The big issue
The RN&R looks at selected races in this week’s election
It’s that time again, time to get out your pencils and mark up your sample ballots to prepare for the first Tuesday in November. Sure, you’ve figured out how you’re going to vote for president, but there are probably some races you don’t have clue about. Maybe you’ve seen some commercials, but all you can tell from those things is who’s the better liar or received more special-interest money.
In this year’s Election Issue, we take a look at some of the races we haven’t given enough coverage to and offer our advice on whom to vote for in select races.
Anyway, if you failed to register to vote, it’s too late for you now. Maybe you’ll get a clue when you see the results of this election. Congratulations to all who early voted, and for those who’ve waited until the last minute or who want to be surprised on Election Day, Nov. 2, we’ll see you at the polls.
County Commission District 1
Incumbent Jim Galloway vs. Lynn Atcheson
Returning to a regional plan that manages growth is a priority for both incumbent county Commissioner Jim Galloway and challenger Lynn Atcheson.
Galloway says the recent regional-plan update was a step in the wrong direction when it comes to the big issues of water and urban sprawl, both of which are related to growth. The plan update doesn’t effectively manage growth, Galloway says.
“It took out planning rather than put more in,” he says. “This was opposed by me and by Washoe County as a whole.”
Atcheson says that getting back to a “reasonable” regional plan means getting the existing plan out of the court system, where Judge Jim Hardesty plays referee between local governments.
“We need to work together as cities and county to develop a sound regional plan,” Atcheson says. “People are concerned about infrastructure, traffic and freeway access. You experience gridlock in some areas, and that’s frustrating. The issue is how we balance responsible growth while maintaining and sustaining quality of life. That takes real cooperation to get to that end, respecting opinions and reaching consensus.”
When it comes to what he believes is right for Washoe County, Galloway, a Republican, is obdurate, sinking his teeth into an issue and not letting go until his goals are accomplished.
Galloway’s concern over electronic voting machines was partly responsible for Nevada being the first state in the nation to adopt a voter-verified paper record. In his eight years on the commission, he’s worked to increase open space in urban areas. He staved off proposed increases in property tax rates while also taking a leading role in such projects as replacing Wittenburg Hall with Jan Evans Juvenile Detention center.
As the county representative on the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, Galloway supported environmental cleanups and the ban on two-cycle engines designed to protect Tahoe from pollutants like MTBE.
Atcheson’s skills as a leader and consensus builder are well-known in Washoe County. As former vice president of marketing communications of the Washoe Health System, Atcheson led several healthy community initiatives that promoted seatbelt use, encouraged smoking cessation and taught folks to “Baby Your Baby.” The Democrat began the annual Accentuate the Positive event that celebrates quality-of-life boosters. She founded the Nevada Women’s Fund. She’s served on the boards of Truckee Meadows Tomorrow, Reno Philharmonic and the Airport Authority of Washoe County.
Her 30 years of private-sector leadership and community involvement, she says, make her an ideal candidate for County Commission.
“I have a true appreciation for the myriad issues that are the forefront of a strong quality of life in a community,” Atcheson says. “I’ve been a teacher and a business executive. I’ve worked on diversity issues, senior issues, women and children, and the environment. … I have a lot of common sense, and I’m a leader.”
Galloway calls himself “an independent reasonable thinker who really does his homework.”
“I use that ability to translate the priorities of the people into making the right decision on the issues that come before us,” Galloway says. “I put public priorities first. … Sometimes issues move so fast that it’s like being on a soccer team. You need one roving defender. You need that on the County Commission, too. I bring issues to the table that no one else would have brought forward.”
Assembly District 31
Incumbent Bernie Anderson vs. Randi Thompson
Bernie Anderson is one of three remaining Democrats in the Nevada Legislature who are not from Clark County. Republican Randi Thompson, Anderson’s opponent, wants one fewer.
Anderson’s opponent says he’s gotten too cozy with interest groups, particularly trial lawyers. She says the issues she hears about the most from voters are education and health care, and she faults Anderson for some of the state’s health care problems.
