Freshman Orientation: Assemblywoman Clara "Claire" Thomas

As in sessions past, The Nevada Independent is publishing a series of profiles featuring new state lawmakers. This is the thirteenth installment in the series. Check out our other profiles for additional stories on new legislators' backgrounds, interests and policy positions.

  • Freshman Democrat who succeeds Assemblyman Tyrone Thompson (D-North Las Vegas), a four-term assemblyman and longtime education advocate who passed away while in office in 2019
  • Represents District 17, located in North Las Vegas
  • District 17 leaned heavily Democratic (48 percent Democratic, 21 percent Republican and 25 percent nonpartisan) in the 2020 election
  • Thomas ran unopposed in the 2020 Democratic primary and then defeated Republican Jack Polcyn in the general election with 66.2 percent of the vote.
  • She will sit on the Government Affairs, Health and Human Services and Legislative Operations and Elections committees.

FAMILY AND EDUCATION

Thomas came to Southern Nevada in 1982 while she was serving in the Air Force as an air traffic controller. After 20 years of service, she retired and decided to settle in Las Vegas. Thomas then pursued higher education, working two jobs to put herself through school and raise her two children. 

Thomas holds an associate's degree from the College of Southern Nevada and earned a bachelor's in psychology and then a master's in public administration from UNLV. In her free time, she enjoys babysitting and spoiling her grandchildren.

CAREER

An Air Force veteran, Thomas now works as a court clerk in the Clark County district attorney's office and is a member of the SEIU (Service Employees International Union) Local 1107. 

Assembly members Cameron (C.H.) Miller, left, and Clara "Claire" Thomas on the fourth day of the 81st session of the Legislature in Carson City on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

PROFILE

When Thunderbirds fly across the sky, jet streams trailing behind, Thomas said she feels a sense of pride, duty, excitement and hope.

A retired air traffic controller with the Air Force, Thomas said that the feeling of watching Thunderbird flyovers is how she describes the feeling of the start of the 81st legislative session as a first-time lawmaker. 

Thomas never intended to run for political office. She loved spending time with her grandchildren, working as a member of several Democratic Party groups and as a volunteer with various organizations, including the Rape Crisis Center of Southern Nevada.

But that all changed after Assemblyman Tyrone Thompson unexpectedly passed away during the 2019 legislative session.

Suddenly, a larger-than-life figure who supported legislation prioritizing education, homeless people and veterans was gone, leaving behind a gaping hole that needed to be filled, Thomas said.

"He was promoting all of these things, making us aware and bringing everything to the forefront, especially education … I was extremely concerned," she said.

Thomas said she hoped that someone would run to fill the empty seat, but after a few months of waiting and asking leadership whether someone had decided to run, the answer remained the same: no one was coming forward.

"I was like ... if no one steps up, I'd like to step up. And from that point, I threw my hat in the ring," Thomas said.

Though there are many areas that Thomas wants to focus on, she said she is prioritizing health care, education and veteran’s affairs.

"I'm a vet of 20 years, and I think that it's important for us to pay back our veterans," Thomas said. "I work around the courthouse and to see the homelessness and knowing that a lot of them are vets — breaks my heart."

With ongoing discrimination and educational disparities based on race or socioeconomic status, Thomas said she also wants to create a better future for her grandchildren and other young people and be part of a state that is setting a historic precedent.

"We're making a name for ourselves, this little state that people took for granted," Thomas said. "We elected the first Latina senator ... Cortez Masto. Jacky Rosen. It's Susie Lee, Dina Titus .... women that are going forward and making our country what it should be."

To create effective change, Thomas said she and other legislators are going to have to work together.

"I'm one of those believers that in order to get anything done, you actually have to have a cohesive group," Thomas said. "Everyone doesn't believe the same thing, but as far as our politics is concerned, we have different religions, we have different ways of raising a family, but collectively we come together for the betterment of a group.”

One of Thomas's favorite areas of study is history because it holds lessons for the present moment. She said that she is looking forward to bringing her expertise and knowledge to the table, learning from other more experienced legislators and making decisions to help the state.

"I'm just excited to be there and to work and to just forge ahead and make things better for people that are in dire need right now because we have a lot of people that are in dire need."

Assemblywomen Clara "Claire" Thomas, left and Daniele Monroe-Moreno 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

Early childhood education

One of Thomas's priorities is increasing access to early childhood and pre-kindergarten education. 

