (as well as all the foibles and follies) is well-documented, so it doesn’t need repeating. And while not particularly close to him over the years, I wouldn’t say I wasn’t close, either. He was a valuable mentor when I was a new defense lawyer and always supported my efforts to do better. As one of the champions of investment in downtown Las Vegas - then fighting an economic downturn - he convinced me to come back to the old neighborhood (where I’ve gleefully lived for the past 20 years), appointed me to a city redevelopment board and eventually also to a vacant spot on the Las Vegas Municipal Court bench. I’ve read poetry with the man on a downtown stage and once wrote a cover story for a national magazine (cheekily) suggesting he was poised to be the country’s first Jewish president – sorry Bernie! There’s a lot I like about Oscar Goodman to this day, even as I’ve also never been shy about criticizing him (to my chagrin – he doesn’t like critics) on topics near and dear to my heart like his mean-spirited approaches to homelessness.  

The thing about Oscar is that he always viewed himself as the epitome of the Vegas story, and felt that anything he did as he grew in popularity promoted the message: Come to Vegas and don’t worry what people say or think of you. He wasn’t far off. Las Vegas has depths and levels of superficiality and artifice that glow a funky light on the human condition. Generations of outsiders to this day can’t seem to wrap their heads around our durative appeal. It was an odd, but never unexplainable choice Las Vegas citizens made in elevating the apolitical criminal defense attorney to the arguably highest profile (though not really powerful) elected position in the whole state. He defended accused killers (gross), yet somehow engendered such good feels that he was still regularly asked to speak to tiny school kids (which didn’t even always go horribly).

As the surreal spokesmodel for Las Vegas proper, he was able to get some things done — most notably, his unwavering effort to reverse the course of entropy that had hit the city’s core, paving the way (literally) for a new downtown to eventually emerge, and which I contend led to making all of Las Vegas a more livable and vibrant community. As a lawyer, he knew how to advocate and win; as a caricature (by his own making) with shticks galore, he had the freedom to breeze easily through any tough situation and was bound only by his own imagination. He became a beacon for tourists, new residents and new business, even as he also regularly taunted threats of violence at his detractors and refused to yield to even the most modest criticism.

Oscar forever changed what Las Vegas felt its mayor should be.

When Oscar termed out of office, I was excited to support my friend and neighbor Chris Giuchigliani (aka Chris G.) who at the time was serving ably as my county commissioner and prior to that as my Assembly representative. She had announced her intentions to run well ahead of the election and was by far the favorite candidate of my circle of friends and colleagues. Chris G. is a personable thinker and a rare doer in politics, a special education teacher with a knack for policy and planning. In a word, she was ideally and uniquely qualified.

There was never a doubt that once elected, Chris G. would bring the city governance back to a more grounded space. And while she certainly wasn’t as large-as-life as Oscar, she understood the need to cultivate the life he had given to the city. She also was coming from the county, which presumably meant the long overdue collaboration on issues of mutual interest could finally be addressed. In a word, Chris G. was the presumptive cure to the wild and fun hangover the city had from the Oscar show.

But then, on the second to last day of filing, Carolyn Goodman, wife of the eclectic mayor, entered the race. Oscar was a notable part of Carolyn’s first campaign — she would often (and then again) announce herself to any room while working the voters that she was “Carolyn Goodman, the mayor’s wife. I’m running for mayor.” In 2011, not a lot of voters knew much about her except for that fact, and that she seemed poised, passionate and primed to extend a dynasty of sorts. 

I knew from the moment she announced that it was the end to any chance for a nuanced discussion of policy, practice or planning. This was going to be a straight up popularity spectacle no matter how hard either candidate would try to talk about pressing issues. As a Las Vegas observer, I also knew from the instant she handed out the first casino chip with her image on it that Carolyn Goodman would handily become our city’s new mayor. Las Vegas has always been drawn to the hottest light. And like the vast majority of people who bothered to vote (municipal elections are notoriously low-turnout), I held out reasonable hope that she could build off of the good part of her husband’s mantle while leaving behind his predictable shtick and unpredictable vitriol. The new cheerleader was on track for coronation; Chris G. would be left holding the metaphorical trombone on the sideline of this important show.

Well, potentially important show. 

Plenty of pundits have said that Las Vegas — as an incorporated city with defined boundaries — doesn’t matter. That despite its big name, the city doesn’t have any of the biggest prizes (or biggest tax generators). That all of the revenue from the Strip goes to the county, and it’s the chair of the County Commission who wields true power. I get all that, but I take offense. The Las Vegas City Council has great sway in the quality of life of its 640,000+ residents. It controls what gets built where, how the residents are valued when they raise concerns about challenges to their neighborhoods, and creating an environment in which a person would want to live, work, play and contribute. It deals with big city issues including how to address the homeless population, how to contend with an invasion of short term rentals, marijuana dispensaries and big developments, and how to attract new businesses. And as partners in some forums and overseers of others, it is a key component in other conversations, as well. That’s important.

It’s also important to a tourist city to have a pied piper. A cheerleader. A camera-ready figurehead ready to do damage control or open up the floodgates to get bigger, faster, stronger. This is true whether it’s the municipality's actual jurisdiction, or an area people THINK OF when they hear Las Vegas. It has been a long-time benefit to the lookie-loos to have a good advocate, and in Vegas it became the person with the word “Mayor” in front of his or her name. Ideally, it would be someone who also was good at all the actual governance stuff back at City Hall. 

Carolyn Goodman has had a mixed ride as mayor. Our expectations were that her time would simply run like the Godfather, er, Oscar Part II; however, it turned into an uneven and confusing narrative journey, one that definitely had highlights but in the end will not get the same reverence of the original. So, more like Godfather, Part III.

There has been appreciable good. The seeds of the downtown resurgence planted by Oscar soon saw the arrival of growth and many sweet fruits under her guidance and encouragement. There have been ample developments, improvements and progressive undertakings under her watch. Mayor Carolyn and I share a common philosophy that what’s good for Las Vegas as a city is good for Las Vegas as a concept and in turn for the state of Nevada and all those who reside here. 

Yet, every major criticism she’s sustained for her forays into policy, law and implementation stems from her far too myopic version of how we ought to sustain our lucrative viability, sometimes at the cost of reason and logic. Growth has become her prime directive, and has absolutely tracked her (and really all Las Vegans) to this moment in time. This trajectory is exemplified by the mayor’s relationship with tech superstar and Zappos guy Tony Hsieh, alongside his “downtown project” (DTP). For all the good and vital investment of resources and energy it has delivered (along with a substantial positive on the balance sheet), deeper digs into the relationship reveal something more chaotic to the point of possible long-term detriment to Las Vegas.  

Despite the signs, the never-back-down mayor continues to insist, like her predecessor, that this developer remains central to the Goodman legacy. This despite knowing the word “community” was wisely removed from DTP’s own mission statement. The mayor will still attempt to sell you on the earnest claim that they’re a godsend, even after her clumsy, bend-over backwardness to foster the whims of DTP thrust her smack into the middle of an unforced scandal.  

It makes some sense. In the early days of the relationship, the mayor was rewarded with glowing press accounts and lots of “buzz” around her successes and those of her city. No doubt primed by constant references in those stories to Tony Hsieh’s tech tales and Burning Man mantras, the mayor became noticeably seduced. Whatever personal philosophy she had held to that point, she quickly shifted to entrenchment with a mashup of free-market platitudes and magical thinking that has come to define her position in the public eye.   

Which brings us to this week. There was a lot going on in that Anderson Cooper interview, and people have piled on. There’s a clamor right now that Mayor Goodman is an outlier and embarrassment to be ignored, or worse, discarded. That what she said in front of millions of viewers was not only “ignorant” but dangerous. That something must be wrong with the person fighting to get people into public spaces during a time of pandemic, ignoring a consensus from math and science. That her choice of off-the-cuff anecdotes were tone-deaf and her defensiveness about Las Vegas and its heavily marketed mystic power devolved into a backfire of confusion.  

And it did. It epically backfired. Many of her jurisdictional superiors governor, county commissioners, a U.S. representative) immediately went into distancing mode or attack mode. Three of her own colleagues from the seven-member Las Vegas City Council penned an op-ed preaching calm and thoughtfulness in direct contradiction to the wishes of the mayor. And then came the outrageous memes and comic videos and calls for recall. What started as necessary pushback and damage control devolved into a distasteful splatterfest. Most certainly in the time it has taken me to pen this, even more screeds condemning her have been published.

I get the concerns. She put on her cheerleader outfit for a rugby scrimmage but then freaked out so hard upon arrival that she started speaking in tongues and only half-remembering her cheers. It did not make her look good. It did not make Las Vegas seem stable in a time when reassuringly beckoning the nervous masses to come and play is soon going to be vital.  

But it's bad form to stick it to her so hard right now. She was just trying to save her town, entirely consistent with her we-can-do-it philosophy that has worked so well in the past. Every municipal leader in the United States is grappling with finding necessary balance in answer to the pandemic and its aftermath. Her conclusions (and philosophy) are way off, but her concern still needs to be addressed. Unity with the governor’s message would be helpful, but the subsequent unity in attacking someone who has little sway to change the “agreed-upon approach” is a distraction from looking at the shortcomings of the “agreed-upon approach.”  

Rapidly "canceling" the mayor in the midst of a public health crisis does not seem to me to be a considered means to ensure that Las Vegas is not in fact acting rashly. And finally — sorry if this sounds pedantic — she’s 81 now, and is very publicly recovering from cancer and rebounding from chemotherapy.  

People may think her time has come and gone, for recent reasons as well as for her remarkably misguided stance on homelessness, the echoing shadow of insensitivity, and a charge of outright prejudice. And for her resistance to backing down, or admitting she was wrong, instead reinvesting in that damn philosophy no matter the emotional or real cost.

I know this doesn’t sound like much of a defense, as advertised, but we’re almost there.

Yes, Mayor Carolyn Goodman has gone very deeply down a dark path as she rides out her final term of office. Like her husband before her, she believes she has governed and promoted on an instinct that has served her seemingly well — until quite recently. And the sequence of events that brought us here were bizarre.

First, outlandish charm-mistress Michele Fiore — a larger-than-life, parody-inspiring, gun-totin’, calendar-posing neo-Oscar — got herself elected to City Council and has been causing chaos ever since. Also, AirBnB’s blew up. Also, Councilman Steve Seroka resigned in disgrace in the middle of a protracted fight with the developers of Badlands/Queensridge golf course (costing the city millions). Also, homelessness became too visible to ignore. All this as the mayor gained a majority of conservative City Council members with little appetite for thoughtfulness or measured discourse.

