weather icon Mostly Cloudy

Naft faces Democratic challenger in District A primary

Clark County Commissioner Michael Naft was handpicked by Gov. Steve Sisolak last year to replace the newly elected governor on the commission.

Now Naft, an ex-top aide to Rep. Dina Titus, is seeking to retain the seat in commission District A. It will be Naft’s first election, and former county treasurer candidate Ken O’Sullivan is challenging him for the seat.

The two Democrats will square off in the Democratic primary on June 9. Leain Vashon, the vice president of the powerful Culinary Union Local 226, had also filed to contest the seat but has since withdrawn from the race.

The district covers the Las Vegas Strip, the near southwestern valley and a large swath of territory to the border with California.

The winner of the primary will advance to face Republican Michael Thomas, a retired law enforcement professional, in the November general election.

Michael Naft

Age: 32

Backround: Clark County Commissioner, former district director for Rep. Dina Titus

Why run and why now?

Naft said he grew up with the mentality of community service instilled in him. Although he said he enjoyed working behind the scenes, and never intended to run for office, he could not pass up the opportunity when Sisolak called.

“I think I owe it to the governor,” Naft said. “Certainly I think it’s important to continue the legacy the way he wanted.”

Response to coronavirus:

Naft said the coronavirus pandemic has drastically changed the job, from presiding over a growing economy to prioritizing an unprecedented emergency response. It now means looking after the health and safety of more than two million residents, since the county is tasked with providing regional services, but simultaneously keeping an eye on the crisis’ effect on finances.

The top priority without question is saving lives, he said, but “I think it’s our responsibility to be looking forward about how we recover as a local government.”

The commission was recently presented with a bleak spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year. The situation will be equally dire next year if revenues stagnate. But Naft said that investments made in social services during his term – including directing $12 million in marijuana business license fees toward homelessness programs – put the county in “a decent position” to be responsive.

Throughout the crisis, he said his office has taken action to support the immediate needs of constituents. He said he ensured that Laughlin residents had access to nonprofit services and public transportation to cross into Arizona for food when the town’s only grocery store closed. And he worked so that Three Square Food Bank also helped residents in Primm, when similar challenges struck.

Looking at the big picture, he said it is key to ensure that county-owned University Medical Center has what it needs to fight the coronavirus; shelters can be put up quickly; and construction may continue as safely as possible, including at Allegiant Stadium. Events that can fill hotel rooms, he said, will be a must-have once the crisis ends.

Pitch to voters:

Naft points to 13 years working for Titus, including the last six as her district director, to illustrate that he has the know-how to assist with development and social services, and that he understands how government operates. He said it should be responsive to constituents, but also head off problems.

“The government shouldn’t just be a place when they’re (residents) pissed off or at the end of their rope, but hopefully it can be proactive and reach out to people in a sort of forward-thinking way,” he said.

Naft also said he knows the nuances of the district: The different economies and cultural interests in each area, and how to manage growth by balancing business needs and community will. He planned to push priorities such as transportation safety and he promised to be an accessible representative.

“People may not always agree with me, but they couldn’t tell you they couldn’t get a hold of me or that I wasn’t open to an idea,” he said.

Ken O’Sullivan

Age: “Late 40s”

Backround: Former casino worker, former Clark County treasurer candidate, former UPS critical health care manager

Why run and why now?

O’Sullivan said that he sees people actively questioning the government and believes the time is ripe to address the plight of the homeless and families in need of food.

But there is also another group he said he feels compelled to stand up for: The casino workers who built Las Vegas.

“For me, it’s us, them. I’m running for us; I’m not running for the casino owners,” he said. “I’m a fighter. I’m fighting to make a better life for myself and my community.”

Response to coronavirus:

O’Sullivan said he has worked for all the major casinos in Las Vegas and, while he wants them to do well, he views the coronavirus crisis as an opportunity to ensure they keep their obligation to protect workers and to make one significant change: No smoking.

He said casinos were afraid to alienate visitors, but he pledged to promote anti-smoking rules inside the gaming establishments because the virus can damage people’s lungs. He also called for a more unified approach by state governors to respond to the pandemic and said Nevada should be leading in the use of blockchain technology to secure personal protective equipment.

Blockchain is a database in which information is decentralized and communally maintained. Some tech companies are employing it to link equipment suppliers with governments and the health care sector in order to address shortages.

As the son of a New York firefighter — he said his dad served for over three decades — O’Sullivan said that the commission needed to do all it could to thank first responders.

“Having seen his commitment, I realize that people are making great sacrifices,” he said, choking up.

County officials must also address the underlying causes of issues that the pandemic has brought to light, such as unemployment, homelessness and food insecurity, he added.

“It’s going to be a hard road ahead for the next 18 months, I’m not going to lie to you,” he said. “I’m scared and it’s going to be a challenge.”

Pitch to voters:

O’Sullivan frames his candidacy as one rooted in promoting workers’ rights and untethered to corporate interests: “We need to address the concerns of everyday people and not the concerns of the people that are vested in the power structure.”

He considers himself a moderate Democrat with a strong business sense, earning a political science degree and minor in economics from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He said he subscribes to the four freedoms outlined in a 1941 speech by President Franklin D. Roosevelt: Freedom of speech and of religion, and freedom from want and from fear.

