LAS VEGAS - Candidates for three state Board of Regents seats agree the state's higher education system must keep up with Nevada's rapid growth. But most differ on who's best qualified to handle the job.
In Subdistrict 2D, incumbent Regent Mark Alden, 56, says he deserves a second term on the board that operates Nevada's public universities because he understands the system's budget and increasing funding needs.
''My strongest area is finance,'' said the certified public accountant who is calling for more accountability on the way tax dollars are spent. ''A lot of the new internal (budget) controls are due to my leadership.''
Alden is being challenged by computer executive Jim Ratigan, 47, who's focusing his campaign on the need to plan for growth at the state's University and Community College System and Board of Regents level.
Alden's approach is ''like building a house without building plans,'' said Ratigan, a UNLV alum. ''Ultimately someone has to have vision to what it should look like. I think that's the major difference right there.''
Ratigan emerged from a three-way September primary with 29 percent of the vote while Alden got 56 percent and textbook writer Wallace Best got 16 percent.
Despite the big primary edge for Alden, Ratigan said he's hoping he'll get Best's supporters in the Nov. 7 general election runoff for the regents' district that mainly encompasses Henderson.
But Alden said he has Best's endorsement and should pick up his supporters' votes.
Both candidates have received contributions from hotel-casinos. Ratigan got $500 from Boyd Gaming Corp., while Alden got $1,000 apiece from Coast Resorts and Station Casinos. He also got an in-kind contribution of $170 from MGM Mirage.
What does gambling have to do with education?
''Gaming is attempting to show they are good corporate citizens (through their contributions),'' Ratigan said. ''They are saying, 'We encourage people to get an education because this is good for all of us.'''
A University of Nevada, Reno graduate, Alden said he thinks gambling corporations support higher education because they want to see a more diversified economy in Nevada and hope to see UNLV become a research university in the areas of physics, chemistry, engineering and biology.
Recently, Ratigan has begun a sign and radio campaign that declares ''Mark Alden is a danger to our community,'' due to what he calls Alden's lack of control and confrontational style.
Alden has responded in kind with ads declaring that Ratigan poses a threat to the community because he does not understand Nevada education issues since he has lived in the district less than a year.
The two traded accusations in the primary after Ratigan suggested Alden might be responsible for the disappearance of Ratigan's campaign signs.
In the Subdistrict 2A race, first-term incumbent Dave Phillips is being challenged by Linda Howard for the seat that represents North Las Vegas.
Phillips, 48, says the university system must be prepared to offer education programs for students looking for careers in new industries that develop as Nevada's casino-dependent economy gradually diversifies.
''What if the industry changes? I think it's very important to have a very strong higher education program,'' the UNLV graduate said.
A private attorney in Las Vegas for 20 years, Phillips also is concerned about a push to cut the number of regents from 11 to nine.
''I think that has a real potential danger,'' he said, adding the number of regents should be increased by two to allow more minority representation, in line with the state's growing minority population. Phillips, who is black, said he is the only minority voice on the board.
His opponent, Linda Howard, 45, has nearly 15 years experience with Nevada's higher education system, both as a teacher and a student. She, too, is black.
A graduate of the Community College of Southern Nevada, Howard is pursuing a bachelor's degree in management information systems at UNLV. She has taught classes at CCSN and the Clark County School District, and worked as CCSN's enterprise zone liaison
Howard, who lost to Phillips six years ago, said she thinks she is even more qualified now for a regent post.
''I have a lot more to offer now,'' she said. ''I've been in the system and the trenches. I want to make sure students feel they are part of the process.''
There's no debate over who will best serve in the regents' Subdistrict 3B - at least not from the lone candidate, regents' chairwoman Jill Talbot Derby, 60, of Gardnerville.
''I feel that I've proven myself. Maybe that's why I'm unopposed,'' said Derby, whose district takes in all or part of Washoe, Carson, Douglas, Storey and Lyon counties.
Derby has a doctorate in anthropology from the University of California, Davis. She has been chairwoman of the board for three years and is running for a third term.
Derby also does education consulting work with other boards and university regents around the country, and has served on three college faculties.