"I believe in early education. And my group of kids that I adore are from the ages of two and four, because they are like sponges and they tell you what's on their mind because they don't know any different, they only know truth," Thomas said. "And I love that."

Affluent families can afford to give their children early educational opportunities. Children from lower-income families often do not have access to that and are therefore disadvantaged before school even begins, Thomas said.

"Our children deserve no less [than early education]," Thomas said. "Every child in every state of the union deserves to be educated and be competitive because as time goes by, we need to be competitive with the rest of the world. Just that simple."

Criminal justice reform

Thomas said she remembers teaching her son what to do if a police officer approached him, warning him that if an officer ever told him to do a jumping jack, then he was going to do a jumping jack.

"Why am I telling my son that? Why am I feeling that my son, when he goes out, that he has to be more compliant to an officer … why is he different?" Thomas said.

Though she did not discuss any specific reform measures, Thomas said she is following legislation around criminal justice reform and looking for ways to increase equality.

Election reform

Thomas applauded the state's ability to increase access to voting and successfully carry out an election amid a pandemic.

"We had a record number of people voting in the state. That's something that's great," Thomas said. "We had young people, 18, voting, out there getting their family members to vote who never vote."

She said that claims of voter fraud have not been supported in court and using mail-in voting increased people's opportunities to participate.

"That's something that we should have been doing for years and being a military member, we voted that way … so why was that fraudulent? It wasn't," Thomas said. "I'm proud of the fact that Nevada's secretary of state, who's a Republican, just embraced that, our local leaders embraced it and we made it work."

Freshman Orientation: Assemblyman Cameron "C.H." Miller

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

  • Freshman Democrat who succeeds former Assemblywoman Dina Neal (D-North Las Vegas) after she was elected state senator representing District 4
  • Represents District 7, which includes North Las Vegas
  • District 7 is heavily Democratic (52 percent Democratic, 18 percent Republican and 24 percent nonpartisan in the 2020 election for active voters)
  • Miller defeated John Stephens III in the district's Democratic primary with 74.4 percent of the vote and then was victorious over Republican Anthony Palmer in the general election, carrying 68.7 percent of the vote.
  • He will sit on the Growth and Infrastructure, Judiciary and Revenue committees.

FAMILY AND EDUCATION

Cameron “C.H.” Miller grew up in Las Vegas and graduated from the Southeast Career Technical Academy, the valley's first vocational high school. Though he attended the College of Southern Nevada for a short time, he earned his bachelor's degree in Ministry Leadership from Northwest University in Kirkland, Washington. 

His family came West as part of the Great Migration, with his mother's family settling in Los Angeles after living in Detroit, and his father moving to Las Vegas from Louisiana. Miller's parents met in Las Vegas, and Miller has fond memories of time spent with his grandparents and extended family in the city's Historic Westside neighborhood.

Miller has two children, a son and a daughter.

CAREER

After Miller graduated high school, he received a cosmetology license and worked as a licensed stylist in Las Vegas for about 12 years. After playing Cory in CSN North Las Vegas's production of August Wilson's play Fences, Miller then launched him into a film and television industry career. He now works as an independent entertainment consultant and executive producer in Las Vegas.

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Assembly members Cameron (C.H.) Miller, right, and Shondra Summers Armstrong (middle) on the first day of the 81st session of the Legislature in Carson City on Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Growing up, Miller had a Granny, Grandma and Grandmother.

Miller described Granny, his father's mother, as a down-to-earth, outspoken woman who always had a seat at the table and food for anyone that walked through the door, even if they were not hungry.

Grandma, a respiratory therapist and Miller's mother's mother, was a self-sufficient divorcee who was heavily involved in the Los Angeles activist and advocate community.

Grandmother, his mother's stepmother, ran a day care facility out of her home. She also took in foster children, which meant that growing up, there were always babies and young children around, Miller said with a laugh.

Miller said that the three women left an indelible mark on life and shaped his understanding of community and what it means to show up and speak out.

"They were women who cared so much about other people that they took on responsibilities that were not theirs," Miller said.

Though his grandmothers heavily influenced him, Miller said that he did not fully reflect on the values they taught him until he was older. 

Miller said that he spent most of his adult life not really paying attention to what was going on in the broader world. He was focused mostly on his film career, which took him to Los Angeles, New York and Atlanta.

