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Elections 2022: Some Washoe County Commission races already controversial ahead of primary

A line of voters snakes behind a rotunda area with Washoe County Administration Complex written on the side of a concrete wall. Green foliage abounds on the top third of the image.
David Calvert
/
The Nevada Independent
In-person voting in Washoe County on June 9, 2020.

Early voting in Nevada starts in late May for the primary election and the Washoe County Commission has three district seats that are open. Despite these races just getting underway, there's already been a lot of controversy that's come up. To learn more about what's transpired, KUNR's Michelle Billman spoke with Tabitha Mueller, a reporter for The Nevada Independent.

Billman: Tabitha, thanks for joining me. 

Mueller: Thanks for having me.

Billman: Well, and the Washoe County Commission has three seats that are open during this year's midterm elections, but before we discuss the seats, can you break down what a county commissioner does and what power the commission holds? 

Mueller: Short answer to that is we know the county as a whole is responsible for levying, collecting, and then distributing taxes to government entities such as the City of Reno and the City of Sparks. Within the county that includes [the] school district, that includes building and maintaining roadways, managing kind of regional response teams, and then services for vulnerable populations. And that goes anywhere from health care to senior services, and, of course, our unhoused population.

So, Washoe County Commission has five commissioners, and those five commissioners directly oversee matters, sort of, related to those issues. They approve all business codes and licenses that fall outside the jurisdiction of Reno and Sparks.

Billman: And the commission seats are partisan. Can you break down what that means for the primary?

Mueller: Right. So, in an election, you have a primary and you have a general. The primary is where you have the same type of candidate, so Republicans versus Republicans, Democrats competing against Democrats, Libertarians against Libertarians, so on and so forth. Once the primary is over, you will have one candidate from each of those parties then competing against each other in the general. Because it's a partisan race, that means that once we hit the primary, two candidates, one from Republican, one from Democrat, and then obviously, you know, you have the Libertarian or other parties, will then go against each other in the general [election].

Billman: Looking at District 2, which covers a broad area of South Reno and Washoe Valley, we have the Commission Chair Bob Lucey running as an incumbent. He has one Republican competitor for this primary, and, so far, the race between the two Republicans has been contentious and confusing. Can you break down what we know?

Mueller: For those who don't know, Bob Lucey is looking to run for his third and final term in office. He's a Republican veterinary clinic owner and a real estate professional, and he was first elected in 2014. His main challenger is Republican Michael Clark, and Clark is running for the seat after serving almost two terms as county assessor. Recently, Lucey filed a candidacy challenge against Clark, saying that Clark changed his voter registration information after a state deadline and, therefore, is ineligible to run. After that came out, Clark told the Reno Gazette-Journal that he was threatened by Lucey to drop out of the race. And according to the Reno Gazette-Journal reporting, Lucey said that he merely mentioned the problem with the candidacy and he didn't actually threaten him. And right now, what we know concretely, is that Clark filed a sheriff's report and said he would be making a report to the DA as well as the HR department at Washoe County. So, we'll kind of see where that one's going.

Billman: Well, there was also some controversy in the past, last year, about Clark and a protection order that was filed. Can you go into those details?

Mueller: As I said earlier, Clark is serving a second term as Washoe County assessor. He had a temporary protection order filed against him last year from the county related to claims of harassment. And the other thing that I think is interesting about Clark in this race is that he's also raised fears about the possibility of election integrity issues in the coming election and sort of supporting that 'big lie' that we're hearing from candidates.

Billman: And as a reminder, the 'big lie' was former President Donald Trump's attempt to say that the 2020 election was rigged against him. 

Mueller: And we know that those [claims] are false.

Billman: Right. And just looking at District 2 a little bit more—beyond the Republican primary, we do have a couple other folks running. What does the rest of that field look like?

Mueller: The other two remaining candidates are Democrat Keith Lockard and libertarian David Banuelos. Both don't have campaign websites, and we don't know that much about them. And though they are running to challenge Lucey, I would say Michael Clark is widely considered the greatest threat to Lucey’s reelection bid, given the district's voter registration advantage toward Republicans. We have a lot more registered Republicans in that district.

Billman: And pivoting now to District 3, which covers Downtown Reno and Sun Valley—no incumbent is running in that race. What can you tell us about the candidates and if there are any clear front runners at this time?

Mueller: So, currently there are five candidates that I would describe as battling it out. And the reason that we don't have a clear front runner yet is that the current incumbent, Democratic Commissioner Kitty Jung, is actually termed out, so this is anybody's race. Some notable names that I saw out of the five candidates included Mariluz Garcia, the executive director of UNR’s Dean's Future Scholars program, and Kyle Isacksen. He's a science teacher at the High Desert Montessori charter school. We have a couple of Republicans, but it's anybody's game right now.

Billman: All right. And looking at District 5, we have incumbent Republican Jeanne Herman, who's seeking reelection. She has been at the center of recent controversial proposals that would have drastically changed how elections are run in Washoe County. Those were voted down. What platforms is she campaigning on and who are the other key players she's up against?

Mueller: As far as Herman's platform, she's anti-tax, pro curbing government spending, believes that public lands should be managed by the state, and, as we've seen when she brought the proposal forward at Washoe County, she's very focused on this idea of election integrity and has also spoken out against the idea of critical race theory.

Billman: And who are some of the candidates she's running against?

Mueller: The big ones that I noticed would be Republican Wendy Leonard, who's a retired Washoe County Sheriff's Office lieutenant, and then there's also Democrat Edwin Lyngar, who's a freelance writer and adjunct faculty member at Truckee Meadows Community College, but definitely take a look because this is a crowded race.

Billman: All right, Tabitha, thanks so much for your insights.

Mueller: Thank you for having me.

Tabitha Mueller is a reporter for The Nevada Independent. You can find her election coverage here.

Corrected: April 19, 2022 at 4:52 PM PDT
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that there was a previous recall petition against Washoe Commissioner Bob Lucey. The recall petition was against Commissioner Vaughn Hartung and was withdrawn.
Michelle Billman is the news director at KUNR Public Radio in Reno, Nevada where she oversees a scrappy crew of multimedia storytellers. She’s a transplant from the East Coast, where she earned degrees in creative writing and English from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and Virginia Tech.
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