How NV Energy pushed Sisolak, other Nevada leaders to back union leader’s candidacy for federal energy regulator

In early June, a top lobbyist for NV Energy reached out to Gov. Steve Sisolak’s office with a request.

The ask was straightforward: Would the governor be willing to send a letter in support of longtime International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers attorney Tom Dalzell, one of the finalists for a soon-to-open spot on the five-member Federal Energy Regulatory Commission board?

The request had resonance beyond Nevada. President Joe Biden’s pending appointment to FERC — the top federal regulator of electric and natural gas transmission and sales — is hotly anticipated among many energy and environmental groups because it will break the current 3-2 Republican majority on the regulatory agency. (The nominee will replace Neil Chatterjee, a Trump appointee).

A report in Politico from last month indicated that Dalzell, along with two-time Washington state lawmaker Maria Duaime Robinson and Washington D.C. utilities regulator Willie Phillips, are on Biden’s shortlist for the position. The vacancy has drawn intense interest from environmental groups, as slim Democratic majorities in Congress likely mean that FERC may end up paying a “pivotal role” in implementing Biden’s climate change policies.

Union groups, including the AFL-CIO and IBEW, have rallied around Dalzell as their preferred pick — even as progressive groups and environmental advocacy groups have questioned his support for renewable policies and his ties to large electric companies including PG&E and NV Energy. Dalzell spent 15 years as business manager of IBEW 1245, which is based in California and represents about 600 NV Energy employees in Northern Nevada.

According to emails obtained through a public records request by The Nevada Independent, longtime NV Energy lobbyist Tony Sanchez emailed a top Sisolak advisor, Scott Gilles, on June 9 noting that Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen had sent letters in support of Dalzell to the White House in recent weeks and wondered if the governor “would consider doing the same.” 

Cortez Masto’s office confirmed that the senator had sent a letter in support of Dalzell to the White House; Rosen’s office did not return a request for comment. Sanchez also forwarded a similar letter of support from California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

After some back and forth, Gilles forwarded a letter of support from Sisolak to Sanchez — touting Dalzell as having “exceptional leadership, an innovative approach to making decisions about our energy future and a steadfast commitment to diversity and empowering the next generation.”

A spokeswoman for Sisolak did not return a request for comment on the letter. NV Energy spokeswoman Jennifer Schuricht said in an email on Friday that the company believes it would be a “natural fit” for the governor to support Dalzell, given his past support for Nevada’s de-carbonization goals and his “innovative and collaborative leadership” that has “transformed the union/company relationship at NV Energy and his contributions have improved workplace safety, business efficiencies and worker interests.”

“Given Tom’s contributions to help re-shape Nevada’s energy future and his strong support of Governor Sisolak’s vision for a clean energy economy, NV Energy believed it would be a natural fit for Governor Sisolak to provide a letter of support for Tom,” she said in an email on Friday. “NV Energy is proud to support Tom.”

Despite being based in California, Dalzell has ties in the Nevada political world. He was listed as a co-chair of the Coalition to Defeat Question 3, the political action committee largely funded by NV Energy that opposed a 2018 ballot question opening up the state’s electric market to retail choice. He was also pictured with Sisolak at a union-hosted event for candidates ahead of the 2018 election.

Several environmental groups — who take interest in FERC because the agency oversees natural gas pipeline permitting — have opposed Dalzell’s candidacy. The left-leaning Center for Economic and Policy Research criticized Dalzell’s connections with PG&E and efforts opposing municipalization efforts in San Francisco and West Sacramento. 

The group also highlighted his and IBEW’s opposition to a California bill that would have required a halt to fossil fuel use by 2017 — saying “We have a parochial self-interest in this” — and a 2017 op-ed Dalzell penned in the San Francisco Chronicle highlighting the importance of natural gas during periods of peak demand.

“Those trusted to make crucial decisions throughout the federal government must have proven independence from the corporate entities they are tasked with regulating,” the group wrote in a blog post.

Last week, a group of more than 460 environmental and energy justice groups issued a public letter to the Biden administration urgining the administration to appoint a FERC commissioner who is “concerned about FERC’s legacy of prioritizing projects over people, has the courage to apply an equity and justice lens to their work, and will be accountable to the people and communities that are disproportionately harmed by the energy industry.” It named three possible candidates; the list did not include Dalzell.

Dalzell stepped down from IBEW leadership in December 2020, ending a four-decade career as one of the union’s lead negotiators, representing the union in more than 300 arbitrations and leading all negotiations with PG&E since 2001. He lives in Berkeley, and has written at least three books on American slang.

Reporter Humberto Sanchez contributed to this report.

Not all Nevada casino operators are on board with changes to ‘Right to Return’ legislation

A division has emerged among Nevada Resort Association members over revisions to legislation that would allow laid-off gaming and tourism workers to return to their jobs. One company vows to oppose the modified bill and even seek a veto from Gov. Steve Sisolak.

In an email sent Wednesday morning to the casino industry trade groups representatives, South Point Casino-Hotel attorney Barry Lieberman said many of the changes in SB386 – referred to as “Right to Return” legislation – were “particularly onerous for non-union smaller nonrestricted licensees.”

Lieberman, a long time Nevada gaming attorney and a close adviser to South Point owner Michael Gaughan, voiced concern over several sections of the revised legislation that was passed out of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee Tuesday evening in a split vote. A deal on the bill was reportedly reached between gaming industry representatives and negotiators for Culinary Workers Union Local 226 with less than a week left before the end of the state's 120-day legislative session.

“We voted to oppose SB386 and seek a veto of the bill by the Governor if the bill passed the Senate and the Assembly,” Lieberman wrote.

Lawmakers voted along party lines, 12-9, in the Senate early Wednesday evening, less than 24 hours after the measure passed out of committee. The changes in the bill are apparently backed by some of the casino industry's largest companies, including MGM Resorts International, Wynn Resorts and Caesars Entertainment — Nevada Resort Association lobbyist Bob Ostrovsky told lawmakers on Tuesday that the association “officially on a majority position is neutral, and we will not support the bill and we will not work against the bill as an association, we are neutral.”

In an interview, Lieberman said the legislation treats “non-union resorts in the same manner” as properties with collective bargaining agreements. Representatives from other casino companies declined comment.

Lieberman termed several amendments to SB368 as “a confusing patchwork of vague, burdensome and non-helpful requirements.” He said the changes force employers “to guess at their peril as to what the bill actually requires them to do.”

He suggested the changes to the bill “impairs” an employer’s right to rehire casino workers who have “superior skills” as opposed to other laid-off workers.

Lieberman said the Nevada legislation’s passage will actually “discourage employers from hiring new employees.” Under the legislation, properties cannot hire a new employee for a position until all the provisions for full-time and part time employees “have been satisfied.”

