Democratic, GOP lawyers spar about Hispanic districts

CARSON CITY — Democratic Party lawyers argued Tuesday that Nevada is not Mississippi and its white voters have a record of electing Hispanics to the highest offices in the state.

"Just look at the governor’s office," lawyer Kevin Hamilton said during the second and final public hearing of the three court-appointed special masters assigned to redistrict congressional and legislative seats.

Only one-seventh of Nevada voters are Hispanic, Hamilton said, and yet Brian Sandoval was elected governor and Catherine Cortez Masto attorney general — evidence that Hispanics do not need majority districts to elect candidates of their choice.

Democrats want Hispanics spread over more districts so that their influence is broader, which would lead to more Democrats — including Hispanics — elected to office.

But Republican lawyer Mark Hutchison disagreed with the Democrats, saying Hispanic majority districts are needed because of white voter bias. He contended that Democrat Rory Reid, not Sandoval, actually was the choice for governor of most Hispanics in the November election.

The political party lawyers continued Tuesday to disagree on the paramount redistricting issues facing the special masters: whether one of Nevada’s four congressional districts should have a majority Hispanic population and whether as many as 12 of the 63 legislative districts should be majority Hispanic districts.

Panel Chairman Thomas Sheets repeatedly asked the lawyers to identify points they could agree on. He said that would help the panel as it starts to redraw election districts today behind closed doors.

But neither Hamilton nor Hutchison would mention areas of agreement, forcing Sheets to concede that his request might have been "Pollyannaish." Legislators in the spring could not agree on redistricting, particularly the Hispanic districts question, so it was not surprising their hired lawyers would not agree either.

"We will do our best with what we have to be fair and come up with what we think is lawful and proper," Sheets said.

Sheets and fellow special masters Alan Glover, the Carson City clerk-recorder, and Bob Erickson, the retired Legislative Counsel Bureau research director, have been directed by District Judge James T. Russell to prepare new congressional and legislative district maps by Oct. 21. Russell then will hold a Nov. 16 hearing to accept the maps or request revisions.

But Secretary of State Ross Miller has challenged the authority of the panel to carry out redistricting. The Nevada Supreme Court has scheduled a Nov. 16 hearing to decide whether the courts, the Legislature or the special masters should handle redistricting tasks.

In an order last week, justices noted it is the constitutional "duty" of the Legislature to redraw election districts after each federal census.

Twice during the legislative session, Sandoval vetoed Democrat-passed redistricting bills on the grounds they did not create a majority-Hispanic congressional district or enough Hispanic legislative districts. Legislators adjourned without completing redistricting.

Four witnesses testified at Tuesday’s public hearing in Carson City, compared with 23 on Monday in Las Vegas.

Former Assemblyman Bernie Anderson, D-Sparks, called the panelists "three qualified men" but said that constitutionally they lack the authority to redistrict.

He said the Legislature’s failure to reach a bipartisan agreement on redistricting was a sign of a time "where what is best for my political party wins."

"If I was going to throw a brick, it would be thrown at the governor for not forcing the Legislature to do its job," Anderson added.

State Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, told the panel that legislators unanimously approved a bill to redistrict the 13-member Board of Regents, which governs the state system of higher education, and they should look at that map as they start their work.

But during a break Tuesday, Settelmeyer said Republicans and Democrats are so far apart on redistricting legislative and congressional seats that it makes no sense for Sandoval to call a special session now.

He said he trusts the special masters and favors the governor calling a special session after they finish their work. Legislators then should pass the panel’s plan into law, he said.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at or 775-687-3901.

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