Steel cage death match
Election 2010: The RN&R looks at selected local races, ballot questions, and begs for mercy
County Commission district 3
Candidates in this race have clear ideas of how they want to govern. Incumbent Commissioner Kitty Jung, a Democrat, believes now is the time when members of the public expect that the services they paid for when the state was riding high should be there for them. As taxpayers have to cut back, they rely on taxpayer-funded services, she said.
Cutting parks and libraries now when they are in greater use than they were in good times is wrong, Jung said.
“Our libraries are online access for people,” she said. “If they had to give up their online connectivity from home, they can go to our libraries to apply [for jobs]. That’s how jobs are now accessed. Major companies no longer take a paper application.”
She said that is part of her budget philosophy: “What are the service demands at the moment, and what is feasible in terms of what our citizens are expecting and also need?”
“I do believe when the economy is good, they [public agencies] probably need less,” she said. She also believes the county needs to look down the road.
“We have to decide what we want to be when we come out of this economic recession,” she said. “And I have the expertise and the ability to manage a budget and to get representatives of employees, employees who are representatives of collective bargaining units to come on board and to do the hard concessions that we know we need at this time while our revenues are way out of whack with what our expenditures are.”
She said the county planned for an economic emergency like this recession by adopting a plan in 2001, but it is flawed and needs to be rewritten after the recession is over. The advisory group that created the plan, she said, was not broad enough, and the plan was not sensitive to the “inverse correlation” of demands on services going up when the economy goes down.
Her opponent, Republican William “Bill” Anthony, believes that longer view should contain reductions in what county government does for people.
“I think the budget grew too fast, too big and stayed up too long, and they painfully now—very painfully—are trying to pare it back down. I think a functional consolidation would be necessary to look at.”
But he said that process should include the public.
“I’m kind of a person who wants to, first, get all the voters involved, get the citizenry involved, get them informed as to what the facts are and then, you know, make a joint decision.” He said he would not “just go off and autonomously make decisions based on what I think or what I want to do—although I think what I want and think are fairly conservative and fairly constitutional. … There’s been a real lack … of common sense in government from the top to the bottom in so many ways. … So I’m going to bring, hopefully, bring to the table my 30 years of business experience here in this area, this region.”
Anthony says the county needs to find some way to force the Nevada Legislature to stop dipping into local funds.
“The state last year grabbed $25 million of our county dollars to make their budget, and now they’re talking about some more from the cities and the counties.”
Two of a kind
Nevada Assembly district 32
In Assembly district 32, there’s not a great deal of difference in the financial ideology of the two Republican candidates running for this office: Ira Hansen and Jodi Stephens. In fact, the similarities don’t end there. Both are native Nevadans, both are married with children, both have substantial experience with government (if not as elected officials), both have owned businesses, both have great community involvement, and both are intelligent, informed candidates. Neither has ruled out increasing taxes (revenue enhancements) as a last resort, neither is incumbent.
Ira Hansen, 50, probably has more name recognition because of his years in radio and writing columns for the Sparks Tribune, but Jodi Stephens, 36, may be more well-known among GOP inside players because of her time working for the government and in Gov. Jim Gibbons’ administration. Hansen’s relative fame may be a bit of a hindrance because he’s been vocal on restrictive moral behavior, and voters may find those views somewhat of a distraction when there are serious financial crises before the state legislature.
In these days where the fiscal rhetoric among most conservative candidates for state office is similar, the pair has remarkably comparable takes on setting policy.
Hansen: “I’d implement as much of the SAGE [Spending and Government Efficiency] Commission recommendations as possible. That’s my No. 1 platform, pushing the SAGE Commission. The second thing I would do is realign spending with income. … I’m counting on Brian Sandoval winning. It’ll be his responsibility to adopt [present] a budget. If he can do like he’s promising now, which is to do that without raising taxes, fine and dandy, I’m all for it. My job as a legislator is going to be to support his budget proposals. … If you went back to 2003, which was only seven years ago, you’ll see with the revenue that we have coming in we would have an exact balanced budget if we adopted the 2003 state budget.” Hansen caveats that view with the acknowledgement that the state has entered into contracts since 2003. “I’m not going into anything saying in advance, ‘I’m not going to do this,’ or ‘I’m not going to do that.’ I’m going to be as pragmatic as I possibly can.”
