Milling around behind the starting line

Only about 270 days left until Election Day 2004—and there’s plenty more at stake for Nevadans than a new president

Democratic Sen. Harry Reid has enough money to give Republican contenders pause when they think about making a play for his seat in Washington, D.C.

Democratic Sen. Harry Reid has enough money to give Republican contenders pause when they think about making a play for his seat in Washington, D.C.

Photo By David Robert

Sure, we’ve heard plenty about the 2004 presidential elections already. And with the Democratic Party’s county caucus right around the corner (Feb. 14), we’ll surely hear plenty more in the coming weeks.

But 2004 will be chock full of election fun for the next nine months. Those interested in vying for public office have until mid-May to file to run.

Sen. Harry Reid (D) is up for re-election this year, and while several elected officials—U.S. Rep. Jim Gibbons (R), Secretary of State Dean Heller (R), state Treasurer Brian Krolicki (R) and state Controller Kathy Augustine (R)—have looked into running against the well-financed Reid machine, the only announced contender so far is Richard Ziser. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because Ziser was the driving force behind the marriage protection initiative (Question 2) in 2000 and 2002.

“Ziser’s no threat to Reid,” said Erik Herzik, political analyst and interim dean of UNR’s College of Liberal Arts. “Harry Reid never just runs away with an election. But I would rate Ziser’s chances as very long. … Once Gibbons dropped out, the Republicans weren’t about to spend money on anybody else. Are you going to spend $8 million in a race you’re probably going to lose? No.”

Besides Ziser, a Republican Gulf War vet, Ken Wegner, is also running against Reid. His campaign platform includes repealing GATT and NAFTA and charging a flat rate income tax of 8 percent for everyone.

Gibbons is up for re-election in November, as well, and many predict his name will end up on the 2006 ballot for governor.

In northern Nevada, campaigns for one open state Senate seat and 10 state Assembly seats will likely revolve around talk of taxes and education.

“Democrats have to be careful,” Herzik said. Referring to those Republicans who held out on raising taxes during the last session as “the Mean 15” could backfire, he said. “Polls I’ve seen say the majority of Nevadans think the ‘Mean 15’ weren’t that bad.”

Voters are also angry over the Nevada Supreme Court’s willingness to waive the two-thirds vote needed to raise taxes—a move that turned out to be unnecessary, as the tax hike did finally earn the necessary votes.

“They’re angry that the tax limit was so cavalierly just tossed aside,” Herzik said. “You’re messing with democracy there. And if the Democrats campaign against the ‘Mean 15,’ they’re campaigning pro-tax and [saying, in effect], ‘Yes, it’s OK that the Supreme Court did that.’ That’s a dangerous way to campaign, if you ask me.”

On the other hand, Republicans need to do more than hold firm on an anti-tax platform.

“If that’s all they have is, ‘Dammit, we’re not going to raise taxes,’ well, Nevadans do favor funding education and government services,” Herzik said. “The tax increase [passed by the 2003 Legislature] has not been felt by the average Nevadan. The business owners? Yes. But is the guy on the street seeing increased prices? I don’t notice it in the price of the beer I buy.”

The debate will reflect the split in the Legislature. But voters are unpredictable, Herzik observed. “They might say, ‘That’s old news. Get over it.'”

Herzik had expressed interest in running for the Assembly seat being vacated by Dawn Gibbons, a Republican who said she won’t seek re-election. Herzik was even offered money for his campaign. But, while he explored the idea of running for office, he discovered the job might be too demanding for a dad with six children.

“I have newfound respect for candidates,” he said. “I always knew it was a lot of work, and it’s more than I thought. If you’re going to do this and do it well, the voters get their money’s worth—even if they don’t agree with your decisions.”

