Election Preview: Board of Regents candidates from the education realm face off against outsiders who think the board needs a new perspective

regents meeting

Candidates for the Nevada Board of Regents will be entering an unprecedented higher education landscape if elected — campuses that look like ghost towns, millions of dollars in budget cuts after years of progress and continuing fallout from the global health crisis. 

Some of the responsibilities of the job, which pays $80 per meeting attended and has a six-year term, are the same as they were before the pandemic such as making leadership appointments for the state's seven higher education institutions and for Desert Research Institute. Candidates expect to inherit new issues if elected, including a $135 million cut to the Nevada System of Higher Education budget from the special legislative session in the summer.

Some issues they likely will have to deal with — ranging from changes that may come with the outcome of Ballot Question 1, which will determine whether the elected board is put under the oversight of the Legislature per Assembly Joint Resolution No. 5 to unknown consequences from the continuing pandemic — are yet to be seen. 

Despite the uncertainties, candidates say they are looking to diversify higher education programs in order to help further diversify the state's economy, make higher education more affordable and move forward with plans for the UNLV Medical School.

The four open seats pit candidates who have a history working in education against community members who would say they want to add a new perspective to higher education.

District 2

The race for District 2, which covers a part of Las Vegas and the southwest corner of the City of North Las Vegas, features a 30-year politician versus a former regent.

Lois Tarkanian, who termed out of her 14-year run on the Las Vegas City Council last year, said her experience on the City Council and as a trustee with the Clark County School District for 12 years, particularly in addressing the district's finances, will help her address concerns as a regent.

Tarkanian thinks Question 1 is an example of "don't throw the baby out with the bathwater" and says that she would be able to address many of the concerns about regents that motivated the creation of the ballot measure, such as members lacking experience in education and mismanagement of finances.

"I feel I have a working relationship. The years that I've had in education and on the city council, you had to work with other people in the community," she said. "I just think I have had a lot of experience with that and I could help."

Tarkanian, the wife of the late, legendary UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian and mother of future Douglas County Commissioner Danny Tarkanian, joined the race in part to continue work she did as a councilwoman on the Las Vegas Medical District with the long-awaited development of the UNLV Medical School. 

While donors are looking to create a private development corporation to largely bypass the wait and red tape that comes with working with regents and elected officials, Tarkanian said she has many connections with stakeholders and can help facilitate conversations. She said she's already talked with donors and stakeholders throughout the process of creating the plan for the medical school.

Tarkanian said she would need to see the regents’ current financial situation to decide how to move forward as a regent amid the $135 million budget cut and find creative solutions to cut costs and possibly add funds to the medical school's development. 

Tarkanian said her passion for education is a crucial factor in how she would serve as a regent if elected.

"The most important thing is I have passion and persistence," she said. "I've stuck with things until we got 'em and we got 'em right."

Tarkanian spoke highly of her challenger, Bret Whipple, but said that based on her conversations with him, she has more passion for the job. 

Whipple, an attorney at Justice Law Center, served as regent from 2002 to 2008 and at one point chaired the board. Now that he has two college-aged children, who were in elementary school during his first term, he said he's looking to return and help improve the system.

As a regent, Whipple boasted about efforts made to improve the student experience statewide. Whipple pointed to his participation in orchestrating a "one-stop-shop" technology system in 2008 for students to use when registering for classes, paying tuition and completing other tasks, a system he recently used as a parent when his daughter was paying and registering for classes. He also helped create common course numbering that allows students to transfer 100 percent of their credits across higher education institutions in the state.

"I just want to continue to make the system a strong system for the entire state that all of our children can be proud of," he said. "People tend to be critical sometimes of our state, but I think we've got an amazing system here, and I was glad to be part of it. And I think I made it much better after when I left, and I'm just hoping to be involved with things that I can improve."

Whipple highlighted the UNLV Medical School and COVID as "hot topics" regents will have to address if elected but said there are other important issues that get less attention, similar to the technology issue he addressed in his first term, that he would learn about as a regent and work to solve.  

Whipple, 57, said that he has "time and energy" to be a regent that might be more difficult for 86-year-old Tarkanian. He said in his first tenure, he didn't just "show up and vote" — he put in time outside of meetings researching and made extra commitments, such as when he made himself the chair of the committee choosing the technology system.

