The 2012 election campaign: Incumbents exit, newcomers enter
Nevada’s two election filing periods—one for judgeship candidates, the other for everyone else—are now closed and the state will have a full, rich primary ballot.
Officials trying to stay visible after being term limited out of their current offices, community activists trying to put their idealism to work, and more Republicans than Democrats, filed for office.
“You have so many incumbents stepping down at the same time,” political analyst Fred Lokken said. “The folks who are stepping out are creating a remarkable vacuum and no significant players to replace them, in many cases, so ordinary citizens now feel they can have an impact.”
He said seeking office in this kind of an economic downturn is no inviting prospect, making the crowded lists in some races all the more unusual.
“The people running for [Reno] city council will have to deal with downtown redevelopment, teetering on bankruptcy there,” Lokken said.
Races for the U.S House and U.S. Senate seats are jammed. Five little-known Democrats filed for the House seat, but the only Republican is incumbent Mark Amodei. Mark Haines will seek the House seat on an independent line and Russell Best is the nominee of the Independent American Party.
The expected frontrunners are there in the Senate race—Republican Dean Heller and Democrat Shelley Berkley. In addition, four Republicans and five Democrats—former Nevada regent Nancy Price the best known among them—also jumped into the race. The Independent American Party nominated David Vanderbeek.
At the municipal level, the departure of incumbents had newcomers lining up to run. In Reno City Council race for ward 3, seven candidates filed. That was topped by the “at large” seat where eight candidates filed, and in ward one, where nine candidates filed. The numbers were more normal in ward five, where there are just three candidates. County Commissioner Kitty Jung jumped over into that council race where she will face Neoma Jardon and Kirby Lampley. Jung’s name recognition may have held down the number of contenders.
In the campaign for a Washoe district court seat, department 9, there is a star cast. Former Washoe district attorney Cal Dunlap, who prosecuted the sensational Priscilla Ford multiple murder case, and noted defense attorney and television host Scott Freeman are running for it. That seat is currently vacant as a result of the Dec. 20 death of Judge Robert Perry. Freeman is the only applicant for appointment through the Nevada Judicial Selection Commission to the seat, so it is possible he could become the incumbent midway through the campaign, depending on how promptly the commission acts.
Lobbyists dipped their toes into elective politics, too. In the district 1 race for Washoe County Commission, Republican Marsha Berkbigler—who lobbied for seven clients at the 2011 Nevada Legislature—will be opposed by whichever Democrat survives the primary, Andrew Diss or Skyler Kachurak. Nevada Manufacturers Association lobbyist Ray Bacon entered the race for state school board in district 2, along with Scott Carey, Donna Clontz, Dave Cook, and Adriana Gusman Fralick.
One familiar name, local Hindu figure Rajan Zed, entered the race for a relatively obscure office—member of the board of the Verdi TV District. He was joined by Kim Toulouse, H.R. “Bud” Mosconi, and Michelle Zunino Banbury (it’s a multi-member district, with residents voting for two from a list of four).
Local activists are also represented—Sam Dehne in the northern U.S. House race and Gary Schmidt in the race for Assembly District 39.
In several races the outcome is already determined because only one candidate is running.
No one filed against Pat Hickey, the new Assembly Republican floor leader, assuring him of automatic reelection. The same thing happened to Republican Ira Hansen in his reelection to an Assembly district that includes part of Sparks. Egan Walker is the only one running for one of the state district court seats, department 2 in Washoe County, and all three Nevada supreme court justices who are up for reelection—Michael Douglas, Nancy Saitta and Michael Cherry—got free rides. Barbara McLaury is the only candidate for Washoe County School Board in district G. Rick Trachok has no opponent for Nevada regent in district 10. William Gardner is the only candidate running for Reno municipal judge.
In what is either an indication of public satisfaction or a warning of rampant public apathy, Sparks city government saw a startling wave of free rides. Sparks city councilmembers Julia Ratti, Ron Smith and Ron Schmitt are all running for reelection without opposition. There are no other city council seats up for election this year.
Sparks City Attorney Chet Adams also got a free ride, as did former mayor Jim Spoo, running for Sparks municipal judge, and Susan Deriso, in the justice of the peace race.
Lokken said he believes that “the level of apathy in Sparks is dramatic, and it can be seen in voter turnout, in who doesn’t show up at meetings, who doesn’t participate.” He said Sparks officials have constructed a way of essentially talking to themselves that shields them from an understanding of public indifference.
“These uncontested races will probably be taken as evidence that Sparks voters are contented,” Lokken said. “I would encourage the city fathers to look deeper. … There is probably a level of support among property owners, but not renters.”
He said Sparks officials do their own voter surveys and the methodology is dubious, failing to “match the demographic distribution to the population” and giving officials feedback from certain groups over others.
“They [city officials] devise their own voters surveys that leave a large number of people unrepresented,” he said. “They design the questions themselves instead of having them written by disinterested third parties.”
He said the comfort level of affluence and businesses with Sparks City Hall discourages workers and middle class residents from running for office—“An average challenger just cannot organize the funds. You’re always outgunned by incumbents.”
In one Washoe County Commission district, a Republican is assured of election because no Democrat filed. The longtime director of Nevada Hispanic Services, Jesse Gutierrez, will face fellow Republicans Vaughn Hartung and Jerry Kosak.
There were a few surprises, as in Assembly District 24 where Heidi Waterman—a former Democratic worker and daughter of a former Clark County Democratic chair—filed as a Republican against incumbent Democrat David Bobzien.
A couple of familiar names appeared in school board races—former university regent Howard Rosenberg and Reno City Councilmember Dave Aiazzi. Rosenberg will face Ken Grein in district D and Aiazzi is running against Diane Nicolet and Cody Johnson in District E.
Reno City Councilmember Pierre Hascheff jumped into the race for justice of the peace, department 6. He faces Gemma Greene Waldron.