In the state Senate, Bill Raggio, a veteran Republican from Reno, will be up for re-election, should he choose to run. In the Assembly, races will be held for 10 seats: Jason Geddes (R-Dist. 24); Dawn Gibbons (R-Dist. 25), who won’t run for re-election; Sharron Angle (R-Dist. 26); Sheila Leslie (D-Dist. 27); Don Gustavson (R-Dist. 30), who’ll be running against Democrat Debbie Smith; Bernie Anderson (D-Dist. 31); John Marvel (R-Dist. 32); Pete Goigoechea (R-Dist. 35); Lynn Hettrick (R-39); and Ron Knecht (R-Dist. 40).

Bernie Anderson’s health is giving him pause. If he drops out, County Commissioner Jim Shaw is considering running for Anderson’s seat. Republican Randi Thompson also intends to run for Anderson’s seat. She does public relations for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Thompson ran in 1998 against Greg Brower, the Republican who lost in 2002 to Sharron Angle.

Smith, who lost a seat in the Assembly by 32 votes in 2002, said she decided to run against Gustavson because she’d like to work cooperatively with other legislators and with the community.

“Don Gustavson’s answer to our problems is to say ‘no’ to everything—'no’ to adequately funding our schools, ‘no’ to helping seniors stay in their own homes, ‘no’ to protecting those in nursing homes from abuse and neglect, ‘no’ to helping more Nevadans afford the cost of prescription drugs,” Smith said in a statement to the press. “I have a vision of Nevada that includes the highest-quality teachers in every classroom, textbooks that students can actually take home to study, seniors who can count on the help they need to live independently, and neighborhoods and schools that are safe and free from violence.”

Geddes, a manager of environmental affairs in UNR’s Environmental Health and Safety Department, held his first campaign meeting last week. He plans to be out walking the streets in early March. Despite the tumultuous nature of the 2003 legislative session, Geddes said he can’t wait to do it all again.

“I found it to be fascinating from day one,” Geddes said.

Two seats on the Washoe County Commission—Jim Galloway (R) and Jim Shaw (D)—are up for re-election this year. If Shaw runs for the Legislature, Sparks Councilman Phil Salerno (R) says he’ll consider running for county commissioner. Bob Larkin announced that he was running in that race as well.

Jim Galloway will seek a third term. Brett Kandt, a lawyer, has talked about mounting a campaign against Galloway. Another dark horse, former Reno City Councilman Tom Herndon, has announced his intention to run against Galloway, as reported by

Of the non-partisan races, the battle for Supreme Court justice seats is likely to be heated, given the above-mentioned controversial ruling during the 2003 Nevada Legislature. A justice is elected to a six-year term.

There’ll be contests for two seats: one held by retiring Justice Miriam Shearing and the other held by Justice Deborah Agosti. On Monday, Chief Judge James Hardesty formally announced his intention to run for Shearing’s seat. Hardesty, 54, was elected in 1998 to the 2nd Judicial District Court. He’s been an attorney in Nevada since 1975.

Also running for Shearing’s seat: Clark County District Judge Michael Douglas and Clark County Family Court Judge Cynthia Dianne Steel. Steel, 50, is a former state legislator and has been a Family Court judge since 1997.

Those challenging Agosti: Clark County Probate Commissioner Don Ashworth, a 66-year-old Republican and former state legislator; John Mason, an entertainment attorney and former head of the state Republican Party; and Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Douglas Smith.

A few other non-partisan races:

State Board of Education Districts 8 (John Gwaltney) and 9 (Barbara Myers).

University of Nevada Regent Office 11 (Doug Hill).

District Court judge Family Court Depts. 5 (Deborah Schumacher) and 11 (Scott Jordan, who said he won’t run for re-election).

Washoe County School Board trustees Districts A (Dan Carne), D (Jonnie Pullman), E (Jody Ruggiero) and G (Anne Loring).

Justice of the Peace Reno Depts. 2 (Ed Dannan), 3 (Jack Schroeder), 4 (Hal Albright) and 5 (Barbara Finley).

Justice of the Peace Sparks Dept. 2 (Paul Freitag was elected to the seat, resigned in May and was replaced by Kevin Higgins).