10 Las Vegans jump at chance to vote in Assembly on Raiders stadium project

Applicants hoping to fill two vacant Assembly seats before a planned special session of the Legislature in early October want more specifics about a proposed NFL stadium in Clark County before they pledge support or opposition to the $1.9 billion public-private project.

“I want to hear both sides of the issue, but I’m very careful about spending public money on a project like this,” said Assembly District 1 applicant Gary Fisher, a psychologist and Democrat who lost a 2014 primary battle in Assembly District 34. “I want someone to show me there would be economic benefit to the community.”

County commissioners will meet Friday to choose representatives for the two districts at the special session. Seven Democrats applied in District 1 and three Republicans in District 5 by the Monday afternoon deadline. Appointees must be in the same political party as their predecessors.

Marilyn Kirkpatrick, a Democrat, represented Assembly District 1 in the Legislature for years. She resigned in August 2015 when she was appointed to the County Commission.

Assembly District 5 was vacated by Assemblyman Erv Nelson in February. He went on to run for the state Senate outside his Assembly district, and he lost in the June Republican primary.

While almost all eight applicants who the Review-Journal interviewed Monday favored a legislative initiative to expand the Las Vegas Convention Center by raising the county’s hotel room tax, they hesitated at endorsing a 65,000-seat stadium funded by another room tax increase.

The revenue would be used to finance $750 million in stadium construction costs over 33 years. The proposed deal would require the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman Sheldon Adelson, Majestic Realty and the NFL’s Oakland Raiders to pay the remainder of the construction costs and any cost overruns.

District 1 applicant Kevin Schmidt, a UNLV graduate with a master’s of public administration, said he worried such a tax increase might hurt tourism.

“Honestly it would take a lot to convince me that this would be a good move for the state,” he said. “We saw during the housing crisis that Las Vegas is not as recession-proof as we believed. Why would we be doing something that would make it easier for people to not come to our city during a crisis or downturn?”

Nathan Atkins, a District 1 applicant with a business leadership background, shared the most positive outlook on increasing the tax, saying it “sounds like a very prudent way of putting this (stadium) together.”

Other applicants did not express support or discomfort with the proposed stadium.

“I am open to conversation, to research. I am open to all ideas,” said Kyle Stephens, a District 5 resident of 25 years who applied after Republican Assembly leadership asked him to consider it. “I am there to be available to all sides and to make a clear and concise decision to the benefit of the community.”

Fellow District 5 applicant Ron Coury and District 1 applicant Jo Cato, a former North Las Vegas planning commissioner, also took a neutral stance.

Louis M. DeSalvio, a District 1 applicant and political liaison for Laborers Local 872, said he needed more details before deciding. He ran unsuccessfully for Assembly District 13 in 2010 and 2012.

“I like the conceptual idea of diversifying our economy and putting people to work,” he said. But, “it’s hard to really speculate when I know at the end of the day they’re going to go back-and-forth with this proposed bill draft.”

Henry Wilczynski, another District 1 applicant, said he was on the fence.

“I know there will jobs with the construction, but after it’s done will there still be well-paying jobs?” he asked.

District 1 applicant Stephanie Smith, a former assemblywoman and North Las Vegas council member, declined an interview on the subject.

District 5 applicant R. Garn Mabey Jr., a physician and former Assembly minority leader, could not be reached for comment Monday.

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Sheldon Adelson, chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp.

Contact Michael Scott Davidson at sdavidson@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861. Follow @davidsonlvrj on Twitter.

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