CARSON CITY — In what is likely the hottest primary race in Nevada this year, three Republicans seek the nod from voters to win a spot on the November general election ballot to succeed Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki.
Two of the three, businesswoman Sue Lowden and state Sen. Mark Hutchison, both from Las Vegas, have been battling around the state for months. The third, Chris Dyer of North Las Vegas, said he filed as a spoiler to siphon votes away from Hutchison.
On the Democratic side, Assemblywoman Lucy Flores faces Pahrump Town Board Chairman Harley Kulkin in the June 10 primary.
The winners will face off in November, along with Independent American Party candidate Mike Little. Krolicki is termed out of office.
The race is one of the most watched this year because the winner could take the state’s top spot should Gov. Brian Sandoval challenge U.S. Sen. Harry Reid in 2016 or leave office midterm to join a GOP presidential administration.
Sandoval has endorsed Hutchison, an attorney who represented Nevada for free in its constitutional challenge to the federal Affordable Care Act. The Nevada State Republican Party backs Lowden.
Hutchison and Lowden have criticized each other on a range of issues, from Lowden’s campaign donations to U.S. Sen. Harry Reid to Hutchison’s support of a tax package extension in the 2013 legislative session. Obamacare implementation has also become a campaign issue, with Lowden calling the state-run exchange backed by Sandoval “a failure.”
Hutchison calls Obamacare “the most ill-conceived overreach of law in my lifetime.” An attorney in the middle of his first term in the state Senate, Hutchison said he understands “how to push back against an out-of-control federal government.”
He opposes the business margins tax to fund public education on the November ballot but supports taking the mining industry tax rate out of the state constitution, even though “we need to keep mining as strong as we can.”
Hutchison said he would like to see the package of tax increases approved in recent legislative sessions to help balance the budget sunset as soon as is practical, and he opposes changing the state’s property tax caps.
If called to serve as governor, Hutchison said he would focus on strengthening the economy, protecting jobs and improving education.
He said the best way to improve Nevada’s public education system is to provide parents with school choice while making teachers and administrators accountable for student achievement, with rewards for success.
Hutchison styles himself as a “consistent conservative who can win the general election.”
Lowden, who served one term in the state Senate in the 1990s and ran unsuccessfully in the 2010 GOP U.S. Senate primary, said she is uniquely qualified for a job focused on economic development and tourism.
“I have 30 years of private sector experience in the hospitality and tourism industry,” she said. “I served on the board of Las Vegas Events, which brought in the National Finals Rodeo and the Miss America Pageant.”
The lieutenant governor is the face of Nevada while working to lure tourists from around the world, Lowden said.
“I will also sit on the economic development board as a business owner who understands what it takes to bring businesses here.”
Lowden opposes the margins tax, the mining tax constitutional ballot measure, and any property tax increases. Taxes that have been extended repeatedly to help balance the budget should end, she said.
“We need to balance the budget with the revenue streams we already have,” Lowden said. “We need a good regulatory and tax environment to entice new businesses to come to the state.”
A former teacher with a master’s degree in education, Lowden said school choice, including vouchers, would help improve Nevada’s broken public education system.
Dyer said he decided to run for lieutenant governor because he didn’t want to be told by Sandoval who to vote for and Lowden isn’t a superior alternative for grass-roots Republicans.
Dyer said he opposes all efforts to increase taxes.
“We need to cut taxes to help more businesses open and generate more tax revenue,” he said.
Dyer said he supports a potential 2016 ballot measure to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, which he said could generate a huge revenue stream to support public education.
The state could also save money by closing agencies that serve little purpose, including the state Athletic Commission and the Taxicab Authority, Dyer said.
Flores said her agenda fits well with the duties of the lieutenant governor because it focuses on improving Nevada’s educational system and fostering economic development.
The state assemblywoman, an attorney, said that unlike her Republican counterparts, she strongly believes Nevada schools have been chronically underfunded.
While opposed to the margins tax, Flores backs the measure on the ballot to take the mining industry’s tax status out of the state constitution, allowing the Legislature to make changes. Flores does not support any change to the property tax cap that could hurt those on limited incomes, and favors letting the extended taxes sunset.
But that will only happen if lawmakers from both parties sit down in a spirit of cooperation to review Nevada’s tax structure for fairness and adequate funding, she said.
“The sunset taxes have been extended several times because they are a Band-Aid,” Flores said. “We have to look at the foundation of our system and recognize and admit there is a problem. These short-term fixes to our revenue problems have failed.”
Kulkin said he is pro-business but favors the margins tax because Nevada ranks dead-last in most educational performance measures.
“We need it now, but I would rather retire it and come up with a better revenue source that does not hurt efforts to bring business to Nevada,” he said.
Kulkin said mining isn’t paying its fair share, but added that the state cannot rely on one or two revenue sources.
“We do need to look at mining as a partial solution, but I don’t want to put anyone out of business,” he said.
More funding would help public education if invested wisely, he said.
Kulkin said he backs the idea of a bullet train between Las Vegas and Southern California because of potential economic benefits.
He also supports using Yucca Mountain as a place to handle nuclear waste, which would mean plenty of high-paying jobs.
Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at email@example.com or 775-687-3900. Follow him on Twitter @seanw801.