Four sections in the legislation fail “to draw any distinctions between on-call, part time or full-time employees,” the attorney wrote in analyzing the 20-page document. The new language, Lieberman said, is “ambiguous” in describing the timelines for laid off workers and could be viewed as more favorable to part time employees as opposed to full-time employees.

The section requiring businesses to notify laid-off workers of layoffs “makes no sense.”

In the email, Lieberman said a decision was made by a majority of members of the Resort Association’s executive committee to remain neutral “in exchange for negotiating out of SB386 some of the more onerous provisions.” He said the decision was opposed by South Point.

The Culinary Union, which represents some 60,000 non-gaming workers in Nevada’s hotel-casino industry, has said just 50 percent of the workforce has been hired back since gaming reopened following a 78-day shutdown last year. Labor organization officials said SB386 is needed to ensure its members are able to return to their previous jobs.

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Rusty McAllister, in a statement, called the legislation a “common-sense measure that is urgently needed to create stability in Nevada’s workforce.”

As part of the agreement between the casinos and the union, revisions will be made to SB4, a bill from the 2020 special session last summer that includes government-imposed health and safety standards meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19, as well as expanded liability protections for major casino resorts. The amendment relaxes requirements on cleaning, such as cleaning minibars, headboards and decorative items on beds, and changes directives to clean throughout the day to instead call for cleaning daily.

Bill sponsor and Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) credited the Culinary Union, Nevada Resort Association and the governor’s office for working together to arrive at a consensus on the high-profile legislation.

SB386 would allow workers in the gaming and travel sectors a right to return to their jobs. The bill covers those workers laid off after March 12, 2020 and who were employed for at least six months in the year prior to the governor’s first COVID-19 emergency declaration.

The legislation is similar to at least a half-dozen other bills backed by the labor organization in other states. California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, signed legislation last month that requires hospitality and service industry employers to offer new positions to laid off workers. 

This story was updated on May 26 at 8:18 p.m. to reflect that the bill passed out of the Senate.

Industry-heavy Patient Protection Commission could get significant membership overhaul

When Gov. Steve Sisolak proposed establishing a Patient Protection Commission to conduct a top-to-bottom review of Nevada’s health care system, he told industry representatives that his goal was compromise — and that those not working toward that goal could lose their seats at the table.

Under a bill Sisolak put forward and the Legislature approved in 2019, the commission was established as an industry-heavy body, with a few patient and general public representatives added in, that would come together to address pressing health care issues in the state — in the vein of an industry working group that had successfully compromised on surprise emergency room billing legislation earlier that year.

Today, the commission’s representatives include two doctors, two hospital CEOs, one union health trust representative, one private insurance representative, one drug company executive, a regional behavioral health coordinator and two patient advocates.

But, if Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas) has her way this session, the commission may soon see a shakeup of that membership.

A bill sponsored by Carlton, AB348, would overhaul the commission’s membership to instead center primarily around patient advocates and those who work in the nonprofit health care space. 

Carlton, in presenting the bill to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Tuesday, lamented what she described as the commission’s “industry flavor,” suggesting it was at odds with the commission’s work, including with the Peterson-Milbank Program, which helps states set and implement health care cost growth targets.

“If we’re going to have real, honest, objective conversations, I believe the industry needs to step back and let other folks come forward and have those real conversations,” Carlton said. “This doesn’t say that the industry can’t participate, they just will not be voting members.”

In an email on Wednesday, Sisolak spokeswoman Meghin Delaney didn’t comment directly on the specifics of the legislation but said the governor supports “bringing more patient voices to the Commission and wants to ensure that all representatives of Nevada's health care community can participate in critical discussions about the future of care in our State.” 

“Governor Sisolak is grateful to the members of the Patient Protection Commission who have spent the past year-and-a-half engaged in transparent and comprehensive dialogue about how to bring affordable and quality health care to Nevada’s residents,” she said.

Delaney also said the governor is “proud” of the commission’s acceptance into the Peterson-Milbank program and that he “looks forward to working closely with the Commission as they implement health care cost growth targets.”

AB348 would specifically require that the commission be made up of:

  • two patient advocates
  • one for-profit health care provider
  • one registered nurse who practices as a nonprofit hospital
  • one physician or registered nurse who practices at a federally qualified health center 
  • one pharmacist not affiliated with any retail chain pharmacy, or a patient advocate
  • one public nonprofit hospital representative
  • one private nonprofit health insurer representative
  • one member with expertise advocating for the uninsured
  • one member with expertise advocating for people with special health care needs
  • one member who has expertise in health information technology and works with the Department of Health and Human Services
  • one representative of the general public

The bill also would transfer the Patient Protection Commission from the governor’s office to the director’s office in the Department of Health and Human Services. It also would require the commission to adopt bylaws and commission members to disclose conflicts of interest and abstain from votes when conflicts arise.

The Health Services Coalition, the Nevada State AFL-CIO and the Culinary Health Fund testified in support of the legislation on Tuesday.

While several industry representatives testified in favor of adding extra voices to the commission, they rebuffed the complete overhaul of the commission's membership as proposed by the bill, which would limit — or in the case of the pharmaceutical industry, entirely eliminate — their representation on the commission.

“We have no concern about the expansion of the commission but would request that the committee consider reinstating at least one more hospital to provide some of the diversity of that perspective and the cost drivers that go with that,” Jim Wadhams, a lobbyist for the Nevada Hospital Association, said during the Tuesday hearing.

But state Sen. Julia Ratti (D-Sparks), who chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, was blunt in her assessment of the commission in its current form. During the hearing, Ratti said she has spent “significant” time working on the two bills that came out of the commission this session — a telehealth bill, SB5, and an all-payer claims database bill, SB40 — and that, in her view, the commission isn’t working.

Ratti praised the commission’s executive director, Sara Cholhagian, and said she believed there have been “good and sincere” efforts by the commission. But she also said she was “okay with trying something a little new.”

“I feel like I’ve been relatively engaged in this process, and I’ve tried to be a good, neutral player to continue to move things along,” Ratti said. “But I hope that, whether you have a seat on the board or not, that everybody stays engaged and we continue to try to figure out how to work together as people who care about advancing health care.”

Several members of the Patient Protection Commission, however, took issue with Ratti’s assessment of the commission during their Wednesday meeting, saying that it glossed over the hours of effort they put into building relationships with one another and trying to come to consensus.

“I am really disappointed, to say the least, about the opinion in the legislators’ minds that the commission is not working,” said Dr. Ikram Khan, the commission’s chair. “It may not be doing what the legislators, in their mind, thought should be happening, and there is always room for modifying the subjects to be addressed and brought to the commission.”

Members of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted on Tuesday evening on party lines to forward the bill to the Senate for a final vote. The committee’s two Republican members, Ben Kieckhefer (R-Reno) and Joe Hardy (R-Boulder City), voiced support for more industry representation on the commission and voted against the legislation.