But, no matter where he lived, Miller said he could never escape his love of Las Vegas and the community he was surrounded by growing up. He knew that he had to give back in a similar way to his grandmothers.

So, Miller came back to Las Vegas and introduced the 11Eleven11 project to the city, a youth mentoring and film training program that encourages civic engagement through film. The project gave him the impetus to participate in more community-oriented organizations.

He never planned on running for office until his mentor and cousin, the late Assemblyman Tyrone Thompson (D-Las Vegas), asked Miller if he had ever considered serving as a legislator.

"He planted a seed," Miller said. "I started becoming a lot more interested in understanding, how as a legislator, as the person in the seat, how you're able to make an impact at a greater level."

The ability to make generational change ultimately gave Miller the impetus to run for office.

"We can really make bold, significant changes now, because things are broken and when things are broken, you can make a decision to put them back the way that they were, or to figure out how to do something new," Miller said. 

Miller's focus this session is on bills that stimulate the state's recovery, address economic and criminal injustices and help local businesses struggling in the wake of COVID-19 shutdowns.

He said his only regret is not being able to learn more from Thompson, who unexpectedly died during the 2019 legislative session at the age of 51.

"I have questions for him all the time," Miller said. "Politics to some degree requires people to be so perfect or so black and white and we're so 360 and we're so full. So it would be amazing to ask him some of the questions of how to navigate being the politician and the human being. He was really good at it."

Assembly members Cameron (C.H.) Miller, left, and Clara Thomas on 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

Economic recovery

Helping small businesses and ensuring that they can survive the pandemic's economic effects is one of Miller's top goals.

Another part of the recovery effort has to include economic diversification and addressing disparities within communities of color, Miller said. 

"We're the hardest-hit state. We know that we're going to take the longest to recover because if the rest of the world doesn't have money. Guess who gets it last? Travel and tourism," Miller said. "We've got to get people back to work and that may look like attracting new industries and things here. We've got to stop our small businesses from bleeding."

Criminal justice reform

Miller said he is working on a bill addressing direct filing which allows prosecutors to file charges against a juvenile in an adult criminal court. He is also looking at ways to reduce policing bias during interactions between law enforcement and other individuals.

"It's a hard pill for me to swallow, to know that someone who is not able to vote, not able to buy a drink, not able to gamble, not able to do a lot of things, not able to drive in some cases can be charged automatically as an adult," Miller said. "We are incarcerating people before they get an opportunity to actually become who they are."

Miller said people of color are disproportionately charged and jailed by the criminal justice system, which affects the entire community.

"Leveling this justice field so that justice is truly for all and it looks the same for all, despite how we look and where we come from [is vital]," Miller said.

Election reform

The 2020 elections were fair, Miller said.

However, he is not opposed to reassessing Nevada's election laws and seeing how lawmakers can improve the process.

"I am open to looking at the process and seeing how we can make it better, how we can make it more fair, how we can make it more accessible to everyone," Miller said. "Anything that's going to lead to less people voting is not something that I'm at all interested in.”

Clark County Commission appoints school social worker to fill late assemblyman’s seat

One day before lawmakers are scheduled to convene a special legislative session addressing Nevada's huge budget shortfall, the Clark County Commission unanimously appointed Kasina Douglass-Boone to fill a vacant seat in the Assembly.

Douglass-Boone, a social worker for the Clark County School District, previously ran for the District B trustee seat in the 2020 primary but came in third. She was the only applicant for the District 17 Assembly seat left open following the sudden death of Democratic Assemblyman Tyrone Thompson during the 2019 session.

"Assemblyman Thompson was my teacher and he instilled in me the importance of being an agent of change. It would be a true honor to serve our community for the final five months as the District 17 representative," Douglass-Boone wrote in her statement of interest to the commission. 

State law requires county commissioners to fill vacancies in the Legislature with appointees from the same district and the same party as the previous seat holder. 

Clark County's request for applications for the seat went out on June 24 and gave potential applicants until June 30 to submit statements of interest. 

Because the North Las Vegas-area district has a more than two-to-one voter registration advantage for Democrats over Republicans, it’s likely that the next representative for the Assembly seat will be Air Force veteran and court clerk Clara “Claire” Thomas, who did not attract any primary challengers. She’ll face off against Republican candidate Jack Polcyn, a disabled Army veteran, in the 2020 general election.

