David and Harpo

Here’s a problem. How do you report a balanced profile of two opponents when one of them doesn’t show up? The Reno News & Review interviewed 33-year-old, first-time candidate Democrat David Bobzien for more than one hour. But phone and e-mail requests for an interview to Republican Brooks Holcomb, the incumbent in the District 24 state Assembly race, brought this written response: “I am scheduled very tightly between my full-time business and campaign commitments. If I get some free time in my schedule, I will get back to you.”

In this closely watched race, Holcomb already was the buzz of political blogs when he missed all debates with his opponent.

The 63-year-old one-term assemblymember granted a couple of interviews to the Reno Gazette-Journal, but that paper’s editors were dismayed by Holcomb’s lack of openness. In endorsing Bobzien, the editorial read, “It was a difficult decision … made a little easier by incumbent Brooks Holcomb’s refusal to talk about the specifics of bills he says he will introduce in the 2007 Legislature.”

Go to Holcomb’s Web site, and you’ll see that he wants to introduce “bills to improve education, strengthen our economy, lower health care costs, expand water conservation, and make our communities safer.”

Go to Bobzien’s Web site, and you’ll get details on what he calls his three main challenges if elected. He elaborated in his interview: “The education system and the improvements to the education system [are first]. … We have got to prepare kids for the jobs of the 21st century. … Second is that Nevada has the fastest growing population of people over the age of 65. … We’ve got to get out ahead of all of the issues related to aging. … The third challenge is dealing with the explosive growth that we have. … We’ve got to be careful that as we’re improving our economy and the state is changing, we not lose those aspects of our quality of life that we hold so dear.”

But it might be issues beyond the issues that define this race.

When Holcomb first ran for this office, in 1996, he ran as the Independent American Party candidate. Nevadans tend to be confused by this party, since it sounds like it might simply be a group of independent voters. But it’s the party of Nevada’s right wing Hansen family. It was formed by the Hansens in 1968 as the local vehicle for George Wallace’s presiden- tial campaign.

When asked what he thought of Holcomb’s former party affiliation, Bobzien said, “I think it speaks for itself,” and then paused with a chuckle. “You can be certain that the candidates that choose to run as Independent Americans know darned well what it is that they’re signing up for.”

Bobzien is a moderate Democrat who says his support of Second Amendment gun rights puts him in the tradition of libertarian Nevadans. He says he believes in fiscally conservative management of tax dollars.

For his part, Holcomb says that Bobzien lacks experience, according to an opinion piece he wrote for the RG-J. Bobzien responds by citing what he calls his extensive community experience with agencies or groups like the Nevada Commission on Aging, the Reno Recreation and Parks Commission and the Nevada Land Conservancy.

Bobzien cedes legislative experience to Holcomb. But the Democrat said he believes that the biggest detriment to Holcomb’s constituents is lack of accomplishment while in office.

During the 2005 legislative session, Holcomb introduced five bills (on occupational education, water management, budget administration, and two on lawsuit awards), all of which failed.

Holcomb has requested eight drafts of bills for the next legislature, according to the bill drafting office. They include the measures he introduced in 2005, plus measures dealing with methamphetamine, sexual predators, and health insurance coverage for small businesses.

In conversation with Bobzien, there is a sense of optimism tempered by realism. He was asked if he could really make a difference in this state, when Nevada sits at the bottom of many lists of mental, physical and social health.

“There’s a cultural shift, I think, that needs to take place,” he answered. “But … there are smaller, targeted solutions that can be done to start to deal with [our problems].” As an example, he cites action by the last legislature to aid the purchase by Nevadans of less expensive prescription drugs from Canada.