The proposal passed out of the Assembly last week, also on party lines.

Disclosure: This story and all others about the Patient Protection Commission are edited by Managing Editor Elizabeth Thompson and/or Assistant Editor Michelle Rindels. Sara Cholhagian, the commission’s executive director, is in a relationship with Editor Jon Ralston.

Power Play: How Southwest Gas beat back efforts by environmentalists to start moving Nevada away from natural gas

In early 2021, with the legislative session only a few weeks away, Scott Leedom, the director of public affairs for Southwest Gas, reached out to the city of Mesquite with two requests for Mayor Al Litman. 

One was to speak at a virtual employee event extolling the benefits of natural gas, according to emails obtained by the Climate Investigations Center, a fossil fuel watchdog group. The second request was to review a draft letter that a pro-gas coalition of business and labor groups, organized by the company, was planning to send to Gov. Steve Sisolak. 

Mesquite was no stranger to Nevada’s largest natural gas utility — in 2018, the state’s Public Utilities Commission authorized the company to expand service to the rural community, leading to the installation of 28 miles of natural gas pipeline serving hundreds of residential homes and businesses. Litman called it a “game-changer for Mesquite” at the time, and in an interview, he said natural gas was important for economic development. Companies wanted natural gas. 

“We worked closely with them,” he said of the utility. “They’ve been a great partner to work with. To see it go the opposite direction before it really got underfoot, it’d be a disaster in our city.”

A final version of that letter, obtained through a public records request filed by The Nevada Independent, was finally sent to the Democratic governor on Feb. 21. It was signed by Litman, the mayor of Elko, six chambers of commerce, 17 trade groups and two unions (though one of the unions, IBEW Local 1245, said it was mistakenly included as a signatory).

Over six pages, the letter advocated for continued use of the fossil fuel, and raised concerns about Sisolak’s recently adopted climate strategy, which emphasized the need to plan for a transition away from natural gas to meet the state’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.

The letter, and the groundwork that went into crafting it, reflect the gas utility’s full-court press attempt to push back against legislation — and broader policy efforts by the Sisolak administration — aimed at transitioning from natural gas to electric appliances in buildings. 

Their efforts, so far, have worked.

In late March, Assemblywoman Lesley Cohen (D-Henderson) introduced legislation (AB380), modeled after Sisolak’s climate strategy, requiring gas utilities to go through a more rigorous planning process before expanding their infrastructure. But the bill, backed by environmental groups, met a groundswell of opposition and skepticism from lawmakers in both parties. It failed to advance past a legislative committee deadline and died weeks after it was introduced.

The utility didn’t get everything it wanted. A bill proposed by Southwest Gas and carried by Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro also died by that first committee deadline on April 11. The legislation (SB296) would have allowed the gas utility to replace thousands of miles of pipelines, a program that environmentalists said would cost billions and undermine the state’s efforts to address climate change.

Although Democratic lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a 2050 net-zero emissions goal two years ago, the two pieces of legislation — and the debates around them — show that tensions remain in the party (which controls both the legislative and executive branches) over how to best move forward on facilitating a transition toward decarbonization.

Those tensions were exploited by Southwest Gas, which entered the 2021 Legislature knowing it was in for a fight. Beyond solidifying rural support in Mesquite and Spring Creek, a community outside Elko, Southwest Gas upped campaign contributions, built an influential coalition with affiliated interest groups and doubled its lobbying team.

Natural gas interests also made public shows of charity to minority legislative caucuses during the COVID-19 pandemic, and helped orchestrate a well-coordinated media campaign defining AB380 as banning “natural gas appliances in homes and business” — a characterization that the bill’s drafters dispute.

Similar battles are playing out in statehouses across the country. As local governments have pledged to curb greenhouse gas emissions, utilities like Southwest Gas have lobbied state lawmakers to preempt those efforts. Last year, Arizona Gov. Doug Doucey signed legislation, backed by Southwest Gas, prohibiting local governments from banning gas in new buildings.

Sisolak’s office did not take a position on the legislative efforts, when asked by The Nevada Independent, and officials from his administration testified in neutral on the bill. But on Friday evening, Sisolak issued a press release with statements from Cannizzaro and Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) affirming the state’s commitment to transitioning away from fossil fuels. 

“I appreciate the Nevada Legislature’s effort to kickstart the discussion on the issue and I believe further review by the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada would be appropriate to continue it,” Sisolak said. “This transition away from carbon is already starting, and it is critical that we take a deeper look and determine how we can protect hardworking families and businesses as it continues.”

For clean energy advocates, the failure to create a planning framework for transitioning away from natural gas marks a missed opportunity for the state to make good on its goals to lower emissions. But advocates and the utility agree on one thing: The issue is not going away. 

“We're going to have to make these changes if we want to meet our goals that the state has already put out there,” Cohen said in an interview after the bill died. “If we're going to get to clean power and zero greenhouse gas emissions, we're going to have to do something.”

Assemblywoman Lesley Cohen (D-Henderson) at the Nevada Legislature on Thursday, April 15, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Legislation from the state’s climate plan 

The legislation that would be introduced as AB380 made its public debut with an op-ed in The Nevada Independent on Feb. 9. Cohen, a soft-spoken Henderson Democrat in her fourth term in the Assembly, published the opinion piece arguing that an orderly transition away from natural gas would save ratepayers money and protect public health. 

It outlined broad plans for what would eventually become AB380 — requiring the natural gas utility file plans every three years with the state’s Public Utilities Commission to “prove that their spending plans will keep the gas system affordable and safe in a future where we use more electricity and less gas for our heating and cooking needs.”

Lauded at the time by fellow legislative and other high-ranking Democrats, the proposal was largely taken from the Sisolak administration’s climate strategy, a high-level document outlining pathways to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050. The legislation received backing from major environmental groups, including the Nevada Conservation League and Natural Resources Defense Council.

In one of its 17 core policies, the climate report calls for phasing out natural gas hookups in homes and businesses over the next three decades. To do so, the report calls on policymakers to plan for transition by scrutinizing new gas infrastructure, to consider requiring all-electric in new buildings and to give customers more choice to switch from gas to electric appliances.

“While Nevada’s electricity sector transitions from fossil fuels to zero-emissions renewables, the state must also transition from fossil-fuel combustion in homes and commercial buildings in the form of burning gas for cooking, hot water, and space heating,” the report states.

Such a shift would mark a departure from the state’s relationship with Southwest Gas, the investor-owned utility which has served Las Vegas and Southern Nevada since 1954. The state’s laws, environmental advocates argue, currently favor the use of natural gas appliances.

Although only a handful of municipalities (led by Berkeley, California) have taken the full step of instituting a ban on natural gas hookups and requiring electrification in new construction, many others are considering ways to plan for a future with less natural gas.

