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Nevada Democrats move from campaigning to governing mode

CARSON CITY — The blue wave that crashed over Nevada last week did more than just flip party control of the Republican-held governorship and a U.S. Senate seat.

The victories, including that of Gov.-elect Steve Sisolak, mean Democrats will have control of both chambers of the state Legislature and the Governor’s Mansion for the first time in 28 years. The last time that happened was in 1991, when Gov. Bob Miller, longtime Assembly Speaker Joe Dini and state Sen. John “Jack” Vergiels led the way.

Republicans held both legislative chambers and the governorship in 2015. Now they find themselves on the other side of that power struggle.

But as lawmakers switch from campaigning to governing, the question is what Democrats will do with their newfound power. Will they push a more progressive agenda — or, as Republicans called it on the campaign trail, turning “Nevada into California” — or take a more restrained approach with eyes toward maintaining control for more than a single session?

New Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson, D-Las Vegas, said the long play is more important than ramming through a bunch of legislation that pleases only one side.

“We have the opportunity to do great things, but I also think we’ll have to temper some folks,” he said. “We need to know what we can push and what we can do to make sure that we can have the majority for quite some time, not just a session.

“We need to make sure that we don’t want to be so drastic in our policies that it turns people against us.”

Atkinson said he doesn’t expect the caucus’ priorities to change much from 2017, and he wants to see bills dealing with community solar projects and collective bargaining. Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed similar laws in 2017, when he denied 41 bills.

Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, D-Las Vegas, said he has requested a bill vetoed last session that dealt with paying prevailing wages on school construction projects. But he also said he doesn’t want the next session to be simply a rehash of 2017.

“I am not interested in a revisit of every single thing we didn’t get our way last session,” he said.

Frierson called the fears expressed on the campaign trail that Democrats would turn Nevada into California “rhetoric.”

“I have recruited some great candidates with ideas of their own, but they know that my interests are passing good policies that represent Nevada interests, not California or any other state,” he said.

Both Frierson and Atkinson said they will push for a bill banning bump stocks in Nevada — a measure that was also supported by Sisolak and that was requested days after the Route 91 Harvest festival shooting on Oct. 1, 2017.

The lawmakers plan to look at an initiative approved by Nevada voters in 2016 that called for the FBI to conduct expanded background checks on firearm purchases. The initiative could not be implemented because states can’t mandate the allocation of federal resources.

Assembly Minority Leader Jim Wheeler, R-Gardnerville, said that despite being in a superminority (Democrats hold a 29-13 advantage in his chamber), Republicans don’t plan to abandon their priorities, and they will push for legislation dealing with school safety, education and mental health initiatives.

“Those are some big things where I think we can work together with them,” he said.

Supporting a potential ban on bump stocks would be “up to the individual lawmaker,” Wheeler said.

As for his counterparts’ talks of tempering their expectations, he said he expects Democrats will “try and ram some stuff through, but I don’t know what that is.”

Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

Contact Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3820. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

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