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KUNR reporters share their legislative coverage in first ‘Pints and Purple Politics’ event

Five KUNR reporters are sitting in a row at an organized panel event at a brewery. One staff member is speaking into a microphone while others look toward her or the crowd, which is out of frame.
Zoe Malen
/
KUNR Public Radio
KUNR’s Lucia Starbuck (from left), Jose Davila IV, Bert Johnson, María Palma and Natalie Van Hoozer speaking at the station’s first ‘Pints and Purple Politics’ event on Wednesday, March 15, 2023, at IMBĪB Custom Brews in Reno, Nev.

KUNR held its first “Pints and Purple Politics” event on Wednesday. The panel discussion was moderated by Purple Politics Nevada host and democracy reporter Lucia Starbuck and included reporters Bert Johnson, Jose Davila IV, María Palma and Natalie Van Hoozer, who shared how local politics affect their respective reporting beats. This week’s episode of Purple Politics Nevada, KUNR’s weekly show about the 2023 Nevada Legislative Session, highlights what each reporter had to say.

Click here for a transcript of the audio story.


Episode Overview

KUNR’s first “Pints and Purple Politics” event aimed to provide listeners with a behind-the-scenes look into the newsroom’s political reporting. While not all KUNR reporters cover politics, laws and policies affect their different beats.

Education is a major focus this legislative session. Report for America corps member and KUNR education reporter Jose Davila IV is following conversations on teacher raises, the back and forth on school choice, and Republican Governor Joe Lombardo’s calls for repealing restorative discipline bills passed in previous sessions.

“The idea was to really cut down on the school-to-prison pipeline, disproportionate expulsions and discipline against students of color, for example,” Davila said. “What a lot of teachers, and school administrators, and districts are saying is that it’s not working. They want more latitude in being able to remove disruptive students from their classrooms.”

In Washoe County, far-right extremism has played a role in local politics. Senior correspondent Bert Johnson conducts investigations on these influences in collaboration with The Nevada Independent and APM Reports. During the 2022 election, he monitored candidates running for the Nevada State Assembly and Senate who supported the “Big Lie.”

“So we were looking into candidates for state legislature who had expressed support for Trump’s lie that the 2020 election had been stolen from him. The true believers who went in really hard on saying, ‘Yes, the 2020 election was stolen.’ And then there are people who are kind of fence-sitters,” Johnson said. “A lot of candidates running in the GOP primaries were trying to make a calculation about how much they needed to support versus how much they needed to appeal to people who are more moderate.”

KUNR produces news in Spanish, and a majority of the station’s reporters are bilingual in English and Spanish, including underserved communities reporter María Palma. She spoke about what conducting interviews in Spanish means to her and a bill she’s following that would affect Latino communities.

“This bill will potentially legalize street vending and also sidewalk vendors, make it easier for them to get permits and not get prosecuted. That bill is actually getting mixed opinions. There are many concerns regarding food safety,” Palma said. “It’s a bill that would potentially impact the Hispanic community because we know that street vendors and sidewalk vendors are mostly immigrants, mostly Hispanics.”

KUNR is working to connect with more Spanish speakers and expand its audience. That’s part of community engagement coordinator Natalie Van Hoozer’s role. Her goal is to create ways for community members to provide input about stories they’re interested in and for their ideas to inform KUNR reporters’ coverage. An example is KUNR’s Candidate Surveys on the Environment created during the 2022 election.

“We had a questionnaire form on the KUNR website, on our social media, inviting the community to share their questions for candidates. Almost 40% of them had to do with environmental concerns like air quality when the wildfire smoke gets really bad or water sustainability,” Van Hoozer said. “[Community questions] shaped this questionnaire that I sent to candidates running for Reno and Sparks mayor, city council and Washoe County commissioner. Then fact-checking those responses so that the community could go to the polls with that information.”

Listen to this week’s episode of Purple Politics Nevada with Lucia Starbuck to hear from KUNR reporters about how their beats intersect with politics. This is one of three “Pints and Purple Politics” events tied to the 2023 Nevada Legislative Session, with the second planned for April with details to come.


Transcript

(UPBEAT JAZZ MUSIC BEGINS)

LUCIA STARBUCK, HOST: Welcome to this week’s episode of Purple Politics Nevada. I’m your host, Lucia Starbuck. The name reflects the fact that Nevada isn’t red or blue — it’s both.

KUNR held its first “Pints and Purple Politics” event earlier this week. I moderated the discussion with my colleagues Bert Johnson, Jose Davila IV, María Palma and Natalie Van Hoozer. The event was a way to give listeners a behind-the-scenes look into our political reporting. In case you missed it, here are some highlights from the event.

