Nevada gubernatorial candidate, Democrat Chris Giunchigliani has positioned herself as the progressive choice this election cycle. She has taken a firm stance opposing the state’s embattled school voucher program, known as Education Savings Accounts. She’s also calling for tougher gun laws.
She sat down with KUNR’s Paul Boger to talk about her platform.
What do you see as the most pressing issues facing the state right now?
Education funding or lack thereof. I’m a special education middle school teacher. The funding formula needs to be fixed, finally, for the first time and just get it done. Then we work on class reduction, class load for school counselors, teacher salaries, support professionals, all the things that wrap around a school. Not everything takes money. Sometimes it’s also taking a look at what’s the quality of that classroom time. Senator Woodhouse passed a law last session to do an audit of all the various testing to see which ones should really be in our schools and which ones take away instructional time. I can’t wait to get that report because it’s important to me as a teacher. If you have 100 days of instruction and you lose 20 to testing, you need to stop teaching to the test and actually teach kids.
What do you think lawmakers need to do to address the Nevada Plan?
They started to make some changes last session with the weighted funding. That’s the piece that fixes the structural debt in the formula. It’s no different then when you build a house. If your foundation is off kilter, everything else on top of that is. That’s the same thing that we’re going to fix. If we take that funding formula and fix that structural deficit and then the dollars are redirected statewide and we make sure we do a "hold-harmless" if there is any loss of revenue that comes in. We’ve always done that when I served in the legislature. We made sure no rural county, no other county, was harmed as you moved into a funding formula that actually benefited everybody. That’s what I would work on.
What do you think needs to be done? Is it more money toward larger districts? More money to rurals?
When the Nevada Plan was created in the '60s by Senator Gibson, they only based it on population. Then they had a wealth equalization formula for the rural counties so that they were "held harmless" based on mining costs and things along those lines. Over that period of time, our state has become so diverse [but] they never funded autism. They never funded special education. They didn’t fund English language learners. That’s what the weighted formula does. It actually pares down and drives that into the funding formula so that it’s more easily distributed and more equitably distributed. The money that was passed by the voters in 2009 that was supposed to go to public education and didn’t – it went into the general fund – that’s how I would fund that program. Then they created all these categories on top; you may not need that if you disperse and dispense that based on where the need is. That’s why if there’s any kind of harm, you do no harm. You hold people harmless and readjust that entire formula.
It’s about equity in the long run and making sure your money goes into the classroom. Teachers have not been compensated well. Parents will tell you the number one reason they want their kids to have a smaller class size. As a schoolteacher I have a saying, and this sums it up: a teacher’s working conditions is a student’s learning conditions. They’re not anything different. When I travel across the state, I’m finding across the state overcrowded classrooms, kids sitting on the floor. Science, there’s no books for them. That’s shameful. We have a moral obligation to fund public education and it’s time to do it. "Can’t" was a swear word in my classroom--we can get it done.
As governor, would you also work to find a compromise on ESAs?
I don’t believe in taking what limited public tax dollars are there and giving it to a private or parochial school. Let’s talk about this. Public education is the great equalizer. It’s the one that makes sure that children, regardless of their ability, have access, and it’s our moral obligation to fund that.
ESAs are the law of the land, at this point. Do you continue to not fund them or do you repeal that law?
No, you repeal the law, and that’s a part of my policy.
There has been this effort to repeal key provisions of Obamacare over the last several years. As governor, how do you protect Medicaid and the state exchange in light of those efforts?
I will take on the Trump Administration. ACA has been phenomenal for this state and I applaud Governor Sandoval for doing the Medicaid expansion and I will do whatever I can to protect that part of it at the state level.
That said, I think everybody recognizes that we’re one of the lowest for reimbursement rates for doctors, so even though we expanded it, we have people who are not taking that or they’re limiting their plan on how many they are accepting. Part of my goal is to make sure that we are increasing those reimbursement rates so doctors will actually take the coverage that’s there.
I also support moving toward universal healthcare. I know Assemblyman Sprinkle is going to bring back his legislation. He’s been reworking it so that it’s more workable for implementing because we’ve got to get it right. Otherwise, people will come back and say, ‘See, I told you single-payer or universal healthcare is wrong.’ So, we have to make sure we do it the right way. I think that becomes the great equalizer. I mean, the other day, I read in the paper that the Epipens that people use on people overdosing on the street that our first responders [use] went from $400 to $4500. Shameful. It’s the insurance companies driving that and we need to get them out of our business as far as I’m concerned.
What about in rural Nevada? There is this health disparity that happens between the urban areas versus Lander, Eureka. They don’t have the hospitals or the clinics there to treat people that live there. How do you address that?
