Freshman Orientation: Assemblyman Andy Matthews

As in sessions past, The Nevada Independent is publishing a series of profiles featuring all the new lawmakers in the state. This is the ninth installment of more than a dozen. Check back in the coming days for additional stories on new legislators' backgrounds, interests and policy positions.

ASSEMBLYMAN ANDY MATTHEWS

  • Freshman Republican who succeeds Democratic Assemblywoman Shea Backus
  • Represents District 37, which is north of Summerlin and contains parts of Sun City Summerlin in Las Vegas
  • District 37 has a slight advantage in voter registration for Democrats (36.8 percent Democratic, 35.2 percent Republican and 21.8 percent nonpartisan in the 2020 election)
  • Matthews defeated three other candidates with 49 percent of the vote in the 2020 Republican primary, including former television journalist Michelle Mortensen, Jacob Deaville and Lisa Noeth.
  • He then defeated incumbent Assemblywoman Shea Backus in the 2020 general election, winning a little less than 51 percent of the vote.
  • He sits on the following committees: Government Affairs, Health and Human Services, Legislative Operations and Elections

FAMILY AND EDUCATION

Matthews was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts. He graduated from Boston University with a degree in journalism and worked as a sports journalist before entering the political field.

He and his fiancé Valerie live in Las Vegas.

CAREER

Andy Matthews never expected to be here.

For one, he thought he would be working on the other side of the Capitol Amphitheater after serving as policy director for former gubernatorial candidate Adam Laxalt’s 2018 campaign. But Laxalt lost the race to Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, and no job in the governor’s office materialized (Matthews described the loss as a “punch to the gut”).

But beyond that, 42-year-old Matthews never really expected to end up in the political field, much less in the Nevada Legislature. Born in Massachusetts and initially trained as a sports journalist before transitioning to the political realm, he says he “took the scenic route” to the Legislature.

“If you told me at 12 years old when I was living in rural Massachusetts, I would serve in the Nevada State Assembly someday, I’d probably ask you what a state assembly was, and ask you a lot of questions about how I got from point A to point B,” he said. “But I’m honored to be here, and it's been a great experience so far.”

Matthews was born in New Bedford, but grew up in a rural area (Freetown) about 50 miles south of Boston. A life-long Red Sox fan, Matthews played basketball and baseball in high school but moved away from athletics after getting a job at a local newspaper, writing up box scores and brief game summaries. In high school, he and another student helped start a student newspaper — the “Laker Pride,” named for the bodies of water around the area, not a reference to the Celtics’ main rival.

After graduating college with a journalism degree, Matthews worked at a variety of sports reporting jobs, including at FOX Sports and a stint for MLB.com (where, for an article, he went undercover and attended an open-to-the-public Red Sox tryout. Matthews says he was never “really in danger of making the team.”)

But his interests broadened beyond sports; first with the contentious circumstance around the 2000 presidential election, but also with the terror attack on 9/11. At the time, Matthews was living in Hoboken, New Jersey, with a view from his bedroom window into lower Manhattan. Working nights, he said he didn’t know about the attacks until his dad called him. He remembers pacing between the television and his bedroom window.

“I think the combination of those things in my early 20s for me put issues front and center in my life, in my mind, that I hadn't really given a whole lot of thought to before,” he said.

Matthews worked on a New Jersey political race in 2005, then moved to Nevada to work as campaign manager for former state lawmaker Bob Beers’ ultimately unsuccessful gubernatorial run in 2006. Deciding to stay in Nevada, Matthews was hired on as communications director for the Nevada Policy Research Institute (a nonprofit, pro-free market think tank) and eventually became the group’s director in 2011.

He said the organization was a great fit for him because of his political interests and background in communications skills, but at times he was frustrated that the group’s legislative advocacy didn’t translate into desired policy results.

Outside of “facetious barstool conversations,” Matthews said he hadn’t really considered a run for office himself, but a turning point came in 2015 after former Gov. Brian Sandoval (a Republican) pushed through a record-breaking package of new and extended taxes worth more than $1.1 billion.

“If we're not getting what we should be getting, in my view, out of the current crop of elected officials, maybe we need some different officials,” he said. “The best way to change policy sometimes is to change policy makers.”

So in 2016, Matthews decided to jump in the contentious Republican Party primary for the state’s 3rd Congressional District. With then-state Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson (who helped Sandoval shepherd through the tax package in 2015) and well-known and perennial conservative candidate Danny Tarkanian also in the race, Matthews said he hoped to run as a “new face principled outsider” — and carve out the middle ground between Tarkanian and Roberson.

But that pathway was largely closed off when firebrand then-Republican Assemblywoman Michele Fiore also decided to jump in the primary. Matthews says he continued to campaign hard, but ended up coming in fourth out of the seven-way contest (noting that he and Fiore combined had a vote share roughly equal to that of Tarkanian, who ended up winning the primary but losing to Democratic nominee Jacky Rosen).

After that election cycle, Matthews moved to the political orbit of former Attorney General Adam Laxalt, leading his Morning in Nevada PAC for a spell before moving to work on Laxalt’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign. 

But the 2018 election cycle was a nadir for Nevada Republicans, and Matthews said that though that loss stung, he figured political fortunes in a swing state such as Nevada would eventually swing back. Running for the Legislature, he said, was a way to get in on the ground floor.

“We're going to rebuild, one way or another, we're going to get stronger, and I'd love to be part of that,” he said. “So that as our party starts to gain strength and have more of a say, in the future, I can be at the table and try to try to shape things as best I can, in a way that aligns with the principles that I think we really ought to adhere to.”

Assemblyman Andy Mathews during the first day of the 81st session of the Legislature in Carson City on Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

ON THE ISSUES

Taxes

Matthews is a signer of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, a written promise for federal and state candidates to oppose any and all tax increases without some kind of corresponding revenue-neutral tax cut. Matthews said that pledge includes the gaming and sales tax initiative petitions circulated by the Clark County Education Association and now before the state Legislature. 

“We need to rebuild our economy, and I do not believe saddling Nevadans with higher taxes is the way to do it,” he said.

Election security

Matthews plans to introduce a bill that would repeal AB4 from the state’s 2020 summer special session, which provided for sending out mail ballots to all active registered voters and also legalized ballot collection, the practice where individuals can collect and turn in absentee ballots for other voters (Republicans often refer to this practice as “ballot harvesting”).

He said he was fine with no-excuse absentee ballots, but that the practice of automatically mailing ballots to voters made the state’s election system “susceptible to fraud and error.” 

Asked whether he believed that massive voter fraud happened to a level that would have affected the outcome of the presidential race in Nevada, Matthews noted that there was some degree of “error, fraud, or irregularities” that happened in the election (citing statements made by Clark County Registrar Joe Gloria on discrepancies in a close county commission race).

But he said his primary focus is election security, and that he doesn’t want to get “bogged down” in whether “the outcome of one particular race (was) the proper outcome in terms of voter intent.”

“Right now under our system, it's designed in a way that makes it much, much easier than it should be to cheat if one wanted to,” he said. “And so, we can go back and forth all day on, did no one cheat, did one person cheat, did 200,000 people cheat? We don't know; no one knows; you don't know; I don't know. Because we have a system that's designed in such a way that we can't know. So my job as a legislator, it's to make sure that we have the proper systems in place to make sure that we do have an election that's secure.”

(The secretary of state’s office has said it did not see any evidence of “wide-spread fraud” in the 2020 election, though election officials have said they’re pursuing several individual cases of possible election-related fraud in the 2020 election).

Criminal justice reform

While critical of measures passed in recent sessions that he said “went much too far in terms of tying the hands of law enforcement,” Matthews said he was broadly supportive of efforts to reduce recidivism and help current and former inmates successfully adjust back into normal society.

“That's an area where I think we all can look at, because we are all going to benefit,” he said. “If someone comes out of our prison system after a number of years and doesn't have the skillset to find a job, there’s a very good chance that person may end up back in that cycle of disruptive behavior. That benefits nobody.”

Other proposals

Other bills that Matthews plans to introduce this session include the following:

  • A measure that would allow local jurisdictions to opt-in to the 287(g) program, a federal partnership between local police and federal immigration officials to place “detainers” on people not legally in the country but arrested or taken into police custody for non-immigration related reasons. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department opted out of the program in 2019 after a federal court case enjoined ICE from issuing so-called detainers without “explicit state statute authorizing civil immigration arrests.”
  • A measure creating a state-level REINS Act, a proposal championed by Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul essentially requiring significant regulations with a major financial impact to be approved explicitly by the Legislature, as opposed to an executive branch agency. Former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker implemented a similar program in that state
  • A measure to increase penalties for public agencies that fail to comply with public record law violations
  • A bill to subject the collective bargaining process between government employee unions and local government employers to requirements in the state’s Open Meeting Law
  • A measure allowing creation of “charter agencies,” a concept promoted by former Controller Ron Knecht and the Nevada Policy Research Institute to rework state government agencies by giving them broad policy goals and “allowing agency directors to determine the best means of achieving those objectives.”

