News 88.9 KNPR
Classical 89.7 KCNV

member station


Jon Ralston, Steve Sebelius Look Ahead To November Elections

The primaries are over and we’re turning to the general.

Yes, it’s not till November, and the campaigns seem to be in quiet-before-the-storm mode. But there are match-ups to watch – in local races, in state races and on the national scale.

Also, the public might actually get a cut of profits from a football stadium – if there is a football stadium.

Steve Sebelius, politics writer for the Review Journal – and Jon Ralston, a “pugnacious pundit” who, as most of you have heard, is no longer with PBS talked to KNPR’s State of Nevada about that and more.


Ruben Kihuen has more money at the start. He has the backing of Harry Reid. He has Culinary Union backing. And he’s a Hispanic Democrat at a time when Hispanics are registering to vote – and becoming American citizens – at a record pace. Presumably in response to Donald Trump. Can he lose? 

Sebelius: It’s always possible but it’s not very likely. The registration numbers in that district favor the Democrats in many ways. Cresent Hardy has been called the accidental congressman. He was swept into office because of that Red Tide in 2014. Ruben Kihuen has to be considered the favorite for the race.

Support comes from

Ralston: I think it is highly, highly unlikely that [Rep. Cresent Hardy] can hold onto that seat. The smartest thing Ruben Kihuen could do is to go to Bermuda and hang out and not be seen, because the only way for him to lose… is to make some cataclysmic mistake.

The other race to watch is Congressional District 3. We have two people who have never gotten this far in a race – Danny Tarkanian and Jacky Rosen. CD 3 is probably the most diverse congressional district in Southern Nevada. How do you think that will land?

Ralston: Danny Tarkanian has never won a general election. He is going to be, in my opinion, hurt by the down ballot effects of Donald Trump whom he has not just embraced but appeared at that rally on stage. The wild card is Jackie Rosen… who has never run for office before. She’s been fairly impressive in the early going but we haven’t seen the hurly-burly of this campaign. And Danny Tarkanian has run before so at the very least he has experience running. We’ll find out if he can finally experience winning in the general election.

How much will the national parties play a role in these two races?

Sebelius: I think you’re going to see outside money coming into that race. This is the first time Danny Tarkanian has a legitimate shot of becoming a congressman. A lot of it depends on how good a campaigner Jackie Rosen turns out to be.

Is the Catherine Cortez Masto and Joe Heck race going to be proxy race for Clinton and Trump?

Sebelius: In some ways, it will.  And in some ways, it has already become a proxy race. I think Joe Heck maybe confused about who he is running against because he says the name Harry Reid more than he says the name Catherine Cortez Masto.  

Harry Reid most definitely wants to hand is Senate colleagues a democratic majority in the House as he departs. One of the things he is most interested in is handing his own seat to them in the form of a democratic incumbent.

Ralston: His legacy is very, very personal. He wants to leave having his seat remain in democratic hands and as part of an effort that lands Democrats back in control of the U.S. Senate. This seat is essential. It is going to be one of the most watched seats in the country. It is the only one that the Democrats could lose in November and so they need to protect it.

Harry Reid will go out as if he’s on the ballot. Joe Heck will make it seem as if Harry Reid is on the ballot. Catherine Cortez Mastos is not as facile on the trail as Joe Heck is. Joe Heck is top flight candidate. He is the second best candidate that Republicans could have gotten, next to Brian Sandoval.

Catherine Cortez Masto has a great resume… but she doesn’t like politics and campaigning as much as other politicians. She didn’t like the political aspects of being attorney general. So, she was not very visible. So, she has had to spend a lot of money getting her name recognition up. I think the race is really close to a tossup. With maybe the fact that she would be the first Latina and the Trump Effect driving up Hispanic turnout that Heck is a sight underdog, but a very slight underdog.

The legislature. It was Republican in both houses in 2014. Will that change for both houses in 2016?

Sebelius: There is really good possibility that both houses could change. Probably more so the Assembly than the State Senate, but there is a really good possibility that the State Senate could go to the Democrats. If so, it would be just a slight margin.

And Las Vegas made the New York Times this week. At the bottom of the piece, Steve Hill of the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee, said that the county won’t approve a stadium unless they’re assured the Raiders are coming, and that he wants the Sands and the Raiders to split profits with the public. Is he whistling Dixie?

Ralston: I think it’s going to be difficult. I think when they meet on Thursday, the committee, you’re going to have Steve Hill present an alternative plan that will reduce the public funding component and will ask for the developers to share the profits with the public after a certain threshold is met. I do not think the developers, meaning Sheldon Adelson and Majestic Realty, have agree to that but I think that there is going to be some appetite to do that on the committee.

Why in the world should the public share in the profits? It is a legitimate questions especially since so many of these stadium financing schemes have unraveled in other places. It will be interesting to see if common sense or political influence prevails in all of this.

Ralston, we heard you may have some new work on the horizon – can you tell us what happened? 

Ralston: It was quite sudden. They said at first it was about money. Then when pressed, Tom Axtell essentially told me that there was pressure from donors. Donors were threatening to withdraw money because they didn’t like the fact that – this is a horror of horror – I had opinions.  

And so, they folded to some kind of external pressure is all I can gather. It’s too bad because generally my experience at PBS has been maybe the best experience I’ve had hosting a program with no commercials. It was great to have the flow of the interview going for 20 minutes. I’m very sorry that it happened. It wasn’t handled very well and it’s distressing that they would have caved to donor pressure.  

KNPB President Kurt Mische and Vegas PBS General Manager Tom Axtell issued a joint statement on their decision to end their co-production of "Ralston Live."

“Jon Ralston is one of Nevada’s most knowledgeable and informed political commentators. In February 2015, we invited Jon to create this program as a platform for advocates and policy makers to discuss the complex issues facing our state. Since that time, the show has proven to be informative and substantive, though also sometimes provocative and controversial.

“Ralston Live” has required a considerable financial investment from both stations and no longer has sufficient funds to continue production.”


Steve Sebelius, political columnist, Las Vegas Review-Journal; Jon Ralston, political columnist, Reno Gazette-Journal

You won’t find a paywall here. Come as often as you like — we’re not counting. You’ve found a like-minded tribe that cherishes what a free press stands for.  If you can spend another couple of minutes making a pledge of as little as $5, you’ll feel like a superhero defending democracy for less than the cost of a month of Netflix.