Stephens: “We need to use past levels of spending on this budget cycle because things are so tough. … What we also need to do, once we have a number, is we need to implement some of the SAGE recommendations, we need to do zero-based budgeting, we need to decide what our priorities are in this state. To me, our priorities are public safety, health and education. It’s a very pragmatic approach. … 2003 would be a practical place to start. … If I signed a no-tax pledge from an organization back in D.C., that would take me out of the vote, take me out of being part of the solution. I don’t think that would be a good way to represent district 32. … I don’t think we can tax our way out of this on the backs of business or one specific industry.”
The SAGE Commission recommendations can be found at www.sagenevada.org.
—D. Brian Burghart
Nevada Assembly district 27
Voters in Assembly district 27 get a clear choice between Republican Gabe Jurado and Democrat Teresa Benitez-Thompson.
Gabe Jurado, 38, is a single man, who is in many ways singing from the same song sheet as the candidates from district 32. He’s a longtime mortgage consultant and a former firefighter who lost that job due to the economic downturn. He questions whether the budget crisis will be as severe as some have said, but no matter how much money is available, the budget should be put under a microscope because there are areas where improving the efficiency of government will make large improvements to the bottom line. He says the 2003 Nevada budget is a good place to start. Raising taxes is the last possible scenario in his book. He’s not as experienced talking about things like state budgets, so he comes off as a little less sophisticated than his opponent or party members in other races, but it’s plain he’s done his homework.
“Raising taxes are a quick fix in my opinion,” Jurado said. “When you have a cold, you take medicine to relieve the symptoms, but you still have the same cold. That’s the way I look at taxes.” His priorities for solving the budget crisis are first to become more efficient with the money spent, then cut services, then raise taxes.
Teresa Benitez-Thompson is a married-with-two-children, 32-year-old social worker who’s employed in a hospice. She’s been a community organizer and an activist in family issues, both officially and unofficially, practically since she became Miss Nevada in 2002, and maybe a little bit before. While many legislators are too circumspect to talk about making permanent fixes to Nevada’s tax structure, Benitez-Thompson hits it head on.
“First and foremost, it’s about walking in with the mindframe that the solution has to be found and knowing that it’s going to come through bipartisan and collaborative work,” she said. “I know that a lot of people are walking in saying, ‘I’m not going to talk about raising revenue; we’re just going to have to cut, cut, cut, cut our way out of this.’ Other people are saying, ‘There’s no way we can do cuts; cuts would be too awful, we’re just going to raise the $3 billion revenue.’ The truth is somewhere in the middle. We can’t raise taxes by $3 billion in one fell swoop, and we can’t cut $3 billion from the state budget without creating a community we don’t want to live in. … I would feel disheartened if in this legislative session we didn’t take real steps toward comprehensive revenue reform.”
—D. Brian Burghart
Reno City Council ward 2
Political junkies smell an interesting race for Reno City Council between two native Nevadans. Newcomer Brandi Anderson is lighting fires against incumbent Sharon Zadra, running for her third term. Zadra points to accomplishments at a time when Reno, like many Nevada cities, faces severe budgetary problems.
At an Oct. 1 downtown Reno house party, Anderson said, “Zadra—she stands for nothing. She’s a rubber-stamper.” Running on a platform of cleaning house in the council, the 35-year-old public relations professional butts up against a city council known for unified stances during a time when the city added businesses to the riverfront, expanded Artown, opened West Street Market, built whitewater rafting on the Truckee, and returned minor league baseball to Reno, sellout crowds the opening season last summer.
But it’s not all baseball, hot dogs and apple pie in the eyes of concerned residents, who question the city’s use of multiple subsidies to entice the Aces to build a stadium and to play downtown. “For our entire infrastructure to just [be] sold,” Anderson said, “it’s just crazy. Somebody’s got to do something about it.”