Matthews acknowledged that many of his bills will likely not move very far in a Legislature and governor’s office controlled by Democrats. He said that while he hopes to attract bipartisan support for at least some of his proposals (including the bills aimed at improving government function), there was still some value to be gained by at least introducing the concepts.

“If I can move the needle at least on the conversation on some of these things, there's value in that as well,” he said. “If a particular bill doesn't get implemented in this particular legislative session, at least (we’re) beginning the conversation, and maybe changing some minds, and hopefully taking a step toward a place down the road.”

Election Preview: Rep. Steven Horsford looks to hold off challenge from Jim Marchant in Congressional District 4

In the absence of a statewide race at the top of Nevada’s 2020 ballot, many eyes have fallen to a pair of competitive congressional races that could play a role in deciding which party takes control of the House come November. 

In District 4, incumbent Democrat Steven Horsford has run a re-election race that has largely ignored a challenge from former one-term Republican Assemblyman Jim Marchant, a staunch pro-Trump conservative who’s sought to pressure Horsford on the issues and on character.

In the ads with the most money behind them — and consequently the widest reach — the Horsford campaign has largely held to a positive tone that’s praised his work on Capitol Hill, especially in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. 

In a TV ad launched late last month, his only major ad buy so far this cycle, Horsford touted his role in passing federal coronavirus relief in March, with a testimonial from a local business praising him for securing Paycheck Protection Program loans for Nevada businesses. 

Steven Horsford waiving to a crowd
Steven Horsford, who won the race for Nevada's 4th Congressional District, speaks during the Nevada Democratic Party election night event at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

The congressman’s online messaging, most notably on Facebook, has more directly challenged Marchant’s bid, though it has done so without ever naming him. Calling him “my Republican opponent,” “my far-right opponent” or often simply “my opponent,” Horsford’s online ads have criticized Marchant’s links to the Freedom Caucus — an evolution of the old Tea Party movement in the House — and his endorsements from groups such as the National Rifle Association. 

Horsford also has frequently used the specter of Republican PAC money as his own fundraising driver, accusing “GOP outside dark money groups” of spending more than $1 million “to spread deceitful ads across Nevada.”

Still, these online ads likely comprise a small portion of Horsford’s overall spending, according to data available through Facebook’s Ad Library. Most individual online ads have been boosted by less than $100 in spending, and the campaign spent just $807 on Facebook ads over the last week. 

Horsford has maintained a sizable lead in the money race, raising more than $3 million cumulatively and entering the final weeks of the election with roughly $1.5 million cash on hand, according to his campaign. 

Marchant has generally lagged behind Horsford’s fundraising, though by how much will remain unknown until campaign finance reports are released on Oct. 15. Through the second quarter, Marchant’s campaign had cumulatively tallied roughly $646,000, of which about $143,000 remained in cash on hand. 

After emerging from the largest competitive primary field in any Nevada congressional race, Marchant has since repeatedly criticized Horsford for being “too far left,” especially on the issue of reforming police departments in the wake of the George Floyd protests this summer. 

Republican congressional candidate Jim Marchant at a rally in support of law enforcement organized by the Nevada Republican Party on Thursday, July 30, 2020 outside the Legislature in Carson City.
Republican congressional candidate Jim Marchant at a rally in support of law enforcement organized by the Nevada Republican Party on Thursday, July 30, 2020 outside the Legislature in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Endorsed by police unions, the Las Vegas Review-Journal and President Trump himself, Marchant has attacked Horsford for being a “radical leftist” and sought to link him to efforts by activists to defund local police departments. 

Police funding remains tied to state and local dollars, however, and members of Congress exert little pressure over such local public safety spending. An ideological analysis by the website Govtrack rates Horsford slightly left of the ideological median among Democrats, but still to the right of representatives such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Rep. Rashida Tlaib, based on bills he sponsored or co-sponsored in 2019. 

Marchant’s campaign also has more recently sought to raise the issue of an affair Horsford admitted to earlier this year between himself and a former intern for Sen. Harry Reid, Gabriela Linder.

Linder first revealed the affair, which she says went on twice — between 2009 and 2010 and 2017 and 2019 — under a pseudonym on a podcast in April. Her identity was later revealed in May by the Review-Journal, after which Horsford confirmed that the affair took place. 

While Marchant’s messaging has tiptoed around the affair itself — one ad proclaims the congressman’s sex life is “none of our business” — it has targeted the ethical implications of the entire episode. 

Namely, Marchant and his Republican allies have seized on a story first reported by the Nevada Current in July that Horsford had paid an unknown amount to Linder using money from his own company, Resources +. 

Horsford’s office denied any ethical wrongdoing, and told the Current that the money did not exceed limits placed on him by House rules. 

News of the affair did little to stop Horsford’s renomination earlier this year in an uncompetitive Democratic primary in which Horsford won more than 75 percent of the vote. Still, it remains unclear how the re-emergence of the issue in Republican messaging may influence voters in the general election, especially in the context of the wider 2020 election, the race for the White House and the complications of voting in the middle of a pandemic.

District 4 at a glance

Nevada’s newest congressional district, District 4 was carved out following re-apportionment from the 2010 census. Among the largest districts in the country by area, its geographically sprawling boundaries encompass both parts of Clark County, including North Las Vegas, as well as a handful of the counties in the state’s rural center, including Nye, White Pine and Lincoln counties. 

With sizable populations of both Black and Hispanic voters in Clark County, District 4 has often — though not always — tilted toward Democrats. Voter registration figures show Democrats lead Republicans 41 percent to 31 percent, with another 21.8 percent of voters registered as non-partisans. 

Horsford, at the time a state senator, was the first to win the district, taking the seat in 2012 by a margin of 8 points over perennial Republican contender Danny Tarkanian. Horsford would later be upset in the 2014 midterms, when Mesquite-area Assemblyman Cresent Hardy won the seat by roughly 2.7 percentage points as part of a wave of Republican victories statewide. 

Democrats flipped the seat once more in 2016, this time with then-State. Sen. Ruben Kihuen, who defeated Hardy by 4 points as Democrats statewide rode to victory in a number of key competitive races. 

But following revelations in late 2017 that Kihuen had sexually harassed a campaign staffer, the incumbent’s decision to forgo a reelection bid in 2018 opened the door for a return for Horsford, who had spent his years outside office working at his own public relations and consulting firm. 

Horsford went on to win easily in 2018’s “blue wave,” besting Hardy in a rematch of the 2014 race by roughly 8.2 percentage points. 

Outside observers have generally forecast a strong edge for Democrats in District 4 based on both demographics and historical voting trends. The Cook Political Report and the University of Virginia Center for Politics rate the district as “Likely Democratic,” while FiveThirtyEight rates the race as “Lean Democratic.”

Election Preview: Susie Lee, Dan Rodimer face off in pricey bid for 3rd Congressional District

With no statewide elections at the top of Nevada's 2020 ballot, the frequently bitter and increasingly expensive push to win the state’s swingy 3rd Congressional District has come to consume and define the tug-of-war between Democrats and Republicans to wrest control of the state’s most competitive seats. 

Throughout the 2020 election cycle, no Nevada contest has seen as much money flood the field as District 3, where incumbent Democrat Susie Lee — a moderate freshman who won the seat easily in 2018 — is looking to hold her seat against a bid from challenging Republican Dan Rodimer, an ex-professional wrestler turned local businessman who has crafted a campaign around the trappings of his ringside persona and his conservative politics. 

With millions of dollars so far pumped into the airwaves, online ads and mailers from both campaigns and a handful of cash-rich outside groups, the most public fights in the race for CD3 have often been less about the issues and more about the candidates themselves. 

Lee's most frequent attacks on Rodimer have aimed at his past run-ins with police, and Rodimer has hit back with allegations of what he has called Lee’s self-dealing stemming from federal coronavirus relief earlier this year — all allegations that both candidates have consequently denied or downplayed. 

While much of the money has come from outside groups, in particular two super PACs linked to each major party’s House leadership, Lee, herself, has managed to fundraise staggering amounts of campaign cash. 

Rep. Susie Lee speaks at a town hall
Congresswoman Susie Lee speaks about the impeachment of President Donald Trump during a town hall meeting in Las Vegas on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Routinely leading fundraising among all Nevada candidates, Lee cumulatively raised more than $3.2 million through the end of June — the most recent reported campaign finance disclosure — of which more than $2.4 million remained in cash-on-hand. 

Though spending reports for the third quarter will not be available until later this week and exact advertising spending remains unclear, Lee’s campaign blanketed the airwaves in attack ads through September, often casting Rodimer as “violent” and “aggressive,” especially in the context of incidents from 2010 and 2018.

In the first incident, in which Rodimer was arrested following an assault at a Florida Waffle House in 2010, charges against him were dropped by prosecutors following his agreement to complete an anger management course. Rodimer has denied wrongdoing since, asserting frequently that the incident did not create a criminal record. 

In the second set of incidents, Rodimer’s now-wife, Sarah, called police twice in 2018 in response to alleged actions by the candidate, according to police records first obtained and reported by the Associated Press

In one call, Sarah Rodimer alleges an incident of domestic violence, while in another made several months later, she alleges her now-husband took $200,000 worth of cash, guns and jewelry from their home. Neither call ended in an arrest and no charges were ever filed.

