Three candidates in Sparks are looking to replace outgoing Democratic Assemblyman Greg Smith in the legislature next year. One of them is Natha Anderson, an educator and president of the Washoe Education Association. She spoke with KUNR’s Paul Boger to give her take on the challenges facing the state.
BOGER: Ms. Anderson, what do you see as the biggest challenges facing the state presently?
ANDERSON: Well, I think it's the same ones, unfortunately, that we've had for a number of years. What has happened because of COVID-19 [is that] they've simply been magnified. The first problem is how our budget is created and what [it] is built upon. We have a very shaky budget foundation. We cannot continually build all of our finances on tourism.
The second thing that's the biggest issue for us has to do with our health care, and our mental health or physical health. We don't have enough people that are staying in the state of Nevada to actually be able to provide the necessary services, so we've got to start thinking about those items.
The third issue is the same one almost from the first. They’re hand-in-hand, and that has to do with education. You know, it'd be great if we could have a class size that is reasonable for a ninth grade class, or our counselors to actually have a caseload that they can actually meet with their kids to think about those mental health items. Unfortunately, because of how our budget is just not what it needs to be, education, and health, and human services continue to get the kind of cuts that we just can't always afford. So, I think those are our three biggest issues.
The last one is one that has always... that you cannot necessarily legislate. That has to do with just, how do we work with each other? Whether it is Democrat versus Republican, or also through the regional areas, the geographical areas, the North/South/rural issue, we [have] got to work through that.
BOGER: You mentioned the state's finances. Over the summer, lawmakers cut hundreds of millions of dollars from the state budget. What do you think the state should do to prevent these sorts of situations in the future?
ANDERSON: We depend so much on gaming, and or other things [that] when people have extra money outside of our state, which again, I know I'm a broken record, but that's our reality, when things are bad in Ohio, it comes back to hurt us here in Nevada. So, I think that's the first thing is we've got to really... we've started to diversify our funding a little bit more with some of our manufacturing areas, and other elements. So, I think that's one thing that has to be looked at, but the second thing is, there's no way really to shore off. I mean, I hate to have to be that blunt, but we have to be realistic about all of the different services that are necessary for a state to provide. Education is obviously number one, and that's K-16 education. I think too often, we just think of K-12 but we also have to be aware of the university things. We cannot just automatically say, ‘Nope, you can't touch that.’ That's not quite how life works.
Testing, I think testing is another area that we have to be thinking about when it comes to education. Is the amount of money and time invested in preparing for these tests actually doing anything to help the students grow, because that's the point of education. It's to help the students think critically. It's to help the students prepare for a world after they've graduated. Are we actually doing that if they're getting four-answer possibilities and they have to figure out which one is right?
BOGER: Would you consider raising taxes? There's been talk of lawmakers eventually addressing the state's property tax structure.
ANDERSON: Automatically just raising the property tax, I don't think is really within the right time frame. I just don't think that right now people are ready for that based on everything else happening, and where we are right now as a community, and a culture, as we recover from this devastating situation. I think we need to take a look at how we do the resets of our tax property.
The other thing that's always interesting to me is when we think about how we set up our tax codes. 82 percent of our land is owned by the federal government. Yet, we continue to use property taxes at the local level, as the way that we fund our roads, our police, and so many other elements [that] are incredibly important, but we're not actually always billing the federal government appropriately for Medicare and Medicaid. We [have] got to start looking at other ways that we could do so. I know that last session there were some attempts to start working on that. So, then we've got to start figuring out how we can utilize that in a way that more money from Medicare, Medicaid is going back to our local governments, not straight to the state, but back to the local areas that need it.
BOGER: Of course, police reform has been front and center in the news this year. What do you make of those calls for reform, and should lawmakers re-examine how law enforcement is paid for in the state?
ANDERSON: I support the Black Lives Matter movement. I do think it is an incredibly important movement that is long overdue, and I also support our police. I mean, I've been supported by them as well, but I think one thing that we need to start thinking about when it comes to the police services is: why it's automatically a police officer that's sent to [a crime scene]. There should be a police officer, don't get me wrong, but what other psychological help are we offering with the police services? I think about that horrible event that just happened. He was a sixth grader who was murdered. Are we offering his family [help]? As soon as the police get on the scene, the police also are going to need some psychological help. I'm sorry, you do not come onto a scene where a 12-year-old has been killed, and not feel, and not just have some survivor's guilt or other things.
So, we need to do a better job of that mental health being offered for victims, whenever people see those [sorts] of instances. I personally believe that that was also part of the police reforms that needs to take place. I've been around some just phenomenal school police officers who, man, the things that they talk about with kids that have had really tough times. There's no way that that child would ever trust me with that information, but they do trust that other individual. Whether it's because of the uniform they're wearing, because of the demeanor, [or] because of other trainings, I don't know, but I think those are the things that we need to do a better job of highlighting, but also investing in.
BOGER: Affordable housing seems to be this ever-growing problem in Northern Nevada. It seems like the legislature has been fairly quiet on that front. What can lawmakers do to make sure housing is affordable here?
ANDERSON: The biggest problem with housing in my opinion is not... I do believe everybody knows that we need to get affordable housing, period, but [who] wants to take ownership of it? The legislature, and I do agree with this, the legislature is like, ‘Hey, that's a community decision to make?’ but then you've got the county commission saying, ‘Oh, wait, that's a city decision to make,’ and the city saying, ‘No, no that's [the] accountant’s decision to make.’
What the legislature can do is they can take a look at what is required by NRS statute, and clearly define it. I think then if it's clearly stated... so then that way you're not going to have the county commission say, ‘Nope, nope, that's the city's problem,’’ or, ‘Nope, nope,’ [and] the city saying, ‘Nope, that’s a county problem.’ It's lined out a little bit more. That's going to be a big fight to have, and it's going to be a long process to have. Maybe that's what we need to start to do, because right now pointing fingers is not addressing the issue.
The issue is going to get worse when you think about the horrible fires that are happening in Oregon and California, because all of those building supplies, they're not going to be coming here to Northern Nevada, or to Southern Nevada. They're going to be going to Oregon and California, where people need to rebuild their houses.
BOGER: What should voters know about you as they're casting their ballots?
ANDERSON: I do think there's one thing that I would like to add. That's the fact that I really think it's important that we get back to being able to talk with each other. I feel like this election, more so than other campaigns, campaign seasons, people are talking at each other. They're not talking with each other. It's gotten to the point now where it's so much about party, and not about people, that it's just, it's upsetting, and it's not helping us get where we need to be.
BOGER: Natha Anderson is the Democratic candidate for Nevada’s Assembly District 30. Ms. Anderson, thank you for joining me.
ANDERSON: Thanks, Paul.