Despite challenges facing the higher education system, Whipple said, he was proud to be a part of what he characterizes as a strong and affordable higher education system and hopes to rejoin.

"Nevada is one of those states that anybody can move to and if you're willing to work hard, you can really succeed," he said. "I'm just very proud of the fact that … you don't have to come from a blueblood family to get into our universities. You don't have to be a millionaire to go to school. You can go to school here and still work and you can make it."

Whipple said he's mostly relying on word of mouth for his campaign, along with name recognition from his previous term as regent 12 years ago. Whipple expected to win his 2008 re-election bid against newcomer Robert Blakely but lost by 7 percentage points after doing little campaigning, including not sending out mailers or having a website. 

Like the first period, Whipple reported no donations or expenses for the second period and had no available cash. 

Tarkanian said she has been sending out mailers and will soon start calling voters. She said she has been touting her endorsements from three sitting county commissioners, including Chair Marilyn Kirkpatrick, and three sitting Las Vegas City Council members, including Mayor Carolyn Goodman and Michele Fiore, in her campaign materials.

In the second quarter, Tarkanian raised $4,000 with $2,000 coming from herself and the rest from Las Vegas developer Ernest A. Becker III. She spent more than $17,000, almost $3,000 of which was spent on advertising and the rest mostly on consultants. She had $747 in available cash at the end of the quarter.

District 3

Both candidates for District 3, which includes the UNLV campus and a part of Henderson, have run unsuccessfully in Republican primaries: Swadeep Nigam in 2012 and 2016 for two different Assembly districts and Byron Brooks in 2018 for Senate District 20.

For Nigam, education was his "ticket to prosperity" and is his motivation for running for regent. Coming from a family of educators, Nigam has been a member of the Advanced Technologies Academy advisory board and a scholarship creator and donor for high school seniors in Southern Nevada.

"I'm about education. That's the reason I want to make a difference, especially in this city where UNLV is one of the top campus when it comes to diverse student population," he said. "My goal is to make sure everyone has access to different financial opportunities ... while paying for the college costs." 

A former commissioner of the Nevada Equal Rights Commission that handles the state's employment discrimination complaints, Nigam would like to work on securing more private-sector funding for scholarships amid the rising costs of going to college. He said he would also try to stop annual cost increases or implement a tuition freeze for students for their first five years.

Nigam, a financial analyst for a Las Vegas law firm, has financial experience in both the private sector as a former manager of a health care company and the public sector through his work with the Las Vegas Valley Water District where he supervised the budget as it grew from $150 million to close to $1 billion. He said he knows how to support necessary programs even during economic rough patches and budget cuts.

If elected, Nigam said he would consider delaying university capital projects and future programs to save money.

"[With] my unique professional background coupled with my passion and dedication to higher education policy, I will bring some good, exceptional support to the existing board," he said.

Nigam, who has advanced degrees in economics and finance, said that voters have told him that they're concerned his opponent, Brooks, doesn't have a college degree. 

Although he doesn't have a degree, Brooks attended California State University San Marcos where he studied literature, putting himself through school after leaving the military. He said he participated in a graduation ceremony, but got caught up in working and never went back for three credits in Spanish required for his degree.

"If anybody understands the struggles that students have, some of the things that they have to deal with while they're going to school at the same time, it's me," he said. "Even though there are certainly things that people would like to achieve from an education standpoint, it doesn't mean that they're not dealing with challenges … and I believe that's why we have to have resources."

Brooks, a principal managing partner for a Henderson spa, said he sees regents as facilitators and hopes to use the position to empower students, including older students who may be trying to get into a new field or move up in their own. He would like to provide resources to help them move through coursework quickly and efficiently while they address other challenges of being a nontraditional college student.

As a seven-year mentor for the Veteran Treatment Court and a member of the school organization team (SOT) for his son's elementary school, Brooks said that being involved in the community made him want to run for regent.

"Voters should take a look at me and be confident in knowing that if they choose to elect me,  then I'm going to continue in the same manner that I have for the last seven years and really make this about where I can serve and what I can do to facilitate the needs of others," he said. "[I'm going to] make sure campuses have what they need for student success."

Brooks said his experience overseeing multi-million dollar projects for the U.S. Department of Defense and the Department of State will transfer well to being a regent. If elected, he said he would listen and learn from the other regents, figure out the status of various issues and work to help solve them.