Rodimer and his wife have since downplayed the calls in an ad placed both on TV and online, saying not only that the first call was simply “a verbal argument, plain and simple,” but also casting an ad from Lee's campaign playing audio from those calls as an outright lie. 

Rodimer’s ad did not address the second call alleging theft nor did it deny that the calls took place. 

And while Lee has done little traditional campaigning in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, she has instead leaned on her image as an incumbent lawmaker legislating her way through a crisis, touting her work on everything from the early CARES Act and later Democratic-led HEROES Act coronavirus relief packages to securing grant money for Nevada institutions in need. 

As one of a smattering of suburban-area moderate Democrats swept into Congress in the “blue wave” of 2018, Lee has also seen a handful of endorsements from unlikely sources. That includes several awards and an endorsement from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — for decades one of the most steadfast boosters of Republican candidates nationwide — and a nod from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which also endorsed President Donald Trump and District 4 Republican hopeful Jim Marchant. 

Rodimer, meanwhile, has mounted a campaign against not one, but two opponents: Lee and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. 

Republican Congressional Candidate Dan Rodimer speaks during a rally for Vice President Mike Pence in Boulder City on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Multiple ads run on Facebook and Google by Rodimer’s campaign focus entirely on Pelosi, asking voters to “hit DONATE NOW to stop Nancy Pelosi before it’s too late,” or to hit “thumbs up” to “fire Pelosi.” 

In ads that include both Pelosi and Lee, Rodimer’s allegation is often that the latter acts only at the behest of the former, with copy accusing Lee of voting with Pelosi “99 percent of the time,” and with visuals suggesting Lee is a literal puppet — complete with marionette strings held by Pelosi. 

That second ad appears to cite a project from the non-profit outlet ProPublica, which allows a comparison between the voting records of any two members of Congress. That comparison does show the pair voted in the same way 99 percent of the time, though comparisons with other Democratic legislators show the pattern is not particularly unusual. The same can also be said for Nevada’s two other Democratic representatives, Rep. Steven Horsford (99 percent similar) and Rep. Dina Titus (100 percent similar). 

Of advertising that has taken aim at Lee, almost all of it has centered on a single allegation: That Lee and her husband, Dan, benefitted from a Paycheck Protection Program loan granted to a casino company run by Dan, Full House Resorts, earlier this year. 

Lee, alongside every other member of the Nevada congressional delegation, lobbied in April to reverse a sudden policy decision by the Small Business Administration to exclude businesses from federal coronavirus relief if they received more than 33 percent of their revenue from gambling. 

The decision was eventually overturned, opening the door for small gaming businesses nationwide to access relief. But following an initial publication of these findings by the Daily Beast in June, Republicans seized on $5.6 million in relief funds granted to Full House Resorts as a result of the change, claiming that Lee’s stock holdings in the company presented a direct conflict of interest.  

Lee has denied any wrongdoing on her part and distanced herself from any decision-making by either her husband or Full House Resorts, telling The Nevada Independent in July that she was “doing my job” by lobbying for the change in the midst of a crisis, even if the policy in question coincided with her own interests. 

In the money race, campaign finance reports through June show that Rodimer has significantly lagged Lee in fundraising, with just under $890,000 raised overall and with a little more than $254,000 cash on hand. 

Without campaign finance reports for the third quarter, the state of Rodimer’s campaign war chest remains unclear. However, Rodimer’s campaign push into the final days of the election has seen a clear boost from Republican leadership. That includes the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC linked to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy that earlier this year booked roughly $1.9 million in advertising spending in the final weeks of the election. 

Still, even with the extra push of party cash, Rodimer entered the TV market relatively late. Lagging Lee and Democratically aligned PACs by roughly two weeks in September, Rodimer also spent big on at least one ad that does little else but downplay another ad by Lee’s campaign that plays excerpts of the aforementioned 911 calls. 

Rodimer has otherwise sought to play up his conservative credentials in tandem with his image as a wrestler. Branding himself as “Big Dan” during the primary, he has since leaned on a fundraising tagline that voting him into office will mean “taking a folding chair to the establishment."

Praised by Trump and Vice President Mike Pence during their swings through the silver state and endorsed by the likes of Minority Leader McCarthy and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Rodimer also emerged early in the 2020 cycle as the preferred candidate of Republican leadership and the new GOP establishment built in the four years of the Trump presidency.

On the issues, Rodimer has largely followed in the fold of the wider GOP, calling for, among other things, increased border security, greater 2nd Amendment protections and limits on abortions. 

In the midst of a chaotic 2020, he has also leaned heavily on a pro-police message and sought to tie Lee to efforts by liberal activists this summer to defund police departments in the wake of the George Floyd protests. Rodimer was endorsed by a number of the state’s police unions in August, and has since leaned on those nods as proof-positive of his law-and-order position. 

However, Nevada police departments — including the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department — are funded by state and local governments, and neither Lee nor Rodimer would have final say over such local jurisdictions as low-ranking members of the House. 

Lee, meanwhile, has touted her own bipartisan efforts as a sitting member of the House, including a prominent role as a member of the bipartisan “Problem Solvers Caucus.” 

Aside from supporting tentpole-Democratic initiatives such as the HEROES Act or other federal coronavirus relief plans, Lee has otherwise focused on education as a key issue. In her time on Capitol Hill, she has frequently criticized the policies of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and, even after entering Congress, campaigned on her prior work as chief of the non-profit Communities in School of Nevada, which sought to reduce dropout rates. 

District 3 at a glance

First carved out in 2001, District 3 encompasses much of the southern half of Clark County, including a number of the Las Vegas metro’s wealthiest suburbs. 

Wealthier, whiter and historically more Republican than Clark County’s other congressional districts, District 3 remained a GOP stronghold until 2008, when state Sen. Dina Titus won the seat off the coattails of then-candidate Barack Obama. Titus was later defeated in the “red wave” of 2010 by Republican Joe Heck, who would hold the seat until a Senate bid of his own in 2016. 

It was then, in the midst of a chaotic presidential election that defined down-ballot races, that political newcomer Jacky Rosen flipped the open seat for the Democratic Party, defeating perennial Republican Danny Tarkanian by about 1 percentage point. 

And though Hillary Clinton would go on to win Nevada at large by roughly 2.4 points, it was Republican Donald Trump who carried District 3 by a margin of roughly 1 percentage point. 

That 2016 result has so far driven Republican hopes to flip the district in 2020, especially in the face of a near-landslide victory for Lee in her bid for the seat in 2018. Facing off against Tarkanian, Lee won the open seat — vacated by Rosen for her own Senate bid — by about 9 percentage points. 

Still, outside observers have generally forecast a Democratic advantage in District 3, even as polling data remains scarce. The Cook Political Report rates the district as Lean Democratic, while FiveThirtyEight and the University of Virginia Center for Politics rate the race as Likely Democratic.

Nevada Supreme Court rules in favor of former hair stylist sued for defamation by Steve Wynn over sexual misconduct allegations

The Nevada Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a former Wynn Resorts hair stylist attempting to dismiss a defamation lawsuit filed by former casino mogul Steve Wynn for his role in a Wall Street Journal story alleging a decades-long pattern of sexual misconduct allegations.

In a three-justice opinion issued Tuesday, members of the court reversed a lower court’s decision and ruled in favor of Jorgen Nielsen in an anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss a defamation claim filed by Wynn in April 2018. The lawsuit was filed after the former hair stylist went on the record for a Wall Street Journal investigation into Wynn’s alleged sexual harassment against employees that ultimately contributed to his departure from the publicly traded casino company.

Nevada and many other states have anti-SLAPP laws in place designed to protect free speech by allowing defendants to file a special motion to dismiss lawsuits brought by people “using courts, and potential threats of a lawsuit, to intimidate people who are exercising their First Amendment rights,” according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Under Nevada’s anti-SLAPP law, a court is required to determine two “prongs” before granting the special motion to dismiss. In this case, District Court Judge Tierra Jones denied Nielsen’s anti-SLAPP motion under the first prong, saying he failed to establish the defamation claim was “based upon a good faith communication in furtherance of the right to petition or the right to free speech in direct connection with an issue of public concern.” 

Essentially, that translates to the court deciding that Nielsen failed to make statements that were either truthful or made without knowledge of them being false.

But the Supreme Court reversed that decision, finding that Nielsen’s remarks challenged as defamatory were “fairly accurate and truthful,” and corroborated by the testimony of an anonymous Wynn Resorts employee who said she experienced harassment. 

Citing a previous anti-SLAPP precedent the court made in a libel case filed by perennial political candidate Danny Tarkanian, the court ruled that “Nielsen demonstrated that the gist of his communication was truthful or made without knowledge of its falsehood.”

“Because Nielsen showed that his communication was made in direct connection with an issue of public interest in a public forum, and was truthful or made without knowledge of its falsehood, we hold that he met his burden under the first prong of the anti-SLAPP analysis,” Justice Mark Gibbons wrote in the court’s order.

