Elizabeth Halseth unlikely Nevada senator

Corrections
<b>CORRECTION (01/09/11):</b> This story in Saturday’s Nevada section about Sen. Elizabeth Halseth, a Republican who represents District 9 in Clark County, should have said that she and her husband, Daniel, declared personal bankruptcy in 2003 after he lost his job.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is an occasional series about new lawmakers in the Legislature.

Elizabeth Halseth is among the most unlikely of Carson City newcomers.

The newly elected senator for District 9 in Clark County has only lived in Nevada since 2006, doesn't have deep political connections, didn't study politics in college and wasn't endorsed by either major newspaper in her Las Vegas-area district in the general election.

Despite obstacles and an outsider background Halseth, a Republican, managed to win her first-ever campaign for public office. She defeated an entrenched incumbent in the primary and a well-funded Democrat in the general election, despite a Democratic registration advantage of about 4,000 voters.

By winning, Halseth, 27, became the youngest woman ever elected to the Nevada Senate. State Sen. Helen Foley was 29 during the 1983 session. The youngest woman to serve in the Assembly was Ruth Averill, who was 23 during the 1921 session. The youngest legislator ever? George N. Noel, of the Silver Party, was 21 at the start of the session in 1895.

"It is about the people you represent; it is not about other politicians or political pundits," said Halseth, who did much of her campaigning through social media and e-mail as opposed to traditional media outlets.

Halseth's grandparents moved to Las Vegas from New York in 1940 so her grandfather, Glenn Stainer, a saxophone player, could play in big bands at casinos.

But Halseth and her four siblings were raised in Salem, Ore., by her mother.

She and her husband moved back to Las Vegas in 2006 when the economy was at the tail end of an all-time boom.

Halseth, a conservative Christian with a long history of volunteering for community causes, decided to transfer her energy to politics.

"It seemed like a natural next step."

She started by running for Assembly District 13 in Clark County, but switched to state Senate at the filing deadline.

The move meant she was challenging incumbent Sen. Dennis Nolan, who had been in the Legislature since 1993 and achieved leadership positions in the Senate and party support for his campaign.

Nolan's campaign imploded after he became entangled in controversy with an attempt to clear the name of a friend he believed was wrongly convicted of raping a 16-year-old girl.

The swift unraveling of Nolan's political career came as he was already under the gun from Halseth for voting in favor of tax increases and failing, in her view, to live up to conservative values.

Halseth followed the primary victory over Nolan by defeating Benny Yerushalmi, a candidate who had strong backing from the Senate Democratic Caucus in the general election.

The campaign against Yerushalmi included a mailer contrasting a wholesome-looking picture of Halseth's family with a photo of Yerushalmi in a flashy jacket and his wife wearing a revealing evening dress.

Halseth attributes her strong adherence to conservative political values and tough campaigning to lessons learned growing up with four siblings and a single mother in Salem, Ore., and overcoming obstacles as an adult, including a personal bankruptcy in 2006 that came to light during the campaign.

She said her husband, Daniel, lost his job and that her job at a tow truck company was not enough to pay the bills.

"Unfortunately we had to make the very tough decision of filing for bankruptcy," she said. "But we certainly looked for work and worked hard."

Halseth said the bankruptcy was a learning experience she will take when she goes to Carson City to represent her district.

"We have to be responsible with our finances and there is a certain way to do that," said Halseth. "We can't spend money in good times and pay for projects in good times that we can't afford in the bad times."

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@ reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861.

 

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