Strict deadlines for deciding on freedom are latest big change in Nevada’s bail landscape

At a hearing this spring, activist Jagada Chambers described jail as “a dungeon” where every moment is trauma-filled.

It’s why he and others pushed lawmakers to put a strict cap on how long courts have to give a defendant an initial bail hearing that could mean the difference between spending a few hours in jail, or several days, without being convicted of a crime.

Legislators ultimately passed AB424, a measure that requires that a pretrial release hearing happen within 48 hours — drawing cheers from supporters who want to ensure that people are not kept behind bars for long periods of time simply because they don’t have as much money as other defendants to bail out sooner.

“We have to take into consideration the people that we're talking about here are innocent,” said Chambers, who has worked on voter rights restoration and other issues affecting formerly incarcerated people. “You should make any effort to take appropriate channels to get that handled within an hour because a person in that [dungeon] — it’s irreparable damage.”

The measure, which goes into effect next July, comes after a decades-long push in Nevada and nationwide to end or curtail the practice of using money to broker release from jail. Those efforts have largely hit dead ends in the Legislature — until a landmark decision from the Nevada Supreme Court last year helped force lawmakers’ hands by setting significant requirements for judges who want to use money as collateral for release.

“You put a bunch of cracks in the ceiling and eventually you break through,” said Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas), who presented the bill in the Senate along with Sen. Dina Neal (D-North Las Vegas). “This was that session for bail reform.”

Critics of the status quo say using money in exchange for freedom means people are often kept behind bars longer because they are poor, rather than because they pose an actual risk to public safety. Lawmakers drew a contrast between indigent clients unable to bail out and a case involving multibillionaire Henry Nicholas, who was released without bail as he faced charges of felony drug trafficking stemming from an arrest in Las Vegas.

Even a  short jail stint can disrupt a defendant’s job and family life, making it harder to get back on their feet and return to being a productive member of the community. And bill supporters chafe that drawn-out, pretrial detention is happening to people who are presumed innocent.

“$5,000 — for some people that is insurmountable and just amounts to detention. For others, it's absolutely nothing, and that has zero to do with how dangerous the person is to the community,” Harris told The Nevada Independent. “And that is not the goal of our system at all.”

The pivotal ruling came in April 2020 in the case of Jose Valdez-Jimenez, who was assessed $40,000 bail that he could not pay after police arrested him for stealing thousands of dollars of Victoria’s Secret merchandise in Las Vegas. Among other things, the Supreme Court’s order required defendants get an individualized and adversarial court hearing — one that can involve cross-examining witnesses — promptly after their arrest to consider whether they should remain behind bars.  

But how to define “prompt” had been an open question in the year after the court ruling, subject to a wide range of opinions and questions about what can be reasonably expected from smaller jurisdictions. Lawmakers ultimately put parameters on the matter through AB424, which passed 30-12 in the Assembly and 17-4 in the Senate (several Republicans joined Democrats to support the measure).

“Having this standard across the state of, ‘you have to have a bail hearing within 48 hours,’ I think will make a huge difference,” said Washoe County Deputy Public Defender Kendra Bertschy. “How they're being treated really depends on what side of the street they're arrested on. And that's really concerning with the level of justice, and the equal justice that you're given, really depends on what court you end up in front of.”

The outcome hasn’t satisfied advocates who want complete abolition of money-based bail. They expect Nevada will still need private funds supported by donors that bail people out and help them get on with their lives before the 48-hour clock runs out.

“I think they took safe steps this year ... I think they did what was not going to ruffle too many feathers,” said Leslie Turner with the Mass Liberation Project and the Vegas Freedom Fund, which bails people out of jail and offers a wide range of support services to address other needs in their life upon release.

Holly Welborn, policy director at the ACLU of Nevada, described the law as an improvement but not a total transformation.

“We have at least met the floor of what's constitutionally permissible in the bail system in state statute,” she said. “But we haven't really embraced ending the system of wealth-based detention.”

But prosecutors, police and judges — especially ones in rural jurisdictions with smaller staffs — argue the hard deadline goes too far and is “unworkable.”

“It's an unfunded mandate,” said Jennifer Noble of the Nevada District Attorneys Association. “And it's not something where we object to the principle of it ... it's just that we need resources and funding and more people, frankly, because it's not just attorneys that are in this process.”

Others have criticized the bill as going too far in the effort to ease up on a “tough on crime” mentality that prevailed in the 1990s and beyond. Chuck Callaway of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department said he worries about crimes rates going up when he sees statistics about people cycling quickly out of jail, and he senses in some of the Legislature’s recent work “an attitude of not holding criminals accountable for their actions.”

A bail bondsman arrives at the bail window at the Las Vegas Detention Center on July 29, 2021. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

How bail works

The commercial bail bonds industry as it exists in the United States has been around since the late 1800s. After a person is arrested, a monetary amount is assigned based on the charges they face, often in line with the guidelines of a standard bail schedule, and loved ones can pay the money in full to get them out. The exception is for very serious charges such as murder, when defendants are constitutionally barred from bailing out. 

That money will be reimbursed if the person shows up to court to face the charges. In situations where loved ones do not have sufficient cash to make bail, they can enlist a bail bonds company to make the payment, but state law allows the bail company to keep 15 percent of the payment as a nonrefundable fee for its services — even if the person makes all of their court dates.

People being held in jail because they await trial — and who are considered innocent because they have yet to be convicted — make up a large portion of the Clark County Detention Center’s population. The jail, which averages about 3,700 people a day, reported 2,779 defendants were staying there on a pre-trial basis in December 2019, as opposed to serving out a sentence after a conviction.

About 85 percent of people the jail was holding pre-trial were accused of a felony, with the rest facing lesser charges. But there were signs that inability to pay bail was holding back people accused of low-level offenses — in December 2019, the jail reported having 44 people in custody for more than seven days on bail amounts less than $2,500.

Activists attempted to change the law most recently in 2019, when they came together to research what other states were doing and introduced AB325 — a bill that would have factored in a defendant’s ability to pay when setting bail. The measure, sponsored by then-Assemblyman Ozzie Fumo (D-Las Vegas) and other Democrats, faced strident opposition before it was killed, and lawmakers instead advanced a resolution calling for an interim study on pre-trial issues

“We wrote that bill, and it was ... killed,” Turner said. “But then everything that the Nevada Supreme Court ruling in Valdez-Jimenez stated, was literally everything that was in that original bill, AB325.” 

