This year’s legislative campaign will be all about the state Senate. Democrats hold the slimmest of majorities, at 11-10. If Republicans can pick up a seat and seize control of the upper chamber, it will change the power dynamic in Carson City in 2015.
There’s no doubt about who’ll run the Assembly next year. Democrats hold a 27-15 majority, and the vast majority of the lower chamber’s 42 districts are completely uncompetitive — just five campaigns in 2012 were decided by 5 percentage points or less. That means the vast majority of Assembly races won’t be races at all. Although more than a third of the seats are vacant because of term limits and sitting lawmakers seeking higher office, a lot of candidates won’t receive their party’s financial or organizational support because they have no chance of winning.
So why should you pay attention to Assembly campaigns when, at most, each major party can only hope to flip a seat or two? The magic fraction of the Nevada Legislature: two-thirds.
If Democrats can pick up one seat in the Assembly, they’ll have the two-thirds supermajority required to raise taxes and override any vetoes from Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, who’s a lock for re-election. On the other hand, if Republicans can at least hold their 15 seats, they’ll have the votes to block tax increases. They’ll have a seat at the table in constructing any kind of reforms-for-revenues policy grand bargain.
That’s important. Senate Republican leader Michael Roberson has already made it clear that his caucus will support a funding boost for K-12 education — likely through a mining tax increase, assuming voters pass Question 2 this fall. But the GOP Assembly caucus is much more conservative than the Republican Senate caucus, and much more protective of mining.
It all comes down to just a handful of Assembly campaigns in Clark County. Here are the five Assembly races to watch over the next three months.
5. District 13: Incumbent Paul Anderson (R) vs. Christine Kramar (D). Voter breakdown: 40 percent Republican, 36 percent Democratic, 24 percent other. Anderson, seeking his second term, is a technology entrepreneur and the assistant leader of the GOP Assembly caucus. Kramar, a former executive board member of the Clark County Democratic Party, has staked out an unusual position within her party: opposition to Common Core.
4. District 29: Incumbent Lesley Cohen (D) vs. Stephen Silberkraus (R). Voter breakdown: 39 percent Democratic, 36 percent Republican, 25 percent other. Cohen, a family law attorney, is seeking her second term but her first election victory — she was appointed to the seat in December 2012 after April Mastroluca won re-election, then abruptly resigned for personal reasons. Silberkraus is a multimedia professional.
3. District 19: Chris Edwards (R) vs. Donald Hendon (L) and James Zygadlo (D). Voter breakdown: 39 percent Republican, 36 percent Democratic, 25 percent other. Edwards, a 27-year Navy veteran who lost to Rep. Dina Titus in a 2012 bid for Congress, is seeking the seat being vacated by Republican Cresent Hardy, who is running for the 4th Congressional District. Zygadlo is an education advocate.
2. District 37: Incumbent Wesley Duncan (R) vs. Gerald Mackin (D) and Lou Pombo (L). 39 percent Republican, 39 percent Democratic, 22 percent other. Duncan, an attorney and Iraq war veteran, is a rising star within the Nevada GOP and the likely front-runner to succeed state Sen. Mark Hutchison in Senate District 6 if Hutchison wins the lieutenant governor’s race and vacates his seat. Democrats would love to knock off the Republican, who upset Speaker-in-waiting Marcus Conklin two years ago.
1. District 4: Incumbent Michele Fiore (R) vs. Jeff Hinton (D). Voter breakdown: 38 percent Democratic, 37 percent Republican, 25 percent other. Fiore, a health care entrepreneur and strident supporter of the Second Amendment — which she displayed in her support of rancher Cliven Bundy this year — is the top target of Democrats. Although the colorful Fiore won her first term in 2012 by more than 10 points, Democrats now hold a tiny voter registration advantage in District 4. And they’re running a formidable candidate, Hinton, a former Marine who was named the Michael Landsberry Nevada Teacher of the Year in December.
Glenn Cook (email@example.com) is the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s senior editorial writer. Follow him on Twitter: @Glenn_CookNV. Listen to him Mondays at 4 p.m. on “Live and Local with Kevin Wall” on KXNT News Radio, 100.5 FM, 840 AM.