Neither Nigam nor Brooks reported raising or spending any funds in the first period, but Nigam dominated in fundraising in the second quarter. He raised $16,400, with his biggest donation being $2,000 from Aurangzeb Nagy, a Las Vegas neurosurgeon. He reported two separate gifts of $1,000 from other Las Vegas residents in the medical fields and two separate gifts of $1,000 from two Vegas businessmen. He also received an in-kind donation of $400 in consulting services from Sanjay Palherkar and $600 in graphic design and staffing services from Red Chimp Media.

Brooks raised $1,900 in the second period with a $500 donation from Las Vegas City Councilwoman Victoria Seaman and another $1,000 from Seaman and her husband. 

Of his $1,500 expenses, Brooks spent $500 on Facebook ads and $1,000 at a consultant business which left him with $400 in cash on hand. Nigam spent about $2,400, of which $1,750 was spent on Facebook advertising. He also made a few small payments of less than $50 each for special events to Hispanics in Politics, Nevada Republican Club (formerly the Nevada Republican Men's Club) and Southern Hills Republican Women's Group. He had about $13,000 in available cash at the end of the period.

District 5

Dr. Nick Spirtos originally ran for the District 5 seat, covering parts of Las Vegas and North Las Vegas, in 2014 and lost in the general election to Sam Lieberman. When he chose to run against Lieberman again, he said winning wasn't on his agenda — he wanted to bring attention to his platform through campaign events and "light a fire" under Lieberman to get him to take his issues to the regents. 

But Lieberman's death in early April left the race without an incumbent — and left Spirtos thinking "somebody better step it up."

One of Spirtos' priorities if elected would be the development of the UNLV Medical School. He said he wouldn't try to stop any plans already in place, including the private development corporation, if he takes the seat, but would participate in future discussions if plans fall through. A former member of the UNLV School of Medicine Community Advisory Board, Spirtos said the medical school is not only important as a physician training center but also as an "economic engine" that would create jobs and help foster another industry outside of tourism.

The medical director of the Women’s Cancer Center in Las Vegas, Spirtos said he would also like to develop programs with incentives to keep Nevada's best students pursuing degrees in state and would like to devote more funding to the recruitment of high quality faculty and researchers.

Spirtos said he's interested in implementing different grading systems that allow students to explore various fields without worrying about being punished with a bad grade for taking a risk. For example, he pointed to Brown University, which allows students to take most classes as a satisfactory/no credit option instead of receiving a letter grade.

"You have kids who are not taking classes that may be difficult, and they're not taking classes that they don't think they're going to do well in. And college to me seems that that should be the time that you have to explore and to expand your horizons," he said.

A first generation American born of Greek immigrants, Spirtos said he is a firm believer in affirmative action policies to give disadvantaged students opportunities to advance themselves, whether that be studying at a university or a trade school. In higher education, affirmative action policies aim to increase the representation of groups that have historically been excluded from educational opportunities. 

"I truly believe one of the issues that needs to be addressed is how to graduate the kids who come into the program … first with the affirmative action, disadvantaged students, and then all the students and look at ways that you might allow them to achieve, be more successful," he said.

Spirtos said his position on affirmative action is a major distinction from his opponent, Patrick Boylan, a semi-retired safety and security consultant and former adjunct professor at the College of Southern Nevada. When asked about his stance on affirmative action, Boylan said that his belief is that all people are equal and that "pandering to minorities tactics" are just candidates "using minorities to get votes."

One priority for Boylan if he is elected will be diversifying and expanding programs in critical fields such as health care, information technology and manufacturing which will in term diversify the Silver State's economy, which has 33 percent of Nevada jobs relying on the tourism industry

"I also believe that there's a great need that we could fulfill and not just depend on this gaming industry. You can see how it's hit us now it's affected us," he said. "It's ridiculous we depend only on one industry. So I want to change that."

Boylan wants to expand UNLV's masters program in crisis and emergency management, a program he went through, so Nevada can have more expertise to address a wide variety of emergencies.

A former member of the Nevada State Board of Education in the early 2000s, Boylan said he would work with the Legislature and the governor to get more funding for higher education, particularly from the marijuana industry. He said he would seek to cut back on administrative and utility costs when dealing with budget cuts during the pandemic. 

Boylan, who was a candidate in Democratic primaries for Assembly District 15 in 2010 and Congressional District 1 in 2016 and was a board member for the Winchester Township in Las Vegas, said he wants to use elected positions to help his community and work collaboratively with fellow civil servants to find solutions.

"I've worked for my neighborhood, and people in my town and my state. I will do what's right for education. That's our future, those are our leaders," he said. "I want to do something that will help make us the best, make Nevada and the education in Nevada the best."

Spirtos didn't report any fundraising or spending in the first quarter, but reported about $15,700 in the second quarter, $14,700 of which was his own money. The remaining $1,000 came from $500 donations from IBEW Local Union 357 and the Clark County Firefighters PAC.

Of the $14,700 he spent, a little more than half went to consulting services and the rest went to advertising. He had $1,000 in cash on hand at the end of the period.

Boylan reported no fundraising or spending in the first and second quarter and reported no cash on hand.

District 10

The race for the District 10 regent seat, covering most of Reno, features a life-long educator and former regent against a life-long Reno resident who says he wants to add some new perspective to the board. 

Kevin Melcher previously served as regent for District 8, which covers most of the western part of the state and parts of Clark County, from 2010 to 2016. He didn't seek re-election because he was moving back to Reno, where he was born and raised. Once District 10 incumbent and former Chairman Rick Trachok announced he wasn't seeking re-election, Melcher said several people asked him to run. 

A teacher and administrator in Elko's K-12 education system for 28 years and an appointed member of the Nevada State Board of Education, Melcher said his background in education and governance gives him an edge in the race and will allow him to pick up where he left off if elected.

Melcher said he doesn't have a narrow agenda as a regent to allow him to address all important issues brought to the board, but said funding issues will obviously have to be addressed. He said he would make necessary cuts while keeping UNLV and the UNR as "Tier 1" research institutions

"There's going to be a lot of decisions having to be made, tough decisions, and I believe my skills and networking will really help listening to all parties involved and try to come up with really good decisions by an entire board that will help the system move forward," he said.

He also would like to develop a better pipeline between K-12 schools, community colleges and universities and minimize the north-south and urban-rural divide in education.

"I don't believe anyone has the answer, but I think together, if we sit down and really work between the Legislature and the Board of Regents and the governor and all the people that are on campus — the staff, the faculty, the students — we'll come up with good answers," Melcher said. "There's a lot of smart minds out there and a lot of people have seen it done different ways, and we just have to find the best way for Nevada."

Melcher's opponent, Joseph Arrascada, was motivated to run for regent after two renovations of UNR's Mackay stadium in the last five years left the stadium noncompliant with regulations for the Americans with Disabilities Act — and put the project millions of dollars over budget. Arrascada, who has been using a wheelchair for 34 years, has spoken to regents about the stadium's accessibility issues after the failed renovations and UNR's $3.4 million lawsuit against the architect of the renovations.

Even though he knows much of the money for the stadium will be coming from donors, Arrascada said that it is "unfortunate" that so much money is going toward something not directly for education nor for the whole student body. He said he'd like to look into the misappropriation of funds as a regent.

"After my diagnosis of quadriplegia, I can empathize with hearing 'no.' Too often, I've been told no way too often," he said. "I want to say yes to students. I want to say yes to faculties, community members. I want to listen to them and respect their opinions … it's not happening now."

Arrascada said there's been a breakdown of communication between regents and the faculty, staff and students they serve as well as between regent themselves. He said there's a clear north-south divide on the board and the hostility between regents is palpable.

A worker at the Reno Veterans Administration Hospital and co-owner of a local community service agency, Arrascada said he exhibits qualities such as leadership, communication and passion that will benefit the board. 

"There needs to be a new direction, new thoughts, new ideas, a new set of eyes on the board, in which it can truly take the board to a new direction, new positive direction because that's what's desperately needed — an infusion of new ideas, new thoughts and a new mindset," he said.

Arrascada described the higher education system's financial situation during the pandemic as a "budget crisis" and said that he would try to keep cuts out of the classroom, specifically reducing red tape or departments that don't directly benefit students.

In the first quarter, Melcher topped all candidates in his district in fundraising and spending and again beat out Arrascada in both categories and cash on hand for the second quarter. He raised more than $11,300, propelled by a $5,000 donation from Michael Hitchcock, a UNR adjunct faculty member, and a $1,000 donation from Nora and Bruce James, who is a member on the advisory board for Sierra Nevada University, a private school, and the president and CEO of a technology investment company. 

Melcher spent $9,800 on almost completely advertising and had $11,500 in cash on hand at the end of the period.

Arrascada reported no fundraising or spending in the first quarter, but raised $9,200 in the second quarter. His biggest donations were from a family member, who gave $2,100, James Cryer, a car dealership owner who gave $2,000, and Western Nevada Supply Co., which donated $1,000. All of his $4,650 in expenses went to print advertising, leaving him with $4,200 in available cash.

Election Preview: State board candidates compete to have a hand in determining the future of education in Nevada

Nevada’s schools have had an unconventional year, faced with sudden closures and a shift to digital learning and the future is uncertain as administrators and elected officials determine what education will look like in the age of the coronavirus.

Just as schools let out for the summer, voters will have the opportunity to choose between the candidates who will sit on the state board that helps make these decisions.

The Nevada State Board of Education works in tandem with the state Department of Education, voting and adopting administrative regulations about allocations of funding, setting standards for areas of study and determining graduation requirements for Nevada’s high schoolers.

There are 11 seats on the board, chaired by Elaine Wynn, a director of Wynn Resorts; four of those are elected positions. Of the seven remaining seats, three are voting members nominated by the governor, the Senate, and the Assembly while the remaining four are nominated to represent the interests of various education-focused organizations.

The elected seats on the board represent each of Nevada’s four congressional districts, and all four are up for election this year, with two seats empty and two incumbents hoping to be re-elected.

Map of Nevada's Congressional Districts.

For these nonpartisan primary races, the field will be narrowed to two candidates who will go on to compete in the general election in November. If elected, candidates will serve four year terms on the board.

Though District 2 has only one candidate on the ballot, District 1’s crowded race has five candidates competing in the primary, including Tim Hughes, determined to win after losing the seat in 2016.

In District 3, candidate Justin “Steeve Strange” Mickanen is taking on Bruce James-Newman and incumbent Felicia Ortiz by touting his “Ban Schools” platform, and in District 4, board Vice President Mark Newburn hopes to successfully defend his seat against two competitors.

District 1

The Las Vegas Valley will see the most crowded race for the board this year, as Southern Nevada’s District 1 has five candidates vying for the seat.

Tim Hughes received the Culinary Union’s endorsement for the position as well as an endorsement from the AFL-CIO and the Clark County Education Association. 

Hughes’ campaign has reported $3,500 in contributions since January including a $1,000 donation from Leadership for Educational Equity, a non-profit organization focused on supporting diversity in educational leadership. As of April 15, the candidate had $2,265 cash on hand.

Hughes is the vice president for the western region of TNTP, a teacher training program, and formerly worked for Teach for America. Hughes also ran for the seat in 2016, losing to Robert Blakely.

Incumbent Blakely is not seeking re-election.

Newcomer Aaron Mason is also campaigning for the seat but hasn’t reported any contributions to his campaign this year. Mason is portraying himself as an outsider to a “broken system.” The Las Vegas resident is the director of ticket operations and analytics for the Las Vegas Lights FC soccer team and says he is running not as a politician or an educator but as a concerned father.

Mason is up against multiple career educators, including Michael Robison, a retired teacher, principal and associate professor. Robison has represented both the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the University of Phoenix at Board of Education meetings in the past.

Angelo Casino has been an educator for five years and currently teaches at a charter school. Career and technical education is a major issue for the candidate, who is advocating for increased vocational training as well as an increase in funding for magnet programs in schools.

Neither Casino nor Robison reported any campaign contributions.

The fifth candidate in the race is Steve Esh, a former electronics engineer who is self-funding his campaign with a $200 contribution made in his own name.

District 2

For Northern Nevada’s District 2 seat, Katie Coombs is the only candidate.  The Reno resident has worked in the financial industry and has written multiple parenting and lifestyle columns, including one in the Reno Gazette-Journal, in addition to hosting a radio show.

Incumbent Kevin Melcher is leaving the Board of Education to run for a position on the Nevada Board of Regents. Melcher was appointed to the board in September 2019 to finish the term of David Carter, who had resigned earlier that year.

Coombs has been endorsed by multiple organizations, including the Culinary Union and the Nevada State Education Association. Despite running unopposed, the candidate has spent $3,858 this year campaigning, leaving her with $634 cash on hand. 