“I support seriously addressing medical malpractice reforms to help lower costs,” Thompson said. “Nevada families pay about $800 a year more in health care due to medical-malpractice-related costs. I also support expanding the Senior Rx program to help seniors get lower prescription drug costs. Currently seniors have to be at the poverty level or below, which is $22,000 for single, $29,000 for couples.”
She contends that Anderson is the reason the Legislature met in special session to deal with medical malpractice.
“My opponent, as chair of the Judiciary Committee and the 2001 Trial Attorneys Man of the Year, had refused to even hear ‘med mal’ in his committee. Thus, that is why the governor had to call a special session in 2002. He also got $32,000 from trial attorneys this election cycle.”
Anderson says the reason medical malpractice wasn’t dealt with before the special session is that the insurance companies failed to come to the table, and Nevada has little leverage to force them since the state is such a small market—the companies can simply leave, as at least one has done. In the special session, it was possible to operate under different legislative rules that made it desirable for the insurers to participate, he says. And he points out that the award he got from the trial lawyers was not for anything dealing with medical malpractice, but for bringing all the parties together on construction defect measures.
“I, of course, still believe in the Bill of Rights, and that means when somebody is harmed, they have a right to bring a suit. In the past here in Nevada, we had a medical screening panel that kept out frivolous lawsuits … and I’ve always tried to protect that [effort to stop nuisance suits] because it was in the best interest of the consumer, the person who has been harmed.”
While Thompson points to Anderson’s relations with the trial lawyers, he draws attention to her relations with the nuclear-power industry. She once lobbied for the American Nuclear Energy Council in favor of bringing nuclear waste to Nevada and storing it at Yucca Mountain. But she also served as a publicist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Anderson flatly opposes nuclear-waste storage in Nevada, while Thompson’s posture is more layered.
“I do not want to cut a deal, but I want to negotiate to get federal dollars if it comes to it, build a safer repository, build our own rail lines, build our own roads and look at reprocessing [of waste].”
Anderson is seeking his eighth term representing the district. Thompson moved into the district recently and previously lost a primary race against Washoe Republican Greg Brower in a different district. She candidly admits she moved into the district to run against Anderson, but asks, “Hey, what’s worse—me moving to run, or him gerrymandering his opponent out?” The residence of Anderson’s former opponent, Patti McClelland, was placed outside the district in the 2001 reapportionment.
Reno City Council Ward 5
Dan Gustin vs. Ronald Dreher
As is true in many of the races this election, growth is the big issue in the Ward 1 Reno City Council race between Dan Gustin and Ron Dreher. The candidates are running for the seat being vacated by Toni Harsh.
It’s how the candidates view “growth” that makes the Ward 1 campaign a race instead of a rout. Gustin claims an ability to get along with the other Reno council members, Sparks council members and Washoe County commissioners as a reason to elect him to the nonpartisan seat.
“In terms of talking about things that are important, growth seems to be at the top of the list,” said Gustin, the Wolf Pack radio announcer and advertising executive. “Cooperation with the county and the city of Sparks is huge because it also involves what their view of [growth] is. What we really have to do is have a very heartfelt dialogue between the officeholders in all those three entities—not just, ‘Well, we really ought to be doing this, but I’m protecting my area.’ No, what it should be is, ‘What do you want to accomplish? Now, how do we work that out and get together?’ “
Gustin went on to say the groups need some kind of “unanimity of thought” among the three entities—in other words, if the three groups are made up of people with similar philosophies going in, the occasionally acrimonious relationship between the jurisdictions would be easier to solve.
Former police officer and police association president Dreher tends to focus more on specific environmental issues regarding growth than a general philosophy.
“We have growth—you can’t stop it, it’s inevitable—but what we’ve had, in my opinion, is unplanned or not-planned-enough growth, and my platform is managed growth and having growth pay for itself,” Dreher said. “That is only accomplished, at this point, by impact fees because growth hasn’t paid for itself.”
While Gustin appears generally satisfied with the direction the city of Reno has been moving with growth issues, Dreher seems generally dissatisfied, less concerned with getting along with other jurisdictions than with building in statutory infrastructures to force developers to use effluent water on golf courses, pay for new police officers and build in public-land access in new developments.
