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4 Democrats compete for spot on general election ballot in Assembly District 16

Four Democrats will face off in the June mail-in primary to run for the open seat in Assembly District 16.

The district, which is home to the Strip, UNLV and McCarran International Airport, is currently represented by Democrat Heidi Swank, who is not seeking another term. The winner of the primary will face Republican Reyna Sajdak in the general election. Sajdak is running unopposed in the primary.

Joseph Sacco

Joseph Sacco, a 25-year resident of the district, is running on a progressive platform that includes support for Medicare For All in Nevada. He is the son of Gail Sacco, a prominent advocate for the homeless who died last year.

“And I’m looking forward to continuing the legacy of my mom in helping people right here in our state,” Joe Sacco said.

Though Medicare For All is his primary legislative goal, Sacco supports other progressive causes such as tuition-free higher education and free public transit. He also wants to provide housing for all Nevadans. Sacco, 39 said all of these things can be paid for by taxing the mining industry, specifically Barrick Gold.

“They mine our gold, they destroy our environment, and then they take those resources from Nevada, through Utah and up into Canada,” the realtor said. (A constitutional amendment to remove the cap on mining taxes in the Nevada Constitution was narrowly defeated by voters in 2014.)

Sacco is also a member of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 720 and performs stagehand work setting up trade shows and conventions.

He said he thinks now is not the time to think about cutting the budget, but instead increasing it to provide services such food and housing assistance, as well as unemployment benefits.

Cecelia Gonzalez

Cecelia Gonzalez, 28, said she decided to run for office after spending time at the Legislature advocating for policies such as the decriminalization of traffic tickets and ending cash bail.

Gonzalez said she wants to make education more equitable. She said she wants to decrease classroom sizes and attract more diverse teachers. She said she wants to increase funding to education, which will require creativity during the coronavirus crisis.

She is a doctorate student and substitute teacher who is currently unemployed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she said. She recently worked as a field organizer for the Elizabeth Warren campaign.

Gonzalez did not provide any plan for addressing revenue shortfalls brought on by the coronavirus crisis. Instead, she said, she would look to state leadership for solutions.

As an biracial Asian-American woman, she said she does not see herself represented in public office. “And I know that we have done great things to move the needle, but I think it’s not enough,” she said.

Russell Davis

Russell Davis, 47, said he has always been interested in politics and decided to run because he wants to serve the community.

A self-described moderate Democrat, Davis has a history of working in the public sector. After attending UNLV in the 1990s, he went to work for former Sen. Richard Bryan in Washington, D.C. and later in Las Vegas. He went on to work with the Clark County Commission as a community liaison. In 2006, he went to work in the county’s public works department, where he is now the head of public outreach for construction projects in the resort corridor. Davis is a member of Service Employees International Union. 

He said after the coronavirus outbreak struck Nevada, he considered dropping out of the race. He said he had to refund a substantial amount of money from a pub crawl business he owns downtown.

“Because I was like, ‘Look, this is going bad. Everything’s going really bad,’” he said.

Davis’ main legislative priority is to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

He does not support across-the-board cuts to fill the revenue shortfalls brought on by the coronavirus. He said he thinks the state should “go after it with a scalpel.”

“It’s going to be a very difficult thing to look at, you know, do we cut the natural resources budget? Do we cut back on our environmental protocols? Do we cut back on enforcement?” he said.

He said his experience working with government is what makes him the best candidate for the job.

“So understanding how the legislature works, understanding how government works, understanding all that, I think that experience puts me above all my rivals in this campaign,” he said.

Geoffrey VanderPal

Geoffrey VanderPal, 46, said his background in finance and public service is what is needed to address the fiscal issues at the state level. Nevada cannot afford to have inexperienced people making mistakes.

“This is a critical time,” he said.

VanderPal has an MBA from Webster University in Missouri, and a doctorate from Nova Southeastern University in Florida.

He is an instructor for multiple higher-education institutions, including Purdue University Global.

He decided to get into the race because he has always had an interest in politics. When he was 18, he unsuccessfully ran for mayor of a suburb of Chicago. Two years later, he successfully ran for village trustee — the equivalent of a city council member.

“And what I learned from serving in public office back then was how influential it can be in terms of helping people,” he said.

He said if he could accomplish one thing in his term, it would be to find a way for Nevada to have more financial stability in difficult economic circumstances. He said he is not ready to disclose his ideas on how to accomplish that.

“I don’t have a solution yet, but that would be my ultimate goal,” he said.

Asked how he would address lost revenue in the state, VanderPal said it’s hard to predict where to cut because no one know how bad the crisis will be.

“It’s hard to say what would or could be cut, or how we’re going to respond to this, because we don’t know how long and how deep this current economic circumstance is going to last,” he said.

Contact Blake Apgar at bapgar@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5298. Follow @blakeapgar on Twitter.

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