And then COVID-19 happened.

I’m not suggesting that the criticism of Mayor Goodman doesn’t warrant consideration, including those who pontificate that we’d be better without her or who spend tweet time wondering about a world where Chris G. had won that first race. (This same daydreaming will also happen if Gov. Sisolak doesn’t soon convincingly announce pandemic economic recovery plans.) What I am suggesting is that Mayor Goodman is an irreplaceable asset to Las Vegas, and it would serve our community to help convince her that she’s wrong, and why, and find common ground rather than waste further energy deriding and humiliating her.  

What’s good for Las Vegas is good for all Nevada. Frankly, we don’t have time for recalls nor for focusing any more energy on the “Pooper with Anderson Cooper” when there’s a pandemic and related suffering happening. I believe Carolyn Goodman when she says she acts with love in her heart. I’m convinced that she can turn this situation around and use her prominence, passion and persistence in the way we need most: to reverse other bad city policies, bridge the divide with other municipalities and work with smart people towards facilitating a viable post-pandemic plan.

Prior to writing Mayor Goodman off, can we not give her the same chance at redemption that her city has adopted as its cornerstone? Especially given how the Goodmans are so undeniably, almost uniquely, representative of the mojo that is Las Vegas? I don’t know whether Mayor Goodman even wants to stay mayor, or whether she has finally come to understand that she doesn’t actually have “the strength of a pack of wolves” as she has hyperbolically proclaimed. But knowing her to the extent I do, I can’t imagine that if she believes she has something left to offer that could help bring Las Vegas back around (and I think she does) she wouldn’t want to do everything in her power to do so. It doesn’t matter whether that power is real or perceived. Carolyn Goodman, the well-known mayor of Las Vegas, has the skills to get the train back on the track, even if we agree she is the one responsible for her own derailment in the first place.  We simply need to all talk it out before she makes her next move — preferably not on CNN.  

Dayvid Figler is a criminal defense attorney based in Las Vegas. He previously served as an associate attorney representing indigent defendants charged with murder for the Clark County Special Public Defender’s office. During his legal tenure, he served a brief appointment as a Las Vegas Municipal Court judge. Figler has been cited as a noted legal expert in many places including the New York Times, National Public Radio, Newsweek, USA Today, Court TV and the Los Angeles Times. His award-winning radio essays have appeared on KNPR as well as on NPR’s All Things Considered program.

Climate change, conservation and development: Reshuffling the deck on the Las Vegas lands bill

What is the Clark County lands bill really about? It all depends who you ask.

For more than two years, Clark County officials have worked on crafting a proposal to expand the federal public land available for development, while meeting their responsibilities to protect imperiled species such as the Mojave desert tortoise. In 2018, the County Commission voted to send the proposal to Congress with buy-in from developers but criticism from environmental groups.

In recent weeks, that criticism — that the bill would subvert environmental laws and undermine climate change efforts — has reached an apex, most notably during a heated KNPR segment.

U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto is working to change the conversation, especially as it relates to conservation. To do that, the senator’s staff began floating legislative language — known as a “discussion draft” — Tuesday that aims to resolve some of the most controversial aspects of the county’s plan. 

In an interview Tuesday afternoon, Cortez Masto said that the purpose of the discussion draft was to foster a new round of discussions that moves groups toward finding common ground. 

“It should go toward a final product that really does allow Clark County to plan for the growth in a sustainable, predictable and responsible manner, while also protecting our pristine lands and environment,” she said. “At the end of the day, the county has to plan. We have a growing community and population there. We need to make sure they have the ability to plan for that [and] be flexible in a state where 85 percent of the land is owned by the federal government.”

The proposal attempts to strike a balance. It aims to satisfy Clark County’s concerns over limits on future growth while addressing concerns from a conservation community with split opinions.

Still, the process is far from over. Negotiations over the proposed bill are likely to continue. The proposal is just draft legislation. It has not been introduced in Congress. Cortez Masto said that she plans to continue working with the delegation, the county and groups to craft final legislation. 

Shaaron Netherton, executive director for Friends of Nevada Wilderness, characterized the new draft as an improvement that protects more federal land, but she added that there is more work that needs to be done.

“It's complicated, and it takes time to work through all of the issues,” she said.

Although it could protect more than twice as much federal land from development, concerns remain over what the proposal might mean for growth and threatened species, namely the desert tortoise. The proposal also leaves room for Las Vegas to develop southward along I-15. Such a move, a new coalition of groups has argued, could amplify the effects of climate change. 

“While there are improvements from the county's disaster of a bill draft, this doesn't change the fundamental dynamic of allowing Las Vegas to sprawl outside the Las Vegas Valley," Patrick Donnelly, the Nevada director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said Tuesday evening. 

Reshuffling the politics?

The new discussion draft, in many ways, is a response to nearly two years of criticism over the county’s original request, viewed by many groups as favoring development over conservation.

A map showing the boundaries of proposed conservation under the proposed discussion draft. (Courtesy of Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto's office)

To offset additional development, the draft language would protect about 308,110 acres of public land as wilderness. It also expands the border of the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area by 69,201 acres, preserving a popular recreation destination for climbers and hikers.

The bill would expand land for the Moapa Band of Paiutes by 41,228 acres. It floats the idea of creating a new national monument. And it conditionally protects another 353,716 acres of land.

It changed language around the Endangered Species Act that several groups, from the Center for Biological Diversity to The Nature Conservancy, were concerned could undermine the law. 

"It's an improvement, but we still have concerns," Donnelly said.

It removed language that concerned opponents of the Las Vegas pipeline, a proposal to pump groundwater from Eastern Nevada as a way to supplement the city’s Colorado River supply.

“What they have put together is really well-thought out and addresses many of the concerns that the conservationists raised with the draft,” said Justin Jones, a Clark County commissioner.

Map of public land.
A map showing the boundaries of federal public land available for development under the proposed discussion draft. (Courtesy of Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto's office)

But some groups remained concerned that the legislation does not go far enough to address climate change. In fact, they argue the legislation could hinder the ability to tackle warming.

In a statement on Tuesday, Brian Beffort, director of the Sierra Club’s Toiyabe Chapter, thanked the senator for working to achieve a balance, but said he was concerned about the potential growth. 

The bill would open up more than 42,000 acres of federal public land in the Las Vegas Valley to potential development, while it would reduce the amount open to development in other areas. 

Industry groups, including the Southern Nevada Home Builders Association and the Henderson Chamber of Commerce, see a growing population on the horizon. Las Vegas is expected to add about 600,000 people over the next four decades. And they see themselves as landlocked. 

Federal land managers, namely the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, control most of the land around the Las Vegas Valley. With a growing population, industry groups argue that there is a need to free up new land to lower land prices, and in turn, attract new business and housing.

“We're a growing community,” Amber Stidham, director of government affairs for the Henderson Chamber of Commerce, said on Tuesday. “I understand the need for not becoming too much of a sprawled community. But the fact is that 85 percent of the state is public land. We are one of the fastest-growing communities in the nation. And we're surrounded by federal public land.”

The legislation would direct growth around the I-15 corridor toward California. 

Yet land use is tied to addressing climate change. And some groups worry directing growth toward the outskirts of the valley, rather than directing growth up, could only make addressing climate change that much more difficult.

“Las Vegas is already one of the fastest-warming cities in the nation, our air quality is among the worst in the nation, and our water future is uncertain at best,” Beffort wrote in an email after the discussion draft was released. “This legislation could be a vehicle for meaningful climate action. But in what we've seen so far, it isn't. We're afraid it's only going to make things worse.”

This tension over growth has been present from the start.

Clark County Commissioners during a board meeting on Tuesday, May 15, 2018. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

A delayed commission vote

In 2017, representatives from conservation and environmental organizations huddled in an office at Clark County’s Department of Air Quality. It’s an agency that has a misleading name. 

For years, it has done much more than help regulate emissions from vehicles and industry. One example of its breadth: It is responsible for ensuring compliance with endangered species rules. For this reason, it is looking to restructure as the Department of Environment and Sustainability.

At that meeting in 2017, representatives from the conservation community were briefed on a new project. For several attendees of the meeting, it was the first time that they were hearing about the proposal. The department was seeking congressional legislation that would secure more land for development by adjusting the boundaries of federal public land within the county. 

Immediately, there were environmental concerns. The county’s plan would direct the trajectory of Las Vegas’ growth for decades. How would it affect federal public land used for recreation and conservation? How would it affect imperiled species, namely the declining Mojave desert tortoise population? Did it comply with the Endangered Species Act? The proposal could protect more federal public land. But was it long-lasting enough to offset the effect of new development? 

The groups were told that the County Commission would weigh the proposal at its next meeting.

That didn’t end up happening.

The groups were successful in delaying the county’s process. It wasn’t until June 2018 that the commission voted unanimously to move forward with the proposal. Once the vote happened, the county continued tweaking the bill as the delegation started looking at crafting its own draft. 

But by the time that vote came around, environmental groups found themselves with differing opinions. Most of them were opposed to the bill or neutral. Other groups, such as the Center for Biological Diversity, were vehemently opposed. Save added conservation and a few provisions, the Sierra Club said it was “a terrible step forward” (emphasis taken from the group’s comment letter). 

Two groups — the Nevada Conservation League and the Conservation Lands Foundation — commented in support of the proposal, arguing it was only a first step; things could change.

After the vote, groups began directing their concerns toward the delegation, and their positions revealed a significant tension over what environmental goals the bill should accomplish.

Homes under construction about two miles north of Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area on Wednesday, May 9, 2018. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

A more sprawling debate

Last week, a new coalition came to the table: the Nevada Climate Justice Coalition.

The coalition, comprising 350.org, Mi Familia Vota, Moms Clean Air Force, Ecomadres, PLAN, Sierra Club and the Sunrise Movement, formed in response to the county’s initial proposal. The goal of the coalition was to bring more urgency to the justice and equity issues associated with sprawl. And on Monday, the coalition released a letter to the delegation telling it to slow down.

Former County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani also signed the letter. Giunchigliani, who ran for governor in 2018, originally voted for the county’s proposal but has withdrawn her support.