“I’m not a yes person,” Dreher said. “I will never be a yes person. I’m a debater, and I want to hear the issues and I want to speak on behalf of the silent majority of this community whose voices aren’t heard. Where my lobbying skills and my negotiation skills will work is the ability to take those six people, and not only them, but the five county commissioners and the Sparks City Council, and getting those people, explaining the situation, getting them to communicate and reaching a compromise.”
Each candidate has other issues that can be placed under the umbrella of growth. Dreher said the city has done a poor job of communicating with citizens where growth issues are concerned.
“It’s my understanding that the ideal of communicating with the citizens of this community is not a problem, it’s just not happening,” he said.
Gustin said that having architectural and design standards within the city of Reno will help tourists and locals alike rediscover the city’s identity and work within other agencies’ efforts to market the community.
—D. Brian Burghart
Reno City Council Ward 5
Incumbent Dave Aiazzi vs. Patty Melton
The city of Reno needs to talk about managed growth and open space, says incumbent Reno City Councilman Dave Aiazzi. That’s the big issue in the Truckee Meadows.
“It’s time, right now, to talk about how growth is done in this city and in the entire area,” said Aiazzi, who’s been on the council for eight years. “That’s what’s most important to people—what should be developed and infrastructure like streets, police and fire, open spaces and trails.”
Aiazzi would like to see the purchase of Peavine Mountain with public funds to ward off development there. Ballardini Ranch could have been more easily purchased with public money years ago, he said.
Reno businesswoman Patty Melton, challenging Aiazzi’s Ward 5 seat, said that redefining the city of Reno’s image is the biggest issue for city officials. That means embracing the casino industry’s rich history in Northern Nevada and making a name for Reno as a family-oriented tourist attraction.
“We have everything in Reno,” she said. “A river that runs through, closeness to Tahoe and Virginia City and above all, a history.”
Melton’s background in marketing and communications would be ideal assets, she said, for a city government interested in pursuing tourists lost to Indian gaming, and a “world-class” gambling museum would draw visitors from all over the world. Addressing growth and sprawl is important but not as important as recapturing tourists.
“We [need] to get an economic base here in Reno,” she said, “to bring in tourists from [places like] China. Those people want to see history. They want to see the West.”
To manage growth, Melton favors building within the city limits, adding grocery stores and housing to the downtown area and around the university.
Aiazzi loves Reno because the weather is “gorgeous,” even when it’s raining.
“No bugs,” he said of Reno, “and we’re close to an international airport so you can get anywhere in the world.”
He said eight years of experience on the council gives him the kind of experience needed to keep Reno moving in the right direction.
“People tend to forget how it was eight years ago,” Aiazzi said. “They said, ‘We want you to fix up downtown'—and we did. ‘We want you to offer shops and we want them to be locally owned shops'—and we did that. ‘We want more access to the river.’ We did that.”
Other recent city success stories include expanding police service, finding a location for a homeless services center and fixing roads.
“When the public tells us they want something done, we get it done,” Aiazzi said.
Aiazzi recently spearheaded efforts to establish the Truckee River Foundation that’ll spend around $1.2 million annually—about 3 percent of the Truckee Meadows Water Authority’s budget—on improving the river’s water quality and watershed.
“I’m hard-working. I’m honest. I’m available,” Aiazzi said. “I’m knowledgeable about the issues. … I’m a good behind-the-scenes guy, getting stuff done.”
Melton called herself a “visionary.” She said she’s running for office because she “really cares about the future of Reno.”
“I want my grandchildren to say, ‘Wow, they really did some great planning back years ago, so that we don’t have sprawl, and we have historic places people want to visit,” Melton said.
School Board Trustee, District G
Theresa E. Navarro vs. Barbara Price
What’s the big issue in the District G School Board race? Theresa E. Navarro and Barbara Price both see their candidacies as having roots in the need for the Washoe County School District to enact methods to help minority students rise to the skills levels of white students.
“The big issue is how we handle the student achievement for all students,” said Price. “We have this question of diversity. We have such a large proportion of students in our population that come from various minority groups. We are all struggling to find ways that we can get these kids to do well in class and to see that they have options after high school. With the rapid growth that we’ve had, I don’t think our system has been really able to keep up with developing ways to approach this problem.”
