CARSON CITY — Republicans Sue Lowden and Mark Hutchison already are scurrying around rural Nevada to make known their candidacies for lieutenant governor.
Lowden earned front-page coverage in the Elko Daily Free Press, Hutchison picked up notice in the Record-Courier in Gardnerville. The election is more than a year away but they are out there making their faces known to rural voters.
And the Democrats?
They aren’t out in Elko or Gardnerville or anywhere else in rural Nevada. They don’t have an announced candidate, although Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, D-Las Vegas, Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins and schools advocate Susie Lee of Las Vegas are eyeing the race.
Former Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, also has been mentioned, but she announced last summer she wasn’t interested in running for political office.
Eric Herzik, a professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, said Democrats are still looking for a strong and known candidate to enter the race.
Catherine Cortez Masto, the term-limited attorney general, could be that person, although so far she has talked about not running for anything in 2014. Candidates file March 3-14.
THE RURAL DRAW
Lowden, 61, and Hutchison, 55, have a good reason for hanging around with cowboys. About half of the 170,000 votes cast in the primary for lieutenant governor in 2010 were cast outside Clark County. They need first to worry about the June 10 primary before thinking about the Nov. 4, 2014, general election.
With Democrats holding a 97,000 statewide registered voter advantage, one would figure that they should win. But a Republican has held the lieutenant governor’s seat every year since 1991, a clear example that Nevadans are not straight-ticket voters. Gov. Brian Sandoval already has endorsed Hutchison.
In Nevada, lieutenant governor candidates do not run on a ticket with the governor, like candidates in presidential and vice presidential races. Democrat Gov. Bob Miller, for example, served with Republican lieutenant governors.
The lieutenant governor serves a four-year term and receives an annual salary of $60,000. The person holding the position serves as president of the state Senate, a largely parliamentarian role for four months every other year. Only when there is a tie vote does the lieutenant governor vote. That rarely happens, since there are 21 members in the house. Term-limited Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki cast two votes in the 2013 session.
Typically the state Senate job is considered boring and unimportant. Krolicki spiced up his parliamentarian role by cracking jokes and displaying a good sense of humor, endearing himself to members and the audience.
In addition, the lieutenant governor is a member of the state Board of Transportation, chairman of the state Tourism Commission and a member of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.
Speculation has been that if Hutchison wins, and Sandoval also wins re-election next year, then the governor could run in 2016 for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Democrat Harry Reid. Reid, 73, the Senate majority leader, has said he’ll seek re-election. Then if Sandoval wins that seat, he would turn the governorship over to Hutchison.
But in a 2012 interview, Sandoval’s wife, Kathleen, said their goal was for him to serve two complete terms as governor — meaning through 2018.
Collins, 63, likes his chances, although he won’t make a decision on running until close to Thanksgiving. He said he talks “cowboy,” and could pick up a fair amount of rural Nevada votes, while winning big in Clark County.
Flores has set no timetable for announcing her decision, but expects to decide by the end of the year. She turns 34 this year, which would make her the youngest lieutenant governor since then-31-year-old Harry Reid in 1971. She also would become the first Hispanic lieutenant governor.
But Flores is little known outside Clark County. She has not chaired a committee in two legislative sessions, but won approval of several significant bills — one ending the high school proficiency exam and another allowing battered women to break rental leases. Forcing them to remain in a lease could mean they will be beaten again.
If she does run, then Flores first wants to make sure she has sufficient funds to win. Term-limited Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki spent $1.1 million in winning his first race in 2006, but just $353,000 in earning a re-election victory in 2010.
Lee is a political unknown, but someone who has been active in the Communities in the Schools program to help improve education. The spouse of a Palms gaming executive, Lee said she seriously is considering the race, and knows she will announce her candidacy soon and would need a lot of money to make her name known throughout the state.
A Southern Nevada resident for 20 years, Lee believes many voters would prefer a “fresh face.” She wants to improve the quality of education in the state, diversify the economy and increase tourism.
Collins talks like a sure candidate. He pointed out that he is the chairman of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and would like to use the lieutenant governor position to attract more tourism and bring jobs to Nevada.
“I know the state of Nevada. I have been to rodeos in every town. I see it (becoming lieutenant governor) as being an opportunity to bring good jobs to Nevada.”
Both Hutchison and Lowden talk about campaigning on what they have done and would do for the state, not on any shortcomings of their opponents.
Lowden, a former state Republican chairwoman, TV news anchorwoman and state senator, released a poll earlier this year showing her name is recognized by 43 percent of Nevadans, compared to 27 percent for Hutchison. As Senate Taxation Committee chairwoman, she said she never allowed a tax increase bill to come up for a vote.
She and her husband, Paul, are longtime gaming executives. She left her job as president of the Pioneer Hotel and Gambling Hall to devote full time to running for lieutenant governor. She also pledged to serve as a full-time lieutenant governor, although it generally has been considered a part-time job.
Lowden lost the 2010 U.S. Senate primary to Sharron Angle in a race where she suggested patients barter chickens and other items to pay their medical bills. That earned her the title of “chicken lady” and Democrats responded by bringing out people in chicken suits to mock her at campaign rallies. She has taken to joking about the chicken lady comments since announcing her entry into the lieutenant governor race.
In contrast, Hutchison supported Sandoval’s move in 2013 to continue more than $600 million in taxes that otherwise would have expired. He has been doing a lot of explaining of that decision in rural Nevada but said most people accept his explanation.
“I supported the governor in the extension of the sunsets,” he said. “Education is to Nevada what national defense is to the federal government. I find most people believe a fundamental role of state government is to ensure that their education system is properly funded.”
A partner in a prominent Las Vegas law firm, Hutchison pointed out how he represented Nevada for free in filing lawsuits to challenge the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. This occurred after Masto rejected then-Gov. Jim Gibbons’ request for her to join other states in challenging the law.
“I bring a history of fighting for Nevada and ensuring our constitutional rights are protected,” Hutchison said.
He added he was a “consensus builder” in the Legislature where budgets must be balanced and sessions adjourned in 120 days. Senate Republicans and Democrats generally were amiable with each other during the 2013 session. Hutchison drew some of the top freshman grades in a poll of reporters, lobbyists and legislators.
While the two might not do much criticizing of each other’s records, it is a safe bet that their political parties and supporters will run lots of advertisements about the “chicken lady” Lowden and tax-backing Hutchison.
Just last week Lowden’s spokesman mentioned that Hutchison’s support of tax extensions will not go over well with Republican voters.
Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at email@example.com or 775-687-3901.