The coalition recommended the delegation “postpone passing legislation that has the potential to expand Las Vegas’ footprint — and the associated climate and equity impacts — until strong sustainability, climate-resiliency and equity policies are in place at the county level.”

Their ask offers an alternative approach to the course many groups have been taking. 

If the bill is going to allow for the potential southward expansion of the Las Vegas Valley toward the California border, they want assurances in advance that the county will take climate change effects into account. How will more development increase the urban heat island? What will it mean to have more vehicles on the road? Will the county prioritize and incentivize infill first?

The proposed legislation expands the federal land available for purchase by developers. But it does not guarantee that all of that land — about 32,000 acres — will be sold to developers. 

“If this public lands bill moves forward, that does not mean the lands are going to be [sold],” said Stidham, with the chamber. “It means that we are providing more authority to the municipalities."

Andy Maggi, executive director of the Nevada Conservation League, said that it will be up to policymakers to ensure that climate change is taken into account. He added that “there is nothing in here that says the historic trends of Southern Nevada have to continue.”

But others believe that simply expanding the land available to developers, will squeeze natural ecosystems in an area where there is already increased development pressure on public land. 

Shaun Gonzales, who writes the Mojave Desert Blog and is on the board of Basin and Range Watch, said that environmentalists should not rely on politicians to check desert development.

“They can't guarantee who is going to be on that commission down the road,” he said. “Once the land is made available to developers, that begets its own political and economic pressures.”

Most groups agree that climate change should be part of the equation as the Las Vegas Valley looks at a growing population, but they ask whether the legislation is the right place to do that. 

Jocelyn Torres, Nevada director for the Conservation Lands Foundation, noted that jurisdiction is multi-layered when it comes to creating policy for an issue as systemic as climate change.

“I'm not sure all the answers are in this legislation,” Torres said. 

How the bill moves forward

None of this is happening in a vacuum. 

Across the state, counties from Pershing to Washoe are working on bills that would change the status of federal land within their boundaries. Those processes could lead to more conserved federal land for recreation and wildlife. They could also open more public land to development. 

At the same time, the military is proposing significant expansions of two testing ranges — one in Southern Nevada and one in Northern Nevada — that are used to train for modern air combat. 

In an interview with reporters last week, Rep. Mark Amodei proposed combining some of the legislation to make passage before Congress more likely. Amodei, in the interview, also warned that it would be more difficult to pass legislation after July 4th as attention shifted to the election.

When asked how the Clark County legislation could move through Congress, Cortez Masto said she was not sure how the legislation would proceed. Her focus, she said, is drafting a final bill.

“I don’t know how it’s going to move,” Cortez Masto said. “It’s important that we work with the county and local government and the stakeholders who are interested in working together to find common ground to come up with a final product. And then I will work with our delegation in finding a vehicle and figuring out how we pass it through Congress.”

Humberto Sanchez contributed reporting to this article.

New Board on Indigent Defense Services aims to improve the quality of legal defense for people who can’t afford a lawyer

Front of the Nevada Legislature building

The difference in quality between state-provided legal services for those who can’t afford a lawyer and those offered by privately paid attorneys in Nevada is the subject of both a class-action lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and a new state commission.

In November 2017, the ACLU filed a lawsuit in the First Judicial District Court in Carson City to address the disparity between state and county-provided public defense throughout Nevada. The issue is that counties often provide public defense by contracting out to private attorneys who are overburdened with 400-500 cases and hours of travel to rural courthouses. 

“What I will say is some of the systems that I studied in your state [Nevada], I would really describe it ‘non-systems,’” said David Carroll, executive director of the Sixth Amendment Center, a Boston-based organization focused on making legal defense available to everyone.

The center derives its name from the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution, which guarantees the rights to a trial by jury, to be confronted with witnesses and to provide counsel for the defendant.

The Legislature passed a bill earlier this year, AB81, that created the new Board on Indigent Defense Services (BIDS) to uphold statewide standards of public legal defense. BIDS will have oversight of the State Public Defender’s Office, which is located in Carson City, and all other local and county public defenders.

The state public defender currently only has jurisdiction over Carson City and Storey County where Clark, Elko, Humboldt, Pershing and Washoe counties have their own public defenders. The other counties in the state work with contract attorneys out of their own pocket. 

“As originally conceived in 1971, the State Public Defender was funded through a combination of state and county funding, with the state paying for 80 percent of all public defender costs in the rural counties and the counties paying the remaining 20 percent,” according to the Sixth Amendment Center’s website. “Over time, the state reduced its financial commitment to the point where today participating counties pay 80 percent of the entire cost of the system.”

The practice in rural counties of contracting outside attorneys has caught the attention of the ACLU and the Sixth Amendment Center, which says that the private caseload of contract attorneys isn’t taken into consideration when assigning them public defendants. Without any limit or standards for total caseloads, attorneys are not able to give the appropriate amount of time to individual cases and quality suffers compared with clients who have private lawyers that can devote more time to their case.

The lack of state funding can sometimes result in ineffective legal services in Nevada’s smallest counties. In Clark County, by contrast, there is an entirely separate public defender’s office with more than 200 staff that are able to help those in need of legal counsel. 

When asked what state standards for cases per attorney should be in Nevada, Carroll said it’s important to collect data in making that decision.

“What I do think is necessary is that attorneys should be tracking time so that you can establish what is the appropriate caseload level for each jurisdiction,” he said in an interview.

One of the biggest contributing factors to a decline in adequate legal counsel is that the wealthier counties have more money to spend on attorneys than others. Many counties in Nevada don’t have sufficient funds to hire enough contract attorneys, which is why the state is being asked to oversee the issue and standardize the amount needed for legal counsel.

“The wealthier counties tend to do a better job at providing those services when really a lot of counties, what they need, is help from the state,”  Holly Welborn, policy director for the ACLU of Nevada, said in an interview. “It’s a Sixth Amendment state obligation to fund indigent defense services.”

The newly established BIDS was supposed to have funding of $15 million to address any deficiencies between state and county public defenders. Before the bill was passed, the funding was removed and BIDS was only given enough to pay for its offices and the salary for its executive director. 

The board, which is made up of 13 voting members and three non-voting members, will focus on creating a statewide standard for public defense and track data to bring to the next legislative session. Members include Chris Giunchigliani, who served on the Clark County Commission and in the legislature; Robert Crowell, the mayor of Carson City; and Executive Director Marcie Ryba, who was the chief deputy public defender in Carson City. 

Thursday was the first meeting of BIDS where Ryba was present as the executive director and discussed with the board how limited the budget is and what she is doing to work within those limitations. There is no office space as of yet because the board only has $1,500 a month for that expense but the board is currently looking at splitting an office with other agencies. 

With budget constraints continuing until at least the next legislative session, the board will have to find ways to establish statewide standards for legal defense that will address the issues brought up by the ACLU lawsuit. 

“It’s really going to come down to, are the deficiencies discovered, are they creating appropriate caseload standards to meet the needs of rural communities, and is the state funding whatever deficiencies exist in those counties,” said Welborn. “So that’s what we’re looking for when we analyze this and we look at whatever regulations they’re passing through the Board of Indigent Defense Services.”

The ACLU’s lawsuit against the state is still ongoing, with the deadline for discovery in July 2020. The ACLU is continuing with the case to ensure that the changes brought about by the commission address the disparities seen between counties and have some form of standardization throughout the state. 

Carroll said there is still a lot that BIDS can achieve without the state funding. 

“As you’re working toward this next [legislative] session, you could take something like attorney qualification standards that will say these are the level of experience, the type of training that attorneys who want to represent the indigent accused must meet before handling certain types of cases,” said Carroll.

Updated on Jan. 7, 2020 to correct information in text and in graphic about which counties use contract attorneys for public defense.

Indy 2020: Warren, Sanders and Biden return to Nevada to court the Culinary Union

Culinary Union members cheer

Your Nevada 2020 election newsletter. Please read, forward and subscribe.

Good morning, and welcome to Indy 2020, a biweekly newsletter focused on the 2020 presidential election in Nevada. A reminder that email subscribers get early access to this newsletter, so be sure to subscribe and tell your friends. It’ll be peachy.

I know you’re probably tired of it, but I’m not. I’m not talking about the caucus. I’m talking about 2019’s greatest meme: Baby Yoda playing with the radio. I’m still not totally sold on “The Mandalorian.” I get the argument that it’s a classic Western set in space, and I can appreciate that. I just don’t know where the story is going yet and I really badly want to know. (Insert comment about impatient millennials here.)

However, what I am sold on is Baby Yoda — Baby Yoda listening to Queen. Baby Yoda going through an angsty Evanescence phase. Baby Yoda being SO READY for Christmas.

In other news, a programming note: A shorter Christmas Eve edition of this newsletter will come out on Dec. 24 and then we’ll be back after the New Year.

As always, a reminder to reach out to me with any tips, story ideas, comments, suggestions (and your favorite Baby Yoda radio meme) at megan@thenvindy.com.

Without further ado, a download of the recent 2020 happenings in Nevada.


First in The Indy: South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg will be back in Nevada on Dec. 20 and 21 after the Democratic presidential debate in California on Dec. 19. Details to come.

Warren kicks off latest series of Culinary town halls: Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren became the latest candidate to visit the Culinary Union Monday night, addressing a crowd of a couple hundred workers at their union headquarters. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden will address the union this morning and on Wednesday morning, respectively.

The first question she was asked was about her health care plan. Warren lauded the union's health plan and health center — which she toured earlier in the day — but remained vague about whether the Culinary plan would continue to exist in the health care future she imagines. The crowd was enthusiastic at points — such as when she went after Station Casinos as an example of who “Washington is working great” for — but otherwise it was a relatively subdued audience for the Massachusetts senator, especially compared to the warm reception California Sen. Kamala Harris received when she was in town last month.

More on Warren's visit here.

Culinary endorsement before the caucus? D. Taylor, international president of the Culinary Union's parent union UNITE HERE, told me after the Warren town hall his hope is that the union will endorse — as a national union — before Nevada's Feb. 22 caucus. But he didn't say whether Medicare for all would be a litmus test. Those comments are also in the Warren story here.

Bernie in the north: Ahead of his Culinary Union visit, Sanders swung through Northern Nevada on Sunday and Monday. On Sunday, he held a rally at Elko High School, where he touched on a number of issues, including rural health care.

"So it may well be that an insurance company does not make a lot of profit in rural Nevada, you know? So what? The function of healthcare is to provide healthcare to people,” he said, according to CBS News’ Alex Tin.

