Throughout this election season, a vast majority of the coverage has focused on the contentious presidential race, but in Nevada, voters will also be asked to decide the fate of several down-ballot contests.
That includes a relatively competitive race in western Washoe County where newcomer Democrat Wendy Jauregui-Jackins is looking to represent District 15 in the state Senate. KUNR’s Paul Boger spoke with Jauregui-Jackins about what lawmakers should do to address the issues related to COVID-19.
BOGER: Ms. Jauregui-Jackins, I was hoping we could start by getting to know a little bit more about you. What are the issues that you're focused on the most?
JAUREGUI-JACKINS: My top priority has and will always be public schools. I think I really want to work on ensuring that we reduce class sizes to make sure that teachers are able to give students that individualized attention that they need to be successful. I'd like to work on creating more vocational training programs because not every child is going to be interested in pursuing a college degree, but we need to make sure that they're prepared for skilled jobs when they do graduate from high school.
I think we need to make sure that we're supporting the educators to make sure that they are able to provide that excellent education that students are deserving of.
BOGER: Earlier this summer, lawmakers cut hundreds of millions of dollars from the state budget to fill a $1.2 billion budget hole. Largely, that was taken off the backs of education funding and funding for Medicaid. Do you support those actions?
JAUREGUI-JACKINS: Unfortunately, education and healthcare take up the biggest chunk of our budget, so, of course, those are going to be the ones that are most affected by the budget cuts. I mean, I would rather have not made the cuts, but, you know, we didn't have the money to pay for those services, so I think that we need to continue to look for additional revenue streams, just like they did with the mining tax. Mining is thriving, so I look forward to continuing to have those conversations and discussions with stakeholders, including the mining industry: Who's been benefiting from this loophole in the constitution, and mining is a multibillion-dollar industry. They have been benefiting from these special protections for a really long time.
Currently, they were paying less than like 1% of their gross revenue towards taxes, but they really need to step up here and be better community partners. They need to help the state while the entire state is in an economic downturn. Mining is thriving. The price of gold was, like, an all-time high this summer, so I think we need to continue those discussions. We need to make sure that mining continues to operate and that they're thriving, but that they're also being community partners and helping the state in this recovery.
BOGER: Speaking of taxes, there has long been talk of reforming Nevada's system for assessing property taxes. You work in the county assessor's office, so you may have a unique take on all of this. Would you support some level of reform?
JAUREGUI-JACKINS: Nevada is the only state that values property the way that it does. Every other state in the union is a market value state. With seeing the way that our state is suffering right now and, basically, still on its way to recovery, I don't think that this is the exact time to increase any taxes. I do think the way that we value property, we need to assess that, and really look at ways to change it, and ways to make it so that it actually helps our economy more because a lot of property taxes do make up the majority of the county's budget.
I know that a lot of that money goes to services, like education and Medicaid, but I think that we also need to really, really look at it, and have conversations with our local officials, like at the assessor's office, because they're the experts, to discuss how we can go about it where it doesn't create further inequities because the way our assessment is done, there's a lot of inequity in it. My concern is [that] when these types of issues come up, looking at the way we value property, that it creates further inequities, so I think we need to be smart about it, and we need to really, really delve into it with having those conversations with the experts.
BOGER: Speaking of the pandemic, how would you rate the state's response thus far?
JAUREGUI-JACKINS: That it was handled in the way that was going to be best suited to protect and stop the spread. I am totally in support of the mask-wearing, and I know that the social distancing is very important. As we've seen over these last few days, there has been some activity going on around the state, and our numbers are starting to show and reflect that. I think that it was very, very difficult for businesses and industries to have to shut down, but I think it was necessary to prevent a further spread of the disease.
BOGER: I would feel remiss if we didn't touch on police reform. Obviously, police brutality has been in the forefront of the news ever since the killing of George Floyd in May, but policing itself, including how we pay for it, has been under fire. So, what do you make of that debate and would you support police reform?
JAUREGUI-JACKINS: I don't know if you know this, but I am the wife of a police officer. I know that my husband and his colleagues got into this line of work because they care about our community, and they want to keep our community safe, so as the wife of an officer and a woman of color, I think that it gives me a unique perspective on this issue as it faces our community.
I think there are definitely things that we need to do, that we can do, to hold officers accountable for any misconduct. There's always room for improvement when it comes to training. I think every single person in our community should feel safe regardless of where they live or what they look [like]. At the end of the day, I think it's very, very important that both police officers and members of the community get home safely to their families.
So, at the end of the day, my husband and I have conversations about how our day went and we talk about what happened, and this and that. In those conversations, I know that nobody hates a bad cop more than a good cop. I think there's a lot of things that we can do to address the issues that are going on in the country without putting our hardworking officers at risk, and keeping our community safe at the same time. I think that there's a lot of work that we can do here in our local community to bridge those relationships, and I would love to be a part of that.
I think that I would love to work on having more community outreach with the local law enforcement agencies to be able to bridge those relationships. I think that when people actually have conversations and get to know police officers on a personal level, I mean, you realize they're just a person like you and I are, so I look forward to working on that.
BOGER: And you're a first-generation American. How would you draw upon that experience to help you as a lawmaker?
JAUREGUI-JACKINS: You know, my parents always instilled in us a hard working ethic. They taught us to appreciate every opportunity that was made available to us, and to take advantage of it, which is the reason why they came into this country. When my father came to this country, he graduated from high school here and he was able to build successful businesses because of the opportunities that were made available to him.
I think that growing up, the education that I received from the public education system was so important. There [were] programs that were available to me like English Language Learner, and free and reduced school lunches. Without programs like that, there's no way I would have been able to succeed in life, so I want to create those same types of opportunities for every family here in the state of Nevada. So, I think that is the main reason why I jumped into this: to serve my community and to create those opportunities and give everyone a fair shot at having a great life.
BOGER: As we wrap up, I'm curious, if there was one thing that you wanted voters to know about you as they're filling out their ballot, what is that? What's that one thing?
JAUREGUI-JACKINS: I want them to know that I am one of them. I care so much about this community that has become my home over the past 14 years. I want to make [a] positive change. I want to help people. I want to address and meet the needs that our students are facing, that our teachers are facing. I want to help with the skyrocketing costs of healthcare and create more affordable housing options. I want to be a part of the solution and I want to fight for the constituents of this district.
At the end of the day, I'm running to serve the people of my district and the state of Nevada. I'm not running to serve corporations or to serve special interest groups. I want to represent the people, and I will always work towards that.
BOGER: Wendy Jauregui-Jackins is the Democratic candidate for Nevada's Senate District 15. Ms. Jauregui-Jackins, thank you so much for joining me.
JAUREGUI-JACKINS: Thank you so much, Paul.