Special session signals tough times for incumbents

Challengers for some political offices received an alley-oop when Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn called for a special legislative session on July 27. The special session, which began on July 29, was called to address the state’s medical malpractice insurance crisis.

Nevada law [NRS 294A.300] provides that seated politicians can’t accept campaign contributions while the legislature is in session. That law includes special sessions.

“It is unlawful for a member of the legislature, the lieutenant governor or the governor to solicit or accept any monetary contribution or to solicit or accept a commitment to make such a contribution for any political purpose during the period beginning the day after the governor issues a proclamation calling for a special session and ending 15 days after the final adjournment of the special session,” says Lorne Malkiewich, director of Nevada’s Legislative Counsel Bureau.

That means that while the seated legislators working at the session can’t campaign, challengers can, an unusual arrangement in a political system that mostly favors incumbents.

“It puts a cramp in your organizational and campaigning activity,” says Erik Herzik, professor and director of graduate studies in political science at the University of Nevada, Reno. “This is one of the few things that actually favors the challengers.”

Still, Herzik doesn’t anticipate that the special session will put a big financial strain on incumbent legislators. The special session was funded for three days, though it could run longer.

“They know what they have to do, and they’re going to do it,” Herzik says. “They want to get back to campaigning.”

If the special session remains brief, incumbents would only lose up to three weeks of fundraising time. With the primary election only a month away, that’s problematic for some candidates. If it goes longer, it’s going to be trouble for all candidates.

“I don’t really know how it’s going to affect us,” Assemblywoman Vivian Freeman, D-Reno, says. She’s battling for the Assembly District 24 seat against Republican Jason Geddes. “Obviously, the special session does affect the campaign’s ability to raise money, but it’s just something we all have to be willing to work around.”

Freeman says the special session may last longer than predicted.

“This is much more contentious than anybody thought,” she says. A long session could really damage some campaigns, and hurt Nevadans who need to see action on the state’s medical crisis.

“That would be disastrous for all of us,” she says. “I’m really not happy with what’s going on here.”

Geddes, for his part, says he’s not taking any particular advantage of the law that allows him to raise money while Freeman is at work in Carson City.

“We’re just going at a normal fundraising progression,” he says. “I’ve made a few jokes about it, but that’s about it. We’re just busy selling me (to voters).”

Paul Brown, southern Nevada director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, says the law doesn’t level the playing field for challengers.

"I don’t think it’s going to hurt anybody," he says. "It’s not going to make or break any elections. The incumbent already has the inside track to all the money anyway."