2003 tax battle may force major change in Legislature

Partial returns Tuesday showed two entrenched Republican state senators and a veteran Assembly Democrat trailing challengers in Nevada primary races - among 34 races that figure in what could be the biggest shake-ups in the Legislature in recent memory.

The legislative tax battle in 2003 already prompted nine incumbents to run for other offices or quit politics. The primary meant more changes, and the Nov. 2 general election will complete the makeover in the Senate, now controlled 13-8 by Republicans, and in the Assembly, dominated 23-19 by Democrats.

Of the nine incumbents who decided against re-election bids, only one tried to stay in the Legislature - Assemblyman Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas, who challenged veteran state Sen. Ray Rawson, R-Las Vegas. Partial returns showed Beers ahead by a 59-41 margin.

GOP lawmakers predicted they would benefit from voter anger over the $833 million in tax increases approved last year, and could seize control of both the Assembly and Senate for the first time since 1929.

But Democrats note that most Republicans supported an increase of more than $700 million before a final tax vote - so lawmakers on both sides of the aisle could be vulnerable.

Rawson was one of the main targets of tax foes in the primary campaign. Beers was one of the leaders of the Assembly's tax-fighting faction.

Sen. Ann O'Connell, R-Las Vegas, was trailing challenger Joe Heck by a 53-47 margin in a race that didn't focus on the $833 million tax package. Heck portrayed her as a tax-and-spend lawmaker. She abstained from the tax vote.

O'Connell contended Heck's campaign was financed by the gambling industry because she refused to support a gross-receipts tax on businesses in 2003.

The tax issue also was the main issue in Las Vegas Democrat Peggy Pierce's Assembly re-election bid. But partial returns showed her with nearly half of the vote and ahead of two primary challengers, Lou Kalagian and Tonie Sison, who had questioned the record tax package.

Besides taxes, controversy over government workers also holding legislative seats figured in some races.

Lawmakers who wear two hats and faced a primary opponent included veteran Assemblyman Wendell Williams, D-Las Vegas, who was trailing Democratic challenger Harvey Munford by a 56-44 margin. Williams lost his Las Vegas administrative job for abusing his city-issued cell phone and accepting city pay while at the Legislature in 2003.

Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, who recently quit her Community College of Southern Nevada job, was well ahead of her primary opponent, Democrat Lewis Whitten - who said early on that he didn't expect to win.

Another issue developed in Assemblyman Chad Christensen's re-election bid. The Las Vegas Republican was fined $4,500 for campaign finance reporting violations, but his primary foe, Rudy Durso, refused to make it an issue. Partial returns showed Christensen far ahead of Durso.

Six former Assembly members attempted comebacks. They included Democrat Doug Bache of Las Vegas, who was running slightly behind incumbent Democrat Bob McCleary; Republican Lou Toomin of Las Vegas, who was well behind Bob Anderson in his bid to challenge Democratic incumbent Kathy McClain in the general election; and Kathy Martin, who was trailing Scott Sibley in a primary fight for the seat being vacated by Assemblyman David Brown, R-Henderson. Martin served three Assembly terms, as Kathy Von Tobel, from 1997 to 2001.

Also, partial returns showed former Assemblyman John Lee leading in a five-way Democratic primary for the state Senate seat now held by Democrat-turned-Republican Ray Shaffer of Las Vegas.

Shaffer had no GOP primary foe, but his wife, Sharon, was among the Democrats in the primary contest for the same seat - along with Democrat Mike Schaefer. They had a combined vote total that was less than Lee's.

In the state Senate District 4 race, Steven Horsford was ahead in a five-way Democratic primary.


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