In the weeks after AB380 was introduced, environmental advocates said that acting now was necessary to avoid continued build-out of fossil fuel infrastructure, keeping the state reliant on natural gas and ratepayers on the hook for the bill. 

“Responsible planning is making sure our gas utilities are spending ratepayer money wisely rather than spending customer money on construction projects that raise rates without being good ideas for the future,” said Dylan Sullivan, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“Right now, even the most well-intentioned gas utility has a financial incentive to continue with old practices because they get money...by putting pipes in the ground," he added.

Construction on a Southwest Gas pipeline at a new home development in Las Vegas on Friday, April 16, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

The gas utility’s legislative push

At the same time environmental advocates were working on writing AB380, Southwest Gas was circulating its own legislative proposal to create a statutory pipeline replacement program.

The utility’s proposal, similar to legislation that it tried to pass in 2019, would have allowed Southwest Gas to replace about 6,000 miles of vintage steel and plastic pipe, Leedom said in an interview earlier this month.

The company and a federal regulator, Leedom said, had identified the pipe materials as facing safety issues in high heat and acidic soils. Leedom said a program, in statute, was necessary to “proactively remove” older pipelines and replace them with newer infrastructure. 

To introduce its legislative proposal, Southwest Gas found one of the most powerful sponsors in the legislative building: the Senate majority leader. One day before Cohen introduced AB380, Cannizzaro introduced SB296, which included the utility’s pipeline replacement program. 

In the 2020 election cycle, Southwest Gas contributed $7,000 directly to Cannizzaro and $22,500 to her leadership PAC, while not donating to her Republican opponent, April Becker. 

“There's an important conversation about long-term planning for gas resources happening in the Assembly, and I'm looking forward to seeing how that turns out," Cannizzaro said in a statement  after the bill was introduced. "We want to be sure that any action we take provides Nevadans with safe, reliable infrastructure and aligns (with) state climate goals."

For environmental advocates, the utility’s pipeline replacement proposal underscored the need to more closely watch how Southwest Gas spent ratepayer money on infrastructure. Where the utility saw a program to enhance safety, environmental groups saw a bill that allowed a utility to double-down on fossil fuel infrastructure with little oversight. 

They said the utility should have the ability to fix leaky and unsafe pipes, but that it should be done on a case-by-case basis, considering the cost to customers. In December, Arizona’s elected utilities commission rejected a similar Southwest Gas proposal over concerns related to cost. 

“It's hard to imagine that bill being a top priority in a legislative session that is focused on the economic hardship of the past year,” Sullivan said in March. “This isn't the right time for a $3.7 billion giveaway to Southwest Gas because customers can't afford to pick up the bill."

Leedom rejected arguments that the investment in new infrastructure was unnecessary. 

“It’s not to harden the infrastructure,” he said. “It’s to address the safety concern, and it’s to enhance the safety and reliability to the benefit of our entire customer base.”

Both bills were the culmination of lobbying — the gas utility on one side and environmental groups on the other — that had been going on for months, and their fate foreshadows the tensions the state faces in implementing some elements of its climate strategy. 

Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro speaks with the media inside the Legislature on Monday, March 15, 2021 in Carson City, Nev. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Framing a planning process as a ban 

As state officials have looked at ways to meet Nevada’s 2050 climate goal, Southwest Gas has taken an active approach in working to influence the state’s policy efforts.

Before the Sisolak administration released the climate report in December, an inter-agency team working to draft the strategy held a listening session on “green buildings.” When the topic of natural gas came up, it became clear that the utility had no intention of sitting on the sidelines.

Leedom cast policies that move away from gas in buildings as “premature and problematic.” Two of the utility’s staunch defenders, AARP Nevada and the Latin Chamber of Commerce, also spoke out against such proposals, citing the outsized impact it could have on jobs, low-income ratepayers and seniors on fixed incomes. 

The utility has argued that its infrastructure could be part of the solution, touting its efforts to move toward low-carbon fuels, including “renewable natural gas,” and other alternatives that could offset its carbon footprint. Southwest Gas takes issue with the climate strategy — and AB380’s — approach, which is to move toward electrifying appliances in homes and businesses. 

He said the company has hired a third-party to “outline what that pathway to netzero looks like for us.”

To push back, Southwest Gas borrowed a playbook that utilities have used in other states: building a coalition of business interests casting the fossil fuel as affordable and “clean,” despite the fact that a state fact-sheet notes that gas appliances can pollute indoor air quality.

Where AB380 looked to institute a planning framework, the utility reframed it as a ban.

Danny Thompson — the former head of the Nevada AFL-CIO and a lobbyist hired by Southwest Gas this session — published an op-ed in The Nevada Independent in mid-February, writing that AB380 would kill jobs, raise costs and put more strain on the electric grid.

A few days later, Latin Chamber of Commerce President Peter Guzman (whose organization lists Southwest Gas as a major sponsor) published an op-ed in the Las Vegas Sun indirectly calling Cohen’s proposal a risky action that “will make our economy and the burden to businesses and families even worse.”

“Forcing abuelo and abuela to make a choice between medicine and groceries or heating their home affordably in the winter is unacceptable,” he wrote.

Behind the scenes, Southwest Gas was engaged in a lobbying campaign aimed at driving opinion against Cohen’s bill and solidifying its business footing in the state.

Lobbyist registration records show the utility went from three registered lobbyists in 2017 and five in 2019 to 10 in the 2021 session. Four of those are with the firm of Greenberg Traurig, including former state Senate Democratic Caucus leader Alisa Nave-Worth. Two are longtime labor lobbyists — Thompson and Gail Tuzzolo.

Cohen, the bill’s sponsor, said the “sizable push in lobbying” became more noticeable as the session went on, even while she and advocates for the bill were actively working with the opposition to try to address any concerns with the concepts in the bill.

Even before the legislative session, Southwest Gas and other allies in the natural gas and petroleum industry were working to make inroads with lawmakers.

Last year, lobbyists representing the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) — a nonprofit trade association representing the petroleum industry in six western states — donated thousands of dollars worth of gift cards to both the Nevada Black Legislative Caucus and Nevada Hispanic Legislative Caucus to be distributed for help with COVID-19 relief efforts undertaken by lawmakers.

Southwest Gas, along with the WSPA, were invited to give presentations to both caucuses early in the legislative session. 

Heads of both of those caucuses — Assembly members Edgar Flores (D-Las Vegas) and Daniele Monroe Moreno (D-North Las Vegas) — strenuously denied that the assistance had any effect on the eventual fate of AB380 or other natural gas legislation. 

Donations made by the trade group benefited a grocery delivery service for COVID-19 positive individuals arranged by the Hispanic Legislative Caucus, and those made to the Black caucus helped purchase personal protective equipment and food at a senior living facility.