Before motioning to approve Douglass-Boone for the position Tuesday morning, Commissioner Lawrence Weekly thanked her for her work with the community and said he was honored to appoint her.

"If this appointment goes through, you have a noon flight to try and catch," Weekly said. "[I'm] so very grateful that you would have this opportunity to serve the great state of Nevada. I think that you will be absolutely awesome and I know that you are working extremely hard to live up to the legacy of the late, great Tyrone Thompson."

Commissioner Tick Segerblom warned that Douglass-Boone will face difficult decisions in the Legislature, given the state’s $1.2 billion budget deficit.

"You're coming into this at the really worst time possible," he said. "The decisions you're going to make are not going to be fun decisions, but they are very important, so thank you." 

Douglass-Boone will join the other 41 Assembly members in Carson City on Wednesday to discuss ways of addressing the state's hard-hit budget. Legislators are also expected to discuss criminal justice reform measures in the wake of George Floyd's killing and protests against police violence and discrimination that have erupted across the country.

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

Assembly Chambers during speech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Terms limits, higher ambitions mean at least 11 open seats in the Legislature in 2020

The inside of the Nevada Legislature during State of the State

About a dozen seats in the Legislature will have no incumbent in the race in the 2020 election, setting the stage for some fierce competition when candidates formally file to run in March, according to an analysis from The Nevada Independent.

Five Assembly members are eschewing a bid for re-election and setting their eyes on higher office. That includes Democratic Assemblywoman Dina Neal, who’s seeking to replace appointed Sen. Marcia Washington in a heavily Democratic district that was held by ex-Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson before his resignation and conviction for misusing campaign funds.

Atkinson is currently serving a two-year sentence in a federal penitentiary in Atwater, California, near Merced.

Term limits, which cap a lawmaker’s service at 12 years in each chamber, will prevent Sen. David Parks and Sen. Joyce Woodhouse from re-election. Senate Democrats have endorsed Kristee Watson to replace Woodhouse, but Assembly Democratic colleagues Richard Carrillo and Ellen Spiegel will have to compete against each other for the opportunity to replace Parks.

Assemblyman William McCurdy II is running for the Clark County Commission seat now held by termed-out Commissioner Lawrence Weekly. But it’s not a straight shot — at least three other candidates want the seat, including North Las Vegas Councilman Isaac Barron, Clark County public information administrator Tanya Flanagan and Democratic Sen. Mo Denis.

Denis will have a soft landing if he doesn’t prevail. He’s halfway through a four-year Senate term and can return to the Senate if the commission election doesn’t work out.

Democratic Assemblyman Ozzie Fumo is passing up another go at the Assembly in favor of a bid for a Nevada Supreme Court seat. The terms of two of the seven justices on the high court will be ending just after the 2020 election.

Other incumbents who won’t be running for their seats include Republican Assemblyman John Hambrick, who is prevented by term limits from another bid. 

Democratic Assemblyman Greg Smith — who was appointed from a field of 15 hopefuls to finish the term of Assemblyman Mike Sprinkle when Sprinkle resigned amid sexual harassment allegations — said he won’t run. Smith cited the death of his wife, former state Sen. Debbie Smith, as a reminder that “life is short” and that he doesn’t want to run a campaign every two years. 

A seat held by Democratic Assemblyman Tyrone Thompson, who died unexpectedly in May at age 51 and was not replaced, is also open in 2020.

Three incumbents did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Nevada Independent on whether they would seek re-election. They include Democratic Assembly members Steve Yeager, Heidi Swank and Bea Duran.

Twelve senators — including Denis — are mid-term and do not have to mount an election to maintain their current posts. All others whose terms are up confirmed directly to the Indy or through a public announcement that they would run for their current seats in 2020. 

It won’t be easy for all of them, especially lawmakers in some of the swingiest seats. Democratic Assemblywoman Lesley Cohen will have to defend her seat in a challenge from former Assemblyman Stephen Silberkraus.

Democratic Assemblywoman Shea Backus has at least two Republican challengers in her swing district, including former congressional candidate Michelle Mortenson and Andy Matthews, who played a key role in Republican Adam Laxalt’s unsuccessful bid for governor in 2018.

Democratic Assemblyman Skip Daly faces a challenge from Republican mental health practitioner Jake Wiskerchen in a district that he once won by a mere 38 votes.