The case, which Wynn filed in April 2018, now returns to District Court, where Judge Tierra Jones will be required to assess the second prong of the anti-SLAPP test — whether the plaintiff (Wynn) has “demonstrated with prima facie evidence a probability of prevailing” on the claim.

Attorneys for Wynn and Neilsen did not return emailed requests for comments on Thursday.

Wynn, 78, resigned from his casino company in February 2018 following the publication of the sexual harassment allegations, while denying all allegations against him. Wynn Resorts was fined a record-setting $20 million by the state Gaming Commission in 2019 over the company’s failure to investigate those sexual misconduct claims.

Nielsen filed a lawsuit against Wynn Resorts and top company executives in October 2019, alleging that they engaged in a secret surveillance operation targeting him two months after Steve Wynn had relinquished his position as head of his casino company. That case is still pending and has a jury trial scheduled for next year.

Wynn NV Supreme Court Anti-SLAPP Order by Riley Snyder on Scribd

Wynn NV Supreme Court Anti-SLAPP Order by Riley Snyder on Scribd

Tarkanian wins Douglas County Commission seat, breaking long losing streak

After numerous unsuccessful campaigns over the years, Danny Tarkanian has defeated incumbent Dave Nelson by 17 votes in a race for Douglas County Commission, according to final unofficial results. 

District 1 encompasses the city of Gardnerville in the rural Northern Nevada county, and the race marks Tarkanian’s first win after several defeats over the years, including in three recent bids for Southern Nevada congressional seats. Results released Wednesday show he has 5,893 votes compared to Nelson’s 5,876. 

Nelson said he is calling for a recount because the results are within 20 votes — a threshold he set before the final unofficial results came in. 

No Democrats filed in the overwhelming Republican county, and Tarkanian’s name will be the only name listed on the ballot in the November general election.

“We're very, very excited, and I’m here with my wife and she's crying because she said she spent half her life watching me lose races and it’s finally nice to win one,” Tarkanian said in an interview with The Nevada Independent. “I’m very thankful for my family, my wife and kids, we do a lot of work stuffing envelopes, calling, doing things and I’m very grateful — without their help, I would not have won.”

A recent transplant from Las Vegas, Tarkanian said he was nervous about running against a well-known incumbent during a pandemic when knocking on doors and meeting with people face-to-face was not an option.

Tarkanian’s team had to get creative, waving signs and cheering at cars, but he said it was all worth it at the end of the day.

Nelson was disappointed by the results, but appreciative of the support he received. 

“I thought that as a candidate who made promises four years ago and fulfilled, I think, all of those promises, I'm surprised that the people here didn't support me more than they have,” he said. “I would say that I really, really appreciate all the support I did get. It was a huge turnout ... I got almost 6,000 votes, which, when I ran four years ago, about 6,500 was the total votes in the primary.”

Tarkanian complimented Nelson’s campaign but said that very few recounts have overturned race results.

“Seventeen votes is a decent amount. Normally, if there's an issue it's going to be with one or two or three or something like that,” Tarkanian said. “I expect there to be a recount. I don't think it's going to change the results. If it does, it won't be the first time I was stunned, but I don't think so."

What to watch in Nevada’s 2020 primary election

The first results from Nevada’s unique, mostly mail primary election will finally be released on Tuesday after more than a month of voting, but calling some of the state’s top races could take up to 10 days. 

A substantial number of high-profile races will eventually be decided out of Tuesday’s election, including Republican challengers to Democratic Reps. Susie Lee and Steven Horsford, both who represent swing districts and have attracted a broad field of GOP candidates.

But congressional races aside, several major legislative races will be decided in the primary election, and two state Supreme Court seats could also be decided if candidates achieve more than 50 percent of the vote. Other major races include contests for seats on the Clark County Commission and a hotly contested Reno City Council race.

Polls will close at 7 p.m. on Election Night, with counties expected to turn in their initial vote totals to the state by about 8:30 p.m.

As of Monday, more than 343,000 people had cast a ballot for the primary election, or about 18.7 percent of all registered voters. The vast majority of ballots have been cast by mail (339,853), while around 2,971 people have cast a ballot through in-person early voting.

The change in process is likely to help contribute to a higher turnout than most primary elections. The 2018 primary election saw about 22.9 percent of registered voters cast a ballot, for a total turnout of 329,863. 

But the switch to a primarily mail-only election has a drawback: potential delays in determining the winners of close election contests. Ballots postmarked by Election Day and received by election officials within seven days will be counted, and county election officials have 10 days to certify the results of an election and declare a winner.

Below, check out The Nevada Independent’s preview of the major races up on Election Night. Editors Jon Ralston and Elizabeth Thompson will host a live election show beginning at 7:30 p.m., which can be viewed here.

The Washoe County Registrar of Voters on June 8, 2020. Photo by David Calvert.

NEVADA SUPREME COURT: Two seats are on the ballot: Chief Justice Kristina Pickering is defending her seat amid challenges from lawyers Esther Rodriguez and Thomas Christensen. And in the open seat held by Mark Gibbons, Judge Douglas Herndon faces off against lawyers Erv Nelson and Ozzie Fumo, the latter of whom is a sitting Assembly member.

CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT 2: Several Democrats including Clint Koble, who ran unsuccessfully in 2018, are vying for the nomination and chance to face off with Republican Rep. Mark Amodei. The district is safely Republican, meaning even the winner of the Democratic primary enters a long-shot general election contest. Read our preview here.

CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT 3: A feisty Republican primary is playing out in this swingy Southern Nevada district held by Democratic Rep. Susie Lee. The GOP field includes former wrestler Dan Rodimer, former state Treasurer Dan Schwartz and pro-Trump actress Mindy Robinson. Read our preview here.

CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT 4: A parade of Republicans is vying to face off with Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford in a district that includes North Las Vegas and rural, central Nevada. GOP contenders include businesswoman Lisa Song Sutton, former Assemblyman Jim Marchant and Nye County Commissioner Leonardo Blundo, among others. Read our preview here.

REGENTS: Four of the 13 nonpartisan seats on the board overseeing the Nevada System of Higher Education are up for grabs, and the primary will narrow the field of candidates to two. One district features former Assemblyman Stephen Silberkraus and former state Senate candidate Byron Brooks; another pits former regent Bret Whipple against former Las Vegas City Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian. Read our preview here.

ASSEMBLY: Democrats are all but guaranteed to retain their majority heading into the 2021 legislative session, but the question is whether Republicans can score enough seats to get out of a weak “superminority” status, in which Democrats can pass taxes without a single GOP vote. The most interesting contests include primaries in swingy suburban districts. Read our preview here.

SENATE: One race for state Senate will be decided in the primary — Senate District 7, a seat held by termed-out Democrat David Parks. The Democratic primary pits two Assembly members — Ellen Spiegel and Richard Carrillo — against former Nevada State Democratic Party Chair Roberta Lange, who has the endorsement of state Senate Democrats. Read our preview here.

CLARK COUNTY COMMISSION: Four seats are up for grabs on the powerful Clark County Commission, including incumbents Marilyn Kirkpatrick and Michael Naft running for additional terms. Crowded Democratic primaries in seats held by termed-out Commissioners Lawrence Weekly and Larry Brown have drawn some familiar names, including former Secretary of State Ross Miller (District C) and Assemblyman William McCurdy, state Sen. Mo Denis and North Las Vegas City Councilman Isaac Barron (District D). Read our preview here.

RENO CITY COUNCIL: Four councilmembers are running for re-election in 2020, including Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus who is in a bitter fight with two well-funded opponents, including one endorsed by Mayor Hillary Schieve. Council members Devon Reese, Neoma Jardon and Oscar Delgado are also running for re-election. Read our preview here.

SPARKS CITY COUNCIL: Three seats on the Sparks City Council have attracted 10 candidates, with each race seeing well-funded incumbents try to fend off multiple opponents. Read our preview here.

CARSON CITY MAYOR & SUPERVISORS: Longtime Mayor Bob Crowell is termed out, and with two incumbents not running for re-election, the Carson City Board of Supervisors will have three new faces come 2021. Read our preview here.

DOUGLAS COUNTY COMMISSION: Three of the five seats on the Douglas County Commission are on the ballot, and they’ll be all but decided in the primary because no Democrats filed for the seats. One race features Danny Tarkanian, who has run unsuccessfully for major offices in Southern Nevada before moving north, against incumbent Dave Nelson. Read our preview here

WASHOE COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT: Fifteen candidates have filed to run in the four seats up for election for the board overseeing the state’s second-largest school district, including incumbents Scott Kelley and Angela Taylor. Read our preview here.

CLARK COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT: Thirty candidates are competing for four nonpartisan seats on the board that governs the nation’s fifth largest school district. Three seats are open after trustees termed out; in a fourth, Trustee Lola Brooks is seeking reelection. The primary will narrow the field to the top two, although a candidate who wins more than 50 percent of the vote wins outright. Read our preview here.

NEVADA STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION: The four elected positions on the 11-member board that works in tandem with the state Department of Education are up for grabs. Felicia Ortiz and Mark Newburn are defending their seats, while five candidates are vying for a spot representing a Las Vegas district and a lone candidate — Katie Coombs — is seeking a seat in a Northern Nevada district. Read our preview here.

