Marsha, Marsha, Marsha
Six months before the general election, Marsha Berkbigler is already sitting pretty
Marsha Berkbigler has a few things going for her. As the lone Republican running for the District One county commission seat, she’ll be skipping the primary and very much looking forward to the general election in November. And she’ll be the only woman seeking a commissioner’s seat in either of the districts up for election, which has got to be good for some name recognition.
Then there’s the fact that she looks to be pretty well-funded: As a prominent legislative lobbyist and the founder of her own consulting firm, Berkbigler was able to loan herself $10,000 to kick-start her campaign. She’s been in and around politics for more than 30 years—longer than either of her potential Democratic opponents has been breathing on Earth.
But you’re unlikely to find the 61-year-old grandmother of two harping on others’ inexperience, or anything else, anytime soon. As a lobbyist, she’ll just hope to avoid being painted into a corner herself.
“It’s a very tough sell,” Berkbigler explains, “I was a lobbyist. I’m still a lobbyist, and when I asked everybody, ‘What’s going to be my negative?’ everyone said, ‘That you’re a lobbyist’ ”
Berkbigler’s lived in Nevada for 52 years, but worked in Carson City, Washington, D.C., and many places besides as a representative for the health-care, cable and mining industries. Now she finds herself in a unique situation.
Like any candidate, she would rather be seen as a policy maker than a lobbyist—as someone who rubs elbows with legislators as opposed to greasing their palms. A self-described “consensus-builder,” Berkbigler hopes to translate years of experience as an arbiter between the government and business interests into a new career finding common ground between Democrats and Republicans, or between the city and the county, or among almost countless others. Currently, the county commission is four to one Republican.
“I don’t want to give anyone the impression that I could go in and fix it all myself,” Berkebigler said, “but I think I can help bring the parties together. I know the mayor, I’ve worked with Kitty Jung and Andrew Clinger. I’ve worked with key players from both sides. I respect them, and I think they respect me.”
“I’m a mediator and as, a business owner, a negotiator. That’s part of my career, so I think one of the things I can bring to the commission is an ability to mediate and to bring third parties together.”
That isn’t to say that she’s wishy-washy. Berkbigler supports regionalization of fire and emergency services, for example, opposing a split between the city and county in the so-called “fire divorce.” Even in that case, though, Berkbigler believes there are cracks yet ripe for compromise.
“I am not in favor of a split. But I do understand that the parties are so far down the road that it’s going to take them a while to reach an agreement,” she said. “I’d love to see one right now, something where they’d set up a fire board and hopefully open up the union contract so we can reach some kind of parity here, but I know that is a ways in the future.”
If elected, Berkbigler would join four other members of a Washoe County Commission that is sets policy on everything from law enforcement to child welfare and public health. Though she has no direct experience as an administrator or public official, thanks to an “open door policy,” Berkbigler’s not worried about being out of touch with the issues in the county.
“I think that before I take a vote I need to see how the constituents feel about it, because in the end, you’re responsible to the people who elect you and also to everyone else in the same area you’re elected to.”
“I have a lot of friends and a lot of contacts,” she added. “I’m going to win by listening, and by having my name out there the most.”
She’s been getting her name out a lot lately, knocking on doors in her district at least two days a week, sometimes more, “if it’s not snowing.” Most of the doors are in Incline Village, at the very upper reaches of District One, and probably right in Berkbigler’s demographic wheelhouse, according to UNR science professor Eric Herzig.
He doesn’t expect too many of the folks behind these doors to be very much bothered by Berkbigler’s lobbying career.
“The [lobbying] charge will be made. But she still has 30 years of experience,” Herzig said. “Just on the political side she knows and has worked with key city players, key donors. She knows the process and even though she hasn’t run before, all that other stuff is going to work to her advantage.”
What’s more, Herzig—himself a District One voter—couldn’t even remember the last time someone beat a Republican candidate in Berkbigler’s district. He was certain there hadn’t been one in the 24 years that he’s lived in the county.
“This race is over. It’s going to Berkbigler,” Herzig said. “This district is overwhelmingly Republican. If you look at the history, a Democrat will not win.”