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Vashon, the vice president of the powerful Culinary Union Local 226, had also filed to contest the seat but has since withdrawn from the race.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.
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.
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.”
Signature issue: Accessible representation
Q1 campaign fundraising: Received $89,809; spent $148,824; cash on hand $843,814
Signature issue: Social equality, ‘four freedoms’
Q1 campaign fundraising: Raised $125; spent $30; cash on hand $0
Source: Interviews and campaign finance records*
*Data includes monetary and in-kind figures between Jan. 1 and March 31.