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Elections 2022: Examining races for Nevada governor, secretary of state and more

Gloved hands hold a small stack of light purple mail-in ballots with other ballot sheets in the background.
David Calvert
/
The Nevada Independent
Washoe County Registrar of Voters Office on June 8, 2020.

Candidate filing for Nevada's midterm elections recently wrapped up, giving us an idea of how several races across the state are shaping up. KUNR's Michelle Billman spoke with Riley Snyder, a reporter and assistant editor with The Nevada Independent, to break down who is running in several state and federal races, and what power is held by the people we elect into these positions. As a warning, this conversation includes brief disturbing language. 

Michelle Billman: Riley, thanks for joining me. 

Riley Snyder: Yeah, thank you for having me.

Billman: So, before we discuss who's actually running, can you break down what the governor of Nevada does and the power that this person holds?

Snyder: Sure, Michelle, so, the governor essentially serves as the chief executive of the state of Nevada, and I find it helpful to kind of view the role as two parts. One is kind of the constitutional role where the governor is the office and the person that puts together the state's budget, signs and vetoes legislation, does all the Schoolhouse Rock stuff, that's Nevada-specific focus. But because our legislature only meets part time, every two years for 120 days, they often are doing more management-type functions, which can include holding and attending meetings and casting votes, appointing people to certain offices and kind of being the public face of the state. And because our legislature doesn't meet that often, that makes the governor of Nevada a more prominent and powerful role compared to governors in some other states, just because they sort of operate without that legislative oversight or counterbalance that other states kind of have.

Billman: Now, looking at the race for governor, how many people are actually running and who stands out?

Snyder: Yeah, so at the close of filing, there were 22 candidates that filed, which included 15 Republicans running against Governor Steve Sisolak, who is running for reelection. That's actually a record–that was pointed out by the Reno Gazette Journal’s Rio Lacanlale–since the 1960s, so we have a lot of interest and a lot of people who want to run for governor this time.

So, Governor Sisolak is running for reelection. Former Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins was the only other Democrat who filed to run against him. There's not a lot of signs that he's running, like, really, a serious campaign; he kind of throws potshots at Sisolak on Twitter. They both served on the Clark County Commission at the same time and had some bad blood dating back to those days.

But, a lot of the interest is on the Republican side, where we've known most of the field for the past year. So, you have Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, Reno attorney Joey Gilbert, former U.S. Senator Dean Heller, North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee, businessman Guy Nohra, and a bunch of other longshot candidates who are all running. Really, the only surprise in the governor's race was that Michele Fiore, who is the RNC committeewoman and City of Las Vegas councilmember, dropped out on the second-to-last day and decided to run for state treasurer rather than run for governor, but, otherwise, it's kind of what we expected when it comes to the governor's race.

Billman: I want to talk to you about a specific incident that happened several weeks ago, just before candidate filing got underway, Governor Steve Sisolak was accosted, while at a restaurant with the First Lady. Two men yelled racist and threatening comments at them, specifically saying that the governor should be hung to death. Several candidates who are now running for governor or other offices shared their reactions on social media. Can you break down and remind our listeners of the spectrum of reactions that came from people who are now running for various positions?

Snyder: Yeah, so, of course, almost all Democrats immediately denounced what was said in the video and, sort of, the whole incident. The governor put out a statement recently asking for no charges to be filed and, kind of, trying to walk this line between, obviously, being, you know, threatened, and in this extremely uncomfortable position, but asking for no charges to be filed because this individual is now trying to make a name for themselves. They held a press conference, like, the next day, so there was just complete dismissal and denouncement of the incident on the Democratic side.

On the Republican side, there was a variety of responses. So, several Republican candidates for governor including Joe Lombardo said, you know, they understood anger at the governor, but they didn't think this was appropriate or warranted; they said to take your anger out of the ballot box. The state Republican Party, a handful of Republican legislative candidates and other candidates for office said the same thing, but we also saw people defend the behavior or even endorse it. So, I wrote down the quotes here because I thought it was important to say what they said. Michele Fiore, who we were talking about earlier, told The Las Vegas Sun that the governor was “lucky it was just words. If you look at the history of dictators, pitchforks will be next.” And closer to Reno, attorney Joey Gilbert, who again is running for governor, said he “couldn't think of a more deserving person” than Sisolak to be treated that way, and “Hell no I do not condemn it.”

So, you have this sort of range of what these candidates for governor, for this very important position, think is the appropriate response to this video, and it was interesting to see how some of them, you know, out and out endorsed it, some of them tried to, like, walk this fine line, and some just denounced it entirely.