JUDGES: Numerous judge positions are on the ballot, including District Court and Family Court hopefuls. Read our guide on Clark County judge races here.

Election Preview: Candidates in Douglas Commission primary battle over development, change in rural county

Three of Douglas County’s five commission seats are up for grabs this cycle including a race that pits Danny Tarkanian, a recent Las Vegas transplant who has run and lost several high profile races, against Commissioner Dave Nelson. 

With 54.2 percent of active voters in Douglas County registered as Republican and 22.8 percent as Democrat, the Republican primary will likely determine who sits on the board of the red county with an estimated population of 48,905 people. 

No Democrats filed for any of the seats, and one Libertarian, Charles Holt, filed for office in District 3. Whoever wins the District 3 primary will face Holt in the November election.

The county stretches from south of Carson City to the state line, touching Lake Tahoe to the west and encompassing Minden, Gardnerville and ranches in the shadow of the Eastern Slope of the Sierras. 

Douglas County commissioners serve four-year, overlapping terms, and receive about $30,000 in compensation.  

Commissioners approve zoning and development, review and determine county budgets, maintain infrastructure such as sewer systems and shape policies regarding roadway maintenance and conservation efforts. 

The county is continually navigating discussions of growth and development along with its identity as a rural county that borders California and is attractive to retirees.

In two of the three districts, challengers are squaring off against incumbents. The remaining district features two first-time candidates duking it out for the chance to help guide the county through budget issues and growth.

District 1

In District 1, a frequent candidate for office who recently moved to the area and has mounted unsuccessful campaigns for various levels of government jobs, including U.S. Senate, House and state Senate, is challenging a better-funded incumbent.

District 1 is the smallest district in the county in terms of area but encompasses the core of the county’s most populated city, Gardnerville.

The incumbent, Dave Nelson, began serving as a commissioner in 2017. Nelson, a real estate agent, moved to Douglas County in 2003 and describes himself as a “small-government Republican” who hopes to keep the scope of local government narrow and focused.

Nelson also emphasizes the importance of maintaining Douglas County’s rural nature, opposes larger land development and promotes fiscal responsibility, with the goal of having three months reserve funds in the bank.

“I have worked hard to listen to the citizens of Douglas County, returned calls, and helped many people with problems they have had with their local County Government,” Nelson wrote on his campaign website. “I have found that this job suits me, I like serving the public. For that reason, I am running for one more term.”

Tarkanian, a businessman and the son of legendary UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, moved to the county from Las Vegas within the last year or so and echoes the desire to preserve the rural character of Douglas County. 

Tarkanian emphasizes the need to create opportunities for residents and says he has the ability to bridge the divide of a fractured commission, evidenced by a commissioner meeting that made headlines after a fight broke out between Republican commissioners Barry Penzel and John Engels.

Tarkanian sets himself as an alternative to a candidate he refers to as “No No Nelson” in his campaign materials and highlights that Nelson uses “bullying techniques” against anyone who disagrees with his agenda.

“Who do you trust to protect Douglas County’s rural heritage: a nearly 50-year resident of Nevada who moved his entire family to Douglas County because of its rural heritage; OR a California transplant who was a registered Democrat before he moved to Douglas County,” is the choice his campaign highlights.

Nelson responded to Tarkanian’s criticism in a post on his website by saying he has been a conservative since he campaigned for Barry Goldwater in 1963, but temporarily registered as a Democrat to vote in a California primary.

“I did register as a Democrat for a while in college for a very short period of time to vote against John Tunney in the primary who was a Democrat U.S. Senator from California in those days,” he said. “I re-registered shortly after the primary and have been either a Libertarian or Republican from there on out.”

Since Tarkanian announced his candidacy, he has received more formal endorsements than Nelson, including the Tahoe Chamber, Carson Valley Chamber of Commerce and Republican State Sen. James Settelmeyer.

Despite the high number of group endorsements, Nelson received more campaign contributions — a total of around $7,100 in the first quarter, whereas Tarkanian received $700 in donations.

Nelson’s biggest contributors were John Engels, a Douglas County commissioner, and his wife, Maria Engels. They each gave $2,000 to his campaign. Engels’ seat is not up for reelection this cycle.

Tarkanian’s largest contribution for the first quarter came in a $500 donation from Ron Hill, a resident of Las Vegas.

As of the first quarter, Nelson spent about $2,731 on office expenses, special events and advertising-related costs, leaving him with a little less than $10,000 in cash on hand. Tarkanian spent around $140 and had about $550 cash on hand.

District 3

The challenger for District 3, which covers the southern part of the county and extends over part of Topaz Lake, has a significant lead in terms of cash on hand and outraised the incumbent in the latest quarter. Whoever wins the race in District 3 will advance to the general election where he will face Libertarian Charles Holt, a retiree.

Incumbent Larry Walsh is the vice chair of the commission and has served on the board since 2017. A retiree, Walsh worked in the construction and development industry as a financial manager and then a project manager. He holds a degree in accounting with a minor in economics and emphasizes his ability to keep the county on track fiscally.

In his bid for re-election, Walsh emphasizes the importance of smart growth, protecting groundwater and supporting businesses.

“I am pro-business, pro-measured and reasonable growth, and I want to keep the rural part of the valley rural by planning for growth where it belongs,” Walsh said on his campaign website. “I believe that by planning for growth, it can continue to be a place of respite away from major city centers for years to come.”

Throughout the pandemic, Walsh has made videos discussing his priorities, what he has done to fix roads in the county and what sets him apart from his competitor.

Mark Gardner, a former fast food restaurant manager, laundry specialist and territory manager, moved to Douglas County after he retired and is running on a platform emphasizing safety, no increased taxes and minimal development.

“Our rural quality of life is at risk when Commissioners seek and encourage more development instead of taking care of what already exists,” Gardner said on his website. “Development does not pay for itself, and we have a long way to go to catch up on our infrastructure.”

Even though Walsh’s endorsements far outnumber the list of two testimonials on Gardner’s website, Gardner has received $9,487 in contributions for the first quarter in comparison to the $6,601 Walsh received. 

Walsh’s largest contributions came in the form of $1,000 donations from Gardner Enterprises, LLC, Nicholas Enterprises, Inc. and Legacy Specialties, Inc., all developers and contractors. Gardner’s highest donation was $5,000 given by Jeanne Shizuru, Commissioner Nelson’s wife.

By the end of the first quarter, Gardner spent $4,517 on advertising, candidate filing fees and expenses related to special events. Walsh, on the other hand, spent $7,956 on office supplies, consultants, advertising, and special events.

Heading to the end of the primary, Walsh had around $4,000 in cash on hand and Gardner about $15,700. 

Holt did not receive any contributions during the first quarter and did not report any expenses. He does not appear to have an official campaign website but does have a Facebook page, although his presence and posts are minimal.

District 5

The two candidates jostling for District 5’s open seat received similar contributions and spent around the same amount in the first quarter, but one has significantly more cash on hand heading into Election Day.

District 5 falls at the northern end of the county, south of Carson City, includes Minden and borders Lyon County. 

Walt Nowosad, a retired naval officer and former project manager and director in the electronics industry, is running on a promise to keep the county rural and quiet. 

Advocating for no “flippantly approve[d]” variances, or permission for landowners to change a land use designation, Nowosad is staunchly against the commission’s approval of a development agreement that involved a trade allowing the county the land to expand a road in exchange for authorization for Park Holdings development to build up to 2,500 homes on its property

Nowosad says the land transfer will stress infrastructure and exacerbate traffic problems.

“Over the twenty years I have been a resident of Douglas County, I have watched one Douglas County Commissioner after another campaign and win on promises to be conservative guardians of our scenic, quiet, and rural county only to become RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) and yield to the-powers-that-be,” Nowosad said on his website. “In fact, in almost every case, the Douglas County Board of Commissioners (BOCC) has been ruled by a slim liberal majority, who serve large developers and landowners here and at Stateline.”

Nathan Tolbert, a consultant with Form Consulting, a business providing residential and structural design services, pledges to evaluate issues on a case-by-case basis and said he hopes to bridge divides and end a “toxic” environment on the county commission.

“The social landscape is changing, it seems the days of respectful debate may be behind us; replaced with attacks of the opponent rather than the promotion of one’s own perspective,” he said on his website. “It seems that there is an increasing lack of decorum shown as the most active or out-spoken participants become more polarized against each other. It is time someone begin [sic] to bridge the gap and attempt [sic] to restore civil discourse.”

Similar to other candidates, Tolbert calls for the preservation of Douglas County’s rural landscape and lifestyle. 

In the first quarter, Tolbert raised $9,600 and spent about $7,100. Tolbert’s largest contribution came in a $2,500 donation from David Moore, a resident of Glenbrook. Developer Legacy Specialties also contributed $1,000 and the Genoa Golf Group gave $500. 

Nowosad received around $10,300 in contributions, with the largest contribution listed as a $5,000 loan to himself. He spent about $7,700 on expenses related to advertising and Tolbert spent roughly $7,100 on advertising, special events, consultants and filing fees associated with running for office.

Tolbert had about $2,400 heading into the end of the primary and Nowosad had $10,900 cash on hand.