In Valdez-Jimenez, justices ruled that Nevada bail law was unconstitutional because it did not require the court to consider terms of release that were less restrictive than incarceration before determining that cash bail should be imposed.

It also shifted the burden of proof. Prior to April 2020, the law required the defendant to make a “showing of good cause” about why they should be released. In the ruling, justices flipped that standard and ruled that it was the state’s responsibility to prove — through “clear and convincing evidence” — that bail was necessary to ensure a person’s appearance in court or public safety. 

Advocates support alternatives to cash as ways to ensure someone’s court appearance, including drug testing, GPS monitoring, court date reminder calls, substance abuse rehabilitation and check-ins.

If judges conclude bail is needed, they have to document “findings of fact” about why they came to that conclusion. Harris has framed the new paradigm as a win for civil libertarians.

“This issue is an opportunity for me to proudly wear the conservative label,” Harris, who chaired an interim committee on bail, said when she presented AB424 to fellow lawmakers. “I see this as a question of how long the government can hold you, deprive you of your liberty, prior to making any argument about why that liberty should be deprived.”

State Senator Dallas Harris on the fourth day of the 81st session of the Legislature in Carson City on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Overextending staff

The bill faced fierce pushback from prosecutors and rural judges, who argued that they could drive members of their small staffs to burnout if they needed to maintain availability through the weekends. Keith Lee, a lobbyist for the Nevada Judges of Limited Jurisdiction, also questioned bill proponents’ arguments that some defendants were waiting up to 12 days for a bail hearing.

“I have no way to know whether those are correct or not. I assume they're correct. I would respectfully suggest to you that they are one-offs, however,” he told lawmakers. “And I certainly want to dispel any implication that the reason there was so many hours taken is a result of the judge’s failure to act.”

Some bill opponents asked that the deadline for a hearing be extended to at least 48 judicial hours — meaning the clock would stop for nights and weekends — on the basis that a literal 48-hour timeline prevents even defense attorneys from preparing their case to get their client out. 

Noble, representing prosecutors, said lawmakers needed to consider all the support staff needed to prepare for the kind of robust hearing envisioned in the Valdez-Jimenez ruling. That includes investigative staff to pull criminal histories from an FBI database, staff to obtain information from law enforcement and staff in the pretrial services department to prepare risk assessments (an evaluation of how likely a defendant is to skip court or commit another crime).

“It is not as simple as just providing prosecutors to staff these hearings on the weekend,” she said. 

Judge Stephen Bishop of White Pine County called the 48-hour drop-dead timeline an “overcorrection.”

“It's going to be setting my court up for failure, my attorneys that for failure, and even the defendants up for failure,” he said during a hearing on the bill.

Some proponents said the cost concerns did not outweigh constitutional rights.

“What I'm hearing is that upholding our civil liberties is too expensive,” said Las Vegas resident Joseph Lankowski, who testified to lawmakers while he was out of jail on bail. “Where are we going to find the money to give our citizens their constitutional rights? And that's just not a viable excuse for me.”

In an interview, Harris acknowledged the new requirement could be a challenge, but she said she hoped it would push jurisdictions that have underfunded correctional facilities and services for people who cannot afford a lawyer to direct federal American Rescue Plan dollars to the cause.

“I think the courts are going to have to stretch a little bit, and get creative in order to be able to meet this new 48 hour requirement,” she said. “I’m hoping that the statutory requirement will give them a little bit of motivation to invest in that area.”

The bail window at the Las Vegas Detention Center as seen late Thursday night, July 29, 2021. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

Work left undone

The Legislature’s moves this session fell short of doing away with cash bail. Proponents had hoped to get rid of the bail schedule entirely when they thought they might have the timeline reduced to 24 hours — that would make it unnecessary because incarcerated people would know they will see a judge within a day and could likely avoid missing much work because they are behind bars.

“We could eliminate bail, if we went to the 24 hours, and then it wouldn't be a wealth-based system,” said Clark County Chief Deputy Public Defender John Piro, who noted many people bail out within the first 12-24 hours. “But because we're not there, we're gonna have to keep some amount of bail so that people can bail out if they get ahead.”

The issue is also complicated because the Nevada Constitution explicitly says “all persons shall be bailable by sufficient sureties” except in certain murder cases. Eliminating cash bail would likely mean embarking on the multi-year process of removing it from the Constitution; Harris said she wasn’t aware that anyone is launching such a project.

The bill wasn’t the only one to come out of the work of a committee that spent the legislative interim exploring Nevada’s pre-trial release system. One bill that made it into law, AB440, requires officers to give people a citation instead of something stronger for their first nonviolent misdemeanor offense. 

The committee did also send a letter to court administrators, asking them to re-validate a pretrial risk assessment form. In interim meetings, several speakers argued the tool perpetuated racial biases because it predicts future conduct on statistics such as previous arrests among people of certain races.

Another bill, SB401 proposed collecting detailed information about the number, reason and bail amounts of people being held in jail before trial, and reporting that data to a statewide court administrator. It died over concerns about the costs of implementation.

If football is the analogy, Harris said, the Legislature didn’t quite score a touchdown on bail issues, but got within goal range. Keeping cash bail, but requiring a hearing within 48 hours, allows people who can get out earlier the option of doing so because they can pay, without letting those who can’t remain in jail for too long.

“Forty-eight hours I think is where we could kind of push our system right now to be a bit better,” Harris said.

Turner said she hasn’t seen much of a difference in bail practices in the year since the Supreme Court's ruling, based on calls she receives from people seeking help through the Freedom Fund, although she is noticing that bail amounts have been lower than they previously were. She’s also heard people say they aren’t getting the Valdez-Jimenez hearings they are entitled to — a trend that attorneys said they noticed in the wake of the decision.

She wants to make sure courts are complying with the ruling and stricter timelines. But she’s also got her eye on bigger goals than just successful implementation, including getting law students involved in helping craft future policies that take bold steps in changing the criminal justice system.

“I think I'm reimagining what pretrial detention is, and what it actually means for public safety,” Turner said. “Figuring out how we can write new policy and write and create new systems that reflect the world that we all want to live in.”

Nevada grows majority-female Legislature after 2020 election, with more than 60 percent of seats to be filled by women

Assembly Majority Floor Leader Teresa Benitez-Thompson, right, speaks with Deputy Minority Whip Robin Titus, on Friday, July 31, 2020 during the first day of the 32nd Special Session of the Legislature in Carson City.