“Western States Petroleum helped us, local grocery stores helped us, churches helped us, nonprofits helped us,” Monroe Moreno said. “So if they want to draw a line, there’s going to be a whole bunch of lines drawn. There was a lot of need that was going on, and they were one of the companies that stepped up.”

In March, Southwest Gas and allies set up an advocacy Facebook page called the Coalition for Cleaner Affordable Energy calling for lawmakers and the public to oppose AB380. Though the group hasn’t run any ads, the page includes video testimonials from homebuilders, business groups (including the Latin Chamber) and union representatives (including Thompson).

Cohen said that the utility’s messaging was inaccurate, but nonetheless struck a chord with members of the public, lawmakers and interest groups concerned about potentially losing natural gas access or stoves in their own homes.

“For all those people who call and say ‘What's going on?’ and I can respond to it, I can't respond to everyone who's been to a website and gets incorrect information, and have the conversation to put them at ease,” she said. “So it definitely is difficult to respond to that when there is fear that is fueled by incorrect information.”

A Southwest Gas technician makes a service call in Las Vegas on Friday, April 16, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

One hearing, many revisions

The final version of what was to become AB380 underwent several changes before it was ever heard in a legislative committee on April 6. 

An initial version of the bill obtained by The Nevada Independent had three main components. It repealed a section of state law authorizing the expansion of natural gas infrastructure if it related to economic development, required the utility to submit an infrastructure plan to regulators that weighed decarbonization and set a state policy to gradually reduce greenhouse gas emissions from “combustible fuels” to 95 percent of 2016 levels by 2050.

After feedback from Southwest Gas and other groups, a conceptual, final amendment removed all references to the gradual emission reduction targets and many of the specific requirements for plans required to be filed with the PUC. Still, the legislation required the utility to undergo a comprehensive planning process meant to prepare for a future where more appliances got their energy from the electrical grid, not gas pipelines. 

The final version of the legislation also sought to address equity concerns. It would have required regulators to investigate “strategies to limit the impact of a transition from the use of gas in buildings on low income households and historically underserved communities, including, without limitation, such persons who rent or lease their residence.”  

“We did a lot of work with the stakeholders, the gas utility, labor, and there were lots of meetings,” Cohen said. “We substantially amended the bill, taking their concerns in mind, things that we didn't necessarily think said or would do what they said they were concerned with, but we still took it out and made modifications. They still were against it.”

Even as amended, Leedom said “the bill was not a neutral natural gas study or planning bill.” He argued that the legislation pre-supposed that electrification was the best approach forward. 

During a more than two-hour hearing before the Assembly Growth and Infrastructure Committee earlier this month, lawmakers raised concerns about the amended version of AB380, echoing many of the arguments made by the natural gas utility and the coalition opposing the bill. 

The coalition had repeatedly argued that the effects of AB380 would disproportionately affect communities of colors, seniors and low-income households.

At the hearing, Southwest Gas CEO John Hester said the utility is “fully supportive of taking efforts in energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but we are also very concerned about the needs of our customers here in Nevada.”

Environmentalists and AB380 supporters argue that the pro-gas messaging ignores the health impacts of natural gas, the climate strategy and distorts the bill’s language, which specifically sought to ensure that there was an equitable transition for low-income households.

“It is absurd that they are weaponizing equity amidst a climate crisis,” Elspeth DiMarzio, an organizer with the Sierra Club, said in an interview last week. “Responsible energy planning was about making sure there was a plan to protect low-income communities down the road.”

Cinthia Moore, an organizer for pro-clean energy group EcoMadres, said the rhetoric at the hearing largely ignored the public health consequences of burning natural gas, noting that Latinos are more likely to suffer asthma attacks than white counterparts.

She said she understood the concerns legislators expressed, “but it’s important to have conversations with our communities about how we are moving away from the usage of natural gas and more toward electric — and it’s going to require a lot of work.” 

“I don’t see it as a ban,” she said of AB380.

Environmental groups also stress the cost of inaction. If there is no planning process in place, the natural gas utility could be permitted to continue expanding, leaving ratepayers on the hook for the costs of more fossil fuel infrastructure, even as the economy moves toward decarbonization. 

This is an argument that won buy-in from the state’ Consumer Advocate, Ernest Figueroa, who works within the attorney general’s office and represents ratepayers before utility regulators. 

“If the policy of the state, as outlined in the governor’s climate initiative, is to eventually transition away from the use of natural gas by 2050, then it is imperative, for economic reasons, that natural gas resource planning be implemented so that natural gas utility customers are not left with billions of dollars in stranded assets when that time comes,” he said during the hearing.

The bill was heard just four days before the deadline for first committee passage, and was at one point scheduled for a committee vote, but it was later removed from the agenda. 

In an interview, Monroe Moreno said she “didn’t have the votes to make it out of committee.”

SB296, backed by the gas utility, experienced a similar fate. Cannizzaro’s bill did not even get a committee hearing, a rare occurrence for legislation proposed by leadership.

“Just like so many things in this building, sometimes you can't exactly get to the right policy place,” she said in an interview on Wednesday. “There were just a lot of concerns that we couldn't quite...I don't know. So that one didn't make it.”

Cannizzaro was more direct in the press release Sisolak released on Friday evening.

“We are committed to taking action that supports the state’s Climate Strategy and puts us on track to meet our greenhouse gas reduction goals,” she said. “While we simply didn’t have the time for some of these tough, complex discussions this Legislative Session, it’s critical that we look at what the future will bring and prepare ourselves so that no Nevadan is left behind."

Frierson, as the Democratic leader of the Assembly, echoed the sentiment.

“As we know, the pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges to our legislative process, making it a difficult environment for robust discussion and debate,” Frierson said in a statement released through Sisolak’s office. “And while some bills related to acting on climate change did not move forward this session, we no less remain committed to addressing the climate crisis and will continue to push Nevada to be a leader in the clean energy economy.

A construction crew works on a Southwest Gas pipeline at a new home development in Las Vegas on Friday, April 16, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Setting the stage

Litman, the mayor of Mesquite, said he was glad to see AB380 die in committee.

He believes that “natural gas is still the future for our community” and argued that cars are far more polluting. But he also said he recognizes that the issue is not going away anytime soon.

The state, he argued, is simply not ready for the transition contemplated in AB380.

“But it will be back,” he said. “I guarantee you that.”

Leedom said he expected the legislation to come back, too. 

“This isn’t the last time we’ll see electrification policies in the state,” Leedom said in an interview last week. “But again, we stand ready with the state and with other stakeholders to outline what an alternative path to a decarbonized future looks like.”

The Sisolak administration did not take a formal position on AB380, and a spokesperson for the governor said his office did not send a formal response to the pro-gas coalition letter. It was not until Friday evening that Sisolak released a public statement on the legislation.

Still, the administration has continued to stress the long-term need to transition buildings from natural gas. At the hearing for AB380, two state officials noted that AB380 was consistent with the climate strategy and appeared to rebut some of the gas utility’s claims.