In response, 54-year-old business owner Zadra said, “Services are not being impaired from having borrowed from that fund.” Further, the Republican councilmember reminded voters that she ultimately voted against the baseball project. “We should have carved some out for the city to be able to reallocate for other projects in the redevelopment district,” she said, “and so I did not approve the allocation of STAR bonds to the ballpark.”
Pitted against Anderson’s reform zeal, Zadra lights up when she speaks of her vision for Reno, something she said she has focused on for 30 years: economic diversification beyond the city’s top business, gambling. Zadra references her accomplishments during her eight years on the council, chief among them the airport’s new baggage-handling project and the city’s use of federal economic recovery money.
Beyond finances, another principal difference between the candidates is their focus on labor unions. Zadra points to the city’s collective bargaining groups’ push for continued raises as the main reason for Reno’s layoffs of city employees last December. She also wants to change the law to make union negotiations open. Anderson said of labor, “I don’t know if you could have a bigger champion for union representation than me.” Both candidates have union support, however. Zadra’s supporters include the Carpenters Union, Electrical Workers Union, Builders Association and Associated General Contractors. The Northern Nevada Central Labor Council, the Nevada AFL-CIO and the Reno Police Protective Association back Anderson.
Schmitt goes it alone
Sparks mayor’s race
The race for mayor of Sparks appears at first to be more of the same versus new of the same. Probe a little below the surface, and different priorities for economic recovery emerge.
Mayor since 2005 and, before that, city councilmember since 1999, Geno Martini is running for reelection against Ron Schmitt in Schmitt’s first bid for mayor. Since 2001, Schmitt has served as Ward 5 councilmember.
Both Republican politicians point to the city’s building the Legends mall as a success. Both supported the use of STAR bonds to develop the venture, projected to bring in more than a billion dollars. STAR bonds allow businesses to set up shop in return for reduced taxes. STAR bond advocates bet on money returning to the city in increased property taxes and job growth. Some residents question the use of this kind of funding, noting that the incentive for the business brings too little back to the city. To them it’s a corporate giveaway.
Where Schmitt and Martini diverge is in the intensity of their focus on economic recovery, with Martini emphasizing budget issues first.
“I’m a firm believer in streamlining city services to save on costs,” the mayor wrote on his campaign website. “The Sparks City Council, with my full support, began to implement incremental reductions in city services and staff so as to minimize the impacts of the economic downturn.” Like other cities in Nevada, Sparks laid off dozens of city employees.
Schmitt, however, says he has broken ranks with his colleagues. “One of my priorities that I have on my agenda is economic development,” he said. “And that’s not a priority for the council. The council feels that financial stability is their issue.”
Schmitt is willing to spend money to develop the local economy. The incumbent, on the other hand, wrote on his website about the importance of “how best to succeed with what we have. … Sparks has a limited budget due to declines in property and sales taxes. I’ve always been a proponent of living within your means.”
While Martini’s website lists more than a dozen endorsements ranging from Sparks Chamber of Commerce to longtime Nevada political leaders, his opponent’s website lists none. The mayor has noted that all but one of the Sparks City Council backs his reelection bid. Schmitt stands alone: “We don’t have the perfect answer, but we can’t sit here and not do anything with so many our people out of work and so many properties vacant.”
The matter at hand
Nevada Senate district 2
In one of Harry Reid’s television spots in the U.S. Senate race, voters are told that Sharron Angle was one of two votes against requiring health insurers in Nevada to cover colon cancer. It doesn’t mention the other legislator’s name—Don Gustavson, who was often Angle’s ideological twin during the time their terms overlapped in the Nevada Assembly.
“Sharron and I both felt like all these mandated coverages—we have 52 mandated coverages in insurance policies—that people have to pay for whether they want them or not,” Gustavson said.
In fact, the race between Republican Gustavson and his Democratic opponent Allison Edwards is the U.S. Senate race writ small, with genders reversed.
