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Whitmer picked to lead Nevada Democrats in major power shift

Updated March 10, 2021 - 11:43 am

Clark County Democratic Party Chair Judith Whitmer defeated Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom on Saturday to assume control of the Nevada State Democratic Party, ushering a dramatic shakeup of the state party’s power structure by its most liberal wing.

Three other progressives running alongside Whitmer captured four of the other officer positions during the election, which was held during a virtual meeting of the state party’s central committee. Whitmer received 248 votes to Segerblom’s 216 for the chair position.

Jacob Allen (first vice-chair), Dr. Zaffar Iqbal (second vice-chair) and Ahmed Ade (secretary) were also elected on Whitmer’s “progressive” slate. Lance Arberry (treasurer) was the lone winner for Segerblom’s “progressive unity” slate, defeating Howard Beckerman by two votes.

While Segerblom enjoyed support from prominent local, state and federal elected officials, Whitmer has spent years organizing and encouraging young progressives to serve on the very state central committee that elected her. She was endorsed by the state party’s Left Caucus, which she founded, and the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America.

According to both candidates, the race drew direct intervention from some of the state’s top elected officials, including Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, who will lead the Democratic ticket in 2022. Nevada’s senior senator reportedly approached Segerblom, who had not been considering a bid for the seat he once held in the early ’90s, about joining the race and questioned Whitmer on her candidacy.

Exactly what sort of party apparatus Whitmer and her progressive allies will be inheriting remains to be seen.

“There was a desire among leadership to encourage Tick to try to unify progressives and the rest of the party, but the state central committee is an unpredictable group,” one operative with close ties to the party told the Review-Journal Saturday. “But keep in mind, the (former Senate Majority Leader Harry) Reid machine is not the central committee. It’s the operatives, volunteers, fundraising and organizing capacity, all of which can be accomplished outside of the state party organization.”

The operative said all of the party’s remaining full-time staff members are likely to depart in the coming weeks. Executive Director Alana Mounce left in February to join the Democratic National Committee as its political director.

“Unfortunately, there’s no real choice but to work around the party,” the operative said.

The election

During Saturday’s election, several central committee members complained of technical or administrator errors that kept them from voting in one or more races. But outgoing party leaders, including Chair William McCurdy II, ruled they would not have affected the outcome of any race.

Keenan Korth, a central committee member and supporter of Whitmer’s, said two fellow committee members, Megan Trivette and Carolyn Miller, were not able to vote in the treasurer’s race, in which progressives suffered their only defeat by two votes.

The total number of voters for the treasurer’s race and the chair race were both 464.

Korth said the issue was raised to McCurdy again in the meeting several hours after the election, and McCurdy ruled it would be unfair to hold a new election after some members had left.

The election results are preliminary until certified by the party, and progressives may look to appeal.

Segerblom immediately congratulated Whitmer on Twitter, saying he hoped to work with her going forward. She thanked him and pledged the same.

As the pandemic continues to limit in-person campaigning, Whitmer and Segerblom competed for the endorsement of Nevada’s various Democratic clubs in a series of Zoom meetings leading up to the election.

While the two remained cordial on social media, some of their supporters did not.

Whitmer’s followers accused Segerblom, one of the state’s lone lifelong progressive elected officials, of being too close to elected officials and the outgoing state party leadership.

Others accused Whitmer of seeking to use the chair position to force an ideological shift among Nevada’s more moderate elected Democrats and questioned her commitment to diversity and inclusion within the party.

During her speech just prior to the election, Whitmer addressed the diversity criticism.

“We owe a huge debt to our (Black, indigenous and people of color) communities, and it’s time to prioritize their issues and concerns and start investing to empower those communities to succeed.”

She also stressed the importance of investing in rural counties, as well as paid internships and scholarship opportunities for young Democrats.

In his own speech, Segerblom noted the “deep divisions” within the state party.

“Those can’t be tolerated, so if I’m elected, I want to make sure both sides are brought to the table and sit down,” he said.

The future

Saturday marked the culmination of years of work for party progressives.

The central committee, and the party itself, has grown younger and more progressive in the years since Sen. Bernie Sanders’ close 2016 defeat and clear 2020 victory in the state’s First in the West presidential caucuses. Whitmer and others worked to organize those Sanders’ volunteers and delegates into central committee members.

Sanders congratulated Whitmer in a statement Saturday evening.

“She knows that we must invest in year-round grassroots organizing focused on the principles of economic, social, racial and environmental justice,” he said of Whitmer. “If we build a political movement that speaks to working people, we will continue to build on our political success in Nevada.”

The chair position is, on paper, the voice of Nevada Democrats, but Reid is still widely regarded by both parties as the party’s leader in Nevada. His endorsement is sought above all others in the state, and many of his former staff members currently hold elected office or high-ranking staff positions in local, state and federal congressional offices.

Last year, Whitmer clashed with this leadership when the progressive majority among Nevada’s Democratic National Committee delegates chose her over McCurdy to serve as chair of the state’s delegation to the party’s national convention — a position held by Reid in 2016. The decision reportedly angered several elected officials on the call, including Reps. Steven Horsford and Susie Lee.

Cortez Masto’s campaign declined to comment on her reported involvement in the race, and the rest of Nevada’s delegation did weigh in publicly on the race. However, both Segerblom and Whitmer’s camps believed they supported Segerblom.

During the last cycle, the state party managed some $13 million and hundreds of volunteers in support of local candidates. Reid routinely touted it as the strongest state party in the country.

Some question whether that will continue if the divide between Whitmer’s progressives and the establishment does not close.

Another local Democratic operative questioned the wisdom of the entrenched establishment, given Whitmer’s clear victory.

“I don’t know what’s more surprising: The winners of the vote or that the establishment was so out of touch with how things would go,” the operative said.

Contact Rory Appleton at rappleton@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0276. Follow @RoryDoesPhonics on Twitter.

A previous version of this story misidentified the group that selected Whitmer to serve as chair of the state’s delegation to the Democratic national convention. She was chosen by the state’s elected Democratic National Committee delegates.

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