He said he will prioritize infrastructure projects and he supports a cargo airport in Ivanpah and distribution and logistics companies such as Amazon that can bring 21st century jobs to Nevada.

In general, O’Sullivan said he is a hard worker who can stand up for himself and is not afraid to support issues that may not be popular. Currently an unemployed casino worker who took his fair share of losses in the commercial real estate market, he said he is not any different than the community’s most marginalized, except they are dealing with more stress.

He said he wants to see improved community programs to help them with essential things like soap, paper towels and hygiene products.

“It’s not about politics, in terms of party. The time has passed where you can afford to not care,” he said. “We have to care. We have to care about everybody. We’re all in this together.”

Contact Shea Johnson at sjohnson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272. Follow @Shea_LVRJ on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Nevada gyms, bars that do not serve food can reopen Friday - VIDEO
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak on Tuesday evening said Phase 2 of the state’s Nevada United: Roadmap to Recovery will begin on Friday. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada Rep. Horsford admits to having affair - VIDEO
Nevada Congressman Steven Horsford admitted to having an affair with Gabriela Linder, a former intern for Sen. Harry Reid. Linder detailed her account of the affair in a podcast she called, "Mistress for Congress." (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sisolak says businesses will begin reopening under phase 1 - VIDEO
The first phase of reopening Nevada’s businesses will begin Saturday, May 9, Gov. Steve Sisolak said Thursday. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Joe Biden denies Tara Reade's sexual assault allegation - VIDEO
The former senate aide claims Biden assaulted her in 1993 when he was a senator. Biden first denied the accusations via a public post on Medium. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
RJ interview with Sisolak on the reopening plan for Nevada - VIDEO
The Las Vegas Review-Journal interviewed Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak on the plan for reopening Nevada during the coronavirus pandemic. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sisolak reacts to Goodman CNN interview- VIDEO
Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman repeated her call to immediately reopen businesses during an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Wednesday, leading to a reaction from Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sisolak praises Nevadans for staying at home, saving lives - VIDEO
Gov. Steve Sisolak said Thursday it’s still too early to know when the state’s COVID-19 shutdown orders could be lifted or when businesses could start to reopen their doors. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trump gives governors 3-phase approach to open US - VIDEO
President Donald Trump declared victory in America’s war against the “invisible enemy” as the president’s Coronavirus Task Force released “Opening up America Again” guidelines. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trump names Jacky Rosen to task force on reopening economy - VIDEO
President Donald Trump named Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., to be a member of his Opening Up America Again Congressional Group Thursday to advise him on coronavirus policy. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders endorses Joe Biden for president - VIDEO
On April 13, former presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders announced his official endorsement of former Vice President Joe Biden. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders drops out of 2020 Democratic race for president - VIDEO
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont officially announced an end to his 2020 presidential bid on Wednesday. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Democratic National Convention postponed - VIDEO
The Democratic National Convention was set to take place over four days in the middle of July. Democratic officials have now confirmed the convention will take place the week of Aug. 17. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Henderson allows immediate sale of alcohol with curbside pickup - VIDEO
The city of Henderson decided Thursday evening to allow alcohol to be sold by restaurants as part of their curbside pickup service during the COVID-19 crisis. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sisolak signs order banning any gathering of 10 or more people - VIDEO
Gov. Steve Sisolak on Tuesday signed a new order banning any gathering of 10 or more people in Nevada in another step the state has taken to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Takeaways from the president's daily briefing on coronavirus - VIDEO
RJ Washington correspondent Debra Saunders talks about today's daily White House news conference regarding the coronavirus outbreak, Friday, March 20, 2020. (Renee Summerour/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Judicial Department 5 Debate - Video
The Las Vegas Review-Journal hosts a debate between the 3 candidates running for Department 5 in Clark County District Court. Participating are Veronica M. Barisich, Terry A. Coffing and Blair Cowan Parker.
Trump cancels Las Vegas trip because of ‘coronavirus outbreak’ - VIDEO
President Donald Trump canceled planned travel to Las Vegas ‘out of an abundance of caution’ amid virus outbreak. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trump signs $8.3 billion coronavirus package - VIDEO
President Trump signed a bill providing $8.3 billion in emergency funding to combat the coronavirus outbreaK, Friday, March 6, 2020. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sen. Cortez Masto shows support for Judge Togliatti - VIDEO
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto shows her support for senior state District Court Judge Jennifer Togliatti to be appointed to the federal bench in Nevada. (Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto)
Sen. Rosen supports Judge Togliatti - VIDEO
Sen. Jacky Rosen shows her support for Nevada Judge Jennifer Togliatti to be appointed to the federal bench. (Sen. Jacky Rosen)
MSNBC’s Chris Matthews resigns following series of controversies - VIDEO
The "Hardball" host announced his departure Monday night, March 2, 2020, effective immediately. The anchor recently came under fire for comparing Sen. Bernie Sanders’ victory in the Nevada caucasus to the Nazi conquest of France in 1940. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Candidates file for office in Clark County - VIDEO
Amy Klobuchar drops out of 2020 presidential race - VIDEO
On March 2, campaign officials announced Amy Klobuchar’s decision to suspend her presidential bid. The news comes on the eve of Super Tuesday and just one day after Pete Buttigieg also announced his decision to depart from the race. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)