Updated May 18, 2022 - 2:53 pm
Spirited Democratic and Republican primaries in Congressional District 3 will set the table for a matchup this fall for a seat sought by both parties vying for control of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Incumbent Rep. Susie Lee faces software developer Randell Hynes in the Democratic primary June 14, with both highlighting centrist approaches to energy, economic recovery and the ongoing drought.
A field of five Republicans is seeking the party nomination for the seat, including attorney April Becker, construction company owner John Kovacs, Army veteran Noah Malgeri and former UNLV staffer Clark Bossert. Albert Goldberg filed as a Republican candidate in Clark County but did not register his congressional campaign with the Federal Election Commission.
Republicans are united in their zeal to break Democratic control of the legislative branch in Congress, pledge to secure the Southwest border, roll back Biden administration energy policies and address the ongoing water crisis.
Frustration over partisan gridlock, a push toward clean energy, and economic recovery in Nevada following the pandemic are key issues in the race between Lee and Hynes.
Hynes, 60, is an Army veteran and a former lobbyist who also taught electricians to install solar panels in the state. He decided to jump into the congressional race to restore a semblance of civility in Congress that would allow legislation to pass, he said.
“We are polarized in Congress because we are missing that moderation,” Hynes said in a telephone interview.
Mending the political divide in the House is a tall order. But he said he would work with other veterans in Congress and the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus to bring about compromise and change.
Lee, 55, a former nonprofit executive seeking her third term in office, is already a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus, which helped usher in the $1.7 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that received Democratic and Republican support in the House and Senate.
In the last Congress, the nonpartisan Lugar Center ranked Lee as the most bipartisan Nevada member of the House at No. 103 — which is in the top 25 percent of the 435-member body.
Lee told the Review-Journal that her two motivations to run for Congress were to make sure families had economic opportunity and “sort of frustration with the dysfunction in D.C.”
Lee was among a working group of House members, senators and governors who huddled in Annapolis, Maryland, to forge a compromise on infrastructure spending.
“That was the framework that produced the largest investment in our nation’s infrastructure in a century,” she said, “with a huge upside for Nevada.
“I’ll run on that track record any day of the week,” Lee added.
Meanwhile, Hynes claims he is the true moderate in the race and is equally enthusiastic about what he would like to accomplish, banding with fellow military veterans “who tend to be more independent.”
A long-term energy policy would be one of his first priorities. With a background in solar energy, Hynes said he would push for continued development and installation of panels at residences and on public lands.
But Hynes said solar alone cannot meet energy needs of the future, and he supports continued research and development of a new generation of nuclear reactors to produce energy and reduce the need for coal and other carbon fuels.
Hynes nods at the progressives’ call for a “Green New Deal.”
“While noble, it’s going to take awhile to do that. It’s not going to happen overnight,” he said.
The Trump and Biden administrations embraced nuclear energy and the development of thorium-based reactors that produce less waste and waste that is less radioactive than spent uranium fuel rods.
To achieve the goal, Hynes said veterans and moderates “must take control of the policy agenda.”
Lee, a member of the House Appropriations subcommittee on energy and water development, pushed through committee spending bills with incentives for green energy programs, as well as a water recycling project to benefit Nevada and California.
She called the ongoing drought and the impact on the Colorado River a severe emergency for Southwestern states. She said she is working with Democrats and Republicans from Utah, Arizona and California to implement measures to mitigate the water shortage.
Lee said the infrastructure bill included $8.3 billion for Western water infrastructure.
“We’re facing the worst drought in 12 centuries. We can wait no longer to act,” Lee said.
Meanwhile, both candidates have similar views on social program spending.
Hynes said he would favor legislation that would completely pay for health care for retirees and the elderly.
“I don’t think that a senior on Social Security should spend one dime on health care,” he said, adding that many were saddled with financial burden during the coronavirus pandemic that left the elderly most vulnerable.
Lee has been a vocal proponent of reducing drug costs for seniors “and to allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices.”
The current political environment and enthusiasm among conservative voters give Republicans optimism that they can win back the majority in the House. In Nevada, Congressional District 3 has long been a “swing” district.
Although registered Democrats were added through redistricting, Republicans are emboldened by public attitudes following the coronavirus pandemic and the snap-back recovery that has resulted in supply chain issues, rising costs for energy and inflation.
Becker, 51, of Summerlin, who narrowly lost a race for the state Senate in 2020, has set her sights on the congressional seat.
She said she swore she would never run for office again, after losing by just half a percentage point.
“But when I saw what was coming at us with the Biden administration, what was going to happen just by what he was promising, I just felt like we needed a voice here in Nevada,” she said.
In an interview, Becker ticked off a list of items from “these radical agendas being pushed through.”
“We still have an open border. I don’t believe that COVID was handled properly. I don’t think our schools should have been shut down as long as they were,” Becker said.
