Senate term-limits fracas will be decided in court

After several setbacks at the state and federal level, local state Senate candidate John O'Connor will finally get his day in court to challenge the way state officials interpret term-limit laws approved by Nevada voters in 1996.

"I feel good," O'Connor said. "If there's any chance for a fair trial, this is it."

O'Connor is requesting that state Sen. Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, be removed from the Sept. 7 primary ballot, arguing he is termed out.

A fellow Fallon Republican, the challenger has called McGinness his favorite legislator, but added that it's time for a changing of the guard. The only way he can beat the popular incumbent and change that guard is to enforce term limits, he said.

McGinness has held the Central Nevada Senatorial District seat for 12 years, reaching the cap for terms established by state code. But state officials proclaimed in 1996 that voters likely didn't mean for the term limits to be applied retroactively, and terms that began before Nov. 27, 1996, would not apply to the three-term limit for state senators.

Under that interpretation, no state legislators will be termed out until 2010.

State officials say case law holds that new laws will not be applied retroactively unless the language of the law specifically says so. O'Connor says case law holds the exact opposite.

The Nevada Attorney General's office dismissed a similar complaint in June. O'Connor then petitioned the Nevada Supreme Court, which promptly dismissed the challenge, with justices saying they weren't satisfied their intervention was warranted "at this time."

Last week, O'Connor, a Lockheed-Martin worker and labor union lobbyist, filed his petition in a state court in Carson City.

Tuesday, after state judge William Maddox removed himself from the case, Judge Michael Griffin issued an order stating the case has enough merit to be heard and set a hearing date for Tuesday.

If he loses the battle in state court, O'Connor said that will likely be the end of his challenge.

"I wouldn't know where to go from here," he said, adding there likely wouldn't be enough time to appeal the case to a higher court before next month's primary, when O'Connor will face McGinness in the election.

If the court finds the challenge is valid, it could affect some 17 legislators who will have served in the same office for at least 12 years, including some of the highest members of both parties' leadership in the Nevada Legislature.

O'Connor is also facing another court action. He was arrested this month for allegedly selling 11.7 grams of marijuana to a confidential informant in December.

O'Connor said he couldn't comment too much on that case, but said that both he and his father are involved in a medical marijuana program. Police officials said they did not arrest O'Connor sooner because they had several ongoing cases in the months between the alleged transaction and the actual arrest.

Cory McConnell can be contacted at


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