The Nevada Climate Initiative also put out a fact-sheet in March, emphasizing the fact that methane gas contributes to global climate change and can cause indoor health problems. 

At the hearing, David Bobzien, who directs the Governor’s Office of Energy, said the state is willing to work with the company on alternatives, but he also noted that while there is some potential in low-carbon fuel alternatives like green hydrogen, there are some major limitations.

In past interviews, he has noted the need for a long-term transition toward electric appliances. 

For years, environmental groups have focused on pushing the state’s largest electric utility, NV Energy, to move toward a more renewable portfolio. They are continuing to do so, but they also plan to engage more on natural gas issues, including outside of the Legislature. 

DiMarzio said environmental groups can also do more to educate the public on natural gas. 

“We need to be really clear that natural gas is a fossil fuel,” DiMarzio said. “It is methane. It is bad for the environment. And it is bad for indoor air quality and health. There's a lot of education that needs to be done because natural gas is not natural at all."

Update: This story was updated on April 19, 2021 to include more information. The coalition letter referenced in this story, obtained through a public records request, includes IBEW Local 1245 as a signatory. A representative from IBEW Local 1245 clarified that the union was listed on the coalition letter in error. 

Addressing climate change, sprawl, lawmakers advance proposal expanding fuel taxes to cover ‘transportation infrastructure’

Interstate 11 during construction

Since 1940, Nevada has followed a straightforward rule: any tax or fee on gasoline, car registration or driver licenses has to be allocated toward the “construction, maintenance, and repair” of the state’s more than 5,000 miles of public highways.

But between desires to limit urban sprawl and address root causes of climate change, Nevada lawmakers are considering moving forward with a proposed constitutional amendment that would open up use of gas taxes and other automobile-related fees to more than just road construction and repair.

Members of the Interim Legislative Committee on Energy voted Wednesday to move forward with a potential constitutional amendment broadening existing, narrow provisions on fuel taxes to instead allow for those tax dollars to fund the broader category of “transportation infrastructure.”

The two Republican members of the committee, Sen. Scott Hammond and Assemblywoman Jill Tolles, voted against the recommendation.

Although labor unions and construction associations expressed concern with the proposed change — stating that the state’s highway funding is already inadequate and should be increased, not divided — lawmakers on the committee said it was a necessary piece to modernize the state’s transportation funding structure and limit greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector.

The vote Wednesday is just the first step in a potential change to the state Constitution. Approval means the committee will submit the proposed change as a bill draft request, but it still would need to pass out of the 2021 and 2023 Legislatures before going on the ballot in the 2024 election for possible approval by voters.

Democratic Sen. Chris Brooks said a change to the constitutional language was “long overdue,” adding that lawmakers had a responsibility to update language added to the state’s Constitution in 1940 that he said no longer matched the state’s transportation priorities in 2020. 

“We had conversations with all the different (Regional Transportation Systems) and stakeholders and community groups, and we kept hitting a roadblock,” Brooks said. “The roadblock was the very strict and narrow language of the constitution, as it was proposed 83 years ago.” 

Urban transit funding and development have become increasingly prominent and pressing issues for state leaders in recent years, given expected population growth over the next decade and attempts by lawmakers and Gov. Steve Sisolak to reduce Nevada’s share of greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

Nevada is on track to continually reduce carbon emissions from electricity production over the next decade, but a state report issued in January 2020 indicated that its share of transportation-related emissions — now the largest single source of emissions from any industry sector — is projected to remain at constant levels.

While some steps have been taken to address transportation emissions — including Gov. Sisolak proposing the state adopt California’s standards for low and zero-emission vehicles — lawmakers and transportation leaders said Wednesday that the constitutional language limiting the use of gasoline fuel taxes was a roadblock to enhanced funding of other transportation infrastructure projects, such as urban transit or bike and pedestrian pathways.

“I think the only way, if we wanted to expand use of the funds for urban transit, the only way we would be able to do that is by changing the Constitution,” Nevada Department of Transportation Director Kristina Swallow said during the meeting. “I'm not a legal expert, but based on what I've read, and what I've heard from our legal team, that is the only way we would be able to specifically allow for transit infrastructure.” 

A recent analysis found Nevadans pay about 33.8 cents per gallon in state and local gasoline taxes, the 19th highest rate of any state.

But the initial version of the recommendation attracted a barrage of criticism from construction trade organizations and labor groups, who said they would oppose any attempt to move transportation funding away from road construction.

The Nevada State AFL-CIO went as far as to pass a resolution during its convention last month stating its opposition to any proposed constitutional changes to fuel tax expenditures and revenue, calling it a “primary driver” of highway construction jobs. 

“We feel that changing the Constitution to remove the guardrails on the spending of highway construction money is not the right way to go,” longtime labor lobbyist Danny Thompson said during the meeting. “We believe that if we want to dedicate money for transit, you'd need to pass something that would be earmarked for transit and take care of those problems. 

Swallow suggested that lawmakers could look at adding additional tax revenue sources to help “expand the pie” of transportation funding, especially if lawmakers move forward with the recommended constitutional change. 

That issue may come up through another recommendation approved by the committee on Wednesday to create a Department of Transportation-housed working group focused on transportation infrastructure funding. It’s set to run between 2021 and 2024 with plans to study the sustainability of current road funds, addressing greenhouse gas emissions and including the needs of all “transportation mode users,” including cyclists, pedestrians and transit users.

Republicans on the committee, however, said they were hesitant to agree to the “heavy lift” of a constitutional change without a sufficient plan in place for how to use fuel taxes in an expanded capacity, and would rather have a discussion about ways to increase transportation funding without cutting into the current road maintenance budget.

“I don't like to make too many changes that would jeopardize what we have to continue to maintain the highway funds or the highways the way they are, because you see crumbling infrastructure across the United States that inhibits us from actually maintaining the abilities to move our goods and services,” Hammond said. “I don't want to see that happen.”

Committee Chair Daniele Monroe-Moreno, a Democrat, said the core issue of trying to diversify the transportation sector beyond road construction and repair would continue to be an issue even if overall transportation funding was increased.

“Even if we came up with those additional revenue sources, we would still be handcuffed to what we could do with those additional revenue sources with the constitution as it's written now,” Monroe-Moreno said. “So I believe the simple language change to add in transportation and transit infrastructure would help move us towards the future.”

Other recommendations were accepted with less controversy, including: 

  • Drafting a letter to the governor and state agencies including the Public Utilities Commission and NV Energy stating support for an “integrated western energy market.”
  • Encouraging federal agencies to allocate additional funds for statewide light detection and ranging (LiDAR), which is high-resolution topographic data that can help “provide critical information on the distribution of faults and rock layers that host renewable energy resources.”
  • Draft a letter to the Nevada System of Higher Education, the state Department of Education and the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation to promote “education, communication and interest” in the state’s mining industry.