And in the Senate, expect tough races in three swing districts: Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro and Sen. Heidi Gansert have already launched campaigns to defend their seats. Watson and Republican Carrie Buck, a school principal who lost a close race in the district in 2016, are expected to run competitive campaigns for Woodhouse’s seat. 

Woodhouse isn’t about to make the race easy for Buck, who volunteered to replace Woodhouse had a Republican attempt to recall the senator in 2017 prevailed. Woodhouse released text messages to The Nevada Independent last week that Buck sent earlier this year trying to apologize for her role in the recall effort and asking for Woodhouse’s help applying for a state superintendent job.

Democrats have called the failed recall campaigns “careless and cynical attempts to undermine our Democratic process,” and Woodhouse called Buck’s texts “inappropriate” and “unseemly.” Buck, for her part, said the messages were a “peace offering” and said the retiring senator has a “vendetta.”

Horsford honors Tyrone Thompson, calls Mueller report "damning" for Trump

Steven Horsford waiving to a crowd

Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford departed from the typical template of congressional speeches to the Legislature on Monday, making his address less a list of Washington, D.C. policy priorities and more a call to action for lawmakers to carry on the legacy of Democratic Assemblyman Tyrone Thompson, who died unexpectedly over the weekend at age 51.

Horsford, who said he met Thompson 20 years ago and had just been texting with the lawmaker last week about policy, called the assemblyman “one of God’s angels” who had been called home, sharing a long list of ways Thompson had immersed himself in community service. Horsford also encouraged lawmakers to take care of their health — a lesson he learned after a six-way heart bypass during his first term in Congress.

“He still had so much more to offer to his community in public service and most importantly to his family,” Horsford said in his nine-minute speech. “Tyrone's passing is a stark reminder that while the work we do is important, so is our health. We have to take care of ourselves in order to have the strength and good health to advocate for our constituents.”

In a conversation with reporters after the speech, Horsford called the president an “unindicted co-conspirator” who needs to be replaced, explained why he has stayed away from signing on as a co-sponsor of a Medicare-for-All bill and weighed in on an apparent resolution in Nevada’s fight against a surreptitious delivery of plutonium.

The congressman said he was satisfied with the deal struck by Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Energy Secretary Rick Perry to remove the half-ton of plutonium secretly moved to the Nevada National Security Site by 2026, and said he would be part of a congressional delegation site visit to “ensure that it is safe while it's here.”

As he did in his campaign, Horsford maintained distance from the popular progressive rallying cry of moving to a single-payer or Medicare-for-All health insurance system, saying he was ready to “tackle a universal health care” and that the proposals will come before him as a member of the powerful House money committees. But he argued that the current administration’s efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act made preserving the status quo a more pressing issue.

“That is the fight that is in front of us and my job is to make sure that we protect the health care that we have,” he said.

Asked whether he thinks Nevada’s local governments are cooperating too closely with ICE through 287(g) agreements and other policies, which have been criticized for sweeping people with no more than unpaid traffic tickets into deportation proceedings, Horsford said he had discussed the matter with North Las Vegas’ new police Chief Pam Ojeda.

“I believe that what they have in place right now, it's fair, but that it needs to continue to be reviewed, particularly in the environment that we're in as it pertains to targeting immigrants,” he said. “I've heard from constituents, some of whom are not undocumented, who feel like they have been profiled and so we need to ensure that that does not occur in any regard.”

Horsford said he has supported legislation that requires police agencies that receive federal grants to implement policies against racial profiling and to reduce the use of force.

Horsford said he had spoken with a number of 2020 presidential hopefuls, saying he was willing to meet with any candidate and said he planned to stay involved ahead of the state’s February presidential caucus and did not rule out endorsing a candidate.

“We'll wait and see what I decide to do, but I will be active as I was before,” he said. “We have a lot at stake in the 2020 cycle. Notwithstanding the fact that we have an unindicted co-conspirator in the White House, we need all need to do the best we can to elect an alternative to lead this country.”

Horsford also said that he supported a growing effort by House Democrats to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress.

“We would prefer to see the administration and the attorney general working to provide this information in a transparent, forthcoming manner,” he said. “But in the end, the American people deserve to know the truth and to have all the facts available to them. And that's the role that we have in Congress is to bring that information forward.”

Still, Horsford declined to say whether would support efforts to impeach President Donald Trump in light of the findings from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“I've read the report,” he said. “It's really hard to decipher between literally whole sections that are blacked out, but what you can read is pretty damning to the president, to his campaign and to those around them.”

