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Tarkanian, Roberson mix it up in 3rd Congressional District race

The Republican race between Danny Tarkanian and Michael Roberson is the primary contest to watch in Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District.

Tarkanian, the candidate with the greatest name recognition, has set his sights on Roberson, the state Senate majority leader with decades of government experience.

Roberson isn’t blinking. He has responded with ads and opposition research on his website aimed at Tarkanian.

The brawl will continue until voters take action in the June 14 primary.

The battle over one of four congressional districts in Nevada is coming at a time when the electorate in the state and the nation appear hungry for a change from establishment politicians and are open to outsiders such as GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump.

The 3rd District, an open race because Republican Rep. Joe Heck is running for U.S. Senate, is competitive.

Seven Republicans are running for the nomination in the district, which extends south from the Las Vegas metropolitan area to the state’s borders with California and Arizona.

Roberson’s disadvantage — at least from the viewpoint of his conservative GOP opponents — is his support of the governor’s $1.4 billion tax increase package for public education in the 2015 session. It’s been called the biggest tax increase in state history.

Roberson, an attorney, is a key part of the moderate GOP support structure that Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval relied on to get his tax package through in 2015 and bypass the objections of more conservative lawmakers. He was first elected to the state Senate in 2010 and re-elected in 2014.

Tarkanian’s campaign has set up a website labeling Roberson a “tax traitor.”

Roberson’s campaign, meanwhile, has posted and sent out opposition research targeting Tarkanian’s record as a lawyer, digging up a settled legal malpractice case.

Roberson also did a digital ad buy that specifically targets Tarkanian, mocking an “F” grade Tarkanian got during a 2006 campaign for secretary of state from the National Rifle Association with an “A” grade that Roberson received in 2014 from the gun rights lobbying group.

That came after Tarkanian has put out a radio ad blasting Roberson, in part, for his unwillingness to release legislative emails exchanged with lobbyists.

That’s only the beginning.

In an interview, Tarkanian said he believes educating voters about Roberson’s record is key to eroding his opponent’s support among Republican voters.

“I don’t believe there’s 10 percent of the GOP vote that would vote for Michael Roberson if they understood his voting record,” Tarkanian said.

Tarkanian, the son of the late UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, is a businessman and attorney who has run unsuccessfully for secretary of state and the U.S. House and Senate.

Roberson’s campaign declined multiple requests from the Review-Journal to make him available for an interview to discuss his record.

BLOWS KEEP COMING

While Roberson is avoiding questions, his campaign is churning out research and public records about Tarkanian’s background and posting it online.

They include:

— A 2012 judgment made against Tarkanian for $17 million in a California real estate deal, made after a complaint filed against Tarkanian and his family by creditor Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. The FDIC raised a variety of allegations, including questionable accounting practices, a failure to keep accurate records and making false statements in a 2014 complaint tied to Tarkanian’s bankruptcy case. The parties settled the case in early 2015 in an agreement that dismissed those allegations, records show.

— In 1998, Tarkanian was sued for legal malpractice, with the plaintiffs saying he applied with the wrong agencies for his client’s permits and licenses. Plaintiffs sought nearly $240,000 in damages. The case was settled in 2001 for $35,000. As part of the settlement, Tarkanian didn’t admit wrongdoing, records show.

Tarkanian said he can handle the attacks.

“Roberson has shown time and again he will promote any lie it takes to get elected,” Tarkanian said in a statement. “He lied to his voters when he first ran for office. He promised not to raise taxes, signed the No Tax Pledge, and then voted for the largest tax increase in the state’s history.”

ROBERSON’S RECORD

Conservatives say they have reason to be leery of Roberson’s record.

As a state Senate candidate in 2010, Roberson signed a so-called “taxpayer protection pledge” promising to “oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes.”

That pledge took a backseat to policymaking five years later.

In the 2015 session, he took a lead role in getting Gov. Brian Sandoval’s $1.4 billion tax increase through the state Senate. The proposal aimed at raising money to benefit public education.

“The fact that he signed it before and broke it — I think that will go to his trustworthiness,” said Chuck Muth, a conservative blogger and president of Citizen Outreach. The conservative grassroots organization also works with Americans for Tax Reform. The latter group organizes the pledges for candidates.

Muth added: “When you put something down in writing, you should be able to take that to the bank, and with him, you can’t.”

OTHER CANDIDATES 

Meanwhile, five other Republican candidates continue to campaign in the district. The Nov. 8 general election will be competitive. Among the district’s registered voters, 36.9 percent are Republicans and 37.9 percent are Democrats.

They are: Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, Andy Matthews, Sami Khal, Annette Teijeiro and Kerry Bowers.

In interviews, several said voters are frustrated, ready for solutions, and appear open to an outsider.

“The more voters learn about his record, the more they are going to conclude he should not be the standard bearer for our party in this election,” said Matthews, the former president of the Nevada Policy Research Institute. NPRI is a conservative think tank based in Las Vegas.

Teijeiro, a medical doctor, said regardless of a candidate’s political party, “if you make a pledge, then don’t follow through with that promise, then people are going to have credibility issues with you.”

Khal, an assistant general manager of a big-box retail store, said he believes it’s an “excellent year” for people running outside the establishment.

Congress needs people who know how to budget like a business, he said. In Nevada, he said, there likely were options besides the tax increase.

“I have never felt such a disdain for politicians amongst the population as I do now,” Khal said. “People are absolutely sick of the establishment and I am one of them, and I’ve made the decision I want to fix this miserable problem we have in Washington.”

On the back-and-forth between Tarkanian and Roberson, candidate Kerry Bowers, a retired Air Force officer, said: “I just don’t think it’s conducive to building a good party. I don’t think it’s conducive to getting the right candidate in office.

For all candidates, Bowers said, it’s important to focus on charting a better course for the district and the nation and ask: “What are you going to do to bring leadership for our Congress that will steer it in a new direction?”

Contact Ben Botkin at bbotkin@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2904. Find him on Twitter: @BenBotkin1

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