This is Price’s first bid for public office; she currently manages her husband’s medical practice. She has a bachelor’s in speech from the College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio.
Price said part of bringing up the achievement levels of minorities within Washoe County schools means better working within the federally mandated No Child Left Behind education act, which rates schools on some 45 education-related goals. She cited one study that showed that Nevada may not be taking full advantage of funding or educational choices built into the act.
“People always think it is an unfunded mandate,” she said. “I think in some ways, yes, maybe that’s true, but I think that it also may be true that we have not fully tapped into the resources that are within the act. If we have this act that we have to deal with, then let us pick it apart and see what we need to do to make it better.”
Theresa Navarro said her years working with minorities help her to better understand the needs of the Washoe County School District. She’s a longtime activist with the minority community, including the anti-gang group Unlimited Intervention, and works as a Realtor.
“I think we need to have change,” she said. “People need to look at how the school system has changed. In the last 15 years, the community has changed—40 percent of Washoe County is minority, and 30 percent are Latinos.”
Navarro said she would be more effective on the Washoe County School Board because she’s had hands-on experience with the difficulties minority families have within the district, and she could serve on the board as an advocate for minorities.
“I’ve been involved in this community, and I’ve been an activist. I know what’s going on in the community, and I have for many years. I think you have to care about children. As an activist, I’ve been a CASA advocate; I’ve been a rape crisis counselor. I’ve been involved with families with issues, and those issues affect children in school. I’ve worked a lot with children who are poor.”
Price said the district must learn to work with Latino parents, who may be shy about participating in their children’s education, and to look at the resources the English-as-a-second-language department has available.
“We have had a huge influx in recent years with students who don’t speak English or don’t speak English well, she said. “I think that is something we have to pay attention to as a board.”
—D. Brian Burghart
Assembly District 30
Incumbent Don Gustavson vs. Debbie Smith
In 2001, Washoe County lost an Assembly seat in legislative districting, and Democrats in the Legislature decided to accomplish the reduction by combining the two seats then held by legislators Debbie Smith and Don Gustavson, thus pitting them against each other in the 2002 election.
The Democrats were confident Democrat Smith would defeat Republican Gustavson. It didn’t work out that way. Gustavson was returned to Carson City, where he became one of the 15 legislators who used a minority-control provision in the constitution to bring state business to a halt over tax changes.
“Walking door to door I probably hear evenly about health care and education,” Smith said of the rematch. “Regarding health care, I believe it’s more of a national issue that requires a national solution. However, at the state level, we’ll have recommendations coming from [a legislative] committee that studied the health insurance options for small businesses, and I hope we’ll be able to provide some relief to business that will result in a positive outcome for many Nevada citizens.
“Regarding education, my primary focus is addressing the needs of our schools based on the high influx of English-language learners. We haven’t done much in the state to look at the policy and resources for teachers, students and parents in this area. Class size is always a major concern, and the residents of my district always support lower class size when I speak with them at the door.”
Gustavson says what he’s been hearing about most from voters is the increased tax valuations that have accompanied the increase in property values in the area.
“Every time we’re assessed, every five years, they come around here and really zap us and double our taxes … even three, four hundred percent in some cases. I have a lot of constituents in my district that are retired, and they’re very concerned. They’ve been in the area for 30, 40, 50 years, some of them in the same home.
“We know we’re going to do something during this next legislative session. They’re talking about a 6 percent cap, which is way too high, but we’re going to work with everybody that we can and negotiate this down to a reasonable and fair figure.”
Gustavson this year has duplicated his vigorous neighborhood-level campaign from two years ago but this time faces a stiffer challenge from Smith. In addition, Smith has had a steady stream of direct-mail pieces arriving in district mailboxes in these last days before the election. Those mailings heavily emphasize education.
One strange aspect of the campaign has been the participation of two Gustavson ex-wives. One of them is opposing him and has given newspaper interviews to make her case. The other ex-wife is supporting him and signed a mailed piece in which she responded to some accusations most voters in the district had never heard, thus spreading the charges to every district mailbox in order to answer them. Gustavson later filed slander accusations against one ex-wife and his opponent, Smith.