Status quo isn’t popular at lieutenant governor’s debate

GOP lieutenant governor candidate Mark Hutchison on Wednesday turned his Democratic opponent Lucy Flores’ main criticism back at her in a debate, saying she represents the “status quo” — particularly when it comes to rejecting efforts to improve public schools.

Assemblywoman Flores fired back that the best reform would be to adequately fund Nevada’s poor-performing and overcrowded schools. She also bragged that she was a far more successful lawmaker than state Sen. Hutchison, and would do a better job as the state’s No. 2 official.

Hutchison, she told the audience at the Vegas PBS studio, would be GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval’s “rubber stamp.”

“Luckily, I’m very good at my job,” Flores said, smiling when asked what qualifies her to be become governor if Sandoval steps down or is incapacitated.

“I will fight for everyday Nevadans,” said Flores, whose campaign stresses her hard-knock childhood in North Las Vegas.

The part-time lieutenant governor’s job has taken on greater importance this year because of speculation Sandoval, who is coasting to a second term, could leave office early to run for vice president, take a presidential Cabinet post, join the federal bench or challenge U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., in 2016.

Flores, a lawyer, noted that 75 percent of the legislation she proposed has been signed into law during her two terms in office, while Hutchison’s freshman record was 20 percent.

Hutchison said he’s happy to work closely with the popular incumbent governor on successful efforts such as landing the Tesla company’s $5 billion battery Gigafactory near Reno.

“I’ve got the trust and the confidence of the governor and I’m proud to have it,” Hutchison said of the man who has endorsed him. “I won’t apologize for a second about that. I’m proud to be his partner.”

Hutchison added that’s a “very striking difference” between himself and Flores.

“Brian and I will be great partners together,” he said.

Hutchison said he’s qualified to be governor because he’s served in the Senate, sat on the Nevada Ethics Commission and gained broad experience running his own law firm for many years.

Flores, Hutchison noted, voted against many GOP-proposed education reforms, including some that passed the Senate with unanimous or near-unanimous support.

Flores voted against a $2 million plan to hire 100 “Teach for America” instructors for at-risk schools, he pointed out. She also blocked a bill that would have allowed parents a vote in turning failing schools into publicly supported charter schools with more innovative programs for struggling students. The teachers’ union opposed the idea.

“My opponent will not support reform,” Hutchison said. “… She represents the status quo.”

Flores dismissed those the GOP ideas as small fixes when the entire education system needs more money to improve.

“It’s called adequately funding education,” Flores said.

Flores also noted that one of her bills changed the proficiency test high school students take to graduate, tailoring it to what they actually study instead of administering a generic national exam.

Both candidates accused the other of ethical lapses.

Hutchison noted Flores failed to report use of campaign money for personal expenses — the subject of a TV ad his campaign airs.

“This attack ad is trying to distract voters from issues that matter,” Flores said, dismissing the criticism. Flores has said she she didn’t have time to detail her spending, and complied with the law by filing an amended report

Flores accused Hutchison of hypocrisy because he was called out by the secretary of state for failing to report a $15,000, trip to Israel paid by the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee.

“If we’re going to try and talk about the kettle trying to call the pot black,” she said, trailing off.

Hutchison shook his head.

“She took the same trip. She didn’t tell you that,” he said. “We both took it, but there’s some effort to suggest there’s wrongdoing. I was never found in violation of state law.”

Several lawmakers made the trip, with many disclosing it only after news accounts.

The differences between the two are most stark when it comes to tax policy.

Hutchison initially backed a 2013 proposal to raise $600 million for education by a tax on mining. He called it a GOP alternative to a business margins tax — Question 3 on November’s ballot.

Both candidates now oppose Q3, calling it flawed in part because businesses would have to pay a 2 percent tax on revenue of $1 million or more even if they are unprofitable. Critics say the tax could kill businesses, leaving thousands unemployed.

Flores accused Hutchison of supporting the mining tax but backtracking for political reasons because he’s running statewide instead of in an urban Senate district. But Hutchison said he backed off after touring rural areas dependent on the industry.

“We’ve got to make sure we keep mining strong,” he said.

Hutchison criticized Flores and Democrats who control the Legislature for refusing to consider a mining tax alternative.

Flores said Democrats did propose broad tax reform in 2013 and in 2011 — proposals that came late in the legislative session and never received serious hearings. The 2011 package included a tax on services, which she favors.

Hutchison dismissed those efforts, saying Democrats haven’t shown leadership on tax and budget issues.

“The best way to fund government is through economic growth,” he said.

Flores questioned Hutchison’s understanding of tax and revenue issues, while saying she’s been on an Assembly committee dealing with them in detail.

“No, we’re not going to grow our way out of our problems,” she said. “We haven’t done it — ever.”

The hour-long debate will air on Vegas PBS-channel 10 at 8:15 p.m. Friday.

Contact Laura Myers at lmyers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919. Find her on Twitter: @lmyerslvrj.

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