This story was updated at 11:40 a.m. on June 3, 2020 to clarify the border of District 3.

Election Preview: With no incumbents, regents race is between political novices

A women turns in her ballot

The position regent candidates will be in if they get the gig in November is a lot different than what they signed up for when they filed to be candidates in early March. 

Then, campuses were flooded with students and the Nevada System of Higher Education, which the 13 regents govern much like school district trustees, was riding a high of growth and improvement, most notably when UNLV  and UNR were granted “Tier 1” classifications at the end of 2018, designating them as institutions with “very high research.”

Now, the campuses have been empty for months with no students, conference attendees or sports fans in sight and the growth over the past few years risks being stalled by budget cuts from the economic impacts of the pandemic.

On top of this, the board might lose its “fourth-branch-of-government” status if a ballot measure to remove the regents from the Constitution is approved in November. Assembly Joint Resolution No. 5 seeks to place the board under the oversight of the Legislature, which critics argue could lead to at least some regents being appointed rather than elected to the board.

The primary on June 9 will narrow the pool to just two candidates for each of the four nonpartisan seats up for grabs. With no incumbents seeking re-election, the race for regent is between candidates who have attempted to run for other offices, most with little to no success.

Though the winners won’t have to deal with the most direct tough calls from the pandemic, such as the decision to go online for the fall semester, whoever is elected will make vital decisions about budget cuts and leadership appointments of the seven higher education institutions and Desert Research Institute over their six-year term as they determine how to jump back on the upward pre-pandemic stride.

District 10

The race for District 10, which covers most of Reno, boasts the most candidates, most money, and most campaigning, while other regent races lack in all three categories. It is the only seat where more than one candidate is raising and spending money and has a decent chunk of change to their name. 

Leading the money race is Andrew Diss, an executive at Grand Sierra Resorts and a member of the board of directors for the Nevada Resort Association. Despite only raising $5,250 in the first quarter — $2,000 in a loan Diss made to himself and $1,500 coming from Malena Raymond, Diss’ sister-in-law and the president of the Washoe County School Board — he has $30,800 in cash on hand and spent $500 on advertising.

Diss’ first political run came in 2012 when he lost to Republican Marsha Birkbigler for Washoe county commissioner for District 1. He now enjoys endorsements from the Culinary Union and the Nevada State Education Association.

But where his most serious challenger, Kevin Melcher, lacks endorsements, he makes up for in experience and spending. Melcher won his regent race in 2010 for District 8, which includes most of the western half of the state and parts of Clark County, with 53 percent of the vote, but he didn’t seek re-election in 2016. 

A member of the Nevada State Board of Education, he raised $11,500 and spent $2,300 on advertising, which leaves him with just over $10,000 in available cash. 

If elected, Melcher said on his website that he wants to focus on technology and workforce development and investment in research. Diss’ website says he wants to improve the relationship between the board and the Legislature and publicly backs AJR5. Leaders of the Board of Regents testified in 2019 that they were neutral on the resolution but raised enough concerns about the measure that several lawmakers argued the regents' position was actually opposition.

Other challengers include John McKendricks, the executive director of the Reno campus of a private Christian school,  Vince Lombardi, a faculty member at the UNR medical school, and Joseph Arrascada, who has spoken to regents about wheelchair accessibility in Mackay stadium amid UNR’s lawsuit against the architect of the renovation. All three have never ran for office and have reported $0 in campaign fundraising.

District 3

The two main candidates for District 3, which encompasses part of Henderson and extends to UNLV, are both coming off losses in 2018 in bids for the Legislature. 

Candidates Byron Brooks, a managing partner at Brooks Brothers Bail Bonds and veteran, and Stephen Silberkraus, a one-term assemblyman in District 29, both lost their most recent runs as Republicans: Brooks in a primary for Senate District 20 and Silberkraus for Assembly District 29, though Silberkraus’ race was tighter, losing to incumbent Lesley Cohen in the general election by 5 percent whereas Brooks lost to Keith Pickard in the primary by almost 18 percent. 

Silberkraus led an attempt to recall Democratic state Sen. Joyce Woodhouse to replace her with a Republican in 2017, which Democrats responded to with a counter-recall effort and an intense lawsuit that eventually defeated the effort. Now, his campaign materials boast endorsements from Democrats such as County Commissioner Jim Gibson and former County Commissioner Mary Beth Scow.  

The third contender, Swadeep Nigam, lost his runs in Republican primaries in the 2012 and 2016 elections in two different Assembly districts. Nigam, the former commissioner of the Nevada Equal Rights Commission and a member of the Nevada State Osteopathic Medicine Board, ran for this regent seat when it was last open in 2014 and took about 11 percent of the vote in the primary.

Nigam’s and Brooks’ websites both highlight their focus on the need for affordable higher education while Silberkraus’ website emphasizes expanding science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs and online learning options. 

Nigam has scored coveted endorsements of the Culinary Union and NSEA, and Silberkraus has support of the Clark County Education Association and the Clark County Black Caucus.

But of the pool of contenders, which includes political newcomer Lachelle Fisher, only Silberkraus has done any campaign fundraising with $4,660 in the first quarter. He’s spent nearly two times that amount and has $20,000 on hand. 

District 2

After terming-out last year as the Ward 1 representative and mayor pro tempore on the Las Vegas City Council, Lois Tarkanian said she would consider running for regent because of her belief in the need for a medical school. Now she is. 

The district covers a part of Las Vegas and the southwest corner of the city of North Las Vegas and overlaps with a majority of Tarkanian’s old Ward 1 Las Vegas City Council area. Tarkanian, the widow of celebrated UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian and mother of recurring Republican hopeful Danny Tarkanian, wants to develop the Medical District in central Las Vegas, which she worked on during her time as councilwoman, and the UNLV medical school, which donors want to create using a private development corporation that would largely bypass the regents and elected officials. 

Tarkanian’s biggest challenger is Bret Whipple, an attorney at Justice Law Center and a former regent from the district who at one point chaired the board. 

During his time as regent in the mid-2000s, Whipple often clashed with then-Chancellor Jim Rogers. Rogers repeatedly called for an increase in taxes to support higher education, while Whipple argued the chancellor and regents should stay out of tax policy. In Whipple's penultimate year on the board, he and Regent James Dean Leavitt called for Rogers’ resignation after Rogers told the chairman in a letter that he would resign if Leavitt ever became vice chairman or chairman of the board. Rogers resigned and then rescinded his resignation two days later. 

Whipple lost his re-election bid to Robert Blakely, an insurance salesman with no political experience, in 2008 by 7 percentage points after doing little campaigning and expecting to win

At the end of the first quarter, Tarkanian raised $235, which she spent on office expenses, and has $14,000 on hand, and newcomer Bonnie Mae McDaniel reported $0 in fundraising. Whipple did not file with the Secretary of State and did not respond to a request to comment. 

District 5

A little over a month ago, the race for District 5, which covers parts of Las Vegas and North Las Vegas, looked different. Incumbent Sam Lieberman was running for his second term, but his death in early April leaves this seat without an incumbent even though Lieberman’s name will appear on the ballot.

Kevin Child, a real estate broker salesman and former trustee in Clark County, is hoping to take the seat. Child lost his re-election bid for trustee in 2018 by 38 percent to Irene Cepeda, who had never held office before. 

During his time as trustee, Child faced allegations of inappropriate behavior. Former Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky banned him from going on district property outside of his official duties as trustee. Child then filed a lawsuit against the Clark County School District and four trustees for defamation and conspiracy, which the Nevada Supreme Court dismissed earlier this year

Child’s filings show that he hasn’t raised or spent any funds on his campaign for regent but has $1,046 in cash on hand. 

Neither of Child’s opponents have received any funds in the first quarter. Patrick Boylan, a former member on the Nevada State Board of Education and a candidate in the Democratic primaries for Assembly District 15 in 2010 and Congressional District 1 in 2016, reported $0 in available cash.

Nick “Doc” Spirtos, who is medical director of the Women’s Cancer Center in Las Vegas and lost to Lieberman in the 2014 general election, reported $0 in campaign funds.

This story was updated at 3 p.m. on May 26, 2020 to clarify the position of regent leadership on AJR5.

What to watch in the 2020 primary election: Congressional District 3

Voter registration forms

As the presidential caucus has drifted into the past and with no statewide offices up for grabs in 2020, a pair of hotly contested congressional primaries on June 9 may draw battle lines for the coming push by the major parties to take or keep control of the House in November. 

One of them is District 3, where Democrats have maintained control since 2016. But a narrow voter registration advantage of just 3 percentage points for Democrats and swingy voters year-to-year have made the district one of two dozen nationwide that Republicans hope to flip in their attempt to regain control of the House. 

Incumbent Susie Lee enters 2020 without an intraparty primary fight. As a result, Lee has spent the last two years amassing an enormous campaign warchest of more than $2 million — roughly twice the amount on hand for all her Republican challengers combined. As of now, the Cook Political Report rates the race as “Lean Democratic.”

The Republican Primary

Though District 3 seat is viewed as a potential 2020 pickup opportunity by the national Republican Party, just three major candidates — including just one with prior elected experience — have jumped into the race. 