He also came out against oil and gas drilling in the Ruby Mountains, which tower over Elko, in a statement Monday morning. (My colleague Daniel Rothberg has reported extensively on the issue.)

“Nevadans have resoundingly opposed any attempts to open the Ruby Mountains for oil and gas drilling, which would lead to the destruction of our public lands,” Sanders said. “Scientists have also been clear that in order to solve the climate crisis, we must leave fossil fuels in the ground. When we are in the White House, we will immediately end all new and existing fossil fuel extraction on federal public lands, including Nevada’s Ruby Mountains.”

Sanders also hosted rallies in Carson City and Reno on Monday. In Carson City, Sanders was thanked by a Navy veteran who had told the Vermont senator three months ago at the campaign rally that he wanted to kill himself because of his struggle with Huntington’s disease and overwhelming medical bills. My colleague Michelle Rindels has more of his story here.

Kamala drops out: Harris dropped out of the presidential race, citing financial constraints. I just interviewed her a couple of weeks ago for our podcast, during which she told me she was “very much in the game.” She ran a good race here, though, had a team that knew Nevada well and received several endorsements from lawmakers here. She stopped by her Las Vegas office to say goodbye to her staff last week.

Latino group seeks specific commitments from candidates: I met with Hector Sanchez Barba, Mi Familia Vota’s new executive director and CEO, in Las Vegas last week. One of the organization’s biggest focuses right now, he told me, is getting presidential hopefuls on the record on immigration, and pressing them to lay out a specific roadmap for how and when they plan to implement the policies they have laid out on the trail.

“President Obama was the perfect example of lack of commitment on the issue of immigration, even though he promised that he was going to get it done in the first one hundred days,” he said. “We never saw him spending the political capital that the issue requires. He's a very sophisticated politician that if he wanted to make this a priority, he would have gotten it done.”

(He did note, however, that there was at least a relationship between the Obama administration and the Latino community, and said that the administration involved Latino leaders in discussions on a host of different issues.)

Sanchez Barba recorded the first of the organization’s presidential conversations with billionaire and Democratic presidential hopeful Tom Steyer in Las Vegas last week.

“I'm going to be very strong in getting specific answers from the candidates on how they're planning to get us to the finish line on the priorities that are so critical for our community,” he said.

The organization is planning on turning some of what is gleaned from these interviews into a voter guide. Sanchez Barba also told me that though the organization has stayed away from endorsing in the past, it is still an ongoing conversation he is having with leaders at the national level.

Steyer’s post-Thanksgiving trip: In addition to meeting with Sanchez Barba, Steyer participated in a town hall with Hispanics in Politics, co-hosted a discussion with the League of Women Voters, toured Veterans Village and made other campaign stops in Pahrump and Henderson while in town the weekend after Thanksgiving. 

In Henderson, he touched on the recently-approved homeless ordinance in Las Vegas, though he also said that “no one from California can come to Nevada and start lecturing people about homelessness and how to solve it, because I think we're the center of homelessness,” according to CBS News’ Alex Tin.


App-based early voting and caucusing: The Nevada State Democratic Party released additional details about how technology will be integrated into the early voting and Caucus Day process. Early voters will be able to use an app downloaded onto party-purchased tablets stationed at early voting sites to cast their presidential preferences, and then those early votes will flow into a separate app that will be used by precinct chairs to run the actual process on Caucus Day. More on that from me here.

NextGen investing $1 million in Nevada: The progressive advocacy group NextGen America will spend $1 million on registering and turning out young people in 2020 in an effort to keep Nevada blue. The group, which was founded by Steyer, said it will focus on voter turnout ahead of the caucus but not in support of any specific candidate. Details here.

Impeachment could boost voter turnout: My colleague Humberto Sanchez looked into what effect the impeachment proceedings could have on the election in Nevada. Rep. Dina Titus, who recently endorsed Biden, told him that she thinks more people are going to turn out because of the impeachment proceedings “because they’re more fired up by what they’re hearing and what they will be hearing.”

Republicans think so too.

“All it has done is motivate Nevada Republicans to turn out in force to re-elect President Trump and hold Democrats up and down the ballot accountable next year,” Nevada Republican Party Executive Director Will Sexauer said in a statement.

More on that here.


Staffing changes and office openings

  • Warren will open her ninth campaign office in the state in Carson City on Saturday.
  • Tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang’s campaign has opened two additional offices in the state and hired Jenny Lehner as Nevada political director and Zachary Amos as Nevada field director. Lehner previously worked on Chris Giunchigliani’s gubernatorial campaign and Amos was the regional organizing director with Beto for America.
  • Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has hired Matthew DeFalco as his state director. DeFalco was previously Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton’s state director for his presidential campaign.
  • New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker’s campaign has onboarded new organizers in Clark and Washoe counties, bringing the campaign’s staff to more than 20 in Nevada.

New endorsements

  • Former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan has endorsed Biden for president, as has civil rights leader Dr. Robert Green.
  • The Clark County Black Caucus has endorsed Booker, though it has picked Sanders as its second choice candidate. (Second place actually matters in Nevada because of the realignment process that happens during the caucus should a candidate at a given precinct not reach a certain threshold of support to be considered a “viable” candidate.)
  • Phillip Washington, senior pastor of Promised Land Community Church and co-founder of the Nevada Faith and Health Coalition, has endorsed Warren.
  • Joe Oddo, past president of the LGBTQ Center of Southern Nevada, has endorsed Buttigieg.
  • For the latest on presidential endorsements, check out our tracker.

Upcoming candidate visits

  • Sanders and Biden will speak to Culinary Union members at town halls this morning and on Wednesday morning, respectively.
  • Sanders will attend a community meeting at St. Simeon Serbian Orthodox Church this afternoon.
  • Warren will hold a town hall at Truckee Meadows Community College this evening.
  • Yang will be back in Las Vegas on Sunday for a fundraiser at Mosaic Theater. There will be a cocktail reception followed by a high roller poker tournament with World Series Champions.
  • For the latest on presidential candidate visits, check out our visit tracker.

Surrogate stops

  • Delaware Sen. Chris Coons was in Nevada campaigning for Biden this weekend.
  • Michael Lighty, Sanders’ health care constituency director, hosted a Medicare-for-all tour over the weekend, which also included surrogates Jose La Luz and Brianna Westbrook, as well as Sanders Nevada Co-Chair Amy Vilela. Events on Saturday included canvass launches in Carson City, Reno and Henderson, a “Unidos con Bernie” conversation in Carson City, a Medicare-for-all forum at UNR and a LGBTQIA+ happy hour at Hamburger Mary’s in Las Vegas. On Sunday, the team also hosted another canvass launch in East Las Vegas, a LGBTQIA+ Medicare-for-all town hall at the Clark County Library, a “Salud y Trabajo” roundtable with Mi Familia Vota and SEIU 1107 in Las Vegas and a happy hour at Milo’s Cellar in Boulder City.
  • California Assemblywoman and California Legislative Latino Caucus Chair Lorena Gonzalez will campaign for Warren in Las Vegas on Sunday. She’ll attend a canvass kickoff at Warren’s East Las Vegas office and later headline a house party with Latinx activists, caucusgoers and community leaders.
  • John Bessler, husband of Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, will be making his first surrogate visit to Las Vegas on Dec. 20 and 21.

Other election news

  • Three former Nevada State Democratic Party chairs who have endorsed Biden Roberta Lange, Sam Lieberman and Adriana Martinez — have cut a video touting their support for the former vice president.
  • Yang’s campaign started sending out rather elaborate mail pieces — there is a pocket and a “MATH” sticker — around Thanksgiving to Nevadans.
  • The Klobuchar campaign, which recently staffed up in Nevada, began hosting organizing events last week.
  • Steyer’s campaign held a community Healthlink fair in partnership with the Asian Community Resource Center on Friday, planted 10 fruit trees at the Vegas Roots Community Garden on Saturday and invited the community to a play of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary at the Steyer headquarters on Sunday.
  • Booker’s millennial engagement director is coming into town for a few events this week, including a young leaders happy hour on Thursday. The campaign is also continuing to do volunteer caucus trainings in English and Spanish and will be officially launching its Spanish caucus program this week.
  • Buttigieg released a video last week calling on Station Casinos to negotiate with workers who have voted to join the Culinary Union.


Impeachment in CD3: A poll by a conservative nonprofit organization linked to House Republicans found that voters in the swingy 3rd Congressional District will be less likely to vote for freshman Democratic Rep. Susie Lee if she continues to back the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. My colleague Riley Snyder has the details.


  • Harris Reid at a brokered convention? (The Atlantic)
  • Does Mayor Pete have a Latino problem? (Politico)
  • Candidates try to appeal to non-white voters in Nevada (Las Vegas Sun)

Indy 2020: Biden leads in Nevada poll; Democratic hopefuls prepare to return to the Silver State

Your Nevada 2020 election newsletter. Please read, forward and subscribe.

Good morning, and welcome to Indy 2020, a biweekly newsletter focused on the 2020 presidential election in Nevada. A reminder that email subscribers get early access to this newsletter, so be sure to subscribe and tell your friends. It’ll be peachy.

There’s an image that I haven’t been able to get out of my head for the last 24 or so hours, and that’s of former Vice President Joe Biden as Schrödinger’s cat. (Thanks to this Atlantic article by Edward-Isaac Dovere.)

It neatly puts a bow on some of the things I’ve been mulling over the last week: How Biden seems to be flailing in Iowa and New Hampshire but has a sizable lead (at least so far) in Nevada, according to our poll and another released by Emerson last week. How Nevada might not really be a battleground state if Biden wins, but maybe it could be if Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders or Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren does. How with 102 days until Nevada’s caucus it seems like everything — Democratic candidates winning and losing, Trump winning and losing, Nevada being a battleground state and not — is at the same time happening and not happening inside that box.

The good news is that (eventually!) we get to open the box.

As always, a reminder to reach out to me with any tips, story ideas, comments, suggestions, and your favorite thought experiment — am I the only one still stuck on Maxwell’s demon (especially as it was used in The Crying of Lot 49)? — at megan@thenvindy.com.

Without further ado, a download of the recent 2020 happenings in Nevada.


The Indy poll: I had many thoughts on our latest Indy Poll — most of which are summed up in this story and thread — but I’ll briefly note some of them here. The overall takeaway is that former Vice President Joe Biden leads Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders by 10 points in Nevada, though his backers reported being less strongly committed to him than Warren and Sanders supporters are to their candidates. Warren was also the top second choice candidate, with 21 percent support, followed by Sanders at 19 percent.