The incumbent is Republican Maurice Washington, who is being voted off the Senate by term limits. The district sprawls from the south end of Washoe County to the Oregon border, also taking in bits of four other counties.
Gustavson, a retiree, has an affinity for hot-button topics like illegal aliens, while Edwards is more interested in basic issues like education. But Gustavson has also raised some libertarian concerns that cut across ideological lines and attract both liberal and conservative support. He once introduced privacy legislation to roll back the use of the Social Security numbers by state agencies as a universal identifier.
Gustavson said he wants to seek Arizona-style legislation on immigration, and he also wants to create a loophole in state law to keep secret the names of people with concealed weapons permits.
As befits a mother of a small child and a former teacher married to a teacher, Edwards has watched, alarmed, as local public services have been cut and dismantled during the recession. She has drawn attention to things like the difficulty of fighting range fires when budget cuts keep firefighting equipment parked during wildfire seasons. But her principal concern is education.
“We’re not going to be able to bring new business and new people to this state if we cannot get serious about education and at least graduating our high school seniors, for goodness sake, and also providing an educated workforce for these new jobs that we’re trying to bring to this state.”
It’s an indication of how Nevada’s expectations of its future have been lowered that just getting high school students graduated is a part of the political agenda.
Edwards, a former fundraiser for Crisis Call Center, now owns her own business doing the same job for a variety of non-profit groups.
As we reported previously, state question 1 would make Nevada judges appointive instead of elected. For more information, see www.newsreview.com/reno/content?oid=1816587.
State question 2 would let the legislature create a state intermediate court of appeals. Right now, the Nevada Supreme Court is the only state appeals court, and it must hear every appeal, though through streamlining and changes in court procedures and the number of justices, that has become a less burdensome task than it once was. The Supreme Court does not have the legal authority to reject appeals, and the creation of an intermediate court would let the Supreme Court pick and choose which appeals to hear, limiting itself to broader issues. Nevada voters previously rejected an appellate court in 1980 and 1992.
State question 3 would allow the legislature to make changes in some sales tax statutes without a public vote. This is the way it’s phrased on the ballot: “to amend or repeal any provision of this Act only if necessary to resolve a conflict with any federal law or interstate agreement for the administration, collection, or enforcement of sales and use taxes?” That’s disingenuous. The idea is to allow the Nevada Legislature to tax internet sales when Congress allows it. An internet sales tax ballot measure was defeated by the voters in 2008.
State question 4 would repeal and replace current eminent domain language. After the U.S. Supreme Court in Kelo vs. New London allowed localities to condemn private property and turn it over to commercial developers, a wealthy activist named Howard Rich financially supported ballot measures around the United States, including Nevada, to adopt state constitutional amendments to void the impact of Kelo. The Nevada version was approved, but some Nevadans have argued that the Rich formula was not a good fit for this state. For instance, this ballot measure would allow exceptions for abandoned properties and threats to public safety or toxic, contaminated properties. This is one question that requires reading the sample ballot.
County question 1 asks for voter support for municipalities. At the 2009 Nevada Legislature, lawmakers dipped into local treasuries to get money to help solve state budget problems, thus making local budget problems worse without providing a remedy. This advisory question asks voters if they approve of that practice. It also seeks public sentiment on unfunded mandates from the state, a longstanding grievance of municipal governments.
County question 2 asks whether local governments should consolidate. But instead of asking the question that way, what pollsters call a leading question was written. The first part of the wording was appropriately neutral: “Should the separate local governments of Reno and Washoe County pursue a consolidation of the two governments?” If they had stopped there, the ballot measure would have been valid. But this was added on the end of the question: “…if such consolidation can be shown to reduce costs and/or improve service?” That plainly elicits a particular answer.
Sparks question SP3 (there’s only one Sparks question, but for some reason it’s numbered 3) seeks public support for a quarter-cent sales tax increase for police services. This question itself would not raise the sales tax. It is a nonbinding question intended to strengthen the city’s hand when Sparks officials go to the legislature to ask for the hike.