CARSON CITY — Much has been said by both sides about the importance of the race for Nevada’s next governor, but further down the ballot another battle has been brewing — and it could decide what laws and policies the state passes come 2019.
The fight for a Democratic supermajority in the state Legislature could diminish the executive power in the winner of the race between Republican Attorney General Adam Laxalt and Democratic Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak and render GOP representatives largely voiceless in Carson City.
To have a supermajority, one party needs to hold two-thirds of the seats in both the Assembly and Senate. Carrying that much clout enables the party in power to overturn a governor’s veto and pass any tax increases because both require a two-thirds vote in each chamber.
Gov. Brian Sandoval, who is term-limited and can’t run for re-election, vetoed 41 bills passed by the Democratic-controlled Legislature in 2017. If Democrats had a supermajority then, any of those vetoes could have been overturned without any Republican support.
If Democrats were to gain the supermajority in both chambers, that would bode particularly ill for Laxalt, said Eric Herzik, chairman of the political science department at the University of Nevada, Reno. “They could basically isolate the governor.”
With a veto-proof majority, Democrats would be able to effectively ignore Laxalt and his policy proposals, Herzik said.
“Not only could they ignore it, there’d be little Laxalt could do,” Herzik said.
But Herzik doesn’t think that there is enough momentum on the Democrats’ side to win every seat needed to secure the supermajority.
“I’m not seeing this massive blue wave,” he said.
Path to the supermajority
In 2017, Democrats held 10 Senate seats and 27 in the Assembly. To hit the needed two-thirds, they must have a net gain of four seats in the Senate and one in the Assembly.
“We’re currently at 15 seats. If you lose one of those, you’re at a superminority,” said Eric Roberts, executive director of the Assembly Republican Caucus. “Clearly that has to be a concern.”
Roberts said the caucus is confident Jill Dickman can unseat Democrat Skip Daly in Assembly District 31, which Dickman won in 2014 but lost two years later. Dickman also has a large fundraising lead, and Daly is the only sitting Democrat in an Assembly district with more registered Republicans than Democratic voters.
But Republicans also have to hold their current seats, which might prove tougher than flipping Daly’s seat.
Assembly districts 4 and 37 could prove particularly difficult to hold. They are held by Republicans Richard McArthur and Jim Marchant, respectively, and both districts have voter registration gaps below 1 percent. And the Democratic challengers in those races have both outraised the Republican incumbents.
“Those two seats, in my mind, are going to be the ones that are most important for the Assembly,” Roberts said.
Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson said he is confident Democrats can win any of those seats this year, even if they have been long held by Republicans.
“We are committed to moving the state in a better direction,” Frierson said.
One of the Senate seats Democrats would need to pick up, District 21, is vacant in a historically Democratic district. That leaves the three open Senate districts of 8, 9 and 20 as the key targets for Democrats.
All three of those districts elected Republicans in 2014, but all three districts have more registered Democrats than Republicans, bringing them very much into play this cycle.
■ Senate 8
Candidates: Democrat Marilyn Dondero Loop, Republican Valerie Weber
Registration: Democrats +757 (+1 percent)
■ Senate 9
Candidates: Democrat Melanie Scheible, Republican Tiffany Jones
Registration: Democrats +7,012 (+7.7 percent)
■ Senate 20
Candidates: Republican Keith Pickard, Democrat Julie Pazina, Libertarian Richard Bronstein
Registration: Democrats +494 (+ 0.6 percent)
— What to watch: This will be likely be the toughest for Democrats. The current occupant is Michael Roberson, the Senate GOP leader, and Pickard is a Republican assemblyman whose seat falls within the borders of this district, which makes him familiar to voters.
■ Assembly 4
Candidates: Republican Richard McArthur, Democrat Connie Munk
Registration: Republicans +33 (+0.1 percent)
■ Assembly 29
Candidates: Democrat Lesley Cohen, Republican Stephen Silberkraus
Registration: Democrats + 1,550 (+3.7 percent)
■ Assembly 31
Candidates: Democrat Skip Daly, Republican Jill Dickman
Registration: Republicans + 2,376 (+5.8 percent)
■ Assembly 37
Candidates: Republican Jim Marchant, Democrat Shea Backus
Registration: Democrats +245 (+0.6 percent)