The caveat: Only 44 percent of respondents said they were certain of their first choice pick, with 55 percent saying they still might choose someone else.

Filing deadlines: It’s all good and well to be campaigning in the Silver State, but candidates still have to actually file with the Nevada State Democratic Party in order to participate in the caucus process. I’m told that only South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, billionaire Tom Steyer, Biden, California Sen. Kamala Harris, and Sanders have filed so far.

Candidates have until Jan. 1 to file, which means that it isn’t too late for a late bloomer(berg) to get into the race here. (For what it’s worth, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has indicated that he’ll skip the four early states, Nevada included, if he gets into the race.)

Sound and fury, signifying nothing: Last week, the Las Vegas City Council passed a controversial ordinance that makes sleeping or camping in downtown Las Vegas a misdemeanor crime, but not before several Democratic presidential hopefuls had a chance to weigh in with their opposition to the measure.

I noted in the last newsletter that Warren and Steyer had joined former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro in opposing the proposed ordinance. On Monday, two days before the hearing, they were joined by New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker

The following day, Sanders joined in, with his campaign promising to use its email list to encourage its supporters to turn out to oppose the ordinance outside City Hall on Wednesday, soon followed by Biden, who tweeted that he was “proud to stand with folks in Las Vegas fighting against a proposed ordinance that effectively criminalizes homelessness” and Harris, who said “criminalizing homelessness is not the answer.” Castro also urged residents to call their city councilmembers.

Then, the morning of the vote, Buttigieg also came out against the ordinance with a statement: “Homelessness is a moral crisis that defies easy solutions, and the best way to address it is with smart investments in housing, supportive services, and health. I stand with members of the homeless community and advocates in opposing this ordinance."

But it was ultimately to no avail. The City Council passed the measure 5-2. (One of the “no” votes was Councilman Brian Knudsen, who backs Harris.) Warren, Castro and Sanders all came out right after the City Council’s vote, condemning it. Booker and Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet criticized it the day after the vote.

The state of the #WeMatter state: Castro, appearing on MSNBC on Sunday, called for changing the order of the early nominating states.

“I actually believe that we do need to change the order of the states because I don’t believe that we’re the same country we were in 1972,” Castro said. “That’s when Iowa first held it’s caucus first, and by the time we have the next presidential election in 2024 it’ll have been more than 50 years since 1972.”

By my math, if Iowa is no longer first and New Hampshire is no longer second, that would leave a certain #WeMatter state with the first nominating contest in the nation.

Staffing up (and down): It’s been nearly two weeks since Harris’s campaign announced that it would be laying off or redeploying staff from headquarters, as well as New Hampshire, Nevada and Iowa. But Nevada still hasn’t seen what New Hampshire has, with the campaign essentially halting all activity there.

I asked Harris while she was here over the weekend whether she still plans to redeploy staff from Nevada to Iowa. She gave me two non-answer answers.

“I care deeply about this state, I have worked closely with this state years before I ran and decided to run for president and I'll continue to focus resources on the state of Nevada,” Harris said, followed by, “I'm focused on Iowa, to be sure, there's no question. It's the first in the nation primary, and I'm all in on Iowa. I'm leaving Nevada to fly back to Iowa but Nevada is going to always be a priority for me.”

This comes as Castro has also announced that he is shifting his resources, with an increased focus in the coming weeks on Iowa, Nevada and Texas.

Ramping up before the first-in-the-West dinner: Buttigieg’s campaign here tells me that they plan to knock 10,000 doors as part of a weekend of action ahead of the Nevada State Democratic Party’s first-in-the-West event Sunday, where 13 Democratic hopefuls, including the South Bend mayor, will appear. (More on that below.)

Staffers and office count survey: I reached out to all the campaigns with a presence here to find out their latest staff and office census. Not all responded, but here’s what I got from those who did:

  • Biden: About 40 staff, with the campaign in the process of actively trying to hire more, and five offices.
  • Booker: About 20 staff, with plans to add more in the next few weeks, and two offices in Las Vegas and Reno.
  • Buttigieg: 46 staff, with plans to add more to the team over the next week, and 10 offices. (That includes six organizers full time in rural Nevada, and offices in Pahrump, Fallon and Elko.)
  • Castro: four staffers, and one office.
  • Harris: 26 staffers, and four offices.
  • Sanders: 72 staffers, and eight offices, with plans to open an Elko office soon.
  • Steyer: More than two dozen staffers and two offices.
  • Warren: More than 50 staffers, and nine offices.
  • Yang: 14 staffers, and two offices.

Michael Bennet was also here: The Colorado senator recently made his second trip to the state to speak at the HLTH Conference here in Las Vegas. “I’m running because I think I’ve got an agenda I think can not just unite Democrats but also win back some of the 9 million people who voted twice for Barack Obama and once for Donald Trump and that’s what it’s going to take to win purple states like Colorado and Nevada and Iowa and win not just the presidency but the Senate as well,” Bennet told CBS News’ Alex Tin outside of the conference.

Medicare for all delegates: Activist Christine Kramar, who was a Sanders national delegate from Nevada in 2016, has started a new PAC focused on electing delegates who support Medicare for all to the Democratic National Convention. It’s called the Medicare for All Delegates Network. (Thanks to my colleague, Riley Snyder, for spotting the FEC filing.)

Kramar told me the goal is to get half of the delegates elected from each state to support Medicare for all.

“The project is about beating the second ballot in the Presidential nomination process at the national convention,” Kramar said in a text. “We may end up helping to elect delegates from multiple Presidential candidates who become no longer bound to those candidates as all delegates are on the second ballot to unite around the candidate with the best Medicare for all plan.”

What she’s talking about here is if no candidate has enough delegates at the Democratic National Convention to clinch the nomination, all delegates that were bound at the state level become unbound and can support whichever candidate they want. The goal here would be that those candidate could pool their power to back a candidate who supports Medicare for all.


Nevada’s battleground status may depend on Biden: Republicans here in Nevada are gearing up for the general election. But several Republican operatives on the ground say that whether Nevada is actually in play may come down to whether the Democrats choose Biden as their nominee.

Harris campaigns with Culinary: The California senator was the first to be invited by the politically powerful Culinary Union to a town hall. There, she threaded the needle with her union-friendly Medicare-for-all plan.

Nevada still a battleground, DNC says: My colleague Humberto Sanchez was at a DNC briefing last week, where one party official said that Trump faces “historic headwinds” here. “There’s not a lot of evidence that he can successfully compete and win there,” he said.

Yang and Steyer join the pod: My colleague Jacob Solis sat down with tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang recently to talk about universal basic income and Yucca Mountain. I chatted last week with Steyer, who called Warren’s health care plan a “huge risk” and weighed in on contamination associated with the Anaconda Copper Mine.

Steyer stumps in Nevada: While in town last week, Steyer hosted a town hall in Henderson where he talked about health care and veterans. Indytern Shannon Miller was there.


Staffing changes and office openings

  • Booker Campaign Manager Addisu Demissie opened the campaign’s Reno office on Oct. 29, in addition to participating in a housing clinic tour.
  • Warren opened a new office in Southwest Las Vegas on Nov. 2. (Former Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani was there and also to kick off the campaign’s weekend of action.) Her campaign also opened its Elko campaign office on Nov. 9, its eighth campaign office in the state, with plans to open a ninth in the near future.
  • Steyer opened his Nevada headquarters in person on Nov. 3. On Wednesday, his son, Sam Steyer, attended the grand opening of the campaign’s Reno office.

New endorsements

  • Warren was recently endorsed by Clark County Public Administrator Robert Telles and Bob Fulkerson, founder of the Progressive Alliance of Nevada.
  • Team Buttigieg on Monday announced the formation of “Nevada Leaders and Military Communities for Pete,” a group of servicemembers, veterans, members of military families and others who are backing Buttigieg in Nevada.
  • As I first told you on Twitter, Assemblyman Ozzie Fumo — who plans to run for Nevada Supreme Court next year — will withdraw all of his endorsements, which include Biden, before the judicial filing period in January "in order to comply with judicial canons."

Upcoming candidate visits

  • Self-help author Marianne Williamson is in town through Wednesday. She’s scheduled to speak to residents of the Siena Retirement Community in Summerlin on Tuesday and host a meet-and-greet at UNLV on Wednesday.
  • Thirteen Democratic presidential hopefuls are slated to appear the Nevada State Democratic Party’s first-in-the-West event at the Bellagio on Friday night. Those who will attend are Bennet, Biden, Booker, Buttigieg, Castro, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, Harris, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sanders, former Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak, Steyer, Warren and Yang.
  • Biden has announced that he will also be in Las Vegas on Saturday and Elko on Sunday before the event. The former vice president will also be back in Nevada on Dec. 10 and 11.

Surrogate stops

  • Biden campaign manager Greg Schultz was in town on Oct. 29.
  • Biden campaign co-chair Rep. Cedric Richmond, the former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, attended the Washoe Dems Virginia Demmler Honor Roll dinner in Reno on Nov. 6. The following day, he met with local community members and officials in Las Vegas.
  • Sam Steyer also attended the Virginia Demmler Honor Roll dinner.
  • Chasten Buttigieg, husband of Pete Buttigieg, was in Nevada on Nov. 2, kicking off a canvass in Southwest Las Vegas, meeting with organizers and touring Positively Kids — a nonprofit that focuses on meeting the needs of medically fragile kids and developmentally delayed children — with Assemblywomen Michelle Gorelow and Shea Backus.
  • Several surrogates traveled to Elko on Saturday for the Elko County Democratic Party’s Roosevelt/Kennedy Dinner, including Carolyn Booker, mother of Cory Booker; Valerie Biden Owens, Joe Biden’s sister and longtime political advisor; and Doug Emhoff, Harris’s husband.
  • Carolyn Booker also hosted a meet and greet in Winnemucca on Saturday, as well as a breakfast in Elko and a meet and greet at the campaign’s Reno office on Sunday.
  • Emhoff also made stops in Winnemucca and West Wendover while in northeastern Nevada.
  • Second Lady Karen Pence will be in Las Vegas on Thursday for a Latinos for Trump event at the East Las Vegas Community Center.