Billman: And as you mentioned, Republican Michele Fiori, a Las Vegas Councilwoman didn't actually end up running for governor, which was expected. Instead, she's now running for treasurer. Who is she running against, and what should listeners be aware of regarding the role of state treasurer, especially as the state continues recovering from the pandemic and its economic toll?

Snyder: Let me start with the second part of that question: What is the state treasurer? It's one of six, what we often call, constitutional offices. So, it's one of these elected positions that are listed in the state constitution. They serve a four-year term and they're elected statewide. So, it doesn't matter where you live, you can vote for the next state treasurer. They serve as essentially the chief financial officer of the state, if you want to think of it in terms of a business, so they are responsible for investing and maintaining, kind of, the funds within the state budget. They're also in charge of the college saving plans program that the state runs, and the unclaimed property program, so it's very finance-focused, very money-focused.

The current state treasurer is Zack Conine, who's a Democrat. He's running for reelection for a four-year term. And, as you said, Michele Fiore also jumped in the race for treasurer; she's running against a man named Manny Kess, who's a businessman in Las Vegas. He's raised, like, quite a bit of money in this race, so they'll be in a primary, and there's two minor candidates. So, that's turned out to be one of the more interesting, like, you know, not really anticipated primaries to watch, but that'll certainly be one that a lot of folks will be watching whether or not it's Michele Fiori or Manny Kess who wins that Republican nomination for treasurer.

Billman: Looking at the Nevada Secretary of State position, there's a crowded field. And that's the person in charge of running our elections. Who are the key players in that race?

Snyder: Our current Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, a Republican, is termed-out of office; she served two four-year terms and can't run again. On the Democratic side, the only candidate is Cisco Aguilar. He is an attorney. He previously served on the athletic commission, and he's pretty well regarded among Democrats and is locked up a lot of institutional support.

On the Republican side, we have, like, a very messy primary. So, one of the candidates that jumped in sort of closer to filing was Jesse Haw. He's a pretty well known developer and homebuilder in Reno, and he briefly served as a state senator. He has a lot of financial support and institutional support from Republicans. But it's a pretty crowded primary. Probably the most notable is Jim Marchant, who is a former assemblyman, ran for Congress, and has been sort of the face of claims that the 2020 election was fraudulently stolen. He's appeared at multiple county commission meetings and sort of everywhere he can go–Steve Bannon’s podcast recently–to sort of promote what a lot of people call the “big lie,” this false conspiracy theory that the 2020 election was stolen; there was massive vote-switching.

Some of it, like, ranges into more of the fringe when it comes to Marchant, but that's been, sort of, like, a throughline for many of these Republican secretary of state candidates. We also have former Clark County Judge Richard Scotti, Spark City Councilman Kris Dahir and several others who are in that race.

Billman: You mentioned Trump's “big lie” that there was all of this election fraud in 2020, which has not been proven to be the case. Is there anything else you would like to talk about on this front in terms of, you know, how the “big lie” may play out in various campaign narratives?

Snyder: Yeah, I just, I kind of want to make it clear that it's not a cut-and-paste policy that they have. Oftentimes, there's, like, sort of a wavelength that these people will go on, where some Republicans will say [statements such as] we want election security, we want voter ID, and we want to end ballot harvesting; whereas, others will fully lead into [statements such as] the 2020 election was stolen, votes were switched in the middle of the night, you could change your Dominion voting machine votes with your iPhone–this sort of, like, you know, very fringy stuff has come into this race. But not all the candidates are saying that; some of them are not explicitly tying themselves to the 2020 election was stolen but still pushing for many of the same policies that we're seeing around the nation in terms of trying to tighten up voting access that Nevada's Democrats, who have been in charge for the last half decade, have tried to push through.

Billman: And transitioning to the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Catherine Cortez Masto, the Republican frontrunner for that race is Adam Laxalt. He's Nevada's former attorney general. He's also been promoting Trump's big lie. And what have Laxalt’s connections to that false narrative been?

Snyder: Yeah, so, Adam Laxalt, who was a former attorney general and ran for governor in 2018, was former President Trump's campaign co-chair in Nevada in 2020, and was very central in these efforts to try to decertify the election and claim that Trump won Nevada, Biden didn't win by 33,000 votes. And he's echoed many of this rhetoric in his run for US Senate. But I've noticed, I think recently, that he sort of moved away from it. I don't know if it's a campaign decision or just that, you know, we're two years from the 2020 election, like people have kind of moved on, and there's other things that we're focusing on. He's talking a lot about economic factors and inflation in his current run, but it's still an issue that continues to come up.