Advocates make case for Nevada to grant electoral votes to national popular vote winner

Overhead view looking down on voting stations

For the second time in two sessions, Nevada lawmakers are weighing jumping aboard a state-backed compact pledging Nevada’s six electoral votes for president to the winner of the national popular vote.

Members of the Assembly Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections on Tuesday spent nearly two hours in a hearing on AB186, a bill proposed by Democratic Assemblyman Tyrone Thompson that would add the state to the “Agreement Among the States to Elect the President by National Popular Vote.”

The bill, which is sponsored by 11 Democratic lawmakers, would enter Nevada into an interstate compact of states pledging their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote for president regardless of how each individual state votes. The measure would only take effect once states with a cumulative electoral vote count of 270 (the number needed to win in the Electoral College) sign on to the contract; so far only 12 mostly Democratic-leaning states with 172 electoral votes have signed on (with Colorado poised to soon join).

Supporters of the bill highlighted the five times in American history that a president won an election despite losing the popular vote (most recently Donald Trump in 2016 and George W. Bush in 2000) and said the compact would eliminate that possibility. The bill would not move to eliminate the current Electoral College system (which would require a constitutional amendment) and allows states to back out of the compact at any time if they wish.

Thompson said he was bringing the bill forward as a way to ensure that all votes cast in the presidential election counted, as opposed to only those in swing states.

“I want to be clear that this bill is not about partisanship, but a need for our voters, current and future, to feel and know that their vote matters and arguably the most important vote they will cast every four years,” he said.

But testimony on the bill quickly took a partisan turn; Democratic and progressive-leaning groups including the Nevada State Education Association, members of Indivisible Reno and the ACLU of Nevada all testified in favor of the bill, while several Republican groups and the state party appeared to oppose the measure.

Nevada Republican Party Vice-Chair Jim DeGraffenreid told committee members approval of the compact would lead to presidential candidates ignoring smaller states such as Nevada in favor of more populous states and that the idea was merely a “constitutional trick to neuter the Electoral College.”

“To suggest that a state should disregard its own voters and instead follow the will of voters in some other state is the exact opposite of what the Framers intended,” he said.

National Popular Vote, which is a registered 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization, has also upped its lobbying presence in Carson City this session, with six individuals registered as lobbyists for the organization. Members of the Assembly Republican caucus met last week with Saul Anuzis, a former Republican National Committee member and lobbyist for National Popular Vote.

The group itself was founded in 2006 with a wide mix of Republicans and Democrats, from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean supporting it.

A similar concept was introduced and heard in the 2017 Legislature by former Assemblyman Nelson Araujo but never made it out of committee. The same concept was voted out of the Assembly on mostly party lines in 2009 but failed to pass the Senate.

It’s unclear how much further the current legislation will go; Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson and Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson co-sponsored the 2017 legislation but did not lend their names to the current iteration of the bill.

2-Minute Preview: National Popular Vote, college scholarships on deck for lawmakers

Lawmakers on Tuesday will consider taking the first steps toward electing the president by popular vote, rather than the Electoral College, and will consider loosening the eligibility rules for some recipients of the need-based Silver State Opportunity Grant.

Their agenda also includes presentations from major utility companies and an overview of a two-decade-old settlement with tobacco companies that has been supporting — among other things — the Millennium Scholarships.

For more information on the status of bills working their way through the Legislature, check out The Nevada Independent’s bill tracker. And for the bills in committee today, check out the Legislature’s website for committee times and links to watch live committee meetings and floor sessions.

Here’s what to watch for on Tuesday at the Legislature:

AB155: Exceptions to 15-credit requirement for need-based scholarship

Members of the Assembly Education will review AB155, a measure that allows certain students who are taking less than 15 credits in a semester to qualify for the need-based Silver State Opportunity Grant.

The bill, sponsored by Democratic Assemblywoman Selena Torres and a long list of Democrats, allows money for students who are taking 12 credits in a semester if they can show they have a hardship that requires them to reduce their credit load, or if they are in their final semester.

The Nevada System of Higher Education has resisted lowering the credit requirement in the past because statistics show that students taking less than 15 credits in a semester are significantly less likely to graduate on time.

The Assembly Education Committee meets at 1:30 p.m. Members will also hear a presentation on workforce development from Tammy Thieman of Amazon Career Choice.

