Race to November is on
It’s pretty difficult to go anywhere in Nevada these days without running into a presidential candidate.
In the past few months, one Republican and one Democratic debate have been held in Las Vegas. Along with countless campaign stops by every major candidate; and there’s no sign of it letting up.
But while those candidates are all trying to convince voters they are the right choice, that decision really won’t be directly in the hands of voters. Nevada doesn’t hold presidential primary elections. Both major parties select their choices in party caucuses that are limited to those registered with the party.
They don’t actually select candidates at those gatherings. Instead, they select delegates to the county conventions but, obviously, everyone knows who those delegates are backing.
Those attending precinct caucuses in February will select delegates to the county conventions in April where delegates to the May state conventions are chosen.
The Republican caucuses are set for Feb. 23, the Democratic caucuses for Feb. 20.
NEVADA & THE LEGISLATURE
While all the attention is now focused on the presidential battles, the emphasis should shift to the race to replace Harry Reid in the U.S. Senate. Republican Congressman Joe Heck is running against former Nevada Attorney General and Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto.
National pundits say that race could well decide which party controls the U.S. Senate.
There also will be much more attention on the state’s legislative races. Republicans took control of the Nevada Assembly and Senate in the 2014 elections, taking even a significant number of seats in Democratic-leaning districts for a 25-17 majority. Most political observers in the state say a good number of those victories will be reversed in 2016 when a much larger Democratic turnout is expected in November. That could return control of the Assembly to the Democrats. To reclaim the Assembly, the Democrats need to pick up at least five seats, which would get them to 22 of 42 members.
But to reclaim control of the Senate, Democrats need to pick up just one seat since the current make-up is 11-10 GOP.
In addition to all of Nevada’s 42 Assembly seats, 10 of the 21 state senate seats are up for election in 2016.
Carson City’s P.K. O’Neill is running for a second term in the lower house. Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, who represents south Reno and Carson City, is in the middle of a four-year-term and won’t be on the ballot. Republican Assemblyman Randy Kirner, who represents the other half of Kieckhefer’s district, has decided not to seek re-election.
In the races to fill Nevada’s four seats in the House of Representatives, two incumbents appear to be solidly in line for re-election. Carson City’s Mark Amodei represents a large swath of western and Northern Nevada and, to date, hasn’t seen a strong opponent show interest in challenging him.
Likewise, in Southern Nevada, Dina Titus, the lone Democrat among the four, is solid in her largely urban Las Vegas seat.
In Heck’s district, which he is leaving to run for U.S. Senate, state Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson of Las Vegas is the candidate to beat. But if he loses, he has two more years on his term in the state senate.
Perennial candidate Danny Tarkanian and Andy Mathews of the Nevada Policy Research Institute are challenging for the seat.
In the remaining district, Republican Cresent Hardy has a battle in front of him to keep that seat. He faces multiple challengers from the Democratic ranks: State Senator Ruben Kihuen, former Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, former Assemblywoman Lucy Flores and Susie Lee who describes herself as a philanthropist. Also in the race is current state Assemblywoman, Republican Michele Fiore.
Locally, there are two seats on the Carson City Board of Supervisors up for election along with the mayor’s post. Mayor Bob Crowell has said he will run again. So has supervisor Brad Bonkowski who faces a challenge from longtime civic activist Maurice White. Jim Shirk also is expected to seek a second four-year term.
Voters will also have to fill the city treasurer’s post vacated when Al Kramer left to join the staff of state Treasurer Dan Schwartz. Kramer’s deputy, Gayle Robertson, is currently serving as treasurer and is expected to run for the office.
Six seats are open on the Board of Regents — including the District 9 seat vacated by Ron Knecht when he won the office of state controller. The winner there will serve the remaining two years of Knecht’s term.
Four seats on the State Board of Education are also open in 2016 including the post vacated by the death of Dave Cook in October. In addition, the Carson school board seats held by Laurel Crossman, Steve Reynolds and Joe Cacioppo are up for election.
Voters in every county except Washoe will face a ballot question on whether to move to an indexed gasoline tax instead of the flat cents-per-gallon tax now applied. Washoe has had gas tax indexing for several years.
Carson Transportation Services Director Patrick Pittenger says tying the tax to inflation could generate some $60 million during the next decade — a third for the state and two-thirds to repair and improve Carson City streets and roads.
He said the money generated in Carson — both the state and local pieces — could only be used in Carson, not elsewhere. In November, each county will decide whether to make the change independent of any other county.
At present, there are two initiatives on the 2016 statewide ballot: one to legalize recreational use of marijuana and the second to mandate background checks for gun buyers.
There are several more working their way through the process that have not yet made it to the ballot.
That includes five initiatives including to raise the state minimum wage to $9.25 an hour and bump it another 75-cents each year through 2024. Others include the attempt to shut down the state healthcare exchange, close off common core education mandates by restricting any and all pupil information and exempt medical equipment from taxes.
There is one referendum working its way toward the ballot — the proposed repeal of the commerce tax approved by the 2015 Legislature.
As of November, there were 1.2 million registered voters on the active rolls, 1.45 million when the inactives are added in. Those inactives are kept in the total because they can vote by simply showing up and affirming that they still are living in the correct district.