Two years after Nevada made history as the first U.S. state to have women compose a majority of its state Legislature, lawmakers will return to Carson City in 2021 with nearly 60 percent of the seats filled by female legislators — by far the largest percentage of any statehouse in the country.

Though Democrats lost three seats in the Assembly and one in the state Senate after final vote totals were released over the weekend, one of the most notable changes heading into the 2021 Legislature will be the gender makeup; female lawmakers will now represent 38 seats in the 63-member body.

In total, the 42-seat state Assembly will have 27 female lawmakers and 15 male lawmakers, including 19 female Democrats and eight female Republicans. In the 21-member state Senate, men will hold 10 seats and females will hold 11 (two Republicans and nine Democrats). Women held 33 of the 63 seats in the 2019 Legislature, hitting the majority mark after two female Assembly members (Rochelle Nguyen and Bea Duran) were appointed to vacant positions by the Clark County Commission in December 2019.

The increase in female lawmakers can be attributed to a variety of factors, including several retiring or termed out male legislators being replaced by women and both parties running female candidates in several major races, including three close state Senate seats. That means substantial turnover — roughly a quarter of legislative seats will be filled by newcomers — will result in Nevada again having the nation’s highest percentage of female lawmakers.

Democratic Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, first elected in 1999, said the gender balance was closer to 70-30 male dominated when she entered the Legislature, but that gradual cultural shifts over the next 20 years helped drive the shift to first gender parity and later a clear female majority in the statehouse.

“Women realize that we've got to be at the table,” she said. “We've worked very hard for that. We've educated folks. We've gotten them involved. And they've seen what's at stake, and they want to be part of the conversation. I think that's fantastic.”

Regardless of gender make-up, lawmakers entering the 2021 legislative session will have an immediate and pressing agenda: constitutionally-mandated redistricting; a response to the COVID-19 pandemic and likely additional major budget cuts to the state general fund; and a host of potential tax issues, including efforts by the Clark County Education Association to qualify a sales and gaming tax initiative, and proposals brought during the 2020 summer special session to hike the cap on mining taxes in the state constitution.

But Jill Tolles, a Republican Assemblywoman entering her third term, said that growing ranks of female lawmakers also have helped bring more legislation to the forefront on previously under-addressed issues, including measures aimed at preventing sexual assault or sex trafficking.

Tolles said it was special to be a part of history as part of the first female majority Legislature, but that it will be more important when reaching gender parity isn’t newsworthy.

“It's still exciting, and it's still wonderful to see, but I think that one of the things that we saw in 2019 was we very quickly after the celebrations, just rolled up our sleeves and got to work on policy,” she said. “And not just policy on some of those issues that we hadn't traditionally given as much light to or given as much time to in the past, but all policies that impact men and women equally.”

Nationwide in 2020, only about 29.3 percent of lawmakers in state legislatures are female, according to a tally by the Center for American Women and Politics.

Seven legislative districts are going from male to female representative, including:

  • Assembly District 2, where Republican Heidi Kasama will take over a seat held by termed-out Assemblyman John Hambrick
  • Assembly District 6, where Democrat Shondra Summers-Armstrong will take the seat held previously by William McCurdy (elected to the Clark County Commission in 2020)
  • Assembly District 18, where Democrat Venicia Considine will take the seat of former Assemblyman Richard Carrillo. Carrillo left the seat to mount an unsuccessful bid for state Senate
  • Assembly District 19, where Republican Annie Black defeated incumbent Chris Edwards in the June primary election. Black did not face a general election opponent
  • Assembly District 21, where Democrat Elaine Marzola will represent the seat formerly held by Democrat Ozzie Fumo (who ran and lost in a bid for state Supreme Court)
  • Assembly District 30, where Democrat Natha Anderson will represent a district previously held by Democrat Greg Smith. Smith was appointed to the seat after the resignation of former Assemblyman Mike Sprinkle amid accusations of sexual harassment
  • State Senate District 7, where Democrat Roberta Lange takes the seat of termed-out state Sen. David Parks. Lange won a narrow primary victory over incumbent Assembly members Ellen Spiegel and Richard Carrillo, but did not face a general election opponent

Three districts previously represented by female lawmakers will now have a male representative, including:

  • Assembly District 7, previously held by Democrat Dina Neal but that now will be represented by Democrat C.H. Miller
  • Assembly District 20, previously held by Democrat Ellen Spiegel but that now will be represented by Democrat David Orentlicher
  • Assembly District 37, where Republican Andy Matthews ousted Democratic incumbent Shea Backus

The tally of female lawmakers has increased since the start of the 2019 session, owing to vacancies (several resignations and a death) of seats held by men but filled by female appointees. Ahead of the 2020 election, the 63-member body was composed of 34 female lawmakers and 29 male lawmakers. 

Carlton said she has enjoyed working with an increasingly diverse group of female lawmakers of both parties during the legislative session, saying that the legislative process is improved when more diverse viewpoints are brought to the table. While female lawmakers aren’t a monolith — she noted that many come from different career fields and range from retirees to those just starting their careers — Carlton said that their outlook and approach to the legislative process yield beneficial results.

“We have a tendency more to want to wrap our arms around something and try to solve all the pieces of the puzzle, while I think the guys sometimes want to dissect it and see what's wrong, and then put it together,” she said. “We come at things in a different viewpoint with all the different life experiences that we have.”

Biden narrowly leads Trump, but major Nevada races too close to call after Election Day

Joe Biden maintains the slimmest of leads in Nevada over President Donald Trump, while the other major congressional, statewide and local races significantly narrowed early Wednesday morning.

Biden and Democratic congressional candidates running in the state’s two competitive House districts — Susie Lee and Steven Horsford — maintain small leads over their Republican opponents but the races remain too close to call, particularly after a late batch of results from Clark County helped Republicans candidates there catch up to their Democrat opponents.

Down the ballot, it appears unlikely that Democrats will have supermajorities in either chamber of the Legislature next year, while a well-funded ballot question to take the Board of Regents out of the state Constitution appears in danger amid strong rural opposition.

More than 1.2 million Nevadans cast a ballot in the general election, although it’s unclear what the total turnout will be as last-minute ballots mailed in or dropped off have not yet been tallied.

Here’s a look at the status of major races on the 2020 ballot after initial results on Election Night:

Presidential:

The presidential race in Nevada remained too close to call Wednesday morning with former Vice President Joe Biden leading over President Donald Trump by a narrow 0.6 percentage points, or 7,647 votes. Hillary Clinton defeated Trump by 2.4 percentage points in the Silver State four years ago.

