Variety of things led to Carson City’s results | NevadaAppeal.com

Variety of things led to Carson City’s results

Terri Harber
Appeal Staff Writer

The prevailing wisdom that incumbents have an edge over challengers in elections was turned on its head across the country last week by disgruntled voters who changed the balance of political power by voting against a lot of Republicans in Congress.

Some key Carson City races in Tuesday’s general election defied simple explanations, including two of the three school board of trustee races.

Local Democratic leaders were satisfied with the wins of incumbent supervisors Robin Williamson and Pete Livermore. But other results – especially Joe Enge’s victory over James Hukari for the District 3 school board seat – took them by surprise.

“We were disappointed by Hukari’s loss,” said Steve Platt, chairman of the Carson City Democratic Central Committee. “We’re still trying to figure out what happened.”

Perhaps conservative opponent Joe Enge benefited from help provided by state-level Republican candidates, or maybe Hukari lost favor with conservatives after expressing political beliefs these voters didn’t agree with, Platt speculated.

Enge also received “a lot of in-kind contributions that gave him an edge” when it came to campaigning and name recognition, Platt said.

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While Hukari had raised the most cash, $2,731, Enge received $2,200 worth of in-kind contributions and $927 in cash, thus a slight edge.

“Once Carson City gets a spoonful of what Joe has to offer, they’ll regret their decision,” Platt said.

REPUBLICANS DISAPPOINTED

Local Republicans were “greatly disappointed” with the outcome of some of the races, the Ward 1 supervisors race is the one highlighted by Ron Knecht, chairman of the Carson City Republican Central Committee. Tom Keeton was less than three percentage points behind third-term Supervisor Robin Williamson for the Ward 3 seat.

Enge’s win, however, provided some hope to local conservatives, along with the wins of other Republicans: Jim Gibbons for governor and John Ensign retaining his place in Congress, according to Knecht.

“Republicans who stayed ethically clean and close to limited government principals did better, at least in Nevada,” Knecht said.

When asked whether the news about Enge’s drunken driving history coming out months before the election might have benefited the conservative candidate, Knecht said “maybe.”

Hukari’s highly aggressive style during political forums, which he described as “ugly,” only helped Enge, he also said.

Knecht also said that Enge had his own Web site and, like Platt, made note of Republican campaign mailings. Statewide candidates shared space on these mailers with Enge, Keeton and Ann Bednarski, though she didn’t succeed in unseating incumbent school board member Bob Crowell as the District 4 trustee.

Knecht and Platt attribute Crowell’s win – with virtually no money and minimal campaigning – to his being a Carson native and the candidate with the strongest level of name recognition. He’s president of the school board and Rotary Club, and chairman of the Carson City Area Chamber of Commerce.

HOWE CAME ON STRONG

Not everyone views the District 6 school board results as people voting against an incumbent because Jeff Fontaine, an appointee, only had served as the District 6 representative for several months when the general election rolled around.

“With Barbara (Howe) and Jeff, they were both relative unknowns,” said John McKenna, who is in the middle of his fourth term on the school board.

He said the deciding factor of races for the board is “whichever message resonates with the voters.”

McKenna has seen two types of school board members during the years: Those who learn and become good board members and those who come in with personal agendas and closed minds. Those members who fall into the latter category only end up “frustrated” because school district professionals run the schools and board members simply “set policy,” he said.

The school board, at least in Carson City, “is not a political starting block,” he said. “It’s community service. It’s a job you do.”

Both Platt and Knecht said winner Howe was a strong campaigner and thought Fontaine would have benefited by campaigning harder and starting earlier.

Howe is also well known among Democrats, “had a message and was consistent,” Platt said. But “if he had won, (Fontaine) also would have made a great trustee.”

The percentage of registered voters casting ballots was down for Carson City, and below the expectations of Alan Glover, Carson City’s clerk-recorder and head of elections. He expected at least 80 percent of the city’s registered voters to turn out and got just 72 percent of them. The 2002 midyear general election drew nearly 88 percent of the city’s registered voters.

Results won’t be certified until next week, and no changes are expected in the results. Only 11 provisional ballots were cast citywide, which won’t effect the outcomes of any races. Final campaign contribution and expense reports covering 2006 aren’t due until Jan. 15.

• Contact reporter Terri Harber at tharber @nevadaappeal.com or 882-2111, ext. 215.