There are Republican and Democratic primaries in the open race for the Nevada Assembly District 6 seat, since incumbent William McCurdy II, the state Democratic party chairman, is running for Clark County Commission.
The majority-minority district spans the Las Vegas-North Las Vegas border west of downtown, with a voter enrollment that is more than 60 percent Democratic. All of the candidates lay claim to deep-rooted ties to the community, which has higher levels of poverty and lower levels of education and income than state averages.
In the Republican contest, Katie Duncan, a businesswoman and founder of the Ward 5 Chamber of Commerce who ran for Las Vegas mayor in 2011, describes herself as a “Juneteenth Republican” and stresses the need for the community to strive for self-sufficiency. Her opponent is Geraldine Lewis, who has previously run for Assembly, Senate and North Las Vegas City Council. Lewis, who has held various jobs as a counselor, did not respond to two emailed requests for an interview.
Among Democrats, Shondra Summers-Armstrong, a management analyst with the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada and chief steward with SEIU Local 1107, has the Democratic Assembly Caucus endorsement. She faces William E. Robinson II, a life insurance agent whose father and namesake served on the North Las Vegas City Council for 28 years until 2011.
Duncan embraces a bootstrap approach to community redevelopment and revitalization and pledges to educate stakeholders on how to tap existing community investment opportunities. She is a volunteer at Harrison House, a landmarked former boarding house for traveling black entertainers in the days of segregation, and advocates for broader insurance coverage for traditional Eastern medicine.
“People want to know, ‘Why are you a Republican?’” she said in a late April interview. “I’ve been a Republican since I was 18 years old. I’ve got admit I switched parties to help Barack Obama. I thought if we had a black president it would change things in America. But as soon as that was over, I had real challenges just with ideology and mindset of the Democrats. I think the Democrats want to do too much for people.”
Duncan said she would work to get Las Vegas and North Las Vegas together on combined economic development initiatives.
“I’ll be able to bring those two municipalities together so we can erase the line that divides the people in this neighborhood,” she said.
Given the Democratic enrollment advantage, the winner of the GOP primary faces tough odds against either Summers-Armstrong or Robinson in November. Robinson says he is focused on justice reform, affordable housing, and on the needs of small and minority owned businesses.
He acknowledges a “fair share of mistakes growing up” and was arrested in a domestic violence incident for which he served weekend incarceration.
“I think everything that you go through in life shapes the person that you are,” he said in an interview, noting the records in that case had been sealed. “So that experience, along with many others, have made me the man that I am today.”
Lack of affordable housing is among “barriers of opportunity to improve,” he said. “You want to have something where people, even if you’re on a fixed income, you can live and not just get by.” He wants reforms for the justice system but not “at the expense of the victims of crime.”
He has served on North Las Vegas Parks & Recreation Board and also chaired the Citizens Advisory Committee.
Summers-Armstrong announced plans to run for the seat in September 2019. Besides 24 years with the Regional Transportation Commission, she cites membership on the West Las Vegas Plan Team and service as a commissioner on both the Southern Nevada Regional Housing Authority, and the Southern Nevada Enterprise Community Board.
Her community activism came of age with efforts to reopen F Street, a short but vital link between the historic west side and downtown which was closed in 2009 for the widening of an interstate interchange but reopened in 2014.
“Strategizing with our community to figure out how to protect our neighborhood is how I got involved in politics in the beginning,” she said.
The impact the COVID-19 pandemic has rewritten her plans and expectations for office if elected.
“We are seeing issues with health care, issues with unemployment, and our state budget,” she said. “Those are issues that are going to be front and center in 2021 and so we have to be aware of what is happening now.”
She applauded Gov. Steve Sisolak’s actions amid the crisis for showing that he was “concerned about the people of the state of Nevada and whether or not they are safe and have the health care delivery necessary to be able to make it.” Critical along with health needs are efforts to protect unemployment benefits and housing, and keep utilities on for people in need in financial distress, she said.
She bristles at talk of sacrificing health care needs to business interests or the economy, especially for seniors, citing the significant number of senior citizens in the African-American community “who are caring for grandchildren.”
“We are a state of citizens and a nation of people,” she said. The “Us begins with U, and we just can’t forget about that.”