Other election news

  • The Nevada State Democratic Party opened its first field office in the Historic West Side on Oct. 29. The opening was attended by Assemblyman Will McCurdy, the party’s chair.
  • The party also hosted a weekend of action over the weekend, with caucus trainings in Las Vegas, Reno and Carson City. The party also plans to host veterans-centered training at Veterans Village on Nov. 13 and a women-to-women phone bank at a party field office.
  • Sanders’ campaign announced that it is “rapidly approaching” 2 million attempted voter contacts in the state.
  • Warren’s team hosted an afternoon tea service event called “Putting the Tea in Persist” with a conversation with leaders of the arts, entrepreneurial, and nonprofit communities. The campaign plans to hold a community information and listening session with Assemblyman Howard Watts, who has endorsed Warren, at Pearson Community Center today focused on issues that impact the Black community.
  • Buttigieg’s campaign plans to hold volunteer summits on Nov. 22 in Las Vegas and Dec. 6 in Reno, with the goal of training of hundreds of volunteers.


Reshuffling on the Board of Regents: Clark County Regent Trevor Hayes won’t run for re-election to Board of Regents, Indytern Shannon Miller reports.

Supreme Court changes: Shannon also reports that Associate Chief Justice Kristina Pickering will seek re-election in 2020, while Chief Justice Mark Gibbons will not.

Independent redistricting commission:  The League of Women Voters is pushing for a ballot initiative that would create an independent redistricting commission to combat partisan gerrymandering, my colleague Riley Snyder reports.

Ranked choice voting for state Senate: Riley also talked to a teacher in rural Nevada who is proposing a measure to amend the Nevada Constitution by substantially overhauling the structure of state Senate elections and including elements of ranked choice voting.

SOS to CCC: Former Democratic Secretary of State Ross Miller, who lost a high-profile bid for attorney general in 2014, will run for Clark County Commission, Shannon reports.


Governor Sisolak appoints members to new Board of Indigent Defense Services

The Clark County Detention Center at dusk

Gov. Steve Sisolak named an executive director and made 10 appointments to the new Board of Indigent Defense Services (BIDS), which will focus on improving legal representation for those who cannot afford a private lawyer.

Members of BIDS, who were announced on Tuesday, are charged with helping keep a standard level of legal representation throughout the state for anyone in financial need who is charged with a crime. The board is made up of 13 voting members and three non-voting members, who are appointed to three-year terms.

“I am excited to announce that I’ve made 10 appointments to the new Board of Indigent Defense Services, which will provide needed oversight of legal defense for those who cannot afford lawyers,” Sisolak said in a statement. “Indigent defense has gotten short shrift in Nevada for far too long, and I am thrilled to see that we will finally be adopting consistent standards and regulations to protect defendants’ constitutional right to receive fair and competent legal representation.”

The creation of BIDS was authorized in the last legislative session through AB81. The bill, which originally had a $15 million appropriation that was removed, also gave BIDS oversight over county public defender offices.

It comes two years after the ACLU of Nevada sued the state, alleging that indigent clients in rural counties are getting lawyers who are so overworked and overwhelmed that it violates their constitutional rights.

Marcie Ryba, who is currently the Nevada chief deputy public defender, was appointed the executive director of BIDS. The newly appointed board members include:

Julie Cavanaugh-Bill (Elko) - Attorney

Joni Eastley (Nye) - Commissioner for the Nevada Rural Housing Authority Board

Laura Fitzsimmons (Carson City) - Attorney. Fitzsimmons represented Sisolak in a major property rights lawsuit that netted him $16 million in 2003 and threatened a lawsuit against his campaign opponent, Adam Laxalt, for statements about her work on an opposition site called "Shady Steve."

Robert Crowell (Carson City) - Mayor of Carson City

David Mendiola (Humboldt) - County Manager for Humboldt County

Lorinda Wichmann (Nye) - Commissioner for Nye County

Drew Christensen (Clark) - Director of the Office of Appointed Counsel in Clark County

Jeff Wells (Clark) - Assistant County Manager for Clark County

Kate Thomas (Washoe) - Assistant County Manager for Washoe County

Robert Telles (Clark) - Public Administrator for Clark County

Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson appointed Chris Giunchigliani, who previously served on the Clark County Commission, to serve as one of the 13 board members. Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro and Chief Justice Mark Gibbons of the Nevada Supreme Court are designated to appoint the additional two members to the board but did not immediately respond to an inquiry from The Nevada Independent on Tuesday about their selections.

Indy 2020: Democratic presidential hopefuls try to out-Nevada each other on controversial 287(g) program, homeless ordinance

People wave green cards at a presidential forum

Your Nevada 2020 election newsletter. Please read, forward and subscribe.

Good morning, and welcome to Indy 2020, a biweekly newsletter focused on the 2020 presidential election in Nevada. A reminder that email subscribers get early access to this newsletter, so be sure to subscribe and tell your friends. It’ll be peachy.

There are 97 days until the Iowa caucus, 116 days until Nevada’s first-in-the-West caucus, and 258 days until the start of the Democratic National Convention, where the winner takes it all.

Until then, the Democratic presidential hopefuls are continuing to voyage out west asking Nevadans voulez-vous support their campaigns in the hope that the state’s Feb. 22 caucus won’t be their Waterloo. The Super Trouper beams were trained over the last two weeks here on South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro — who has continued to ask Nevadans to take a chance on him despite sending out an SOS last week. (Sorry, Fernando, one non-ABBA song link with more details on that here.)

At least 12 candidates will ask Nevada Democrats to lay all their love on them when they return to the state on Nov. 17 for the state party’s First in the West dinner. (“Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” would be a little demanding, honestly.)

But it really won’t all be said and done until the general election, which is a year from this Sunday. Until then, not a lot of sleep for political operatives or journalists. But that’s just the name of the game.

As always, a reminder to reach out to me with any tips, story ideas, comments, suggestions, and your favorite ABBA song (or just an eye roll emoji) at megan@thenvindy.com.

Without further ado, a download of the recent 2020 happenings in Nevada.


Knowing me, knowing you: Eager to prove themselves to Nevadans, several Democratic presidential hopefuls have been weighing in on a number of Nevada-specific issues. In no particular order, they are:

The Las Vegas homeless ordinance: Following in the footsteps of former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren came out last week against a proposed Las Vegas ordinance that would effectively criminalize homelessness. “We should be fighting back against measures that criminalize homelessness – not proposing ones that will only perpetuate it,” she said in a statement. “I strongly oppose this proposed ordinance, which caters to the interests of business groups rather than our families and our communities.” (Her campaign also gave a nod to Castro when releasing the statement, which earned plaudits from his team on Twitter.)

Two days later, billionaire Tom Steyer came out against the ordinance too. “It is immoral and counterproductive to criminalize homelessness. I stand in solidarity with those in Las Vegas who oppose a proposed ordinance that would make it illegal for homeless residents to encamp or sleep in certain areas of the city,” he said in a statement.

The 287(g) program: A few candidates weighed in last week on the announcement that the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department had decided to end its controversial 287(g) program with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The agreement had allowed Las Vegas Metro police officers to carry out certain immigration-related functions.

Castro, in a tweet, lauded the “tireless advocacy” of the ACLU of Nevada, the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada and others. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders congratulated advocates. South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg called having local law enforcement officers serve as immigration officials “just plain wrong” and applauded the police department for ending its 287(g) agreement. California Sen. Kamala Harris also praised the department’s decision, saying using local law enforcement to carry out immigration duties “erodes trust between law enforcement and those they serve.” (New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker tweeted about the issue one day later, saying that state and local law enforcement "should be focused on keeping their communities safe & pursuing serious threats.")

A proposed military expansion into Desert National Wildlife Refuge: I reported last week that Buttigieg was against the proposal, which would would remove nearly 300,000 acres from the largest wildlife refuge in the contiguous United States. But he officially addressed the subject while in town this week, promising to appoint an Interior secretary who “believes in protecting public lands, including the Desert National Wildlife Refuge.” (If you read that article, you’ll see the South Bend mayor peppered his speech at Battle Born Progress’s dinner with quite a few Nevada-specific details.)

Steyer also came out against the proposal on Monday. “It is imperative that Congress hear the voices of Nevadans and reject the proposal to expand the Nevada Test and Training Range,” Steyer said in a statement. “It is critical for our government to protect public lands that belong to the American people and refrain from policy decisions that could impact local communities.”

Others against it: Booker, Castro, Sanders and Warren.

The Anaconda Copper Mine: Castro weighed in on groundwater contamination issues related to the Anaconda Copper Mine near Yerington while discussing the issue of tribal consultation at a progressive forum over the weekend. Castro promised to require local governments to seek not just consultation but consent from tribes, including on future mining projects with the potential to contaminate local groundwater.

One candidate who struggled with Nevada-specific issues this weekend: tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang. While at the same progressive forum on Saturday, he struggled to answer a question on building a long-term, high-level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain and wasn’t familiar with the 287(g) program. (He did, however, tweet his support for online gaming over the weekend.)

Organizing in the Latino community: Harris is today announcing her “Latinos Para Kamala” committee here in Nevada. The committee will, according to early details I obtained, focus on recruiting new members, offering guidance on how to mobilize Nevada’s Latinx community, developing caucus education tools and participating in Latino-focused trainings. This comes on the heels of other Latino-focused outreach efforts by the campaign, including its Camp Kamala en Español program. Harris even made waves earlier this year when she offered headsets with real-time Spanish-language translation at a townhall in Las Vegas.

The steering committee includes previously announced Harris supporters, including Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui and Washoe County Recorder Kalie Work. Harris is also receiving a few new endorsements from the Latino community, including Rhina Moreno, president of Amigos Salvadoreños de Las Vegas, Saúl Guizar Galvan, president of Federación de Clubes Michoacanos Unidos de Nevada, and Latinx community leaders Fermin Ramirez and Maria Reyes.

But Harris isn’t the only one trying to make inroads within the Latino community, a key Democratic constituency in Nevada. Cristóbal Alex, former president of the Latino Victory Fund and a senior advisor to former Vice President Joe Biden, attended a Latinx community event at Biden’s East Las Vegas office last week to launch the campaign’s “Todos con Biden” program, and Sanders Latino Press Secretary Belén Sisa was in Las Vegas this weekend, attending a happy hour Saturday night at Hop Nuts.

Castro has also been heavily investing in direct outreach to the Latino community while visiting the state. When he was here two weekends ago, he toured Broadacres Marketplace, a gathering place for members of Las Vegas’ Latino community, who come to the open-air market for food, entertainment and shopping.

