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Nevada Democrats Buck GOP Tide, Win Statewide, Control Legislature


Credit: Doug Puppel

Rep. Cresent Hardy, flanked by his wife, Peri, concedes Tuesday night after losing his re-election bid to state Sen. Ruben Kihuen in Congressional District 4.

Nevada stood as an island of blue in a sea of red after Tuesday’s election that saw Democrats win statewide and in three of the four congressional districts, and pick up enough seats to give the party a majority in both houses of the state Legislature.

Efforts led by retiring Democratic Sen. Harry Reid, the Culinary union and several other labor organizations brought out enough votes in Clark County to send former Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto to the U.S. Senate and give the state’s six electoral votes to Hillary Clinton.

For complete election results: Nevada Secretary of State 

Democratic political newcomer Jacky Rosen won the House seat being vacated by Republican Rep. Joe Heck, who lost his Senate bid to Cortez Masto. Democratic State Sen. Ruben Kihuen unseated one-term GOP incumbent Cresent Hardy for the House seat in District 4.

Republicans lost control of both legislative houses, with the Democrats holding an 11-10 majority in the Senate and at least 26 seats in the 42-seat Assembly.

In state legislative races several GOP incumbents lost their seats, including Assembly members Derek Armstrong, David Gardner, Shelly Shelton, Brent Jones and Stephen Silberkraus.

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In two of the more closely watched state Senate races, Republican Carrie Buck fell to District 5 incumbent Sen. Joyce Woodhouse and tea party favorite Victoria Seaman lost to Democrat Nicole Cannizzaro in a race for an open seat in District 6.

All four statewide ballot issues passed. They will tighten restrictions on some gun sales; legalize recreational marijuana; bring more competition to the electric markets; waive sales taxes on medical devices.

Clark County voters approved a measure to index the fuel tax to fund road projects.

Highlights of interviews with Jon Ralston and Steve Sebelius:

Do you think undocumented workers and their children really have to start fearing they’ll be deported?

Ralston: I don’t think anybody knows what Donald Trump is going to do, but there is a lot of fear among undocumented workers and among immigrants in general based on all of the stuff that Donald Trump has said.

What do you think this election means for Nevada? Specifically, Is Yucca Mountain coming back?

Sebelius: There is no legal reason why it couldn’t. It remains on the books as the law of the land.  It has only been stalled because of Harry Reid’s opposition and his ability to take away funding. With Catherine Cortez Masto being a freshman senator in the minority party, I don’t know that she’ll have the clout to continue to do that. I know there are a lot of lawmakers from a lot of states where nuclear waste is piling up who would be very interested in reviving the nuclear repository here. So, I would be completely unsurprised to see that issue come back and make progress on pushing it forward.

What – if anything- could Democrats in other states learn from Nevada?

Ralston: The difference here was the Democratic machine. The Culinary Union was a very big part of it and played a big role this year. That machine built up enough of a lead in the early voting and mail balloting to withstand a potential worst case scenario. And there was almost a worst case scenario on Election Day when there was tremendous hemorrhaging, when there were unprecedented margins of losses by Hillary Clinton and Catherine Cortez Masto in rural Nevada, which they were able to offset especially in Clark County and to a lesser extent in Washoe County.

We talked to Republican Party State Chairman Michael McDonald about how the GOP faired in Nevada.


Are there bigger problems with the Republican Party than how much money they have?

Ralston: Well, first of all Michael McDonald is a joke. He did not raise one dime of that money. That money was a record amount and it was all funneled through the Republican Party by the National Senatorial Committee and the Republican National Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee. They got that money around Michael McDonald. They got the RNC folks in to essentially run the party.

Michael McDonald has the unique honor of presiding over an absolute disaster and a blue wave washing over the Republican Party here. In one of the greatest nights in the history of the National Republican Party.

The Republican Party here is still a joke, but I think the Democrats here have a lot to worry about going forward into the next election cycle, in an off year, without the Reid Machine being the Reid Machine anymore. I think there is a lot to worry about on the Democratic side.

What differences are we going to see in terms of legislation from the shift in power in the Legislature?

Sebelius: The majority party in the Legislature sets the agenda and controls it, and sometimes controls it pretty viciously. The minority party has virtually no power to get their bills introduced or heard. There has been some harsh treatment of the minority in the recent past. I think those memories are still fresh. I think you’ll probably hear a lot of talk about unity but when it comes down to it you’re going to see some bills put into drawers that never see the light of day.

Can you think of any bill that didn’t get heard in 2015 that will be heard in 2017?

Ralston: There are bills that are going to be heard, but the story of the 2017 Legislature in a macro way is going to be what the Democratic leaders can agree on that Gov. Sandoval will sign. He is still going to have a veto power. He is not a far-right Republican. He’s a moderate Republican who is going to want to work with Democrats to get things done, especially in his final session.

The two things to watch I would say is what’s going to happen on school choice, which the Democrats have unalterably opposed, and what’s going to happen on the energy issues – especially with the passage of Question 3, which doesn’t take effect until it passes again. But which the Legislature and Sandoval may want to head off so the policy is not made at the ballot.