Primer on utilities, airports

Members of the Assembly Growth and Infrastructure Committee will get an overview of utility companies in Nevada, including NV Energy and Southwest Gas. They’ll also hear from representatives of three different Nevada airports.

The committee meets at 1:30 p.m.

The Senate Growth and Infrastructure Committee will hear presentations by the Nevada Public Utilities Commission and the Governor’s Office of Energy.

The committee also meets at 1:30 p.m.

Tobacco settlement and cigarette regulation

The Senate Revenue and Economic Development Committee will hear a presentation from the attorney general's office about the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, in which major tobacco companies settled with states about two decades ago in lawsuits over the health-care costs for smokers.

Members will also review two bills related to the technicalities of cigarette labeling and the regulation of wholesalers.

The committee meets at 1:30 p.m.

AB186: National Popular Vote

Yet again, Nevada lawmakers will review a proposal that would pledge the state’s six electoral votes to the winner of the presidential national popular vote winner.

Democratic Assemblyman Tyrone Thompson is scheduled to present details of AB186 — which would enroll Nevada into a coalition of states pledging their electoral college votes to the popular vote winner — in the Assembly Committee on Legislative Operations and Election at their 4 p.m. meeting.

So far, 13 states with 181 electoral votes have signed onto the measure, most recently Colorado. The “compact” isn’t effective until states with at least 270 votes, a majority of the Electoral College, have agreed to join. Supporters say the bill would give people in states with heavy partisan lean toward either party a reason to cast a ballot and end use of the Electoral College system, though opponents say the measure would lead to smaller states such as Nevada losing clout on the national stage as presidential candidates focus on population-dense areas.

A similar bill was proposed by former Democratic Assemblyman Nelson Araujo in the 2017 legislative session, but failed to make it out of committee. A similar proposal was approved on mostly party-lines in the 2009 legislative session, but never passed out of the Senate.

AB32: Workforce Development

Proposed by the Governor’s Office of Workforce Development, AB32 would expand the category of businesses able to apply to the office for workforce development and training to nonprofit organizations as well as state and local government agencies.

The bill, which is scheduled for a hearing in the Assembly Taxation Committee at 4 p.m., also changes other portions of existing law on workforce development to include programs training existing employees of a participating employer.

Against all odds, Republicans reintroduce Education Savings Accounts bill

In spite of daunting political odds, a group of Republicans is bringing back a proposal to put nearly $60 million toward Nevada’s controversial and dormant Education Savings Account program.

Eight Republicans led by Assemblyman Gregory Hafen are signed on as sponsors of AB218, a bill introduced Monday that would apply funding to the program that allows parents several thousand state education dollars per year, per child to pay for private school tuition or other qualifying educational expenses. Efforts to fund the ESA program, which was derailed by a legal challenge after it was created in 2015, were unsuccessful in 2017 even when there were more Republican lawmakers and a supportive governor.

“There's always a path forward. Whether or not they'll give us a hearing is going to be the real question,” said Republican Assemblyman Chris Edwards, who’s been a staunch defender of ESAs since their advent in the 2015 session and who pointed to a high number of preliminary applications filed before a court ruled the program partially unconstitutional. “I know it deserves a hearing because we already know that at least 8,500 people wanted it, and if they had been given additional time I'm sure that would have been easily over 20,000.”

Only a single Democratic lawmaker expressed support for ESAs in 2017, and Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak promised during the campaign not to allow public school funds to be diverted to private schools. Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson told the Las Vegas Review-Journal last month that he sees the ESA idea as a “non-starter” this session.

But Assembly Education Committee Chairman Tyrone Thompson stopped short of declaring it dead on arrival the day after it emerged.

“I haven’t reviewed it yet,” he said on Tuesday. “I read all the bills and try to determine, so I haven’t made that determination yet.”

Republicans are still making the case for the program as they’ve fallen further into the minority.

“What we're trying to do is make sure that people have the option to find a better way to educate their kids because public schools might be fine for some but others excel in other things,” Edwards said. “Every demographic wants it and it was a shame it wasn't funded the way it should've been.”

Assemblyman Tyrone Thompson

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Tyrone Thompson


Office: Assemblyman, District 17
Party: Democratic
In office: 2013-2019
Deceased: May 4, 2019
Birth year: 1967
Job: Public administrator, entrepreneur
Education:
Northern Arizona University (B.S.)
University of Phoenix (M.A.)