(UPBEAT JAZZ MUSIC ENDS, AUDIO FROM LIVE EVENT BEGINS)

STARBUCK: Jose, education has been a large focus this session. Let’s get into teacher raises.

JOSE DAVILA IV: Teacher raises are a complicated topic that can’t necessarily happen solely with the legislature because teachers and school districts bargain. Now, the Democrats have proposed a bill that would give out $250 million in matching grants. The governor’s office has basically said this is something that needs to be bargained at the local level.

STARBUCK: During his State of the State address, Governor Lombardo called for repealing restorative justice bills. What does he mean by that?

DAVILA: In 2019, and then also in 2021, the legislature passed these so-called restorative discipline bills that sort of limited suspension times for students. The idea was to really cut down on the school-to-prison pipeline, disproportionate expulsions and discipline against students of color, for example. What a lot of teachers, and school administrators, and districts are saying is that it’s not working. They want more latitude in being able to remove disruptive students from their classrooms.

STARBUCK: Bert, you cover far-right extremism and its influence in local politics. Tell us about the investigations you do.

BERT JOHNSON: A big part of my job is looking into people who are seeking to exert influence through back channels. We just went through a midterm election, and a lot of candidates were running with pretty extreme platforms. A lot of those folks were rejected. I think a lot of them are starting to look for other means to get their ideas implemented in government. We’re spending a lot of time following the money, looking into public records that show who’s connected to whom.

STARBUCK: Also, during the last election, you monitored “Big Lie” candidates.

JOHNSON: So we were looking into candidates for state legislature who had expressed support for Trump’s lie that the 2020 election had been stolen from him. The true believers who went in really hard on saying, ‘Yes, the 2020 election was stolen.’ And then there are people who are kind of fence-sitters. A lot of candidates running in the GOP primaries were trying to make a calculation about how much they needed to support versus how much they needed to appeal to people who are more moderate.

STARBUCK: Alright, María, you’re following a bill that would help legitimize street vendors.

MARÍA PALMA: That’s being sponsored by Senator Fabian Doñate. He told me that when he was doing his political campaign, he realized that his mom had like phobia of knocking doors. And that was because she was a street vendor when she came to the U.S. as an immigrant. This bill will potentially legalize street vending and also sidewalk vendors, make it easier for them to get permits and not get prosecuted. That bill is actually getting mixed opinions. There are many concerns regarding food safety.

STARBUCK: And you produced this story in Spanish. Tell us about the bilingual work KUNR is doing.

PALMA: We have a staff of reporters that we are mostly bilingual. My primary language is Spanish as well; I’m from Chile. Every time I feel that a story is gonna affect the Hispanic community, I just try to do it in both languages. About like 25%, 30% of the population here is Hispanic. And so when I interview people, when I’m able to approach them in their language, they feel very represented.

STARBUCK: So Natalie, your role is a bit different. Let’s talk about what a community engagement coordinator does.

NATALIE VAN HOOZER: What that means is a focus of ours, both for the news team and the station overall, is to really have that listening and that interaction with our community, with our audience, and have that inform our reporting, you know, then what we produce and send back out to you all.

STARBUCK: For the 2022 election, you put together an environmental survey for local candidates.

VAN HOOZER: We had a questionnaire form on the KUNR website, on our social media, inviting the community to share their questions for candidates. Almost 40% of them had to do with environmental concerns like air quality when the wildfire smoke gets really bad or water sustainability that shaped this questionnaire that I sent to candidates running for Reno and Sparks mayor, city council and Washoe County Commissioner. Then fact-checking those responses so that the community could go to the polls with that information.

(AUDIO FROM LIVE EVENT ENDS, UPBEAT JAZZ MUSIC BEGINS)

STARBUCK: That was KUNR’s Jose Davila IV, Bert Johnson, María Palma and Natalie Van Hoozer during our first “Pints and Purple Politics” event at IMBĪB Custom Brews in Reno. We’ll have a second event tied to the legislative session next month, so stay tuned. I’m Lucia Starbuck, and you’ve been listening to Purple Politics Nevada.

(UPBEAT JAZZ MUSIC ENDS)

The theme song, “Vibe Ace” by Kevin MacLeod, is licensed under Creative Commons and was edited for this episode.

Lucia Starbuck is an award-winning journalist covering politics, focusing on democracy and solutions for KUNR Public Radio. Her goal is to provide helpful and informative coverage for everyday Nevadans.
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Purple Politics Nevada is produced by KUNR’s Lucia Starbuck. Vicki Adame is the show’s editor, and Crystal Willis is the digital editor. Zoe Malen designed the show’s logo.