As much as all three have sought to cast Lee as a liberal stooge of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other “radical Democrats,” so, too, have they raced to stake a claim as the most conservative of the lot. In many ways, the race to be the Republican to take on Lee has been defined by the candidates’ push to establish their own conservative bonafides and cast off rivals as “liberals” or “RINOs” — shorthand for Republican in name only.

First to enter the race was Dan Schwartz, a one-term state treasurer who later mounted a failed gubernatorial bid in 2018 against the eventual Republican nominee Adam Laxalt. 

Schwartz has frequently led the money race among Republicans in District 3 — ending the first quarter with more than $424,000 in cash on hand — though that lead has come largely through the sheer force of self-financing. Through the first quarter of 2020, Schwartz loaned his campaign nearly $530,000, far more than any of the candidates.

On the trail, Schwartz has cast himself as a “pro-Trump constitutional conservative” and leaned on his credentials in the finance world and on his stint in Carson City. Schwartz has often made reference to his time as treasurer in campaign advertising, including raising his opposition to the state’s 2015 tax on businesses grossing more than $4 million annually and touting his efforts to raise red flags on a deal between the state and fledgling carmaker Faraday Future in 2016 — a deal that eventually fell apart.

Schwartz long avoided tangling with his fellow primary opponents, instead taking to social media to tout his time as treasurer and endorsements from perennial Republican congressional candidate Danny Tarkanian and his wife, former state GOP Chair Amy, and former Clark County Commissioner Bruce Woodbury. 

That changed, however, with a recent slate of campaign attacks targeting his longest-running opponent in the race: Dan Rodimer. 

Rodimer, an ex-wrestler turned businessman and political commentator, sought early on to outflank Schwartz from the right. Branding himself as “Big Dan Rodimer,” the one-time legislative candidate has leaned heavily on the visual trappings of his wrestling past, posing with American-flag-themed title belts and emblazoning a comic-book-esque silhouette of himself on his campaign signs, mailers and website. 

In the fundraising race, Rodimer has so far kept pace with Schwartz, and with far less of his personal money spent on campaign loans. Rodimer ended the first quarter with $323,000 in cash on hand, of which $165,000 came from candidate loans.

On the issues, Rodimer has most recently placed safely reopening the economy among his top priorities, though his pre-pandemic campaign largely centered on key portions of the Republican platform, including 2nd Amendment rights, border security and an opposition to abortion. 

He has also appeared at several Reopen Nevada rallies as he sought to provide his own “8-step plan” to reopen the state’s economy, in large part by handing authority to local leaders and local businesses. 

And, as the primary has neared, Rodimer picked up a handful of his own endorsements in the form of nods from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and ex-Attorney General and former Schwartz opponent Adam Laxalt. 

On the campaign trail and in a bevy of campaign advertising, the Fox News-regular has cast his campaign as “the only campaign that can beat Susie Lee,” frequently targeting Schwartz as “anti-Trump” and a “liberal.” 

Amid those attacks, Schwartz struck back last month by resurfacing an incident in which Rodimer was arrested following an assault inside a Florida Waffle House in 2010. Charges against Rodimer were eventually dropped following his completion of an anger management course, and as such the incident did not create a criminal record. 

Schwartz then went a step further in his attacks, accusing Rodimer of yet more legal troubles, including an additional assault, forgery and unpaid debts. 

Schwartz’s campaign has posted documents related to those incidents online, including a police report from Collier County, Florida from May 14, 2011 that details an incident where Rodimer, then 33 years old, allegedly punched a classmate from the Ave Maria Law School outside a local nightclub.

A warrant for misdemeanor battery was issued on May 26, 2011, and county records show Rodimer was arrested by Florida police in August of that year. But court records suggest the arrest stemmed solely from the 2010 incident at the Waffle House and do not reference the alleged battery at the nightclub several months later.

Schwartz’s campaign also accuses Rodimer of “fraud and forgery,” claims that appear to stem from a 2010 lawsuit filed against Rodimer and his then-business partner, Seth Williams, by fellow wrestler and ex-business partner Randy Orton. 

According to court documents, Orton had entered into business with Williams and Rodimer with plans to develop real estate in Texas. In his suit, Orton claims that Williams admitted to forging his signature in order to take out a $1.4 million loan from Texas-based Prosperity Bank as they looked to finance construction of several townhomes.

Though that loan was approved in 2008, Orton reported discovering the alleged fraud in 2009, at which point he ended his business relationship with Williams, Rodimer and Legend LLC. Court documents show the company eventually defaulted on the loan in 2010, kicking off foreclosure proceedings and prompting Orton to sue to avoid involvement. 

The case was eventually dismissed after Prosperity Bank agreed not to report harmful information about Orton’s credit amid the foreclosure process.

Finally, Schwartz alleged that Rodimer had avoided payment on a $350,000 judgment awarded by a Texas Court to First National Bank, eventually resulting in a tax lien. Court documents confirmed the judgment was issued on June 24, 2011. No additional documents on the matter nor any record of payments or other liens were available through the Harris County, Texas courts.      

In an initial statement sent to The Nevada Independent, Rodimer campaign manager Ed Gonzalez called the charges “ridiculous,” adding in part that “the fact remains that Dan Rodimer has one arrest in his life, with no convictions and no criminal record.” 

The campaign did not immediately respond, however, when asked for additional details on the nature of the May 2011 battery incident and payment on the $350,000 judgment. 

In the waning days before candidate filing closed, another conservative challenger appeared in the race in the form of Mindy Robinson, an actress and online political commentator with a devout following across social media that numbers in the hundreds of thousands. 

Throwing her hat in the ring just as the pandemic began to emerge as a national crisis in early March, Robinson reported raising little before the first-quarter filing deadline — just over $3,000. 

But that number belies Robinson’s online efforts, where she has spent much of her campaign’s energy on social channels seeking to raise her profile as a candidate and poke at the credentials of her rivals and, in particular, Rodimer. 

In tweets and Facebook posts that often garner hundreds of likes and retweets, Robinson has called her opponents “crooked” RINOs, frequently taunted Rodimer for refusing to debate her, and mocked Rodimer for taking a “photoshoot with a shotgun” while she was “actively defending the 2nd Amendment for years.”

In these ways and more, Robinson has emerged as a candidate of-and-by the post-2016 conservative internet, a place in large part defined by the ideological crusade of sites from Breitbart to Infowars. She’s long run the conservative blog “Red White and ‘F’ You” where her tagline is that “my politics are conservative … the way I talk isn’t!” and where articles frequently take aim at social media giants for censorship and at “leftist” Democrats for culture-war-driven conspiracies.

In recent weeks, Robinson’s posts to that website have taken aim against Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak’s actions during the coronavirus pandemic and have accused Democrats of voter fraud amid the switch to mail-in voting.

Robinson has railed against alleged voter fraud in her online writings and has made the implementation of voter ID policies a core part of her campaign pitch. 

Though claims of rampant voter fraud have long been featured in GOP campaign platforms, evidence of such fraud is rare. A database maintained by the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation lists more than 1,200 verifiable cases of fraud dating back to 1982, of which six took place in Nevada between 2011 and 2017. 

Robinson has received the endorsement of convicted Trump confidant and famed political “dirty trickster” Roger Stone, who said in a video posted to her campaign website that, though he normally wouldn’t endorse a candidate, he would make an exception for Robinson as a “solid, dependable conservative.”

But, with no publicly available polling among Nevada’s congressional races, Robinson’s ultimate effect on what had for months been a two-horse race will remain unknown until the final ballots are counted post-election day. 

About District 3

Encompassing much of the southern half of Clark County and a handful of Las Vegas’ wealthiest suburbs, District 3 was first carved out in 2001 as part of a reapportionment process that handed the Silver State its third seat in the House. 

Much of the district’s history has been dominated by Republicans, with just a single two-year cycle — a one-term stint from current District 1 Rep. Dina Titus in 2008 — interrupting 12 years of Republican control between 2002 and 2016. 

The electoral calculus began to shift in 2016, when political newcomer Jacky Rosen narrowly defeated Tarkanian and flipped District 3 for the first time in six years — even as the district’s voters narrowly broke toward Donald Trump. 

That Democratic advantage widened in 2018, when a nationwide “blue wave” carried Rosen to the Senate and pushed newcomer Lee to a 7.8 percentage point victory over Tarkanian, who had once again launched a bid win District 3 after bowing out of a primary bid against then-Sen. Dean Heller. 

Now in Congress, Lee has run her re-election bid unopposed. With little need to spend money or actively campaign, the congresswoman has built a massive campaign war chest exceeding $2 million — far more than any single candidate in any Nevada congressional race and roughly double the cash-on-hand for all her Republican challengers combined. 

Still, national Republicans believe they have an opening in District 3. The Democratic voter registration advantage is narrow — 36.7 percent of voters there are registered as Democrats, with 33.8 percent as Republican and 23.6 percent as non-partisan — and any small push among fence-sitting Republicans or non-partisans could decide a narrow race. 