My colleague Luz Gray and I will be bringing you more coverage of Latino-focused outreach efforts soon, so stay tuned.

Update on Biden ad reservations: It’s still unclear exactly how big Biden’s pre-caucus TV ad reservations are. I told you in the last newsletter that KTNV was the only station in Las Vegas to have filed its paperwork with the Federal Communications Commission, showing a $14,275 buy. Only one more Las Vegas station has filed paperwork since then, KVCW, showing two $75 buys for one spot each on Feb. 14 and Feb. 21.

Nothing has changed on the Reno front either, with KRXI showing a $2,430 buy and KOLO showing a $23,755 buy. Will keep you updated as I learn more.


All quiet on the Labor front? Listening to presidential candidates talk about their myriad health care proposals as they came through Las Vegas, I noticed a common thread — lots of talk about how their proposals would help unions, whether they were pitching a single-payer Medicare for all plan or a public option. But the unions themselves here on the ground haven’t been that publicly vocal on the issue (even as it’s been raised in closed door discussions with presidential hopefuls.)

So, I called many of them up to ask their thoughts. Many of them — particularly those with their own health trusts — are opposed to or have significant concerns with Medicare for all. Others voiced openness to a single payer plan if it could somehow take into account the needs of unions or outright support it.

One interesting detail: The Culinary Union wouldn’t rule out endorsing a candidate who supports single-payer, but Geoconda Arguello-Kline, the union’s secretary treasurer, told me how hard it would be to sell a candidate like that to her union members. (Buttigieg, who favors a public option plan, met with the union while in town last week.) More from me here.

Money, money, money: Democratic presidential candidates received more than half a million dollars in itemized contributions from Nevadans in the third quarter. Biden raised the largest total sum, while Sanders received the most individual itemized donations. If you missed it, I would recommend exploring the graphic I put together that shows which candidate had the most individual donors in each zip code in the quarter.

Mayor Pete + me: I sat down with Buttigieg on our podcast this week to talk about Medicare for all, his relationship with Big Tech, and how he’s positioning himself in the 2020 race. Come for the politics, stay for me asking him his favorite movie with a Nevada scene and what casino game he’d be. Article here and direct link to the podcast here.

Steyer + me: The California billionaire and I also chatted on the phone recently about his debate performance and criticisms that his money would be better spent elsewhere helping Democrats.

Amodei blames ‘fake news’ for Trump campaign snub: Rep. Mark Amodei, the lone Republican member of Nevada’s congressional delegation, blamed a “fake news story from a few weeks ago” on why he was passed over as President Donald Trump’s Nevada campaign chair — a position he held in 2016. It is unclear which story Amodei was referring to, though he did come out in support of Congress exercising its oversight authority through the ongoing impeachment inquiry.


Staffing changes and office openings

  • Harris’s campaign opened its North Las Vegas office on Friday — attended by former Assemblyman Gene Collins, who endorsed Harris this week — and its Henderson office on Monday with Harris supporters and state Sens. Melanie Scheible and Joyce Woodhouse. The campaign now has a total of four offices in the state.
  • Booker’s campaign is hosting its Reno office opening with Campaign Manager Addisu Demissie. This brings the campaign to a total of two offices in the state. (Demissie is also expected to take a walking motel tour in Reno and attend a roundtable discussion on housing and homelessness.)
  • Trump’s campaign opened its first Nevada office last week in Reno. Republican National Committee Co-Chair Tommy Hicks was there, as was Nevada Republican Party Chairman Michael McDonald, former Attorney General Adam Laxalt and other local elected officials.
  • Warren will open her seventh campaign office in the state in Southwest Las Vegas on Nov. 2 and her eighth office in Elko on Nov. 9. Former Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani will at the Southwest office opening, which will also kick off a weekend of action one year out from the general election. The campaign has plans to open a total of nine offices.

New endorsements

  • Warren was endorsed by Assemblyman Howard Watts on Friday.
  • In addition to Collins, Harris received several more endorsements last week, including from former Assemblyman Wendell Williams and North Tahoe Dems Chair Coralin Glerum.
  • Biden also announced “Nevada Educators for Biden,” which included a number of names of leaders who had already voiced support for the former vice president, including former Nevada State Education Association President Ruben Murillo, former Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Dan Klaich and Regent Sam Lieberman, among others.
  • Sanders released a list of 11 educators, health care workers and others supporting his campaign. 
  • For the latest on presidential candidate endorsements, check out our endorsement tracker.

Upcoming candidate visits

  • Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, who has only been to Nevada once this cycle, is returning Wednesday to speak at a health care conference at the MGM Grand.
  • Steyer will be back in Nevada on Sunday to open his Nevada headquarters.
  • At least 12 Democratic hopefuls will attend the Nevada State Democratic Party’s First in the West event at the Bellagio on Nov. 17 — Bennet, Biden, Booker, Buttigieg, Castro, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, Harris, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke, Steyer, Warren, and Yang. (Biden has also announced that he will also be in town on Nov. 16 and Nov. 18.)
  • For all the details of upcoming presidential candidate visits, check out our candidate tracker.

Surrogate stops

  • Olympian Michelle Kwan returned to Las Vegas on Saturday to launch “AAPIs for Biden.”
  • Co-founder of the Dream Defenders Phillip Agnew was in Las Vegas on Monday for Sanders attending a panel discussion at Masterpiece Barber College. He’s also slated to attend a student-focused event at UNLV tonight.
  • Actor and comedian Cristela Alonzo is doing a standup show on Thursday (Halloween) benefitting Castro. It’ll be at Champagne’s.
  • Another attendee has RSVP’d to the Elko Democrats Roosevelt/Kennedy Dinner on Nov. 9 — Carolyn Booker, mother of Cory Booker. Doug Emhoff, Harris’s husband, will also be there as I reported last week.

Other election news

  • The Nevada State Democratic Party announced five additional early voting sites for the caucus last week. There are three in the south — at the Las Vegas Indian Center, Cheyenne High School and Steelworkers Local 4856 — and two in the north, at the Washoe Housing Authority and Hungry Valley Recreation Center.
  • Sanders recently launched a series of caucus education videos in English and Spanish. The videos include “the Basics,” “Early Voting” and “Caucus Day.”
  • O'Rourke's campaign plans to hold a weekend of action starting Nov. 3 to get out the vote for elections in the state of Virginia on Nov. 5.


The biennial legislative reshuffling: Five Assembly members are foregoing re-election bids and setting their sights on higher office. Three are running for state Senate, one is running for County Commission and one is running for a seat on the Nevada Supreme Court. All you need to know from Indyterns Shannon Miller and Mark Hernandez and my colleague Michelle Rindels here.

Laxalt beats Amodei in hypothetical head to head: As I mentioned above, it’s been tough sailing for Amodei after he came out in support of the process of the impeachment inquiry. Now, the conservative Club for Growth is out with a poll that shows Laxalt beating Amodei in a matchup by four percentage points. (Laxalt told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he’s not interested in Amodei’s seat.)

Money, money, money (part two): My colleague Jacob Solis and Indyterns Shannon Miller and Mark Hernandez break down the congressional campaign finance reports.


Updated 10-29-19 at 11:17 a.m. to include details of a tweet from New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker about the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department ending its 287(g) agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Indy 2020: Nevada snubbed in national polls; Biden makes pre-caucus ad reservations

People applaud at Elizabeth Warren rally.

Your Nevada 2020 election newsletter. Please read, forward and subscribe.

Good morning, and welcome to Indy 2020, a biweekly newsletter focused on the 2020 presidential election in Nevada. A reminder that email subscribers get early access to this newsletter, so be sure to subscribe and tell your friends. It’ll be peachy.

Today’s newsletter is brought to you by the number 3.

There are lots of things I love about the number 3, personally. It’s the first odd prime number. There were three musketeers. We live on the third planet from the Sun. Time is divided into three parts: past, present and future. Lithium — which is mined in Nevada, much to the chagrin of the buckwheat — is the third element on the periodic table. Three is a symbolic number in many world religions. Triangles are awesome. And — most relevantly in the context of this newsletter —Nevada is the third state to vote in the presidential selection process.

Counting to three is apparently Really Hard for some people, though, who just want to skip straight to the number 4. (I get it, I prefer even numbers too, but you can’t just cancel numbers!) Nevada has now twice in the span of two days been neglected by national polls sampling early voting states. A CBS News/YouGov poll released Sunday included Nevada in its national sample but didn’t break out results as it did for Iowa (which votes first), New Hampshire (second) and South Carolina (fourth!) Then, Monday morning, a Firehouse Strategies/Optimus poll did the same thing, talking to 548 voters in Iowa, 610 in New Hampshire and 607 in South Carolina.

I don’t know what to say! Watch the video of the Count I linked above. (Or Feist, who knows that you have to count one, two, three penguins that went by the door, or one, two, three chickens just back from the shore before you can count four.) And keep an eye out for our upcoming presidential candidate survey from pollster Mark Mellman, who knows this state well. 

As always, a reminder to reach out to me with any tips, story ideas, comments, suggestions, and your favorite number (the only correct answer is 3) at megan@thenvindy.com. (Just kidding, mine is 24.)

Without further ado, a download of the recent 2020 happenings in Nevada.


Biden makes Nevada ad reservations: Former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign began reserving pre-caucus ad time in Nevada last week after announcing a $6 million investment in broadcast and digital ads in the four early states. So far, KTNV is the only station in Las Vegas — the state’s biggest market — to have filed paperwork with the Federal Communications Commission, showing a $14,275 buy between Feb. 3 and 21. But the report doesn’t list market share, which would reveal the total market buy.

In Reno, two stations have filed reports for the Biden ad reservations, KRXI and KOLO. KRXI’s reports show a $2,430 buy between Feb. 10 and 23 and lists the buy at 4 percent of market share, which would make Biden’s total Reno buy about $60,750. (KOLO’s reports show a $23,755 buy between Feb. 3 and 22.)

Biden’s campaign declined to comment on the size of the Nevada buy.

This news comes on the heels of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s $1.2 million pre-caucus ad reservation in Nevada, which I reported in the last edition of this newsletter. That buy included a $864,000 spend in the Las Vegas market.