My rural tour--I traveled the state just to talk with people and the number one thing was the emergency access, actually. If [there’s] a car accident in Tonopah, they have to wait for a helicopter to come in, then they do a transfer at the border. We have to do it better. Our police officers shouldn’t be doing that work either because it diverts them.
We need to take a look at our FQHCs, which are federally qualified health centers, to make sure they are really being located where there is an underserved location instead of being clustered in an area. For example, three are in Elko and none are in West Wendover or Wendover. Yet they have population shifts of thousands of people that need access, so we need to make sure our clinics are located where people actually have resources for them.
We need to make sure we have programs that actually help doctors get into school and upon graduation we help do loan forgiveness programs if they work in an underserved area. There are ways. We did this for teachers years ago. If I worked in an low income area, for example, a portion of my loan was paid down, so there’s ways we can get people into practice because we don’t have enough everyday doctors, family practice doctors across the state.
They also have the telemedicine they passed, but again, it comes down to broadband, but we’re working on that part of it to make sure you have interconnectivity. Those are absolute key pieces that I’ve heard about from the rural areas. I have a great deal of empathy and I will work. That’s one of my more important things, making sure they have not only healthcare access but also mental healthcare access as well.
Where do you fall on the DACA debate and how do you protect those residents here in the state?
That’s a good question. DACA, I’m on the immigration coalition. I think we need to stop, it’s morally wrong, all of this divisiveness that we did. Trump had no reason to set this deadline. There was no reason in state law to do that. These kids came here, and they’re contributing. They’re going to schools, they’re in our armed forces and they should not be put at risk. The saddest part is that Congress needs to act and adopt absolutely, positive immigration reform that works for families. They are still talking about tearing kids away from their parents, not just the DACA and TPS kids, but even the new kids that are just coming in for asylum with families. They’re talking about separating again. There was an article a week ago that said they lost – HHS, the Health and Human Services – they lost 1500 children in the United States. How can you lose a child? They can’t even account for them. That is morally wrong. I will do whatever needs to be done to be able to protect our DACA kids.
So how do you feel about Nevada’s current gun laws?
I believe that we have a lot of work to do. I took on the NRA when I served in the Legislature. I do support expanded background checks for both public and private. I was very active on the Question 1 ballot question that we had. I think Adam Laxalt should have found a way to implement that. "Can’t" was a swearword in my classroom and he can find a way to do the will of the voters and he chose to ignore that. Weapons of war should not be on our streets. We need to ban the bumpstocks. If Congress doesn’t act, we can do that on the state level. More importantly, we need red flag legislation. They passed some legislation that allows a judge to maybe confiscate a gun for a short period of time. If you have someone with a severe mental health illness or a domestic violence charges, the judge needs to order that temporarily until that person gets help, so you don’t put people further at risk.
We’ve heard a lot about the commerce tax as this key to funding education here in the state, but the GOP has, since its adoption, called it a job killer. They say it’s hurting the state’s economy. Do you support the commerce tax, and what can you do to ensure that the state’s economy continues to grow?
I do support the commerce tax. I commend Governor Sandoval for taking that bold step and what he did was to make sure we didn’t hurt our smaller businesses because he gave them a credit for the modified business tax. I haven’t heard any reports that said that it resulted in a loss of jobs. There are a handful of naysayers, but again, as I’ve traveled across the state meeting with businesses, chambers of commerce, EDAWN, I have not had that complaint come forward.
So the commerce tax is predicted to raise about $400 million. It’s not enough to fix education, but if you go back to what was voted by the voters in 2009 and redirect those dollars back into where the public supported, that begins to get you the majority of the money that you need in order to be able to fix that funding formula.
There’s economic development that’s going on around the state. You have the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. They’re doing a good job and they need to be able to continue to move forward. You have your local, regional, EDAWN, and LVGA in the South, and your rural development authorities, for lack of a better term. They have plans. What they’re looking at, and I think it’s probably the right way to view this, is entrepreneurial programs, promoting that, cooperatives, promoting that, and then taking a look at making sure we don’t harm small businesses. Part of my platform for economic development is really expand our mom and pops, women-owned businesses, minority, Black, Asian-American, Hispanic-owned businesses, disabled and veteran, those are really where we should be investing our time and money.
Most businesses don’t care about an abatement; they care about your education system. It’s the number one reason a business chooses to start-up and stay or come to a state. So why are we not investing in our kids so that they actually have the skilled workers that need to be out there? We also need to look at career and technology. 33 percent of our kids still don’t need to go on to a college degree. We need to make sure we’ve got that skill set that’s out there to support these other businesses whether it's in mining and repairing the large trucks that are driving out there or transit. There is a lot of need for skill sets that we need to make sure that we’re growing. You do that from high school. You link them into apprentice programs and then you take them into career and tech through the community college system.