There was recently an NBC News article that had some audio from an event he spoke at where he said, [paraphrasing], well, voting in the rural counties was fine, but things were a little squirrely in Washoe County, and they were totally corrupt in Clark County. So, I think it's an issue that, you know, he'll continue to repeat and run on, but I don't think it's going to be necessarily central to his campaign just because time has kind of passed and some people have sort of moved on, or there's other more pressing topics in the news they care about.

Billman: At the congressional level, we did see a surprise bid against incumbent Republican Mark Amadei that came from the perennial candidate, Danny Tarkanian. So, to take a step back, what does a congressional representative actually do for his or her constituents?

Snyder: Beyond just voting or sponsoring bills or co-sponsoring bills or putting out statements, members of Congress offer a lot of what's called constituent services. That's just sort of a broad term for helping people who live in their district interact with the government and get access to or help clear up log jams for certain programs. So, this can commonly include things like applications for Social Security, veteran or other federal benefits, obtaining missing records or some kind of payment from a federal agency, [or] assistance with immigration efforts. But they basically are sort of like if you think of it in healthcare terms, like a patient advocate, sometimes, for a citizen and dealing with the massive complexity of the federal government bureaucracy.

Billman: And we know that Amodei’s seat has maintained a Republican advantage in recent memory, but can you break down what that advantage looks like after recent redistricting? Did that have an impact?

Snyder: Amodei represents Congressional District 2 in Nevada, which includes Reno and the vast majority of Northern Nevada. I think there were just a few boundary changes, but nothing too major. I think White Pine County is now in Congressional District 2, but even though Reno is kind of the swing county, Congressional District 2 is very Republican favored because of all that rural Nevada that's included in that heavy, Republican voter registration advantage.

You know, even in 2008, which was like the last big Democratic wave, I think Mark Amodei still won comfortably by a few points. So, whether it's Danny Tarkanian, or Mark Amodei, like, that's a race that’s going to be essentially decided in the Republican primary just because of those structural factors with voter registration and how things typically go in that district.

Billman: And drilling down a little more, several state senate and assembly seats are also up for grabs this election cycle. For the state senate, are there any particular Northern Nevada races you're monitoring closely heading into the primary?

Snyder: Yeah, District 16 is really interesting. That's a district that covers Carson City and southern parts of Washoe County. It was previously represented by Ben Kieckhefer, who left office to go on the Gaming Control Board. There is a gentleman by the name of Don Tatro, who's a businessman, pretty well regarded, who was appointed to that seat. He said he would not run for reelection if he was appointed, and then he decided to run for reelection after getting appointed.

And he has a pretty busy Republican primary, including a race against Lisa Krasner, who is an assemblywoman whose district included that state senate district and is trying to make the move up and Monica Jaye [Stabbert], who's a pretty far right radio host in the Reno area. So, that's an interesting one, just to see if you know Assemblywoman Krasner is able to leverage, you know, the support she's had over the last few legislative sessions or if Republicans will stick with Don Tatro or maybe Monica Jaye [Stabbert], but that's one of those that we keep a close eye on just because it will most likely be decided in the primary.

Billman: Okay, and for the assembly, at the state level, what races up in Northern Nevada do you think would be most competitive?

Snyder: One of the ones I'm really interested in is what happens with Assembly District 25. That's currently represented by Assemblywoman Jill Tolles, who's a Republican but is considered relatively moderate. But after redistricting, that district went from a moderately-sized Republican advantage to a moderately-sized Democratic advantage. It's interesting to see which candidates have filed, and I think both parties think they still have a chance in that district–Democrats because of the voter registration advantage and Republicans because they think it's going to be a red wave [and] their party is going to be favored in the midterm elections.

There's two candidates on the Democratic side who have filed: Alex Goff and Selena La Rue Hatch. Alec Goff has a lot of support from, sort of, institutional Democrats. I believe he was endorsed by the Assembly Democratic Caucus. But we've seen this in other legislative races that Selena La Rue Hatch has been endorsed by the teachers union in Washoe County, and that's a trend that we've noticed that the teachers’ union has put up several candidates against Democrat Caucus-backed candidates in these open legislative seats.

On the Republican side, Sam Kumar has filed. He's a conservative columnist. He, I think, used to write a column for the Reno Gazette Journal. [Other candidates include] Jacob Williams and Greg Batchelder. So, that'll be another interesting primary to see how that one plays out heading into the general with the change in voter registration.

Billman: And with that, we'll wrap things up. Riley, thank you so much.

Snyder: Of course. Thanks so much, Michelle.

KUNR proudly partners with The Nevada Independent, which has a helpful candidate tracker along with election analysis.

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