The presidential election itself also remained up in the air as of early Wednesday morning, with key races in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, North Carolina and Georgia still yet to be decided.

Congressional: 

In a pair of the state’s most competitive congressional races, preliminary vote tallies favored incumbent Democrats — though by narrow margins.

In the hotly contested race for Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District in suburban Clark County, incumbent Democrat Susie Lee led Republican challenger Dan Rodimer by 1.5 percentage points, or 3,233 votes.

And in neighboring District 4, incumbent Democrat Steven Horsford led his Republican challenger, former one-term Assemblyman Jim Marchant, by 2.4 points, or a margin of 6,697 votes.

Meanwhile, incumbents in Nevada’s remaining two congressional districts sailed to victory after early returns, with Democratic Rep. Dina Titus securing Las Vegas’ District 1 by a 26.6 point margin, and Republican Rep. Mark Amodei winning Northern Nevada’s District 2 by a 15.8 margin as of early Wednesday morning.

Legislature:

Democratic dreams of holding super-majorities in both the Assembly and Senate appeared on thin ice after initial results were posted late Tuesday, with no clear decision yet in many of the swing districts that will determine super-majority control.

Two Las Vegas-area state Senate districts remained too close to call early Wednesday, with Democratic Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro and Democratic candidate Kristee Watson trailing their Republican opponents — April Becker and Carrie Buck, respectively. In Reno, incumbent Republican Sen. Heidi Gansert posted a notable lead over her Democratic opponent, Wendy Jauregui-Jackins, in a seat necessary for Democrats to take to capture a two-thirds majority in the state Senate.

In the Assembly, Democrats appeared to be in danger of losing three seats — two in Southern Nevada, Districts 4 and 37, and one in Northern Nevada, District 31 — while leading narrowly in a fourth competitive seat in Assembly District 29. Republicans are likely to keep control of the fifth competitive seat, Assembly District 2, where Republican Heidi Kasama is leading by a sizable margin over Democrat Radhika Kunnel.

Democrats can only afford to lose one of the four competitive seats they currently hold in the Assembly in order to retain their supermajority.

Other less competitive races that remained too close to call early Wednesday morning include Assembly Districts 21, 35 and 41.

Candidates who have won their races include:

  • Dina Neal (D) in SD4
  • Dallas Harris (D) in SD11
  • Pete Goicoechea (R) in SD19
  • Brittney Miller (D) in AD5
  • Shondra Summers-Armstrong (D) in AD6
  • Cameron "C.H." Miller (D) in AD7
  • Jason Frierson (D) in AD8
  • Steve Yeager (D) in AD9
  • Bea Duran (D) in AD11
  • Susie Martinez (D) in AD12
  • Maggie Carlton (D) in AD14
  • Howard Watts (D) in AD15
  • Cecilia Gonzalez (D) in AD16
  • Clara Thomas (D) in AD17
  • Venicia Considine (D) in AD18
  • Glen Leavitt (R) in AD23
  • Lisa Krasner (R) in AD26
  • Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D) in AD27
  • Edgar Flores (D) in AD28
  • Natha Anderson (D) in AD30
  • Alexis Hansen (R) in AD32
  • Shannon Bilbray-Axelrod (D) in AD34
  • Jim Wheeler (R) in AD39
  • PK O’Neill (R) in AD40
  • Alexander Assefa (D) in AD42

The 11 Assembly and three Senate candidates who were the only person running in their districts are automatically assumed to have won their races.

Local Government: 

Three Democrats emerged victorious in Clark County Commission races, but one contest was too close to call after initial results.

Clark County Commissioner Michael Naft, a Democrat, retained his District A seat, snagging 52 percent of the votes in initial returns. His opponent, Republican Michael Thomas, captured 48 percent. 

Clark County Commission Chair Marilyn Kirkpatrick, a Democrat, also coasted to re-election, with 53 percent of early returns in the District B race. Her challenger, Republican Kevin Williams, garnered 44 percent of early returns. 

Democrat William McCurdy, meanwhile, handily won the District D race, replacing term-limited Commissioner Lawrence Weekly. McCurdy captured 77 percent of the early returns, while his opponent, David Washington, who’s not affiliated with a political party, only earned 23 percent. 

The District C race for Clark County Commission was neck-and-neck based on early returns. Republican Stavros Anthony received 50.8 percent of early returns, while Democrat Ross Miller grabbed 49.2 percent. The winner in this race will replace term-limited Commissioner Larry Brown.

Up north, Republican incumbent Vaughn Hartung won the District 4 race for the Washoe County Commission. Hartung grabbed 58 percent of the early returns, while his competitor, Marie Baker, snagged 42 percent. 

In the other Washoe County Commission race — for District 1 — Democrat Alexis Hill defeated Republican incumbent Marsha Berkbigler in an election upset. Hill emerged with 55 percent of the early returns, while Berkbigler received 45 percent.

Three Reno City Council members were re-elected to the board, but one race remains too close to call. Reno City Councilman Oscar Delgado won the Ward 3 race, capturing about 63 percent of the early returns. His opponent, Rudy Leon, won about 37 percent of the vote. 

Councilwoman Neoma Jardon was re-elected to represent Ward 5, winning about 54 percent of the early returns, while her opponent, Darla Fink, received about 46 percent of the vote. 

Councilman Devon Reese defeated his opponent, Eddie Lorton, to continue serving in the council’s at-large seat. Reese snagged roughly 55 percent of the early returns, while Lorton received about 45 percent.

But the Ward 1 race remains close. Reno City Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus retained a slight 104-vote lead in a closely-watched race against real estate agent J.D. Drakulich. 

Supreme Court

District Court Judge Doug Herndon defeated Assemblyman Ozzie Fumo in a race for an open Nevada Supreme Court seat, capturing about 47 percent of the early returns. Fumo received about 36 percent of the vote. “None of these Candidates” made up about 18 percent of the early returns.

Herndon was running to replace Associate Chief Justice Mark Gibbons, who announced last year that he would not run for re-election. 

Fumo, who has practiced law since 1996 and served as an adjunct professor at the UNLV Boyd School of Law, won the support of progressives. Herndon, a former deputy district attorney who has sat on the bench since 2005, received support from a PAC primarily funded by Sheldon Adelson.

Ballot Questions

The campaign for Question 1, a measure that would remove the Board of Regents of the Nevada System of Higher Education from the Nevada Constitution, remained too close to call after initial returns.