To do some quick back-of-napkin math, 15 percent of Warren’s Las Vegas reservation, or $129,000, went to KTNV. So if Biden’s KTNV buy of $14,275 is also 15 percent, that would make his total Las Vegas buy about $95,167. Huge caveats here — KTNV may not have posted all their ad reservation docs (I reached out to them but haven’t heard back), we don’t know what share of the market that KTNV buy represents, etc. But so far what has posted is a lot less than what we’ve seen come through for Warren.

Nevada stations airing Trump ads: At least eight local Nevada television stations have been running ads from President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign. Cable networks have rejected some of those ads, citing inaccuracies in their claims about Biden’s role in the ousting of a Ukranian prosecutor and attacks on journalists. (Here are a few of the ads and a fact check from PolitiFact of one of them.)

The ads appear to total a little less than $350,000 statewide, according to reports filed with the FCC by KTNV, KVVU, KVCW and KLAS in Las Vegas and KOLO, KRNV, KRXI and KTVN in Reno.

Our new endorsement tracker: It exists! We tried to develop a scale that would help folks make sense of what otherwise could be a very long and daunting list of names. Check it out.

Reid on Warren: Former Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid tells CNN’s David Axelrod to “just wait” on Warren and Medicare-for-all. “I think you give her some time. I think that she's not in love with that.  I think she — you will wait and see how that all turns out,” he said. The Massachusetts senator doesn’t appear to have been asked about Reid’s remarks yet, and her campaign told me they don’t have any comment.

The gun safety forum: It’s been almost two weeks now since the top 10 Democratic presidential hopefuls flocked to Las Vegas to make their pitches on gun safety one day after the two year anniversary of the Las Vegas shooting. I’m not going to rehash all of it here, but if you didn’t, you should check out our coverage of the forum, the other stops candidates made while in town, and Biden going in on Trump post-forum in Reno. 

Other coverage from the marathon day of visits: Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro weighed in on a proposed homeless ordinance at a protest outside Las Vegas City Hall on the day of the forum, while Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders had a heart attack the night before the forum and was unable to participate, staying several days for treatment at Desert Springs Hospital here in Las Vegas.

Nevada Democrats announce early voting sites for the caucus: Democrats in the Silver State will for the first time be able to cast their votes early at more than 70 sites during a four-day period before the caucus. The state Democratic party announced where those sites would be last week, and they include the headquarters of the politically powerful Culinary Union, which hasn’t yet decided if it’s going to endorse before the caucus.

Warren dances down 4th Street at Pride: The Massachusetts senator marched, waved, danced and took selfies with people for about a half hour on Friday night during the annual Pride Parade in Downtown Las Vegas. I wrote about it here. (Other campaigns sent surrogates, which I detail later in this newsletter.)

We also got some questions after the event about the fact that the Green Valley High School marching band was part of Warren’s crowd of about 400 marching in the parade. I confirmed with the campaign that the marching band — which has previously performed at presidential inaugurations — volunteered for the event. Green Valley High School Principal Kent Roberts told me that the band’s participation was aimed at giving the kids performing experience and isn’t an endorsement of any candidate. He noted that South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s campaign had also asked the band to march with them, but Warren’s campaign had already asked.

Warren had also recently spoken at Green Valley High School.

“My thing would be — regardless of what any person’s political views are that sit in my chair — it’s about having political candidates come in and speak to kids,” Roberts told me. “Our job is to make kids aware of history and politics and how the system works and what their rights are their responsibilities are.”

Biden sends letter to Station Casinos: Other presidential candidates have weighed in on the ongoing feud between the Culinary Union and Station Casinos, but Biden is the only one to have sent a letter to CEO Frank Fertitta about it. More on that from me here.

Castro and Sanders come out against Desert National Wildlife Refuge: Castro, in an op-ed last week, said that a proposed military expansion into the Desert National Wildlife Refuge north of Las Vegas "will have devastating consequences for the refuge — for the people who call it a sacred landscape and for the wildlife it protects." Sanders, in a statement on Monday, said the federal government is “breaking solemn promises and disregarding the sovereign rights of Native communities.” The two join Warren, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Buttigieg in coming out against the proposed expansion, which would would remove nearly 300,000 acres from the largest wildlife refuge in the contiguous United States.

Harris weighs in on white supremacy at UNR: Following a report by the Las Vegas Review-Journal that a white supremacist group had posted flyers at UNR and Truckee Meadows Community College, California Sen. Kamala Harris signed an online petition calling on UNR President Marc Johnson to take “to respond decisively and assertively” to the “white supremacist, anti-Semitic, sexist, and anti-LGBTQ messages that have been posted, painted, carved, or otherwise displayed in dorms, classrooms, campus buildings, and online.”

“No one who is the subject of hate should ever be made to fight alone. That's why I'm joining the call for UNR officials to take action,” Harris said in a statement. “UNR students, and students across the country, deserve nothing less than a safe, supportive environment to learn and realize their full potential." 


Staffing changes and office openings

  • Team Buttigieg plans to open two more field offices in Northwest and Southwest Las Vegas Tuesday night. (His senior adviser Brandon Neal will be there.) That will bring the South Bend mayor to a total of 10 offices in the state. He also now has 35 staffers here.
  • Biden’s team hosted two field office openings over the weekend with Jill Biden, wife of Joe Biden, in East Las Vegas and Reno.
  • Team Harris plans to hold nearly 20 watch parties for Tuesday night’s debate in southern, northern and rural Nevada, including one at the campaign’s new Henderson office. (The official office opening will be in the coming weeks and will bring the campaign to a total of three offices.)

New endorsements

  • Warren was endorsed by former Clark County Commissioner and gubernatorial candidate Chris Giunchigliani and Democratic National Committeeman Alex Goff. As I noted on Twitter last week, Giunchigliani backed Hillary Clinton in 2016, while Goff was a Sanders delegate.
  • Biden was endorsed by 11 people, including former Nevada State Education Association President Ruben Murillo, businesswoman Abbi Whitaker, Wynn Resorts Chairman Phil Satre and former Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Dan Klaich.
  • Harris received several endorsements from survivors of the Las Vegas shooting and their families, including Angelica Cervantes, who lost her oldest son Erick Silva. My colleague Luz Gray recently sat down with Cervantes.
  • Sanders received 10 community endorsements. (The most notable was from the vice chair of the Lyon County Democrats, Leslie Sexton.)
  • For the most up to date endorsement news, keep your eye on our endorsement tracker.

Upcoming candidate visits

  • Buttigieg will keynote Battle Born Progress’s annual Celebrate Progress event on Oct. 22.
  • Castro will speak at the People’s Forum on Oct. 26 at the East Las Vegas Community Center.
  • Nine candidates — Biden, Booker, Buttigieg, Castro, Rep. John Delaney, Harris, billionaire Tom Steyer, and Warren — have RSVP’d to the Nevada State Democratic Party’s First in the West dinner the evening of Nov. 17 at the Bellagio. It should be a lot of fun as this is the same night as the Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon, which is slated to shut down the Las Vegas Strip all night and the only parking entrance at the Bellagio is off of Las Vegas Boulevard.
  • The Indy’s presidential forum will be at the Smith Center on Nov. 18.
  • Keep an eye on our presidential candidate visit tracker for the latest.

Surrogate stops

  • Rep. Ruben Gallego campaigned for Harris in Las Vegas on Oct. 4. Events on his agenda included a meet-and-greet with the Rancho High School Hispanic Student Union, a veterans and immigration roundtable, and a Latinos Para La Gente organizing meeting.
  • Sanders National Political Director Analilia Mejia and Latino Press Secretary Belén Sisa visited Nevada on Oct. 5 for a Henderson field office canvass launch and a “Talk Bernie to Me” happy hour at Hop Nuts.
  • Castro Campaign Manager Maya Rupert was in Las Vegas on Wednesday and Thursday to attend a series of events, including a “Black Women in Politics” house party and a watch party for the Human Rights Campaign presidential forum.
  • Harris Campaign Manager Juan Rodriguez also attended a watch party for the HRC presidential forum in Reno on Thursday.
  • A number of surrogates showed up to the Las Vegas Pride Parade on Friday, some of them attending other events while in town. They included Jill Biden, wife of Joe Biden (as noted above); Harris’ husband Doug Emhoff, California Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins and Long Beach, CA Mayor Robert Garcia, for Harris; Chasten Buttigieg, husband of Pete Buttigieg;  and Rep. Joaquin Castro, Julian Castro’s twin brother.
  • First in the Indy: Emhoff will return to Nevada on Nov. 9 to attend the Elko Democrats Roosevelt/Kennedy Dinner on behalf of Harris.

Other election news

  • Sanders’ $25.3 million third quarter fundraising haul included 30,000 donations from Nevadans. That may seem like a small number — he received 1.4 million donations — but keep in mind that only 84,000 people participated in the 2016 caucus here, or about 17 percent of registered Democrats statewide. (118,000, or about 27 percent, participated in 2008.) 
  • The Vermont senator’s campaign also announced that it has made more than 1 million attempted voter contacts, such as a phone call, text or door knock. The campaign says that more than 65 percent of contacts were made through phone calls and door knocks, and that they have held direct voter contact events in 15 of the state’s 17 counties, with supporters identified in all counties. They said they also have held more than 1,000 organizing events across Nevada.
  • Buttigieg released a digital ad in Nevada, Iowa and New Hampshire featuring footage from the South Bend Mayor’s rally in Sparks, where the power went out and rallygoers lit the room with their cell phones. (His campaign says it’s backed by a “substantial” buy but declined to name an exact figure.) Team Buttigieg also hosted a weekend of action with 17 events across the state on Saturday and Sunday.
  • Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s campaign in Nevada is looking to work with the Iron Sharpens Iron mentoring program to build support for their gun buyback program.


Local Republicans push back on impeachment: Several dozen pro-Trump protesters gathered at the Las Vegas-area district office of Democratic Rep. Susie Lee on Thursday in an attempt to pressure the freshman congresswoman over her position on presidential impeachment, my colleague Jacob Solis reports

Who’s running as a Republican in CD4? Catherine Prato, the former director of nursing education for the state’s nursing board, and former Assemblyman Jim Marchant, that’s who — in addition to many others, including Navy veteran and former congressional staffer Charles Navarro, former Miss Nevada and business owner Lisa Song Sutton, Nye County Commissioner Leo Blundo, small-business owner Randi Reed, veteran and small-business owner Sam Peters and small-business owner Rebecca Wood. It is, you might say, a crowded field. They’re all vying to take on Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford in 2020.