Nevada's role in the election

The presidential race is the big show in the 2004 elections.

Nevada Democrats will hammer hard on their claim President George Bush violated his promise to make his decision based on a careful review of the scientific evidence when he approved Yucca Mountain as the nation's nuclear dump almost immediately after the recommendation arrived at his desk.

The promise helped him claim a narrow victory in Nevada in 2000. Whether it will cost him the state in 2004 remains to be seen and will depend greatly on who Democrats choose to oppose him.

Driven by the presidential race, Secretary of State Dean Heller said a record number of Nevadans should turn out and vote this year.

"I'm expecting a high turnout - 70 percent or better - because of the presidential race," he said.

In addition to the national issues surrounding the presidential race, Heller said "ancillary issues" in Nevada including Yucca Mountain will increase the number of voters.

But he added that interest in legislative races spurred by the controversy over tax increases will also bring people to the polls.

In Nevada, the biggest race on the ballot will be for Harry Reid's U.S. Senate seat. The office of governor and the other constitutional offices aren't up until 2006.

At this point, Reid doesn't have serious opposition. The Republicans' first choice to challenge him - Rep. Jim Gibbons - has said he won't do so. Gibbons, who represents most of Nevada outside Clark County, is seeking re-election hoping to become chairman of the House Intelligence Subcommittee and looking at a run for governor in two years.

Reid, the second most powerful democrat in the Senate, has amassed a war chest approaching $4 million - enough to discourage most potential opponents - along with endorsements from a number of traditionally Republican backers.

Nevada's two other congressional seats, both representing Southern Nevada, also will be on the ballot. Republican Jon Porter is in his first bid for re-election, but no strong challenger has yet emerged. Democrat Shelley Berkley is also seeking re-election.

That puts most of the state's focus on the legislative races - especially how much impact the 2003 tax battle has on incumbents. Tax opponents say their polls indicate people are ready to "throw the bums out" and roll back the taxes. They predict the GOP will take over the Assembly.

But Democrats, joined by the teachers' union and AFL-CIO in Southern Nevada, say they see substantial support for the good those budgets are doing in Nevada schools and human services. They also say businessmen are finding out they weren't hurt nearly as badly as naysayers predicted they would be - which could reduce the impact of the tax issue.

Thus far, three members of the 2003 Assembly have said they won't run again - freshman Josh Griffin of Las Vegas and Dawn Gibbons of Reno are leaving the Legislature. Bob Beers is trying to oust Assistant Senate Majority Leader Ray Rawson, R-Las Vegas, painting him as a tax-and-spend, big-government supporter.

All three are Republicans in solidly Republican districts so their departures probably won't affect the overall balance of power. In Carson City, Republican Assemblyman Ron Knecht is expected to seek a second term.

Likely to have an impact in the race are problems some Assembly members have had recently - allegations they were "double dipping" salary and benefits from their regular jobs as well as the Legislature during session. Those issues have thrown a cloud over Democrats Wendell Williams, Kathy McLain and Kelvin Atkinson, who lost their jobs as a result of those reports.

In the Senate, 10 of 21 seats are on the ballot including Rawson's. But only one of those voted against the tax package - Ann O'Connell, R-Las Vegas - is up for election.

Others on the ballot - Republicans Bill Raggio, Mike McGinness, Dean Rhoads, Ray Shafer and Rawson, along with Democrats Joe Neal, Valerie Wiener, Mike Schneider and Dina Titus - all supported the tax package. So far, all appear to be running for re-election.

Recent controversies surrounding allegations of improper lobbying by university system employees followed by closed-door meetings by the Board of Regents may figure in five races for those seats this year as well. Attorney General Brian Sandoval has filed a complaint accusing regents of violating the open meeting law when they demoted the president and chief lobbyist for Community College of Southern Nevada.

Up for election are regents Doug Hill, Tom Kirkpatrick, Doug Seastrand, Steve Sisolak and Marcia Bandera, who was appointed to fill the term vacated by Dorothy Gallagher. Beyond that, the ballot may include several California-style initiatives by election day seeking to cut taxes, restrict who can run for office and mandate how the budget is developed.

Jim and Dawn Gibbons filed an initiative petition last week that would require the Legislature to approve education budgets before approving other governmental budgets. Other petitions are circulating to repeal the tax package approved by lawmakers in 2003 and to prevent any public employees from holding legislative office in Nevada.

Organizers of those initiatives are still trying to collect the more than 51,000 signatures necessary to put each before the voters in November.


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