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District 2 regent candidates push UNLV med school

Two candidates are vying for the Nevada System of Higher Education’s Board of Regents District 2 seat — both of whom say they want to push to improve the UNLV School of Medicine.

Lois Tarkanian and Bret Whipple are running in the June 9 primary, which will be conducted by mail-in ballot only. A third candidate, Bonnie McDaniel, withdrew from the race.

The seat is currently held by Trevor Hayes, who has been on the board since 2014 and isn’t seeking reelection. The district includes parts of Las Vegas.

Regents govern Nevada’s public higher education system, including UNLV and UNR, Nevada State College, four community colleges and Desert Research Institute. Those schools serve a total of more than 100,000 students.

Tarkanian served for 14 years on the Las Vegas City Council. Her last meeting was in June 2019.

She was previously a Clark County school board trustee for 12 years, including filling the role of board president. And she was married to famed UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian until his death in 2015.

Tarkanian — who taught classes at community colleges and universities — said she has a lot of experience in education, and with helping bureaucracies and communities work together.

Bret Whipple, an attorney and partner with Justice Law Center, served on the Board of Regents from 2003 to 2008 — two of those years as chairman — and lost his seat during the 2008 election.

Whipple, who’s in the fourth generation of a Nevada ranching family, worked as a certified public accountant prior to becoming an attorney. As an attorney, his work has included representing rancher Cliven Bundy.

Whipple pointed to three main accomplishments during his time on the board: chairing a technology committee that implemented a cloud-based online system for the state’s public colleges and universities that’s used for functions such as admissions and financial aid; common course numbering; and working to get a medical school in Las Vegas.

Whipple said he wants to serve again at a time when his children are going into the higher education system. “It’s kind of awakened my passion for higher education because it’s become an immediate issue,” he said.

Key issues

Tarkanian said if she’s elected, one of her primary interests would be the UNLV School of Medicine and Las Vegas Medical District. She said she was involved with rejuvenating the medical district around 2013 while serving on the city council.

“I feel very passionate about the need for success in getting the medical school and the medical district in the top tier in the country,” she said.

Tarkanian said there was a time she was experiencing a medical issue and health care providers in Las Vegas couldn’t provide a diagnosis, so she was referred to UCLA. And when her grandson had a blood clot in his brain, he also received care in Los Angeles.

“I think we have very fine doctors, but we don’t have enough of them,” she said, noting there’s a need for more specialists.

Tarkanian said if she’s elected to the board, she’d also look for ways to conserve money. Costs, she said, are increasing at just about every university in the country. “I have a lot of experience working with bureaucracies and I know we waste too much money.”

Whipple said if he’s elected, he’d continue to stress technology enhancement.

He said it’s also important to “get all of the health care positions that we demand and need.” He added he’d like to be a regent when the inaugural UNLV School of Medicine class graduates in 2021.

COVID-19-related budget cuts

Gov. Steve Sisolak has directed all state agencies to prepare for a 4 percent budget cut for fiscal year 2020 and 6 to 14 percent for fiscal year 2021. The regents approved reduction proposals earlier this month.

Tarkanian said she can’t address how she’d handle COVID-19 budget cuts yet because “I don’t know what money is being spent where.” But she noted: “Certainly, budget cuts are needed. It shouldn’t always have to fall on the students.”

When tackling budget cuts, “it’s a team effort,” Whipple said. “It’s something you have to work at together.”

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.

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