All three of those items were approved unanimously by the committee.

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

The Nevada Legislature Building

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COMPETITIVE PRIMARIES

Senate District 7 

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

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

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

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

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

Assembly District 2

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

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

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

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

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

Assembly District 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

Assembly District 19

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

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

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

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

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

TOP 2020 GENERAL ELECTION RACES

Assembly District 29

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

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

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

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

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

Assembly District 37

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

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

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

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

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

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

Senate District 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

Senate District 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

Senate District 15

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

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

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

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

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

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

Senate District 18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

State Senate District 7

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

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

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

Assembly District 2

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

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

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

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

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

Assembly District 4

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

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

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

Assembly District 16

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

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

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

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

Assembly District 18

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

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

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

Assembly District 19

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

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

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

Assembly District 20

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

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

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

Assembly District 21

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

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

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

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

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

Assembly District 26

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

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

Assembly District 31

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

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

Assembly District 36

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

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

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

Assembly District 37

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

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

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

Assembly District 40

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

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

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

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

Nevada state workers moving closer to collective bargaining after gaining right last year

AFSCME workers prepare to unionize

Nearly half of the state employee groups granted collective bargaining rights under legislation passed last year are taking steps to certify their employee unions and begin bargaining with the state over working conditions.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 4041 said in a news release on Jan. 14 that the union has been certified to represent three units of state workers, including professional health care workers, non-professional health care workers such as dental assistants and pharmacy technicians, and category III peace officers such as correctional officers and forensic specialists. 

Those three employee groups are part of 11 different units of state employees, classified by type of employment, identified in legislation passed in 2019 that allows state workers to select bargaining representatives and negotiate with the state over salary and certain specified benefits. So far, five of these units have selected unions for exclusive representation. 

“We are one step closer to taking our seat at the bargaining table to negotiate wages, working conditions and safety on the job, and resources so we can continue to provide our communities with the best services possible,” Harry Schiffman, the president of Local 4041 and an electrician at UNLV, said in a statement.

AFSCME Local 4041 is one of several unions that represents state employees in Nevada, which have been organizing workers for more than 50 years but only gained the legally approved, official right to collective bargaining in 2019 under SB135, a bill signed by Gov. Steve Sisolak. 

Employees in those units will select AFSCME Local 4041 members to form a team and negotiate their first contract with the state leading up to the 2021 legislative session.

Selecting a labor union for exclusive representation is the final step in the process workers must go through before contract negotiations can begin. Before this can occur, employees must form bargaining groups within their state-classified units and file for recognition with the state’s Government Employee-Management Relations Board.

In October, the Nevada Highway Patrol Association filed with the state to be the exclusive collective bargaining union for Category I peace officers, which includes highway patrol troopers, parole and probation officers, fire marshalls, detectives, game wardens, park rangers, and university and capitol police. 

The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) was selected by the Nevada State Law Enforcement Officers Association to represent Category II peace officers. This category includes positions such as criminal investigators and youth parole counselors.

So far, the remaining six units have not reached the number of participating workers necessary to file for recognition. Some of the worker categories included in these units are firefighters, administrative and clerical employees, and supervisory employees.

Local government employees were first afforded collective bargaining rights in 1969, and since the 1970s there have been multiple legislative attempts to extend those same rights to state employees. Although two bills passed in 1991 and 2009, both were vetoed by the governor, and no legislation was successfully signed until 2019. 

However, even under the 2019 legislation, there are some notable limits on the collective bargaining rights of state workers — employees will not have the right to negotiate over health care, and the governor has the right to disregard salary demands when determining the state budget based on his executive discretion. 

According to the timeline for anticipated implementation released by the Nevada Department of Administration, it is expected that each unit of state workers will have chosen and certified their exclusive representation by Oct. 31, with the actual bargaining process starting around Nov. 1. 

During the 2021 legislative session, the governor will introduce bills for any collective bargaining agreements that require legislative action prior to the final Economic Forum revenue forecast released in the first week of May.

All successfully negotiated and funded collective bargaining agreements are expected to take effect on July 1, 2021.

Harriet Trudell fought for social justice with a twinkle in her eye

Lady Justice perched atop the Nevada Supreme Court building

Feisty Harriet Trudell was a foot soldier for social justice and Democratic Party candidates and causes. Her progressive issues were innumerable, her energy almost inexhaustible.

But I think what made her so lovable, and what her friends will miss so much with her recent passing, is the joy she brought to the arduous and endless journey toward a fairer America. She fought ferociously and fearlessly, but she did so with a sense of humor and a Southern charm.  A celebration of Trudell’s life is scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday at St. Viator Catholic Church at 2461 E. Flamingo Road.

Beginning in the 1960s in Nevada when the population was a mere 285,000, she worked for school desegregation, civil rights, women’s rights, welfare rights, and workers’ rights. Now that it’s 2020 and the state has surpassed 3 million in population, it occurs to me that many of the state’s residents might not recognize her name. That’s a shame. Harriet’s story, and those of a generation of strong women who courageously forced their way into an almost exclusively male political dynamic, should be heralded in every school in the Silver State.

Born Harriet Hope Hardbarger in 1932 in St. Petersburg, Florida, she inherited a passion for shoe-leather activism from her father, a union plumber and organizer who knew to his soul that a more perfect Union was only possible if the least fortunate were given a real chance to succeed. And during the Great Depression those opportunities materialized, thanks to Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the White House. “Remember children,” she recalled her father saying over supper, “you know what meat tastes like because there’s a man named Franklin Roosevelt.”

By her father’s side at the 1948 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Harriet listened as Minnesota’s Hubert H. Humphrey spoke in support of the party’s “new Emancipation Proclamation” on civil rights in America because “good conscience, deep morality, demands it.”

Harriet Trudell, Moe Dalitz and Jan Smith in the early 1970s. Photo provided by John L. Smith.

She left the convention, as she put it in her oral history, a 16-year-old girl turned “a wild woman,” stoked with a fire for social justice that grew in intensity in 1962 after moving to Las Vegas as a young mother that would remain for the rest of her life. Whether organizing for a trade union through the AFL-CIO, or joining in the historic West Las Vegas welfare mothers’ march on the Strip, she missed few opportunities to roll up her sleeves and go to work on behalf of those with a blue collar or none at all. Even if it meant getting up before dawn to greet Nevada Test Site employees at the bus stop to campaign for presidential candidate Humphrey in 1968.  As Harriet’s daughter Cindy Trudell recalls, “She’d drag me out of bed at 4:00 in the morning and take me to the bus stop to talk to the electricians about the candidates and hand out things for Humphrey. She never stopped working for people. People sometimes forget how hard my mom worked to support the [Democratic] Party and to make Nevada a better place.”