However, all four other ballot measures have prevailed. They include:

  • Question 2, which amends the Nevada Constitution to permit same-sex marriage
  • Question 3, which restructures the Board of Pardons
  • Question 4, which enshrines a voter’s bill of rights in the Nevada Constitution
  • Question 6, which raises the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standards calling for greater use of renewable energy

Adelsons pour $500K into group backing Republican-aligned state Supreme Court candidate, other judicial candidates

The front of the Nevada Supreme Court Building

Billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson and his physician wife Miriam have contributed a combined half a million dollars to a new political action committee involved in several judicial races, including a contentious fight for a state Supreme Court seat.

According to a campaign finance report filed last week, the Adelsons — who made news last week amid disclosure that they poured $75 million into a pro-President Trump Super PAC — each contributed $250,000 in mid-September to a new political action committee called “Judge the Judges.”

So far, the PAC has started a TV advertising campaign aimed at boosting the candidacy of state Supreme Court candidate Douglas Herndon, an Eighth Judicial District Court judge running against Democratic Assemblyman and attorney Ozzie Fumo for the open seat on the seven-member court. Herndon’s political affiliation is described as “Republican” by the Reno Gazette-Journal.

But a spokesman for the PAC says it has plans beyond just the involvement in the state Supreme Court race. He said it’s already created a website with basic information on judicial races in Clark County, and has endorsed and begun running radio ads on behalf of four additional judicial candidates (of both major political parties) running for seats on the Clark County District Court.

“The PAC has a growing coalition that includes Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson, the Nevada Builders Alliance, the Franchised Auto Dealers and additional companies to be named soon,” spokesman Mike Draper said in an email. “While the PAC is engaged in a handful of select races this cycle, the goal is for it to be an ongoing resource in future election cycles to provide more information about our elected judges.”

According to the new PAC’s campaign finance report, the Adelsons contributed the lion’s share of the $507,000 in reported contributions, with $2,000 coming from the Nevada Builders Alliance and $5,000 coming from the state auto dealers association. It reported spending just over $21,000 through the end of September. 

Nevada caps political contribution amounts from a single individual or entity at $10,000 per election cycle, but there are no contribution limits related to political action committees. A spokesperson for the Las Vegas Sands said the Adelsons declined to comment.

The PAC’s main advertising thrust thus far has focused on the state Supreme Court race. Though judicial races in Nevada are nonpartisan, meaning candidates don’t list party affiliation on the ballot, Herndon’s campaign has been backed by numerous Republican-aligined groups and individuals, while Fumo has been endorsed by a slew of liberal and progressive groups and served two terms in the Assembly as a Democrat. 

The PAC began running a television ad last week that hits Fumo for a “lack of experience on the bench,” saying that “The Nevada Supreme Court is no place for beginners.” It also highlights a promise made by Fumo during the summer special legislative sessions to recuse himself on certain issues that might come before the court, and says he’s “distorting” Herndon’s record.

Races for seats on the Nevada Supreme Court have in the past included some partisan tinges — Justice Elissa Cadish won endorsements from multiple union groups in her 2018 race, while her opponent, Court of Appeals Justice Jerome Tao, was endorsed by Republican figures and groups, including the National Rifle Association.

Though the court rarely rules along party lines, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported in 2018 that at least four of the court’s seven members — Justices Mark Gibbons, Abbi Silver, Kris Pickering and Ron Parraguirre — are either registered Republicans or “lean” Republican. Justices James Hardesty, Lidia Stiglich and Cadish are Democrats.

Herndon — a sitting judge on the Eighth Judicial District Court in Clark County — has outraised Fumo throughout the campaign. He reported raising more than $340,000 over the last three months and spending more than $207,000 over that time frame — compared to $110,000 raised and $137,000 spent by Fumo in that same time period.

Herdon’s campaign has also spent more on television advertising, according to a tally by Kantar Media/CMAG. Fumo’s campaign has spent an estimated $91,000 on television advertising as of Oct. 19, compared to $150,000 spent by Herdon’s campaign and $15,000 by the “Judge the Judges” PAC.

In the state’s June primary election, Herdon won about 45 percent of votes cast, coming ahead of Fumo — who won about 35.6 percent — and ahead of former Republican Assemblyman Erv Nelson, who brought in about 10.3 percent of the vote. For judicial races, a candidate who wins more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary election automatically wins the seat, but if no candidate cracks that threshold, then the top two vote-getters proceed to the general election.

The PAC is also running radio ads in support of Herndon and four other endorsed candidates for District Court seats in Clark County, including:

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.

What to watch in Nevada’s 2020 primary election

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The inside of the Nevada Legislature during State of the State

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Senate District 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Assembly District 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Assembly District 4

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

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

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

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

Assembly District 7

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

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

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

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

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

Assembly District 16

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

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

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

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

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

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

Assembly District 18

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

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

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

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

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

Assembly District 19

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

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

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

Assembly District 21

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

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

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

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

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

Assembly District 31

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

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

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

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

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

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

Assembly District 36

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Assembly District 37

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Assembly District 40

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

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

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

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

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

Other races that have a primary

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

Indy 2020: With less than two weeks until Iowa, the final countdown begins

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


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

Some brief news before we get going. The Indy — i.e. me — is hitting the road to Iowa and New Hampshire. I’ll be there for a few days before the Feb. 3 caucus and Feb. 11 primary, bringing you all the news you need to know from a Nevada perspective. Let me know what kind of stories you most want to hear out of Iowa and New Hampshire at megan@thenvindy.com. (If you know any former Nevadans who live in Iowa and New Hampshire, I’ll take that too!)

Also currently taking winter clothing recommendations.

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


TOP OF MIND

Ad tracker 2020: Another bit of news for you! The Indy has launched a brand new campaign ad tracker for the 2020 cycle. We’ll be archiving and categorizing ads by candidate, issue, race, party, the group paying for it, tone, medium and language. We know we’re going to miss some here and there, so feel free to send me over an email at megan@thenvindy.com with anything you notice that’s missing.

Steyer climbing in Nevada? In case you missed it, billionaire Tom Steyer has apparently had a sudden surge here in Nevada. He leapt to third place, tied with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 12 percent support, in a Fox News poll released a little more than a week ago, which was followed up by a RGJ/Suffolk poll showing him tied for fourth with former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 8 percent support. 

