CARSON CITY – Fourteen Republican female leaders from across Nevada have blasted state Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson for not reappointing Sen. Barbara Cegavske to serve on the upper house’s Finance Committee.
“Instead of showcasing a competent woman as a tactic to persuade 53% of the electorate that the Republican Party is not an exclusive men’s club, you took her off the most important committee and stripped her of her leadership position,” said the Republican women in a letter to Roberson.
“For some odd reason the Nevada Republican Senate Caucus does not realize this; and, in fact, seems to want to relegate women to the sidelines of politics.”
Roberson, R-Las Vegas, said he could not reappoint Cegavske because Republicans have only three seats on the Finance Committee, and he felt he should name one member from each part of the state.
Sen. Pete Goicoechea of Eureka represents rural Nevada, and Sen. Ben Kieckhefer of Reno represents Northern Nevada. As party leader, Roberson decided to name himself as the Southern Nevada representative.
“If there had been four spots, I’d love to have had Barbara. I have a great deal of respect for Barbara Cegavske,” Roberson said.
Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, declined Thursday to criticize Roberson, saying only that she was “disappointed” she was not reappointed to the Senate Finance Committee.
During the last session in 2011, she was the leading Republican on the committee and often engaged in verbal battles with then Senate Majority Leader Steve Horsford, D-Las Vegas, over state spending.
“I am not upset, but I would have liked to have served on Finance during my final session,” Cegavske said in a phone interview.
Cegavske 61, is the only woman among the 10 Senate Republicans and had been assistant minority leader in the 2011 session. Three of the 11 Senate Democrats are women.
Cegavske starts her final legislative session Feb. 4. She has served on either the Senate Finance or Assembly Ways and Means Committee in 14 of her 16 years in the Legislature. The two committees review and set state agency spending and are considered the most important legislative committees.
In their letter, the women said that women make up 53 percent of voters and that Republican Mitt Romney lost the presidency because of a “gender gap” where far more women voted for Democrat President Obama.
Cegavske said she learned of the letter to Roberson on Wednesday night and was “touched by their concern.”
The Republican women asked why the Senate Republican Caucus, led by Roberson, had decided to “reward her with irrelevance and was trying to hide her.”
Roberson said he shares concerns about the needs for more women and more diversity among Republican legislators.
“I recognize that the Republican caucus needs to become more diverse,” he said. “I tried to recruit women to run in four open competitive Senate seats. We have the same goal: to recruit more women, more minorities. I do not want our party to be the party of old white men. It has been a priority of mine and will continue to be a priority.
Roberson induced Republican Mari Nakashima St. Martin to run as a candidate for Senate 9 in November, but she lost to Democrat Justin Jones by a few hundred votes.
Fred Lokken, a political science professor at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno, said there is something more than what Roberson said publicly that caused him to decide against reappointing the experienced Cegavske.
He said Roberson might have wanted to pick “party people he can work with” and wanted “more moderate” Republicans on the Finance Committee.
Cegavske is one of the most conservative senators. She voted against Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposal to extend $620 million in taxes in 2011 and opposed tax increases sought by Gov. Kenny Guinn in 2003. Roberson also voted against Sandoval’s legislation, but he has since announced his support of the governor’s plan to extend the tax increases again in 2013.
During the 2013 session, Cegavske will serve on the Education and Legislative Operations and Elections committees. She said she intends to sit in on some other committee meetings because she has no committee assignments on Wednesdays and only parts of the other days.
Because Democrats hold an 11-10 advantage and have the right to have the majority of members on each committee, several legislative committees will have only five members, not seven as has been the practice. That way Democrats will have a 4-3 majority or 3-2 majority on each committee.
If Republicans had won the majority in the November election, then they would have had four seats on the Finance Committee.
Cegavske said she is considering running for a constitutional statewide office such as lieutenant governor or secretary of state in 2014. She would be prohibited by the state constitution from running for another state Senate term.
Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at email@example.com or 775-687-3900.