The legendary Las Vegas attorney George Foley nicknamed the diminutive Harriet “6 and 7/8ths,” and Democratic stalwart Ralph Denton called her “Boss Tweed” as an homage to the legendary New York political fixer who got things done.  She was not shy about sharing her opinions, and not just at bus stops and union halls. There isn’t a top Nevada Democrat of her generation who didn’t catch hell from Harriet when she thought they’d gone soft on a campaign promise or faltered at the altar of progressive change.

That candor didn’t change in 1968 when she led the unsuccessful effort to get a Humphrey victory against Richard Nixon. It cooled not the slightest in her four years as Nevada Gov. Mike O’Callaghan’s top aide in Southern Nevada. (Legend has it some of their arguments could be heard for miles.) It remained her style as foreign affairs aide in Washington, D.C. on behalf of then-Congressman Harry Reid.

Whether as a board member of the National Organization for Women, as a leader of the Feminist Majority Foundation, or as the Nevada Democratic Party’s political director in Clark County, Harriet’s opinions came unvarnished – albeit with a twinkle in her eye.

Her success wasn’t rooted in political positioning, but in people and the strength of her personality. As her longtime friend Karin Siena Rogers puts it, “Harriet didn’t need jobs or titles. She had followers. She was a leader. If Harriet called up and needed help, even to this day 100 people would come running. She had that quality. She believed in her causes. On the outside, you would think she was stern and hard, but on the inside she was sweet and kind and caring for the underdog. She had a very soft streak that wasn’t immediately recognizable because her fight for justice was so overwhelming. The fact is, you couldn’t argue with her causes because her causes were social justice and human rights.”

For Mikey Bilbray, wife of former Congressman Jim Bilbray, Harriet was a “fearless warrior, passionate…so passionate about her beliefs.” The two became close friends during Trudell’s successful effort to elect Mikey’s husband to Congress. “Much has been made of her work on women’s issues, but women’s issues are human issues, and really with Harriet it was always about human rights.”

Once the Bilbrays got to Washington, Harriet left no doubt about where she stood on issues.  During one dinner with the Bilbrays and then-Congressman Reid, Harriet peppered her commentary with “Jimmy baby” and “Harry baby” for good measure. “She had no problem holding them accountable,” Mikey recalls.

Former Congressman Bilbray is adamant about Trudell’s outsize role in his political success. Their door-to-door marathons were withering, but effective – and a learning experience for Bilbray.

“She was just a great woman,” he says. “I wouldn’t have won without her. I’ll always be grateful for Harriet. We’re going to miss her.”

For his part, Reid would go on to higher office and political fame as Senate majority leader. He remains indebted to Trudell.

“She’s a legend,” Reid says.  “She was involved in every cause known to woman. She was involved in everything. She was a spokesperson for the underprivileged and the underdog.”

Through good times and bad.

Her friend Karin Rogers reflects tearfully, “Of all the people I’ve met in my whole life, Harriet Trudell was the most loyal to her principles and to her friends. She stuck by people to the end.” 

John L. Smith is an author and longtime columnist. He was born in Henderson and his family’s Nevada roots go back to 1881. His stories have appeared in Time, Readers Digest, The Daily Beast, Reuters, Ruralite and Desert Companion, among others. He also offers weekly commentary on Nevada Public Radio station KNPR. His newest book—a biography of iconic Nevada civil rights and political leader, Joe Neal—”Westside Slugger: Joe Neal’s Lifelong Fight for Social Justice” is published by University of Nevada Press and is available at Amazon.com. Contact him at jlnevadasmith@gmail.com. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith

Nevada Democrats to announce nearly 80 sites, including Culinary headquarters, to vote early in caucus

A desk and chair with Democratic party signs sitting on top.

Popular early voting sites and other locations aimed at reaching a broad cross section of voters — including members of the politically powerful Culinary Union — number among the nearly 80 places where Nevada Democrats will be able to vote early for their preferred presidential candidate in the February caucus.

An advance list of 15 early voting sites obtained by The Nevada Independent reveals the focus the party is putting on ensuring that communities of color and other underrepresented communities have access to the party’s first-ever early voting process for the caucus. The Nevada State Democratic Party released a full list of the early voting sites late Monday morning.

One early voting site will be at the Culinary Union Hall, which will make it easier for the 60,000 casino workers represented by the union to participate in the presidential candidate selection process. The party also plans to continue its tradition of offering at-large caucus sites on the Las Vegas Strip to make it easier for casino workers to participate on Caucus Day.

"Today for us is a historic day. We feel really really proud," said Geoconda Argüello-Kline, the secretary-treasurer of the Culinary Union. "To have the Culinary Union early voting site, that’s an amazing thing. We know how important it is when we vote."

Another early voting site will be at the Nevada State AFL-CIO headquarters.

Two early voting sites in East Las Vegas, Cardenas Market and the East Las Vegas Community Center, will make it easier for voters in the predominantly Latino neighborhood to participate in the caucus process, while placing locations at the Doolittle Community Center and Chinatown Plaza reveal the party’s attention to ensuring the representation of the black and Asian American and Pacific Islander voters, respectively, who live in those communities.

The party will also offer early voting at the Wadsworth Community Building on the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe's Reservation.

Nevada Democrats put forward their early voting proposal earlier this year in response to both an absentee voting mandate from the Democratic National Committee and to further the state’s long tradition of early voting during the traditional election process. In Nevada’s 2018 midterm elections, more than 550,000 people voted early, which represented nearly 57 percent of total ballots cast.

Democrats will be able to vote early at any of the sites between Feb. 15 and Feb. 18, which is the Saturday through Tuesday ahead of Caucus Day on Feb. 22. The party also plans to offer same-day voter registration at the early voting sites, similar to the process in place for the actual day of the caucus.

At the early voting sites, caucusgoers will be able to fill out a presidential preference card indicating their first-choice candidate and any other backup picks in case their preferred candidate doesn’t receive enough votes to be considered viable in the caucus. Those preferences will then be securely transmitted to the caucusgoers’ assigned home precincts for tabulation with same-day caucusgoers’ preferences on the day of the caucus.

Nevada State Democratic Party Chair Will McCurdy said in a statement that the party worked with community leaders to find early voting sites that “reflect our state and our party.”

“Part of our commitment to making next February our most accessible and expansive caucus yet involves giving voters every opportunity to make their voice heard and doing so in a way that is most convenient by introducing voting locations that have become a staple in their community,” McCurdy said.

The party will also have early voting sites in rural Nevada, including at the Dayton Senior Center, Eureka Opera House and West Wendover High School, and on college campuses, including at the UNLV Student Union and at Truckee Meadows Community College.

Other early voting sites include Veterans Village, the LGBTQ Center of Southern Nevada and Lucy Ethiopian Restaurant.

View the full list and map of early voting sites below: