Freshman Orientation: Assemblyman Andy Matthews

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

ASSEMBLYMAN ANDY MATTHEWS

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

FAMILY AND EDUCATION

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

He and his fiancé Valerie live in Las Vegas.

CAREER

Andy Matthews never expected to be here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ON THE ISSUES

Taxes

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

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

Election security

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

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

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

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

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

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

Criminal justice reform

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

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

Other proposals

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

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

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

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

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.

Gregarious, diligent, headstrong: Sisolak brings big personality to Nevada’s top office

Gov. Steve Sisolak greets children as the Nevada Legislature begins its 80th session on Monday, Feb. 4, 2019 in Carson City, Nev. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

On the morning of the first day of his first legislative session as governor, Steve Sisolak was squatting on the floor of the legislative building in a suit and leather-topped sneakers high-fiving children.

Unlike Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske or Lt. Gov. Kate Marshall, Sisolak was incidental to the day’s proceedings, which largely consisted of lawmaker swearing-ins and mundane legislative business. But instead of holing up in the Capitol as snow swirled outside, the newly inaugurated governor had decided to hobnob in the halls of the legislative building.

His presence marked a departure from the distance that his predecessor, Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, put between himself and the legislative process.

Although Sandoval also set a goal after he was elected to meet with every lawmaker, he was more likely to summon lawmakers to the Capitol for formal meetings in his office. Sisolak made the short walk across the snowy courtyard to meet with lawmakers on their own turf.

“He hasn’t served in the Legislature before and so he wanted to go over there and get to know folks,” said Michelle White, his chief of staff, “and let them know he meant what he said about being accessible and wanting to sit down with them and go to where they are.”

The gesture didn’t go unnoticed by lawmakers on either side of the aisle, several of whom tweeted out pictures of their meetings with the governor.

“It was much more casual than last time,” second-term Assemblywoman Shannon Bilbray-Axelrod, a Democrat, said of her meeting with Sisolak. “Going over to his office was very formal, I would say, with Sandoval.”

But the man-of-the-people persona he’s exuded in his first several weeks in office as he and his wife have embarked on an eating tour of Carson City and toured the rural portions of the state belies the reputation Sisolak earned as a headstrong negotiator in a decade serving on the County Commission.

Those who have worked closely with him describe him as someone who not only won’t back down from a fight, but will sink his teeth in further when challenged — qualities on display in a battle with firefighters over their sick leave system and a clash with ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft.

Although former commission colleague Tom Collins characterizes his style as bullying, primary opponent Chris Giunchigliani said he can be “controlling” and critics see his frequent public and media appearances as evidence of egotism, his supporters view him as accessible, a tough fighter with the wherewithal to lead the state.

“What I saw from him is, when he does believe in something, he is a pitbull. But I don’t see him as a bully,” said Susan Brager, who spent 10 of her dozen years on the County Commission serving with Sisolak and sided with him against a fellow commissioner in a fierce Democratic primary. “I think when you stand strong, it can appear that you’re doing that, but that’s his character, nature, compassion and passion.”

For his part, Sisolak describes himself as a “solutions-oriented consensus-builder.”

“Throughout my service on the Board of Regents and Clark County Commission, I worked hard to forge consensus among diverse groups of people to achieve results for Nevada families,” he said in a statement. “I am willing to sit down with anyone to discuss common-sense solutions that are in the best interests of working families in our state.”

What remains to be seen is how Sisolak’s style translates to his new role as the state’s top executive, where he’ll have the final say in heated debates on gun control and collective bargaining for state workers and power to shed more light on the mostly opaque cannabis and pharmaceutical industries.

In his first days in office, he flexed his political muscle with a sharply worded statement, a self-assured press conference appearance and a series of legal maneuvers when the federal government shipped plutonium to Nevada without consent.

“We all got fired up, too, and I think a lot of Nevadans across the state would agree — they want a governor who is going to be aggressive in their approach and go get something done and take bold steps and get angry because that wasn’t the right thing to do,” White said. “He gets fired up when he thinks regular Nevadans are going to be harmed by something.”

Ron Knecht, a Republican former state controller who served on the Board of Regents with Sisolak, said he’s seen both the friendly and forceful sides of the governor.

“He’s personable, he’s got a likeable personality, the kind of guy … you’d either drink beer or scotch with him,” Knecht said. “He’s a strong leader. And sometimes just on the edge of being too strong.”

Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak during a meeting at the County Government Center on Tuesday, May 2, 2017. Photo by Jeff Scheid.

A budget hawk

Sisolak has touted his fiscal conservatism in the past. He put that aside during the gubernatorial primary when he sought to win over the hearts and minds of progressives, but people who have known him for years say budget hawkishness is his default.

“I consider him to be a hard-nosed negotiator, particularly on issues related to money,” said Don Burnette, who was the county manager for Clark County from 2011 to 2016. “He treated taxpayer money … as if it were his own … He’s definitely the guy you want on your side if you’re going into a fight and it involves money.”

As a member of the Board of Regents, Sisolak earned a reputation for “crunching budget numbers,” a skill he told the Las Vegas Sun he was looking forward to applying to the County Commission. Commission Chair Marilyn Kirkpatrick says it will serve him well in his current role.

“My hope is and my expectation — because I think he’ll do it — is to take things into consideration on the budget that he balanced for many years,” Kirkpatrick said. “The county budget is similar to the state budget.”

When Sisolak took office as a county commissioner in 2009, he became part of the first all-Democrat commission the county had seen in 40 years. It was also a time of great scrutiny on spending as the extent of the recession became more clear.

“The cutbacks were fairly painless to begin with — things like trying to reduce travel and training and discretionary spending, and that got progressively worse,” Burnette said. “About the time I became county manager, the only way left to deal with revenues that were still on the decline was to go through widespread layoffs.”

Sisolak was supportive of the county’s efforts to whittle down its budget during the recession, saying that the county should be a good steward of taxpayer dollars in good economic times as well as bad ones. After all, local government employees who have the right to collectively bargain generally make significantly more than state employees who don’t, according to state-sanctioned salary studies.

He questioned the many opportunities county workers had to boost their pay.

“There are so many of these things — cost-of-living raises, step increase, merit raises, longevity bonuses, whatever you want to call them, you have to start asking: For what?” Sisolak told the Sun. “I talk to people in the private sector who are just happy to keep their jobs, and we’re giving all this money away. We have got to put a tighter rein on this. The county has to get a handle on it.”

The county considered a host of proposals to cut its budget, including streamlining business practices, shifting the burden of providing social service assistance to the state and abandoning licensure of certain types of medical homes and offices.

But then came the hard part — the layoffs.

“It was a very turbulent time for our workforce,” Burnette said. “No one wanted to eliminate positions and we all tried desperately to avoid doing that. But I think Steve understood first and foremost his obligation was to deliver a balanced budget to taxpayers and when the time came to initiate layoffs, it was something that just had to be done.”

Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak, center, candidate for governor, listens while Robert Jackson asks a question during a campaign stop at Monsigner Shallow Apartments on Tuesday, Oct. 30 2018. (Jeff Scheid-Nevada Independent)

Taxes

Sisolak proudly proclaimed during his State of the State address that he would not raise taxes in his budget. Although his campaign opponent, Adam Laxalt, tried to frame him as a tax-hiker, some of the battles he’s best known for on the commission had to do with resisting tax hikes.

One of the drawn-out sagas during Sisolak’s tenure on the commission was More Cops, a half-cent sales tax increase narrowly approved by voters in 2004. While the first half of the increase took effect in 2005, decision-makers opted to delay the second part of the increase because it was scheduled to take effect in 2009, just as the economy was tanking.

Over the next few years, Sheriff Doug Gillespie tried repeatedly to persuade commissioners to raise the tax in hopes of hiring another 101 officers. Proponents argued that when accounting for the area’s visitors, Clark County had 1.58 officers per 1,000 people, while the average in North America was 2.42 officers per 1,000 people.

But Gillespie could not persuade Giunchigliani, a county commissioner at the time, or Sisolak, a member of Metro’s fiscal affairs committee, who questioned why the department wasn’t drawing more on a hefty reserve account.

“It’s about the trust that people have in Metro and the transparency that they feel Metro either has or lacks,” Sisolak said in 2014 during an interview with conservative talk radio station KXNT.

The tax gained traction later when it was part of a package of bills the Nevada Legislature approved in its effort to lure the Raiders to Nevada. Sisolak, in turn, voted as a member of the commission to enact the tax hike, telling KSNV that many of the most powerful business interests in Las Vegas were on board.

"I got calls from Mr. Wynn, Mr. Murren, Mr. Adelson, Mr. Jenkin, Mr. Ferttita amongst others all emphasizing how important this was," Sisolak said, referring to casino executives.

But the fight against police funding did not win him fans all around.

“He got on fiscal affairs and he tried to bully Metro — he was just a flat-out bully,” said Collins, who has not been shy about his distaste for Sisolak and who helped Sisolak’s opponents in the gubernatorial campaign. “When crime was rising and we need more cops, he pushes back.”

Sisolak was known for drilling into the details when handling commission business, questioning what the county was receiving from its contracts with consultants and why contracts were renewed without going out to an open bid. In one instance, he pointed out that an architect who was the husband of a Clark County civil engineer had won hundreds of thousands of dollars in contracts in an apparent violation of state law.

“He doesn’t drink from the cup that’s given to him by the bureaucrats … he was always skeptical on matters on spending,” Knecht said about their time working together. “He could be a little bit intimidating to some of the bureaucrats. That might be looked at as a real plus to some people.”

His reputation as a fiscal watchdog has influenced how others in his orbit work with him. Tina Quigley, general manager of the Regional Transportation Commission, said she advised her staff to be fully prepared before any meeting with Sisolak because he’s someone who always does his own homework on issues.

“He is not afraid of learning the details and asking the hard ‘why’ questions,” she said.

Sisolak struck Quigley as someone never content with being average and never daunted by confrontation.

“He was a strong leader on the County Commission,” Quigley said. “You never had to guess where he (stood) on an issue. He wasn’t afraid of public and ideological debate. I look forward to seeing him bring that same energy as governor.”

Clark County Government Center as seen on Thursday, April 27, 2017. Photo by Jeff Scheid.

Feud with firefighters

At the height of the recession, Sisolak turned an eye toward county firefighters, who topped the county’s highest paid lists. He told the Sun that the firefighters were “viewed as untouchable” since the 9/11 attacks and that no one at the county had “even contemplated saying no to anything they asked for.”

Sisolak’s feud with Clark County firefighters began in 2009, his first year on the County Commission. He said he received calls and emails from constituents asking why pay or benefit cuts for unionized firefighters, who were making an average of $180,000 a year in salaries, benefits and retirement packages, weren’t on the table in the cost-cutting blitz.

The county considered “brownouts” — taking a fire truck or station out of service on a rotating basis to cut costs — to balance out the high costs of firefighter salaries. When contract negotiations between firefighters and the county stalled, Sisolak sunk his teeth into the firefighters’ sick leave policy, accusing them of gaming the system by calling in sick so their coworkers could make overtime pay.

Brager remembers herself and others speaking up on the issue, but Sisolak received death threats for being vocal — including from a city firefighter who posted on Facebook that she’d like to shoot him — prompting the county to increase security measures at commission meetings.

“It got pretty vicious with some of them,” Brager said. “There were some ugly emails and threats that came out but the board stood strong, he stood strong on that, and he took a lot of heat.”

An arbitrator eventually sided with the county over the union in contract negotiations in 2011, leaving firefighters with a 5.5 percent reduction in total wages and benefits estimated at the time to save county taxpayers $7.4 million. The arbitrator also agreed with the county that firefighters appeared to be treating sick days like vacation days, including one firefighter who called in sick 48 days but worked 92 overtime shifts which allowed him to earn more than $230,000.

As a result of the decision, management was allowed to ask for a doctor’s note if firefighters called in sick more than five times a year. The department immediately saw use of sick leave drop, which Sisolak saw as proof of abuse within the system.

“This is no coincidence,” he told the Sun. “This is a shame. And it’s not everyone, but they are making everyone in the department look bad.”

Even after the decision, Sisolak sent letters to the FBI, Las Vegas Metro and the Clark County district attorney seeking an investigation into whether any firefighters had engaged in racketeering and fraud through the sick leave system. Multiple firefighters were eventually fired or disciplined for their misuse of sick leave.

Ryan Beaman, who was president of the union during the negotiations, and current president Steve Thompson did not respond to requests for comment.

If campaign contributions are any indication, the wounds from that fight have not yet healed. Clark County Firefighters contributed $53,000 to Republican and Democratic candidates this cycle, including five of the six Democratic statewide candidates.

Sisolak, who received more than $50,000 during the campaign from seven other firefighter unions and associations statewide during the campaign, was the lone exception.

Clark County Commission Chairman and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Sisolak and Marc Badain, President of the Oakland Raiders look at the Truckee River before a press conference in Downtown Reno, on Thursday, August 16, 2018 following a tour of potential sites for a Raiders training facility.
(David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Public fights with private business

Sisolak didn’t reserve his ire just for public employee unions, but businesses, too.

He was dubious when Uber tried to make an entree into Nevada before it was regulated, appearing with taxi company representatives and the sheriff at an event in May 2015 to raise concerns about the advent of ride-hailing services. (Taxi and luxury car service companies have donated more than $200,000 to Sisolak’s campaigns since 2011, according to an analysis by The Nevada Independent.)

"We're concerned about the fact that potentially you could put drivers that don't have insurance behind the wheel, that don't have drug tests, that haven't been subjected to training and the vehicles haven't been inspected," Sisolak said at a press conference, which came as the Legislature was deliberating laws authorizing Uber and Lyft.

It was Sisolak who proposed an ordinance requiring drivers with ride-hailing businesses to pay $100 a year in county-level licensing fees, saying they needed to carry their own weight just as other independent contractors do.

"Every business that operates in Clark County, every business, has a business license." Sisolak told KNPR. "And it is unfair for the taxpayers to have to absorb the cost of people who are going to want to operate a business without registering."

In November 2015, the commission also approved a $25-per-year fee for Uber drivers operating in unincorporated Clark County, against the wishes of Uber, which called the fee illegal.

Later that month, Uber emailed its users and drivers, urging them to flood commissioners with messages opposing restrictions on operating at the airport. Sisolak chafed at the campaign, launched after Uber declined to turn over to the county a list of its drivers who would be going to the airport.

“(Uber) hired a lot of high-profile, expensive and powerful lobbyists that will lobby for anyone if they pay them enough money,” Sisolak told the Sun. “I am not willing to succumb to the arm-twisting of their special-interest lobbyists. I’m going to do what I feel is best for the safety of the citizens and tourists of Clark County.”

The power struggle with ride-hailing companies drew criticism from the Las Vegas Review-Journal editorial board, which said the license fees would squelch a burgeoning business and was unnecessary and onerous, given that drivers already paid a $200 annual business license fee to the state and are regulated by the Nevada Transportation Authority.

“Local governments have no role in overseeing either company,” the editorial board wrote. “But local elected officials can’t seem to stand that thought, so they’re agitating for a piece of the pie to help supplement budget shortfalls, while also working on behest of the cab companies to throw a wet blanket on a burgeoning business here in the Las Vegas Valley.”

But Brager characterized the county’s efforts to regulate the ride-sharing companies as an attempt to create an equal playing field between the ride-sharing companies and taxis.

“It can’t be that taxis do one thing and Uber can do whatever it wants,” Brager said. “Steve stuck pretty firm to that.”

Sisolak also got in the middle of a tug-of-war between big casinos and slot parlors such as Dotty’s, a chain of taverns that targets women 35 and older and features a small snack bar and slot machines.

Sisolak sponsored an ordinance that would have required that bars make no more than 50 percent of their revenue from slot-machine gaming, aiming to bring them into compliance with a 2011 law specifying that gambling be only “incidental” at a business and not the dominant activity. Dotty’s viewed it as an attempt to put them out of business, but eventually came into compliance with the law by building out full kitchens in many of their slot parlors.

Craig Estey, owner of Dotty’s, has not made campaign donations to Sisolak since at least 2011, while he and three of his family members gave a total of $40,000 to Sisolak’s Republican opponent, Adam Laxalt, during the 2018 cycle.

By contrast, large casino companies that belong to the Nevada Resort Association — a group that for years has taken aim at the Dotty’s business model — have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Sisolak’s campaigns over the years.

Clark County Commission Chair Steve Sisolak, left, and Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, both running for Nevada governor on the Democratic ticket, shake hands during a gubernatorial forum sponsored by Pro-Choice Nevada on Thursday, May 10, 2018. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Transitioning to Carson City

Although Sisolak got rave reviews from many Democrats after his State of the State speech, he still has some strained relationships on the Democratic side of the aisle.

The no-holds-barred campaign he ran against Giunchigliani in the 2018 Democratic primary has soured the relationship between the two, who in friendlier times used to have dinner at each other’s homes. He poured an eye-popping $6.3 million in 2018 alone in his attempt to bury her campaign ahead of the general election, and the attacks became deeply personal.

Sisolak and his supporters ran ads casting aspersions on the fact that Giunchigliani had paid her husband — respected political consultant Gary Gray — to run her 2006 campaign for commission. The ads cut deep not only because Gray died in an accident in 2015, but also because he ran the 2008 campaign that landed Sisolak his commission seat.

After the hard loss, Giunchigliani said she would not vote for the Republican, but still opted not to endorse in the governor’s race.

“Steve did not need my endorsement,” she explained in a January interview with KNPR. “The base … that went with me were going to go with the Democrat no matter what, number one. Number two, very truthfully, it took him six weeks to pick up the phone to even call me and leave me a message, and I worked down the hall.”

Still, she pointed out that Sisolak will be able to start his term with a budget surplus and Democrats in both houses of the Legislature.

“I would say that the primary was pretty ugly on their part, the lies about my husband was a factor but … I'm a team player no matter what, and I wish Steve well,” Giunchigliani said in the KNPR interview.

Last month, Sisolak announced that he had chosen Giunchigliani to sit on a marijuana advisory panel that will develop a Cannabis Control Board to oversee the industry, and she had accepted.

“It was a difficult primary, but this is about policy, not about politics,” Sisolak said at the announcement event. “Commissioner Giunchigliani was at the forefront of cannabis legalization back in the early 2000s and we spent a lot of years together on the county commission dealing with these issues … I think she’s got a lot to bring to the table.”

In an interview, Giunchigliani said she appreciated the gesture and opportunity to serve on the marijuana advisory panel. She hasn’t ruled out a more cordial relationship with Sisolak in the future.

But Giunchigliani said she has never been afraid to be her own person, even if it meant clashing with her commission colleague at various points.

“He was always prepared,” she said, describing his leadership style. “He did read his information, but he had a tendency to be very controlling.”

Kirkpatrick, another former commission colleague, sees Sisolak’s strong personality differently.

“Any time there’s a hot topic and you’re trying to do what’s in the best interest of the community, you will get some friction and you will get some push back, but that’s a great quality to have,” said Kirkpatrick, who earned a no-nonsense reputation as Assembly Speaker before joining the commission. “I’ve been beat up for that. People think I’m mean, but at the same time they respect that I do my homework.”

Virginia Valentine, who was county manager for the first years of Sisolak’s tenure, said she believes he honed his leadership skills when he moved from being a regular member of the commission to being its chair, with more power to drive the agenda and effect change.

“I think he’s gone from being one vote to having a more collaborative style. He’s reaching out to more people, he’s gathering more information, I think he’s spending more time not on just understanding issues but understanding how others feel about issues and where others are on issues,” Valentine said.

And if Sisolak hasn’t won over all the members of his own party, he counts some fans among Republicans, who see him as someone they can work with. Knecht said he prefers Sisolak over any other Democrat the state might have had.

“The important thing is that he’s not an ideologue, he’s issue driven so that’s why he and I could find some common ground on things,” said Knecht, who says he’s more concerned about where the Legislature will take the state than what Sisolak will do. “If he’s going to rein them in and restrain them, that’s a good thing.”

Jackie Valley and Riley Snyder contributed to this report.

Yes, I read every Assembly bill

The Nevada Legislature building as seen in Carson City on Feb. 6, 2017.

You don’t have to do it, too, though I think you probably should.

I read the first 88 bills submitted to the Assembly by the various standing committees, constitutional offices, the Supreme Court, the executive branch and local governments. Per NRS 218D.175, the various departments of the executive branch, as well as constitutional officers (lieutenant governor, secretary of state, treasurer, controller and attorney general) have to submit their bills by Aug. 1 preceding the regular session — in other words, more than three months prior to the election. This is important to remember because several of the bills, especially the ones drafted by the attorney general’s and controller’s offices, are foisted upon current constitutional officers by their ideologically opposite predecessors.

If the past session is any guide, the first 88 bills of the 2019 Session will be, at most, a sixth of the bills that will be proposed by the Assembly. Even so, knowing what bills were proposed by our various government agencies gives us an idea of their priorities. Knowing what bills were proposed by our recently departed constitutional officers, meanwhile, also gives us a chance to reflect on whether we made the right decision by refusing to return them to office.

A good example is AB75, which was submitted to the Committee on Government Affairs by the controller’s office. On more than one occasion, former Controller Ron Knecht used the Controller’s Annual Report to discuss the growing liabilities in the state’s Public Employee Retirement System (PERS). AB75 offers a suggestion: instead of leaving PERS as a defined-benefit retirement plan, offer state employees a defined-contribution plan. This honestly isn’t a bad idea. Employers, even government employers, would rather under-contribute to their employees’ retirements today, knowing they won’t be personally accountable if market returns aren’t laughably optimistic tomorrow. When that happens, there are two ways to handle it without somehow putting more money into the system — pay out the benefits as defined to senior retirees while reducing benefits to future retirees (the solution for most defined benefits plans, including PERS, these days) or simply provide every retiree with whatever was contributed into their plan upon retirement and hope for the best.

There are benefits and drawbacks to both approaches.

The biggest drawback to a defined contribution retirement plan is that it’s considerably more difficult to plan around, for the retiree. If the market tanks, the employee’s retirement account tanks with it. Of course, this is just as true with a defined benefit plan — the difference is that in a defined benefit plan, the plan promises to make the retiree whole, if it can. (That gets expensive in a hurry, though, as CalPERS, the California state government workers’ retirement fund, discovered the hard way during the recession. Only recently has the plan started to take in more than it’s paying out, and, until last year, it was projecting sustained deficits all the way to 2040 until recent stock market performance put it back in the black. The burden of that deficit, meanwhile, remains on California’s taxpayers, who pay more in taxes today to receive less in services per tax dollar than they used to.)

The good news, as The Nevada Independent covered in the last session, is Nevada’s PERS system isn’t in anywhere near as much trouble as California’s. The bad news is it was hit hard by the recession, too. Even today, with Nevada experiencing the healthiest economy in over a decade, Gov. Sisolak has proposed increasing the contribution rate by state employees to further reduce potential liabilities in the future.

What he hasn’t proposed is signing former Controller Ron Knecht’s bill, and there frankly aren’t even that many Republicans who are willing to openly support such a move. The odds that the bill will even be heard in committee, much less pass onto the floor, are higher than the chances I’ll sprout wings and fly — but only by a percentage point or two.

Adam Laxalt’s attorney general’s office, meanwhile, produced several other great examples. AB16, which would increase the allowed period between an issued search warrant and when a DNA sample must be collected under that warrant from 10 days to a full year, will almost certainly see little support from the more criminal justice reform-minded attorney general’s office of one Aaron Ford. Similarly, Laxalt’s office also proposed bills, such as AB15 and AB87, that seek to increase penalties for various crimes, which probably won’t get very far given that the current political winds are blowing towards keeping people out of prison instead of detaining them for ever-greater periods. AB41, on the other hand, is a bill that might see the light of legislative day as it further restricts the circumstances under which government agencies can disclose the real addresses of victims of violent crimes, many of whom are issued fictitious addresses for their protection.

Two obnoxious bills that demonstrate that Adam Laxalt’s devotion to “smaller government” were skin deep are AB42, which asks the State Board of Education to come up with a curriculum for schoolchildren to discuss responsible alcohol consumption, and AB55, which increases the power of the government to compel witnesses to testify in trials. Even more obnoxious than those two, however, is AB60, which would add a whole host of already criminal activities, like burglary and coercion, to the criminal activity of “domestic violence,” then slap on additional penalties for those who commit “domestic violence” as defined by statute, especially if the victim is pregnant.

Why do pregnant women deserve special protection in law? Emotionally, it seems like they should, and emotional logic makes for great political logic. They’re pregnant, after all. Who doesn’t want to protect pregnant women? If you think about it, though, the elderly can’t get pregnant — so should your grandmother receive fewer protections than a young woman? What about the physically or intellectually disabled? Does it matter if the victim is rich or poor? Should it matter if the partner is white and the victim is black? Where does it end?

The truth is, the law should treat all of Nevada’s residents equitably and fairly. Neither gender nor fertility should factor into whether you’re a victim of domestic violence, nor should they factor into the just punishments of those who inflict harms against you. Bills like AB60 should be buried in the ash heap of history where they belong.

Speaking of bills that belong in the ash heap, AB9 would allow plaintiffs in small claims courts to charge people in their home court, instead of the home court of their defendants. If the idea of getting randomly sued by someone in Jackpot doesn’t thrill you, write to your legislator and remind them that, in this country, our legal system assumes a presumption of innocence.

Meanwhile, AB36 is a nice little tax carve-out for aircraft-related industries. Abate property and sales taxes for all of Nevada’s businesses or don’t bother. AB58, meanwhile, would let state park rangers fine you if you misbehave in a state park without warning you first. If anything, all state-issued fines should be preceded by warnings, assuming they’re actually meant to change behavior instead of raising money without raising “taxes”.

AB64 is an attempt by the Eureka County School District to get out of paying for distance education for its students if those students choose a charter school provider of distance education instead of a public provider. AB72 is an attempt to protect the precious jobs of principals of underperforming schools by removing the ability to fire them if their schools are grossly underperforming and shunting them instead to interminable (and well-paying) training instead. AB74 creates yet another occupational license for Nevada’s workers, because if the government won’t manage antler resellers, really, who will? Then there’s AB82, which guarantees taxpayer-funded advertising for major party candidates that are running unopposed in their primaries, provided they have an opponent in the general election.

One bill I do like is AB81, which creates the Office of Indigent Defense Services. We all deserve protection from our government, regardless of our ability to pay, and it’s important that we encourage our government to take its responsibilities imposed by the 6th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution seriously. Another bill that should make our Southern Nevada readers happy is AB50, which will abolish the asinine and expensive practice of odd year city elections. AB54, meanwhile, gets something out of statute that never should have been in statute in the first place: if energy efficient lights save enough energy, people will voluntarily buy them, and are doing so right now.

AB69 is also a nice bill, which expands the use of house arrest for misbehaving parolees instead of further burdening our overtaxed prison system. Finally, AB88 makes it possible for school districts to report enrollments, not attendance, to the Department of Education, which should help ensure that children with medical issues receive the same state education funding as students with perfect attendance.

Even at this early stage of the legislative process, it’s clear that charter schools are going to get some serious attention. For starters, AB35 and AB67 both make significant changes to how Achievement Schools (poorly performing public schools that are taken over by the state-operated Achievement School District and converted to charter schools) are regulated. AB35 allows the creation of neighborhood option schools, which are charter schools operated under the Achievement School framework but are not converted public schools, in neighborhoods where poorly performing public schools operate. AB67, meanwhile, replaces large portions of the existing Achievement School framework and replaces it with “A+ achievement charter schools,” which appear to be Achievement School District-run public schools with staff hired by county school districts. Meanwhile, AB78 — all 92 pages of it — revises how the State Public Charter School Authority and state charter schools in general will be governed. All three bills are dense, technical measures, and each of them deserve close attention from subject matter experts that understand their intricacies better than I do.

Finally, I wouldn't be a Libertarian opinion columnist if I didn't highlight proposed tax increases. AB73, which raises taxes on transfers of property by 25 cents for each $500 of value in Clark County to provide affordable housing, will test how Gov. Sisolak will interpret his intention to “not raise taxes”. Will he simply empower the cities and counties of Nevada to raise taxes and fees on the Democratic Party's behalf, or will he hold a sterner line?

Remember, these are the bills proposed by the state and local bureaucracies, as well as mostly lame duck constitutional officers. The real fun will begin in February when legislators’ Bill Draft Requests become bills themselves. In the meantime, poring through the bills under consideration gives us some tea leaves to look at while Nevadans ask themselves what our historically female, historically Democratic legislative session has in store.

David Colborne has been active in the Libertarian Party for two decades. During that time, he has blogged intermittently on his personal blog, as well as the Libertarian Party of Nevada blog, and ran for office twice as a Libertarian candidate. He serves on the Executive Committee for both his state and county Libertarian Party chapters. He is the father of two sons and an IT professional. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidColborne or email him at david.colborne@lpnevada.org 

Controller Ron Knecht

INDY FAST FACTS
Ron Knecht

Job: State controller
Party: Republican
In current office: 2015-present
Birthdate: May 5, 1949
Education:
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (B.A.)
Stanford University (Master of Engineering)
University of San Francisco (J.D.)
Other public offices held:
Nevada System of Higher Education Regent (2006-2014)
Assemblyman, District 40 (2002-2004)