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Democrats Eye Nevada Assembly

The Nevada State Legislature building on a sunny day in Carson City, Nevada.
Alexa Ard

Two years ago, Republicans won the majority in the Nevada Assembly. Now, Democrats have the chance to take it back, if their voters turn out. Let's turn to our News Director Michelle Billman to learn more. She recently spoke to political analyst Fred Lokken to get his prediction on what that chamber could look like post-election.

KUNR: In Washoe County, we’re watching several state assembly races, but before we get into the specifics, let’s talk seat counts.

Fred Lokken: Well, we’re watching because we had this unexpected outcome in the November 2014 election. It was probably devastating to the Democrats to see their defeat not only in the state of Nevada but across the country. But for the Republicans, there was an equal level of shock. The governor at the time was working closely with the Democratic leadership, building for the 2015 agenda, and suddenly winds up with his own Republican majority in the state senate and state assembly.

No one saw that coming, and in essence, it wasn’t a great session for the Republicans. It was off to a very stumbling start; they had leadership squabbles. Basically, [they] threw out some of their more experienced leadership and went with a lot of brand new leadership. There were tensions deep-seated within the Republican caucus within the state assembly; they stayed pretty much throughout the entire 120-day session. It was a real challenge for the governor as he led the efforts to change the tax structure for K-12 education. He was successful, but basically had to give up on his original plan and be creative near the end.

We’re coming out of what was tumultuous and there’s an anticipation that the Democrats retake the state assembly on the Nov. 8 election. And the reason for that is that they were in a fairly comfortable position except that they had such a miserable turnout in 2014.

And the general prevailing wisdom, and you’re just guessing at this point, is maybe a democratic majority of around 25 in the assembly, which does not give them a two-thirds, safe vote. But depending upon what the major agenda issues are in the spring, the state assembly in 2017 will probably look like what it has looked like historically—a Democratically-controlled group.

KUNR: Let’s dive into Assembly District 25, Republican Pat Hickey’s seat. He’s not seeking reelection, so now we’ve got Republican Jill Tolles, a UNR professor, running against Democrat Eli Smith who’s a Black Rock Solar employee. Are you watching that race closely?

FL: Well, it is one of them. That has been a fairly comfortable seat, so one would have to argue that the Democrat is certainly in the uphill struggle in that. That is a district that spawned Pat Hickey as a leader of the State Assembly. As a result, because it’s Hickey’s seat, we do pay more attention to it, but there’s nothing to suggest that it’ll leave the Republican column, so at this point in time, that would be my expectation.

KUNR: And moving to district 27, we’ve got Democratic incumbent Teresa Benitez-Thompson running against former Washoe County commissioner Bonnie Weber who is a Republican. Tell us about that race.

FL: It really is a Democratic district and she [Benitez-Thompson] has been a very popular assembly person from that district and still has that popularity. Bonnie Weber does have name recognition for sure, but I think it’s difficult to get the kind of vote together in that district to allow that to be the outcome. We see that staying in the Democratic column.

KUNR: Yeah, I wondered the value of Bonnie Weber’s name.

FL: Name recognition is huge. You just really save so much time of having to try to introduce yourself and provide that background. With her long time on the county commission, she clearly does have name recognition. But for Teresa, this is someone who is clearly seen as leadership material within the Democratic Party. With her incumbency, she’s positioning herself. If she wins this time, I would be surprised if she’s not in some sort of significant leadership role in the State Assembly for the Democrats.

KUNR: Fred Lokken, thank you.

FL: Thank you.

Michelle Billman is a former news director at KUNR Public Radio.
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