A Truckee River flood control measure and elections for Reno mayor and Washoe County sheriff make for some of the more interesting races this year in Northern Nevada, according to a longtime political observer.
Truckee Meadows Community College Professor Fred Lokken told State of Nevada that the flood abatement proposal, which would slightly raise Washoe County property taxes, had been discussed for more than 20 years before getting in front of voters.
“We obviously are shocked that it’s taken from the 1997 flood, which was just devastating in Washoe County, to this point to get this issue on the ballot,” said Lokken, who heads the Reno college’s Department of Business, Political Science and History. “We really have not had flood control of consequence on the ballot.”
Flooding in early 1997 left more than a half-billion dollars worth of damage along the river, including swamping much of the downtowns in Reno and Sparks.
Lokken said there has been no polling on the measure, but he noted that some voters reject all tax increases and others say the proposal doesn’t go far enough in creating recreational opportunities along the river.
“I think it is iffy that it will pass,” he said of the measure.
In the Reno mayor’s race, Lokken said incumbent Hillary Schieve is generally popular and outspending her opponent, businessman Eddie Lorton, who ran and lost four years ago.
“Actually, it’s been a nasty race for local races," he said, "It has been contentious between the two of them.”
The Washoe County sheriff’s race pits Darin Balaam, whose father was sheriff, against Heidi Howe, who came up through the department’s ranks but is running as more of an outsider.
Lokken said it is still unusual to see a woman run for sheriff in Washoe County.
“So, for Heidi to have worked her way up to the department to a position where she has a name recognition and visibility in the community is something that is frankly pretty rare in the police department,” he said.
Both promise to add officers to keep up with the area’s population growth and to stress suicide prevention at the county jail, which has been hit with a spate of inmate deaths.
As for the statewide races, Lokken said candidates spend the bulk of their time and resources hundreds of miles away in the vote-rich Las Vegas area.
“We have had some visits and some interviews with the media, but we are left with the feeling in every election cycle that the real election is occurring in Clark County,” Lokken said, “and it’s understandable, with 78 percent of the registered voters in the state.”
And while Reno is leaning more and more Democratic, Lokken noted that there are districts in Northern Nevada that always elect Republicans.
“I don’t want to accuse anyone of gerrymandering, but these districts have been designed in some cases to be very Republican by previous legislative cycles and they stay that way," he said.
He believes that trend could change in 2020 when district are redrawn following the census.
Professor Fred Lokken, chairman of the Department of Business, Political Science and History, Truckee Meadows Community College