Higher ed board could get makeover

Because of several unrelated events, more than half the members of the state higher education system's Board of Regents will be on the ballot in this year's elections.

"You could have a total turnover of the board in what I think everyone knows is a critical year for higher education in Nevada," said the system's chancellor, Dan Klaich.

Seven of the 13 seats are up, including five races in Clark County, though one of those seats has the incumbent running unopposed.

Typically, elections for the board are staggered so a majority is not on the ballot at any one time. But three of the current members have been appointed since the last election, and state law says members who are appointed must face voters in the next election.

Klaich, who did not want to comment on the individual races because he works for the board, said the typically staggered races were put in place as a way to maintain continuity and core knowledge on the board.

Next year is expected to be a critical one for the state's higher education system. The state Legislature and whomever wins the gubernatorial election will have to contend with a massive deficit, expected to be as high as $3 billion.

Cuts across state agencies are expected, and the higher education system will not be an exception. Virtually every candidate expressed an eagerness to fight against large cuts.

Additionally, the board and the chancellor will be asking lawmakers to tweak the way the higher education system, and its institutions, are funded. They want the colleges and universities to be allowed to keep tuition and fees charged to students, rather than sending that money back to the state's general fund. And they also want to rewrite the formula used to distribute state tax money to the colleges and universities.

The board could be called on to make big decisions. But despite the technical possibility, it is unlikely that there will be high turnover on the board. All but one of the incumbents outpaced their opponents in the primary by at least 10 percentage points.

David Fott, a political science professor at UNLV, said two of the local races could be particularly close.

The first pits incumbent Ray Rawson against challenger Mark Doubrava. In the primary, with four candidates, only 34 votes separated the two.

Rawson is a dentist and former state senator who was appointed to the board last year after the former regent, Steve Sisolak, resigned to take a seat on the Clark County Commission.

Doubrava is an ophthalmologist who has been critical of Rawson's connection to a failed dental school in Hawaii.

As of the latest filing deadline in June, Rawson had raised about $11,000 for his campaign. Doubrava had raised nearly $100,000 -- much of it his own money.

Another race that could be close has incumbent Andrea Anderson facing Mark Newburn.

Anderson is a community college specialist who was appointed to the seat in 2009 when the former regent, Stavros Anthony, resigned to take a seat on the Las Vegas City Council.

Newburn is a computer scientist who is pushing for more research at UNLV.

Neither candidate had raised a significant amount of money by the finance report filing deadline in June.

Anderson beat Newburn by 11 percentage points in the primary, when there were three candidates.

Fott, the political science professor, believes Anderson could be upset in this election.

He said the two candidates' different backgrounds seem to give voters a solid choice in the race.

"That could make for two different ways of looking at education issues," he said.

In other local races, Regent Michael Wixom is running unopposed.

Regent Kevin Page, a financial manager, will face Ken Lange, former head of the teacher's union. Page won the primary by 14 percentage points. He also holds a significant fundraising advantage, $85,000 to Lange's $3,600, according to the June report.

Board Chairman James Dean Leavitt won a solid victory in the primary, with 66 percent of the vote. He also has a large lead in campaign finances, according to the June report, having raised about $85,000, leading challenger Joe Pitts, who had raised $500.

Contact reporter Richard Lake at rlake @reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0307.