President Trump won the district by 1 percentage point in 2016 and strong historical turnout in years excluding 2018 have placed the district firmly on the RNC’s watchlist. Several Republican-linked PACs have already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to attack Lee over the airwaves hoping to pressure her during the impeachment process. 

Those attacks have sought to paint Lee as an unabashed liberal, tying her both to Democratic congressional leaders such as Pelosi and to the party’s vocal liberal wing, including New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. 

Whether those attacks will stick to Lee — who has spent her first years in Congress among the bipartisan Problem-Solvers Caucus and voting alongside the party’s moderate wing — will play out on November 3.

What to watch in the 2020 primary election: Congressional District 4

A hand arranging "I voted" stickers on a table

As the presidential caucus has drifted into the past and with no statewide offices up for grabs in 2020, a pair of hotly contested congressional primaries on June 9 may draw battle lines for the coming push by the major parties to take or keep control of the House in November. 

That includes District 4, which early on drew a wide field of Republican challengers hoping to flip the seat away from Democrat Steven Horsford. The district, with a large Democratic registration advantage and rated “Likely Democratic” by the Cook Political Report, has for years been held as the tougher of Nevada’s two swing-districts to pry away from Democrats as the GOP looks to retake control of the House. 

That may have changed over the weekend, after Horsford acknowledged Friday carrying on a years-long extramarital affair with a former intern for Sen. Harry Reid. That intern, Gabriela Linder, revealed the relationship in a podcast, and Horsford later issued a statement to the Las Vegas Review-Journal confirming the relationship.

The admission has upended the political assumptions surrounding the race so far, and some Republican strategists and candidates now see 2020 as the best opportunity to flip the seat in the last four years. 

Horsford has already drawn fire from the wide field of Republican hopefuls looking to unseat him, and some have called on him to be investigated or to resign his seat altogether. At least two Democrats running against him called on him to drop out of the race.

But with no well-funded or well-organized primary challengers on the June ballot, Horsford will likely avoid a referendum on the issue until November. And, among Republicans, the race to take on Horsford remains wide open. Five candidates have mounted well-funded operations, with three more hoping for an outside shot at a spot on the November ballot. 

The Republican Primary

The Republican Primary for District 4 is the most crowded field for any major race in the state in 2020, boasting eight candidates on the June ballot. Among them, five have emerged as relatively well-funded efforts, with three more running smaller campaigns with far longer odds at victory.

And though the Republican field has so-far avoided direct attacks — so, too, have they rushed to occupy a similar ideological space in the era of the Trump White House. 

Jim Marchant, a former one-term Republican assemblyman, staked a claim early on as a conservative stalwart who could oppose Horsford in a general election. In advertising and online, he has touted positive ratings from The American Conservative Union and National Rifle Association and claimed that “the liberal media can’t stand him.”

He’s also sought to draw a close line between himself and Trump, frequently praising the administration and even circulating a gif of himself standing nearby the president after he flew into a Nevada air base for a visit in February. 

Marchant has frequently led the fundraising push over the last year, raising more than $100,000 through the first quarter of 2020 and entering the final run to the primary with roughly $231,000 cash on hand. That number was buoyed early on in 2019 by more than $110,000 in loans to his campaign, though his campaign has since shifted to a reliance on individual donors.  

He has also received key endorsements from high-profile House conservatives, including Arizona Reps. Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar and Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan — all leaders of the House Freedom Caucus. An outgrowth of the old Tea Party movement, the Freedom Caucus has provided a political force for the party’s conservative wing for half-a-decade, and in recent years has moved in lockstep with the Trump White House. 

But Marchant is not alone in his quest to prove himself as the “right” conservative for District 4. 

Lisa Song Sutton, a former Miss Nevada who now runs her own business in Las Vegas, has stayed neck and neck with Marchant in the fundraising race. Song Sutton entered the home stretch of the campaign with $198,000 on hand, and boasted of having raised it all through individual donors and without candidate loans. 

Running on a platform largely centered around the core GOP platform, including the protection of the 2nd Amendment, opposition to abortion and increased border security, Song Sutton has also prominently added the economic impact of the coronavirus to her personal platform. 

Calling dependence on overseas manufacturing “dangerous,” Song Sutton’s website notes that she “stand[s] ready to help President Trump rebuild the economy and support the America First agenda.”

Though her single most prominent endorsement has come from Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw, Song Sutton has also received nods from a handful of state and local Republicans, including Las Vegas City Councilwomen Michele Fiore and Victoria Seaman and former state GOP Chair Amy Tarkanian.

Last among the top fundraisers is Sam Peters, an insurance agent and veteran who has been endorsed by the likes of former Speaker Newt Gingrich, conservative musician Ted Nugent and local conservative talk radio host Wayne Allyn Root.  

Though FEC filings show Peters has raised more than $254,000 through his entire campaign, he began to lag behind Marchant and Song Sutton in the early part of 2020, raising just over $62,000, spending $90,000 and ending the quarter with just $60,000 on hand.  

Asking voters to help him “fight the swamp” in Washington, D.C., Peters has prioritized the issues of the federal budget and immigration on his platform, calling for, among other things,  a balanced budget amendment and proposing an 11-point plan aimed at “ending illegal immigration.”

Peters also appears to be one of few candidates who have continued to campaign in-person into the pandemic, sharing several selfies this month of visits to a reopening rally in Mesquite and a campaign stop in Pahrump

Nipping at the heels of the top three fundraisers are another two campaigns, those of businesswoman Randi Reed and former congressional staffer and veteran Charles Navarro, who entered the final weeks of the campaign with roughly $27,000 and $24,000 on hand, respectively. 

Branding her campaign with her nickname, “The Fury,” Reed has also mounted a campaign centered around the core party platform, including gun rights, immigration and health care. But amid the coronavirus, Reed has also taken aim at China, calling the virus “China’s Chernobyl” and pushing for a greater separation between the American and Chinese economies.

Touting his time in the Navy and his work as a former re-entry manager for faith-based organization Hope for Prisoners, Navarro has, unlike his rivals, elevated the issues of public lands and education on his platform, amid other calls for reforms to the Medicare, Social Security and criminal justice systems. 

There also are several cash-strapped campaigns, including that of Nye County Commissioner Leo Blundo, businesswoman Rebecca Wood and self-described entrepreneur Rosalie Bingham. 

All have raised less than $10,000 through the first quarter of 2020, but all have continued to actively promote their campaigns online as they look to distinguish their efforts ahead of June 9. 

About District 4

District 4’s massive geographic boundaries are bigger than some U.S. states, encompassing not just parts of the Las Vegas metro area like Northwest Las Vegas and the City of North Las Vegas, but also a handful of the state’s rural counties, including Nye, White Pine and Lincoln Counties.

That geographic composition has created a balance of voters where the urban and suburban voters of Las Vegas often outweigh the rural voters to their north. All told, 40.8 percent of voters in the district are registered Democrats, while 31.4 percent are registered Republicans and 21.9 percent are registered non-partisans. 

That distribution of voters has created a predominantly Democratic stronghold over the four election cycles since the district was created in 2012. Horsford, then the state Senate majority leader, won the seat’s inaugural election with just over 50 percent of the vote, defeating Republican candidate Danny Tarkanian. 

But amid a historically low voter turnout in the 2014 year’s midterms, Horsford would lose re-election by nearly 3 percentage points to Republican legislator Cresent Hardy. A coup for Republicans in a year where the party swept state, federal and local races up and down the ballot, Hardy’s election would nonetheless be the last GOP victory in District 4.

In 2016, Democratic state legislator Ruben Kihuen bested Hardy by roughly 4 points, contributing to a near-total Democratic sweep of the closely contested federal offices that year alongside victories in the Senate and neighboring District 3. 

Kihuen was forced to abandon a re-election bid in 2018, however, amid sexual misconduct allegations. But as his name and station become another entry among a long list of alleged sexual impropriety on Capitol Hill amid the escalating #MeToo movement, he resisted pushes to resign his post — which ranged from fellow Nevada Democrat Jacky Rosen all the way to then-Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

When the House later convened an ethics panel to review his conduct, Kihuen bowed out of the race and promised not to launch a reelection bid — an exit that would provide an opportunity for Horsford to reenter the seat that launched his congressional career six years earlier. 

Fending off a handful of primary challengers in the open contest to replace Kihuen on the Democratic ticket, Horsford would eventually beat Hardy — the Republican nominee for the third cycle in a row — by more than 8 percentage points, as he once again garnered more than 50 percent of the vote.  

Horsford has since kept a low electoral profile among the state’s congressional delegation. With his seat more difficult to flip than Rep. Susie Lee’s to the south, national Republicans have so far avoided pumping money and advertising into his district like they have in. 

And among Democrats, Horsford has so-far skirted through 2020 without the need to actively campaign, amassing nearly $1.2 million in cash on hand along the way as he looked toward November. 

He has since begun to take fire from his Democratic rivals, who have joined Republicans in the district in calling for Horsford to be investigated or step out of the race amid the revelation of his extramarital affair.

Whether or not those calls will amount to anything beyond campaign rhetoric, however, remains to be seen.  

For a full breakdown of every race in the 2020 primaries, visit our Election 2020 page.