Former Vice President Joe Biden came in at 23 percent, followed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders at 17 percent in the Fox poll, while Biden and Sanders were closer in the RGJ/Suffolk poll at 19 and 18 percent support, respectively. Warren came in at 11 percent support in the latter poll.

Since the polls have come out, Steyer’s campaign here has been trumpeting its outreach program, and Steyer himself spent a couple of days in the state, attending the second-ever Native American Presidential Forum, an immigration roundtable with Mi Familia Vota, a Culinary Union town hall and an event on climate justice with Chispa, the Latino organizing program within the League of Conservation Voters.

After the Culinary town hall, I asked Steyer what his plan was to ensure that his campaign can even make it to Nevada, when he has to go through Iowa and New Hampshire first. (Steyer’s hovering in the low single digits in polls in Iowa and New Hampshire.)

“The plan is to do more stuff like this, is to try and get in front of as many people as possible and say exactly who I am, what I stand for, and what that means. When that happens, good things happen. So that's what's happened so far,” Steyer said. “I started late in July, my numbers have gone up consistently. My goal is to stay in front of as many people, and get in front of as many people, look them in the eye and have them look me in the eye, so I can hear what they're saying and they can hear who I am and what I'm saying.”

But he apparently is catching on here in Nevada, where it’s been hard to avoid the television ads, mailers and billboards that Steyer has spent millions on. Tom McGibbon, 68, a retired engineer who identifies as a lifelong registered Republican, told Indytern Shannon Miller at Steyer’s Chispa event that he’s still undecided between Steyer and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

“I want (someone) who can win. Passion speaks to me, I think it speaks to voters, and I think that (Steyer) showed a lot of passion in his comments tonight,” McGibbon said. “I would like to see that come through more in his marketing.”

Steyer clearly isn't relenting on Nevada though. He has nine events scheduled here this weekend, detailed later in this newsletter.

Mayor Pete donates to legislative candidates: My colleague Riley Snyder was going through the recent round of state campaign finance reports due last week when he noticed something unusual — a bunch of contributions from Buttigieg to state legislative candidates. In total, Buttigieg donated $34,000 to candidates, parties and advocacy groups during the fourth quarter of the year Nevada, according to a list provided by Buttigieg’s campaign.

The campaign made six $1,000 contributions, to U.S. Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, and the Senate and Assembly Democratic caucuses.

The campaign also made 19 $500 contributions and 20 $250 contributions to state lawmakers, constitutional officers, local elected officials and members of Congress. A few organizations — including the NAACP branches in Northern and Southern Nevada, NARAL, the Human Rights Campaign and the LGBTQ Center of Southern Nevada — as well as the Rural Democratic Caucus also received $500 donations.

The rest of the donations went to the Nevada State Democratic Party and the Washoe County Democratic Party.

Paul Selberg, Buttigieg’s state director, said in a statement that the donations show the campaign’s commitment to building Democratic infrastructure in Nevada and across the country.

“Pete recognizes that political change not only comes from the top of the ticket, but all levels of government,” Selberg said. “In 2020, we will finally turn the page on the Trump presidency and bring about real progress by electing Democrats up and down the ticket."

Democrats announce Caucus Day sites: The Nevada State Democratic Party announced last week more than 250 Caucus Day locations for the Feb. 22 caucus. They range from schools and community centers in suburban Nevada to sites on tribal reservations and in small cities far flung from the major population centers. Check out the full list of precincts here.

The party is also continuing its tradition of offering at-large casino precincts on Caucus Day for Strip workers to participate. This year, there will be seven sites — up from six in 2016 — at Park MGM, Mandalay Bay, Bellagio, Paris, Harrah's, Wynn and Rio. The details of those Strip caucus sites were first reported by CNN.

Casino workers will also be able to vote early at four sites on the Strip. There will be 24-hour voting at the Bellagio — from noon on Feb. 16 to noon on Feb. 17 — as well as two blocks of time on Sunday and Monday where workers can caucus at the MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay and Paris.


ON THE INDY

Presidential campaigns enter the home stretch: If you’ve been living under a rock for the last year and have paid no attention to the presidential election, then this is the story for you! All you need to know to get you up to speed on the upcoming caucus, including what candidates have been doing to make inroads here, how big their staffs are and how they’ve been resonating with voters here on the ground.

Buttigieg, Klobuchar and Steyer are the latest to court the Culinary: The three Democratic hopefuls became the fifth, sixth and seventh candidates, respectively, to appear before the Culinary Union over the last two weeks. The fellow moderates in the race came with pitches for a government-run health insurance proposal that would allow union members to stay on their existing plans. Spoiler alert: The union liked it. More on the Buttigieg and Klobuchar visits here and the Steyer visit here.

Buttigieg hopes to earn “credibility” with black voters: I sat down with the former South Bend mayor a little over a week ago to talk about his struggle to win over black voters, his standing in Iowa, and what the support of the Culinary Union would mean to him. All you need to know from our conversation here. (One small detail in that story worth noting if you’re keeping an eye on candidate momentum: Buttigieg’s most recent rally at Silverado High School was attended by more than 900 people, more than two-thirds of them first time Buttigieg event attendees, according to his campaign.)

Biden eschews being boxed in at a Latino town hall: The former vice president shied away from any firm commitments to pass comprehensive immigration reform in his first 100 days as president or appoint a certain number of Hispanics to his Cabinet at a Latino-focused town hall two weekends ago. More details on how that town hall went from me, plus a bonus story from the day before on Biden accusing President Donald Trump of “literally lying” about Iran from Indyterns Tabitha Mueller and Jazmin Orozco Rodriguez.

Democratic hopefuls court Indian Country: Though Steyer was the only one to appear in person, several Democratic presidential candidates appeared at the second-ever Native American Presidential Forum last week in Las Vegas. They talked about Native voting rights, land, health care and missing and murdered indigenous women. Indytern Shannon Miller was there.

Voter registration swelling as a result of automatic voter registration: Our four intrepid Indyterns took a look at the impact that Nevada’s new automatic voter registration ballot initiative, which kicked into effect on the first of the year, is having on voter registration. Previously, Nevada had an opt-in system to register to vote at the DMV, which has now been switched to an opt-out system. Details here.

Ivanka Trump goes to CES: The president's eldest daughter championed apprenticeships and encouraged employers to invest in their workers at the annual conference in Las Vegas, but her appearance sparked some controversy. My colleague Jackie Valley has more.