Sebelius: I agree with Jon I think there is going to be intense effort in the 2017 Legislature on this particular issue to essentially solve this problem so you can back and tell the voters, ‘Hey, don’t worry about it. You don’t have to vote for his because we’ve got it worked out in a way where we’re going to get you what you want as opposed to having you go to the ballot and make that choice.’ There are a lot of problems with doing this kind of thing at the ballot. This is a tremendously complex issue. I should disclose that one of the prime donors behind this was Sheldon Adelson, who also owns the Review-Journal.  

Do have any ideas about what Gov. Sandoval was aiming for in 2017 and how it might have changed because of the election results?

Sebelius: He is a moderate. He was not a big supporter of Donald Trump. He has expanded Medicaid. It will be interesting now that we have elected President Trump and Trump has said he’s going to dismantle Obamacare. How that goes forward and how the governor deals with that going forward. He did expand Medicaid to accommodate Obamacare patients.

I think his agenda in the next session is going be, well, first he has to deal with the deficit. I’m with Jon, I’m looking at this ESA or Education Savings Accounts, the school choice issue. I have a hunch that Democratic lawmakers who didn’t like this when it came up, who now have the power in both houses, may conspire together to put it in its grave.   

Highlights of interviews with lawmakers:

Assemblyman Nelson Araujo:

I think we’re very excited over the Latino numbers that came out during early vote and on Election Day.

I think that the Hillary For Nevada team would tell you that her victory and the victory of Catherine Cortez Masto and Ruben Kihuen a big part was due to the high turnout in the Latino community.

How is the growing political power of the Latino community going to influence legislation in the coming year and in the long term?

I think it is going to impact the upcoming Legislature in a big way in advancing policy that supports working Latino families.

We have the Nevada Hispanic Legislative Caucus, which is 10 strong and after this election we are now 11 strong. Some of our priorities have always been advancing policy that helps support students who face English language acquisition barriers and different education measures that also support our children to ensure that there is an equal playing field for all of our students here in the state of Nevada.

State Senator Patricia Farley:

As a state we can’t tax our way out of our problems.

Schoenmann: Do we cut our way out of our problems?

No, we need to grow our way out of our problems. The economy is still soft here. We’re not seeing it grow. That is the prime reason we saw the special session and some of the decisions that lawmakers made was to turn around and give that boost in the arm, reinvest in our state, and get people back to work.

Taxes are part of the solution, a small part. We need a comprehensive plan about not only about organic growth of our industries within Nevada but also attracting businesses here that are going to stimulate growth both organically and people coming here to do business in Nevada.

We need to see a five-year plan with some real specific targets and how we’re actually going to grow our way out. If you run a business, you can’t save or cut your way to growth. You have to grow.     

State Senator Tick Segerblom:

I think we need to raise taxes anyway we can because the reality is from my perspective the only businesses we want to bring here are not going to come until they can see that our universities and public secondary education system is adequate. We advertise ourselves as Sin City so no one is going to come here unless they know that when their kids come here they’re going to have first rate schools and that’s just going to take money.

There’s lots of ways to get there. I think we can raise the property cap on businesses. I just found out that, as of right now, Nevada gets less in gaming taxes than both New York and Pennsylvania, which is insane.

No one is picking up their fair share of the tab right now. And the reality is growth doesn’t pay for itself. The more we grow the deeper we get as far as behind in school systems. We have got to figure out a way that when growth happens it actually helps bring money into the system.

Assemblywoman Heidi Swank:

One of the things that I know even the governor has been talking about is really investing in eco-tourism as a way of diversifying our tourism economy. One of the things we’ve seen over the last 20 years is an increase in the number of folks who come to Nevada to go hiking. People move here for hiking, camping. This really expands the idea of what it means to be an outdoors person.

And if we’re going to be really taking eco-tourism seriously, I think there are some structural ways in which we need to make some adjustments to some of our boards and commissions that would include many of these non-consumptive users.

So for me, I think that getting those diversity of voices on say the Wildlife Commission could be very helpful in ways to work with the governor’s office to better promote and represent all of those diversity of people who use our outdoors and use them a wide variety of ways.

Assemblyman James Oscarson:

I absolutely don’t think it is time for payback. What I believe is it’s a time to work together. I think everybody in that building believes in working together, making things better for our state. We’ve already experienced that in the education with the stadium issues and many other issues that we’ve come together on to work together.

I don’t think there is going to be animosity. I think it’s going to be a get-it-done attitude. I think that we’ll see a group of people there that truly want to move the state of Nevada forward. That’s what we’re all elected to do. That’s what our constituents expect us to do and that’s how we’re going to move forward.

I think it’s a great opportunity for us right now.    



Steve Sebelius, Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist and host of Politics Now on KLAS Channel 8; Jon Ralston, Reno Gazette-Journal columnist and politics analyst at KTNV Channel 13; State Senator Patricia Farley; State Senator Tick Segerblom; Assemblywoman Heidi Swank; Assemblyman Nelson Araujo; Assemblyman James Oscarson

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