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State senator Lee faces primary challenge

CARSON CITY — State Sen. John Lee faces an unexpected primary challenge from a minister who does not believe he is Democratic enough for District 1.

The Rev. Patricia Ann Spearman, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, filed to challenge Lee’s eight-year tenure in the Senate with an announcement last week that a “real Democrat” must serve in the seat.

The Senate Democratic Caucus disagrees with her sentiments. It has endorsed Lee’s candidacy.

“I am running on my record,” said Lee, who does not know Spearman and expressed confidence he can beat a largely unknown challenger.

Lee, 56, of North Las Vegas, drew the ire of some party members last year when he announced his opposition to a Democratic-proposed $1.2 million tax increase bill and voted against one of the three bills that brought equal rights to transgender people.

The tax bill failed, and Lee later joined other Democrats and Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval in extending $620 million in taxes that would have expired on June 30.

In 2009 he voted against the bill that allows domestic partnerships for same- and opposite-sex couples. And he sponsored the law last year that will remove Nevada from the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency in 2015 unless changes are made to reduce California’s control and lead to more development on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe.

District 1 has 9,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans, a statistic that means whichever Democrat wins the primary will be the probable winner in November.

Their only opposition is Independent American Party member Gregory Hughes.

District 1 generally runs from Craig Road on the south, North Decatur Boulevard on the west, North Lamb Boulevard on the east and Centennial Parkway on the north. The winner will serve a four-year term.

Spearman, 56, is founder and minister of Resurrection Faith Community Ministries. She moved to Nevada seven years ago. Besides serving 30 years in the Army, she was a school board member in San Marcos, Texas.

She also is gay.

“I also have hazel eyes,” said Spearman when asked about being gay after a rally Thursday. “It is part of who I am but not all of who I am.”

Too often people are marginalized for their race, their sexual orientation and other factors, she said.

While railing against the incumbent in the announcement of her candidacy, Spearman did not personally attack Lee in an interview.

“This is about having strong leadership for the district, not about a person,” she said in a telephone interview. “It is about the people. It is not about his party affiliation.”

Spearman said later she would not have known Lee even was the senator if not for the Internet. He should have held town meetings to listen to his constituents, she said.

“Somebody has to be the voice of this district. People don’t care how much you know unless they know you care. Even if you can’t do anything about the situation, at least show you care,” Spearman said.

Lee, the owner of Vegas Plumbing Service, said he never heard of Spearman before her candidacy. As a moderate Democrat, he said, he can better represent his constituents.

“The vast majority of people in Nevada are pretty reasonable. If you are so hard on the party line and won’t entertain other thoughts, it is a futile exercise for your constituents.”

Too many political organizations talk about how legislators should work together to reach compromises on issues, but in the end all they want is a candidate who always will vote the way they want, Lee said.

If voters want a senator who always votes the party line, then Lee said he isn’t their candidate.

He said he believes his support of the Lake Tahoe bill induced critics to find a candidate to run against him, although the bill was designed to help businesses.

Legislative records show the bill won the support of nine of the 11 Senate Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas.

Review-Journal writer Laura Myers contributed to this report. Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.

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