CAMPAIGN NUGGETS

Staffing changes and office openings

  • Four members of Biden’s national team — Laura Jimenez, national Latino vote director; Amit Jani, national AAPI outreach director; Shrija Ghosh, deputy national analytics director; and Nick Canfield, deputy national organizing director — have joined his team on the ground in Nevada.
  • Buttigieg’s team has brought on Devaki Dave as their Nevada APIA constituency director and Izack Tenorio as their Nevada Latino constituency director. Amy Adler, the campaign’s get out the caucus director, has moved from the team’s South Bend headquarters to oversee caucus operations here. (Adler graduated from UNLV, co-founded Students for Barack Obama at UNLV, and was the campaign manager for the Nevada Senate Democratic Caucus in 2010.)

New endorsements

  • DNC Committeewoman Allison Stephens, who previously endorsed Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro for president, is now supporting Warren in the race. This means Warren now has both the support of Nevada’s DNC committeewoman as well as its committeeman.
  • Warren also earned the endorsement of West Wendover Mayor Daniel Corona, another former Castro backer, as well as the support of state Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, who had previously endorsed California Sen. Kamala Harris.
  • Assemblyman Ozzie Fumo told me recently that he has officially withdrawn his endorsement of Biden. Fumo is running for the Supreme Court, and judicial candidates cannot endorse.
  • The Clark County Education Association threw its support behind presidential candidate Bernie Sanders last week. The news was first reported by BuzzFeed but my colleague Jackie Valley has more. (Sanders also recently received a number of endorsements from college professors, educators and education leaders.)
  • The Clark County Black Caucus also announced it is officially shifting its support to Sanders, after previously backing New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who dropped out of the presidential race last week. The caucus had said it would support Sanders should Booker not garner enough support.
  • Former Las Vegas Mayor Jan Jones Blackhurst has endorsed Biden for president.
  • Former Assemblywoman Bonnie Parnell has endorsed Buttigieg.

Upcoming candidate visits

  • Steyer has nine events planned in Nevada this weekend including a Reno small business walk, a meet and greet with business leaders in Reno, a Sparks office opening, a geothermal tour, a virtual town hall hosted by the Rural Nevada Democratic Caucus, an El Sol Community Reunion, and an environmental panel discussion. He'll also keynote Battle Born Progress’ 6th annual Progressive Summit at the CSN North Las Vegas Campus and attend SEIU Local 1107's Unions for All Summit.
  • Several Democratic presidential hopefuls will also appear by live stream at the Unions for All Summit this weekend.
  • The Clark County Democrats announced last week that Buttigieg was the first presidential candidate to confirm for their Kick Off to Caucus Gala on Feb. 15.
  • Biden will be in town starting Feb. 16 for the final stretch before the Feb. 22 caucus.

Surrogate stops

  • Steyer’s wife, Kat Taylor, was in Las Vegas on Jan. 8 to attend a Women’s Democratic Club luncheon, an AAPI women’s roundtable and a happy hour at Atomic Liquors downtown.
  • Castro was in Nevada on Jan. 10 and 11 campaigning for Warren, who he endorsed for president after dropping out of the race. Pulse Nightclub Survivor Brandon Wolf, trans Advocate Ashlee Marie Preston, and New York State Sen. Gustavo Rivera were also in Nevada that weekend campaigning for Warren.
  • Former Secretary of Labor and current Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis and Texas Congressman Filemon Vela were in Nevada the weekend of Jan. 11 and 12 to campaign for Biden. They attended various canvass kickoffs, roundtables and a Latino-to-Latino phone bank. (Solis will also be back this weekend to attend the SEIU summit on Biden's behalf.)
  • Ambassador Keith Harper, the first Native American to receive the rank of U.S. ambassador, campaigned for Buttigieg at the Native American Presidential Forum on Jan. 15.
  • Sanders Nevada state co-chair Amy Vilela and national surrogate Cori Bush attended the Women’s March in Southern Nevada on Saturday, in addition to attending a canvass launch and door knocking. They also hosted two screenings of Knock Down the House, a documentary about several 2018 primary campaigns that features Vilela and Bush.
  • Melissa Franzen, a Latina state senator from Minnesota, campaigned for Klobuchar at the Reno Women's March and attended a private meet and greet at Arrow Creek in Reno this weekend.
  • Nelda Martinez, former mayor of Corpus Christi, TX, campaigned on behalf of Buttigieg at the Reno Women’s March, while actress and comedian Cristela Alonzo campaigned there on behalf of Warren.
  • Fremont City Councilwoman Teresa Keng, campaigning on behalf of Yang, also joined the Women's March and other events in Reno, including a meeting with City Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus, a round table conversation with the Douglas County Democrats, and a canvass launch.
  • Rep. Mark Pocan, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus in the House, campaigned for Sanders in Las Vegas on Monday, touring a dispensary with Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom.
  • Former U.S. Sen. and Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun will campaign for Biden on Jan. 25 and 26 in Las Vegas, including delivering remarks at the Battle Born Progress summit and an MLK Scholarship Banquet.
  • Castro will also return to Las Vegas this weekend to speak at the Battle Born Progress summit on Warren’s behalf. Jane Sanders, wife of Bernie Sanders, will also be in town to speak at the summit.
  • Lamell McMorris, founder and CEO of Perennial Strategy Group, former executive director and CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and civil rights leader, will also speak at the summit on Buttigieg’s behalf.
  • Castro will return to Las Vegas this weekend to join the SEIU Local 1107 and Battle Born Progress summits.
  • California Assemblyman Evan Low, Yang’s national campaign co-chair, will campaign this weekend in Las Vegas at Chinese New Year celebrations, including the parade, and meet with veterans and AAPI small business owners.

Other election news

  • Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick was back in Nevada on Friday to visit the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. Details from Indytern Kristyn Leonard in this tweet thread
  • Steyer’s campaign recently hosted several events as part of a “Black & Latino Empowerment Weekend,” including an interfaith community dinner, a black voters breakfast discussion and an economic empowerment roundtable.
  • The Nevada State Democratic Party hosted a mock caucus at SEIU last week in conjunction with the Asian American Pacific Islander Democratic Caucus, as well as two LGBTQ+ focused trainings in Las Vegas and Reno in coordination with the Human Rights Campaign. The party also plans to hold several rural Nevada caucus trainings this week, including in Pahrump, Tonopah, Dayton, Minden, Carson City, Virginia City, Fallon, Elko and Ely.
  • The state Democratic Party also recently hosted a weekend of volunteer training summits in Las Vegas and Reno, where nearly 500 Democrats showed up to get trained.
  • Klobuchar’s campaign is in the process of hosting ambassador trainings.