The U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan, negotiated by the Trump administration and executed under Biden last year, was largely criticized by Republicans and Democrats.
“It’s been just one disaster after another. I mean, it’s a mess,” Becker said.
Despite the hardened partisan rhetoric, Becker still cast herself as a center-right candidate who, if elected, would work with Democrats and represent all residents in her congressional district.
“This is a swing district, which means it’s half and half, and I’m going to work with both sides to get things accomplished.” Becker said. “I’m not going to be a dictator. That’s not what the job is.”
Congress ‘doing a terrible job’
Kovacs, 56, of Henderson, owns a construction company and comes from a working-class family with conservative values. His strict upbringing led him to call his military college education at the Citadel in South Carolina “a vacation.”
He also bills himself as a center-right candidate concerned about the influence of the progressive wing that has pulled Democratic-controlled Congress further to the left. He blames some of that on the lack of life experience and the age of lawmakers in the House.
“They are running the country,” Kovacs said. “They are now, hands on, running the country. They are doing a terrible job at it.”
Kovacs called the lack of control at the Southwest border a “debacle.” Still, he supports reform of immigration laws and enforcement of those already in place.
When asked about Jan. 6, 2021, Kovacs said Biden won the 2020 election. His concern was what came next.
“Biden wins the election,” but after the inauguration, “the next day he kills the Keystone pipeline,” Kovacs said. “This is not going well for us.”
Cancellation of the permit to build the $9 billion Keystone XL pipeline halted Canadian oil to Texas refineries. The pipeline was controversial because of environmental and land acquisition issues.
Recent hikes in gasoline prices have prompted industry and GOP lawmakers to call on Biden to reverse course.
Kovacs said another major issue surfaced Jan. 7: “That was the day your water allocation was cut by 7.63 percent.” The drought that has gripped the region and the 1922 Colorado River Compact expires in 2026, giving Southwest states a quick time frame to negotiate new agreements.
“That’s something that needs to be solved,” Kovacs said, because it affects the future growth and quality of life in Nevada.
Becker agrees that new terms for the river pact are needed. And she and Kovacs claim Nevada received the short end of past agreements, because of a lack of population and political clout in Congress.
Liberties under threat
Malgeri, 47, a Las Vegas veteran and businessman, is running for Congress out of concern over threats to the American way of life by foreign governments and corruption, as well as the federal government.
“I’ve never seen our fundamental liberties and our individual rights so under threat,” Malgeri said.
He wants to restrict regulatory authority of the executive branch that he says infringed on those fundamental liberties during the coronavirus pandemic.
“As a father and a veteran and a business owner, I thought this is really terrifying,” he said of the closures and mandates.
Foreign governments, particularly China, pose greater threats, as do transnational criminal organizations and large medical and pharmaceutical companies, he said.
He has a list of top issues to be addressed to curb those threats.
“We need to have a Chinese Communist Party sanctions bill. We need to remove the liability protection for Big Pharma. We need to seal the border immediately,” Malgeri said. “I say those are three of the top ones.”
Cartels control the smuggling of immigrants, drugs and sex trafficking, he said. The Chinese government has failed to stop the production of opioids, has not provided information about the coronavirus origin and is waging commercial war on the United States, Malgeri added.
Big Pharma is producing drugs without being held responsible for defective products, Malgeri said, adding that the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are not holding them accountable.
“The FDA, the CDC, they just rubber-stamp the pharma industry. So, we’re in a terrible, terrible, terrible state,” Malgeri said.
Running full time
Clark Bossert, 30, of Las Vegas, said he left his job as a manager at UNLV to run for Congress full time.
“My top priority is obviously the defense of our civil liberties and our God-given rights because that’s what’s under attack the most right now,” Bossert said in an interview.
Referring to the coronavirus response, Bossert said the government went beyond its purview and scope of authority with vaccine mandates and business, school and other closures.
“A case in point, you know, what you put in your body, where you go to church, how you raise your kids, and these were things that were really on the homefront here in Nevada,” Bossert said.
During the pandemic, “our churches were shut down, but the strip clubs could be open. Casinos would be open, but you couldn’t go to church,” he said.
Bossert said he is running for Congress to restore those liberties and rights.
Goldberg did not respond to an email seeking comment and listed no telephone number to contact in his election filing.
Lee has raised $3 million for her re-election, with $2.1 million cash on hand, according to Federal Election Commission reports filed by March 31. Hynes has reported no funds raised.
In the Republican primary, Becker has raised $1 million for her bid for Congress, with $449,864 left by March 31, according to Federal Election Commission reports. Malgeri had $277,990 in receipts with $100,000 cash on hand.
Kovacs raised $341,669 with $3,095 left, and Bossert had $23,493 in donations with just $1,618 in cash at the reporting period, FEC reports show.