District 3

In Southern Nevada's District 3, incumbent Felicia Ortiz faces two opponents in her push for a second term on the board.

Ortiz was first appointed to the board in 2016 by then-Gov. Brian Sandoval before running for and being elected to the District 3 seat later that year. Ortiz has received $9,265 in donations since January, including a $5,000 donation from the Clark County Education Association.

Ortiz’s competitors, Bruce James-Newman and Justin “Steeve Strange” Mickanen, have not reported any contributions made to their campaigns. 

Mickanen, an outspoken Trump supporter and founder of The Scoop, an online news platform, is campaigning on a “Ban Schools” platform, claiming that the public education system is about “indoctrination” rather than education.

James-Newman ran for Assembly as a Libertarian in 2018, losing the election for the District 29 seat which is currently held by Democrat Lesley Cohen.

District 4

District 4 includes the northern segment of Clark County and portions of Central Nevada. This district will also see an incumbent competing against two challengers. Mark Newburn, the vice president of the board, was first elected to the seat in 2012.

Newburn has received endorsements from the Nevada State Education Association and the Culinary Union. His campaign has been entirely self-funded, and he has spent over $2,700 this year on advertising expenses.

The candidate sits on multiple education boards and is the chair of the UNLV Computer Science Department Industry Advisory Board. Prior to his work in the public sector, he worked in the technology industry for 40 years.

Neither of Newburn’s competitors have reported any spending by their campaigns so far this year. 

Candidate Vincent Richardson has been endorsed by the Clark County Black Caucus. Richardson is an elementary school teacher and an instructor at the College of Southern Nevada where he previously worked as diversity coordinator. 

Rene Cantu, the executive director of Jobs for Nevada’s Graduates (JAG Nevada), has 29 years of education experience and previously served as the District E trustee for the Clark County School District. 

10:42 a.m.: This story was updated to reflect that Mark Newburn was elected in 2012, not 2016.

5:52 p.m.: This story was updated to correct the geographic descriptions of Districts 3 and 4.

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

A women turns in her ballot

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

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

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

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

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

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

District 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

District 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

District 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

District 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sisolak's calendar of first month shows meetings with union leaders, top officials

Gov. Steve Sisolak’s first month in office was dominated by meetings with top state and federal officials and with the individuals and groups that helped elect him last year.

According to a copy of Sisolak’s official calendar, the new governor held a slew of meetings and calls throughout January and the first week of February with education and business leaders, union heads, one Trump administration official and with California billionaire and Democratic megadonor Tom Steyer.

The Nevada Independent filed a records request for Sisolak’s calendar for the month of January and the first week of February on Feb. 7. Although scheduled meetings aren’t confirmation that a meeting actually happened or what topics were discussed, a look at the governor’s calendar provides valuable insight into which individuals Sisolak met with and heard from as he began planning for his first legislative session as governor.

"During the governor’s first weeks in office, he met face-to-face with all 63 legislators, signed a landmark bill to close the gun background check loophole, established a task force on sexual harassment, and more," Sisolak spokeswoman Helen Kalla said in an email. "Additionally, the governor has traveled around the state to meet Nevadans where they are – from Elko to Las Vegas to tribal communities across Northern Nevada. "

Here’s who Sisolak met with during his first month in office:

Interest Groups

Sisolak’s calendar shows a meeting on Jan. 22 with one political adviser — Megan Jones, a former political director for Sen. Harry Reid and a longtime Democratic political consultant involved in multiple ballot questions and dozens of races for statewide and legislative candidates. Her firm, Hilltop Public Solutions, also helped run the campaign for Question 1 in 2016, requiring background checks on most private gun sales and transfers. The measure was never implemented despite being approved by voters because of the FBI’s refusal to conduct the background checks.

Earlier this month, Sisolak signed SB143 into law — a fix of the 2016 voter-approved initiative that requires the state and not the federal government to conduct the background checks. Jones didn’t return an email seeking comment as to the purpose of the meeting.

On the education side, Sisolak also reported meeting with Clark County Education Association union leader John Vellardita and Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara on Jan. 30. Sisolak’s proposed $8.8 billion budget includes a 3 percent raise for teachers and upwards of $156 million more in state funds for education, the bulk of which will go to the school district.

Vellardita, whose union strongly supported Sisolak in both the primary and general elections, declined to say what was discussed at the meeting beyond reiterating that CCEA and the district will work together on issues that matter to both, including a weighted school funding formula.