DOWN BALLOT NEWS

Lee faces ads from the left and the right: Freshman Democratic Rep. Susie Lee is the target of a new ad buy by the American Action Network, an outside group with ties to Republican leadership in the House, pressuring the congresswoman over her decision to vote in favor of impeaching Trump. My colleague Jacob Solis has more on this ad.

At the same time, she’s also one of 17 swing-seat Democrats being targeted in a $2.2 million advertising campaign from House Majority Forward, a non-profit group linked to the Democratic Party’s House majority super PAC. Details on that here.

Lee raises more than $600,000 in Q4: Against that backdrop, Lee raised more than $600,000 in the last quarter of the year. The end-of-year total is $110,000 more than Lee raised in the third quarter. Jacob has more details here.

Meanwhile, Horsford raises nearly $500,000: Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford’s campaign has announced that he raised $455,000 in the last quarter of 2019, pushing his total fundraising for the year to more than $1.6 million. He has more than $1 million cash on hand. More from Jacob on that.

Republicans hold fundraising edges in key Assembly, Senate races: Several Republicans outraised incumbent Democratic lawmakers in the last year as the party attempts to make a comeback after the 2018 election. My colleague Riley Snyder has the details.

REALTORS diving deeper into legislative races: The Nevada Association of REALTORS® has contributed $2 million to political action committees to recruit real estate agents and back friendly candidates in state legislative races. Riley has more.

Ahead of the 2022 election, Sisolak raises more than $1.6 million: Riley also dove into the campaign finances of Gov. Steve Sisolak, who substantially padded his campaign account last year even though he’s not up for election for two more years. Details here.

Judicial candidates are starting to file: Indytern Kristyn Leonard takes a look at which candidates filed on the first day of the judicial filing period.

CCEA collecting signatures for two ballot measures: The union is circulating two ballot measures in an attempt to boost state education funding. If successful, the two measures would head to the Legislature for consideration in 2021, before appearing on the ballot in 2022. My colleague Jackie Valley has all the details of what’s going on, and how proposed increases in gaming and sales taxes are likely to fare.


OTHER REQUIRED READING

  • Bloomberg and Steyer count on cash to carry them to victory (AP)
  • Caucusing is complicated, so why do we do it? (PBS Newshour)
  • ‘Democrats designate Culinary – er, Strip – caucus locations’ (Nevada Current)

Updated 1-21-20 at 9:33 a.m. to correct that one of Buttigieg's staffers in fact did not graduate from Rancho High School, as the campaign had previously said.

Nevada 2020 election season begins with judicial candidate filing period

Front view of the Nevada State Court building

Multiple judicial candidates filed to run in the 2020 election cycle on Monday, the first day of Nevada’s 10-day filing period, including the current chief justice of the Supreme Court who is seeking re-election.

The judicial filing period began Jan. 6 and concludes on Jan. 17 at 5 p.m. During this period, all candidates seeking to run in the state and district elections for Nevada’s supreme and lower courts must submit their declaration of candidacy to either their city or county clerk or directly to the secretary of state’s office.

There were a total of 189 judges statewide in Nevada in fiscal year 2019, but not all of these positions will be up for re-election in the coming cycle. 

This year, two of the seven Supreme Court seats in Nevada are up for nonpartisan election — those of Justice Mark Gibbons and Chief Justice Kris Pickering. Gibbons, who served as chief justice in 2008, 2014 and 2019, has announced that he will be retiring from the bench and will not seek re-election this year. 

Pickering took over the chief justice position from Gibbons beginning Monday. She previously held the position in 2013. 

Pickering is among the judges who have already filed as candidates. 

Judge Douglas Herndon, who currently serves on the Eighth Judicial District Court in Clark County, and Assemblyman Ozzie Fumo, who currently represents Nevada State Assembly District 21, have also filed as a Supreme Court candidates, for the seat Gibbons will leave vacant at the end of this term.

This period is the first of several important dates for those seeking election this year in Nevada  leading up to the primary on June 9 and general election on Nov. 3. The filing period for non-judicial candidates will take place from March 2-13. 

Assembly Democrats announce seven endorsements in open seats including two SEIU stewards, Washoe teachers union president

Assembly Chambers during speech

The Assembly Democratic Caucus is announcing seven endorsements on Friday, ahead of a major legislative reshuffling in 2020 as lawmakers hit their term limits or seek higher office.

All of the endorsements are in districts that are either solidly Democratic or lean Democratic and which Democrats won handily in the 2018 election. The party currently holds a supermajority in the Assembly, and are just shy of two-thirds support in the Senate.

The caucus is endorsing Shondra Summers-Armstrong, a management analyst with the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada and chief steward with SEIU Local 1107, for Assembly District 6. Assemblyman Will McCurdy, the occupant of that seat, is running for Clark County Commission. Democrat Katie Duncan, founder of the Ward 5 Chamber of Commerce, is also running for the seat.

In Assembly District 7, the caucus is backing Cameron “CH” Miller, who was announced Friday as Nevada political director on Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s presidential campaign. Assemblywoman Dina Neal, who has represented that district since 2010, is running for the state Senate.

Clara “Claire” Thomas is the caucus’s pick in Assembly District 17, which was represented by Assemblyman Tyrone Thompson until he suddenly passed away earlier this year. Thomas is a case manager with the Clark County District Attorney’s Office and, like Summers-Armstrong, a steward with SEIU Local 1107.

The caucus is supporting Venicia Considine, director of development and community relations at the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, for Assembly District 18. That seat is currently represented by Assemblyman Richard Carrillo, who is running against Assemblyman Ellen Spiegel for the state Senate seat that Sen. David Parks is termed out of.

To that end, the caucus is endorsing David Orentlicher, a professor at UNLV’s Boyd School of Law and co-director of the UNLV Health Law Program, for Spiegel’s seat in Assembly District 20.

The caucus will also support Elaine Marzola, an attorney and owner at Marzola Injury Law, for Assemblyman Ozzie Fumo’s seat in Assembly District 21. Fumo is seeking a position on the Nevada Supreme Court. Natha Anderson, president of the Washoe Education Association, will receive the caucus’s endorsement in Assembly District 30. That seat has been held by Assemblyman Greg Smith since Mike Sprinkle resigned in the wake of sexual harassment allegations against him.