A meeting like this reflects that intent,” he said.

The new governor also scheduled a call with Tom Steyer, the California billionaire whose NextGen America organization spent millions of dollars to run ads and registered voters to assist Nevada Democrats in the 2018 election. Steyer — who also helped fund ballot measures raising renewable energy production standards and requiring automatic voter registration at the DMV — was unable to communicate with Sisolak or other candidates because of rules on campaign coordination and spoke with the new governor about his organization’s accomplishments and goals.

“They discussed NextGen America’s work in 2018 which led to historic turnout among young voters and the passage of Question 6— and NextGen’s commitment to continuing that work in 2019 and beyond,” NextGen America spokeswoman Aleigha Cavalier said in an email.

The calendar also shows a scheduled meeting with AFSCME President Lee Saunders on Feb. 4 in the governor’s Carson City office. During the 2018 campaign, the union spent more than $3.7 million through a PAC aimed at boosting Sisolak and hitting his Republican opponent, Adam Laxalt. Sisolak has embraced and highlighted one of the union’s top goals — collective bargaining for state employees — in his State of the State speech.

A spokesperson for the union said Saunders and Sisolak discussed “their shared belief that public service workers, like all Nevadans, deserve the freedom to negotiate a fair return on their work.”

The governor also reported meeting with representatives of electric car manufacturer Tesla on Feb. 5.

Sisolak also reported meeting with UNITE HERE president D. Taylor on Feb. 8. The union’s local branch, the Culinary Union Local 226, played a huge role in Democratic turnout operations in the 2018 election, sending 1.8 million mail pieces, knocking on thousands of doors and making thousands of calls to support Democratic candidates.

Bethany Khan, a spokeswoman for the Culinary Union, declined to answer an emailed question as to the purpose of the meeting.

Not all of the meetings were directly related to pressing issues. The governor scheduled a meeting in Las Vegas with Jan Jones Blackhurst, the former Las Vegas mayor and Caesars Entertainment executive on Jan. 18, but Blackhurst said the scheduled meeting was more a chance to catch up rather than talk about any particular issue.

“It was more of a social visit than anything else,” she said.

State and federal government

Sisolak’s first month in office was peppered with scheduled meetings with top state and federal officials.

In one of his first meetings scheduled on his calendar, the governor met with Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto at the state party’s offices in Las Vegas. His first call with a member of President Donald Trump’s administration came on Feb. 5, with acting Interior Department Secretary David Bernhardt (nominated just a day prior to the call), as part of an introductory call and brief overview of state land and wildlife issues.

He also reported meeting with the state’s lone Republican statewide official, Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, on Feb. 4 — the first day of the legislative session.

The governor’s calendar also shows a slew of meetings with top state education officials, including several members of the State Board of Education.

He scheduled calls with three members of the board — Mark Newburn on Feb. 4, Robert Blakley and Tamara Hudson on Feb. 5, and a meeting with David Carter on Feb. 7. Department spokesman Greg Bortolin said the governor “reached out to members of the Board of Education that he did not know and introduced himself.”

The calendar also shows scheduled calls with three senior Nevada Department of Transportation staff — Tracy Larkin, Bill Hoffman and Cole Mortensen — on Jan. 24. Sisolak recommended that Kristina Swallow, a former City of Las Vegas engineer, head the transportation department in late January.

Department of Transportation spokesman Tony Illia said in an email that the meetings were “information-gathering meetings for the governor to learn more about how the department runs and hear feedback from its employees.”

Sisolak also met with every state lawmaker for short meetings during the first week of the legislative session — including 30 scheduled ten-minute meetings with legislators on Feb. 26 in their respective offices. The day prior, Feb. 5, he scheduled short meetings with Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson and Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson in their respective offices.

The calendar also sheds some light into the governor’s process for appointments. He scheduled a meeting with former Eighth Judicial District Court discovery commissioner Bonnie Bulla on Feb. 7, six days before his office announced that she would be appointed to a vacant seat on the Nevada Court of Appeals. He also scheduled a meeting with fellow court applicants Tracie Lindeman on Feb. 5 and District Court Judge Jerry Weise on Feb. 6, as well as a meeting with Nevada Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Gibbons on Jan. 29.

Sisolak Calendar by Riley Snyder on Scribd