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Upheaval continues for Democrats vying for Nevada Legislature seats

CARSON CITY — Potential Democratic candidates for the Nevada Legislature are continuing their game of musical chairs.

First, Assemblywoman Dina Neal, D-North Las Vegas, announced in an email Friday that she had changed her mind and will not run for the soon-to-be vacant Senate District 4 seat now held by congressional candidate Steven Horsford.

Then on Monday morning, Democratic community activist Michael Flores said he would not seek the Senate seat either.

Finally, on Monday afternoon, Assemblyman Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, said he would run for the Horsford seat, even though it means he must move a few blocks from his home in Senate District 1 into a rental home in District 4.

“I am not a quitter,” Atkinson said. “I have served 10 years in the Assembly and if I have to make sacrifices I will. This is an opportunity to continue the work I am doing.”

Because of the shuffling, Atkinson and District 1 Sen. John Lee at this point face no primary opposition in heavily Democratic districts where the primary winner will probably win the Senate seat. In District 4, Democrats hold a 4-to-1 registration advantage over Republicans. In District 1 their advantage is 21 percentage points. The filing period for legislative races is March 5-16.

Atkinson, 42, announced previously that he would be a candidate for Lee’s seat. He made that announcement at a time when Lee had decided to run for Congress. But rather than face Horsford in a congressional primary election, Lee announced last week he would seek re-election to his Senate District 1 seat instead.

That left Atkinson with a choice of facing Lee in the Democrats’ state Senate primary, returning to the Assembly or moving into District 4. He chose the latter.

“I own my house and I will have to rent it out for a while,” he said. “It is what it is. I will be moving with my family into a home four minutes from where I live now. Part of my Assembly district is in the Senate district.”

He already has raised $184,000 for a Senate run.

In the 2011 session, Atkinson was chairman of the Assembly Commerce and Labor Committee. He earlier spent two terms as the Assembly Transportation Committee chairman.

Senate District 4 generally runs from U.S. Highway 95 north between Rancho Road on the west and Las Vegas Boulevard North on the East.

Atkinson also has a clear leg up over Democratic challengers if any emerge by the filing deadlines in March. The Senate Democrat Caucus already has endorsed his candidacy.

That endorsement came when Democrats were not sure of the boundaries of Senate districts. The redistricting maps approved Oct. 27 by Carson City District Judge James T. Russell put Atkinson’s home outside Senate District 4. But Sen. Mo Denis, the caucus leader, said the endorsement of Atkinson still applies.

Flores, 24, said he still is young and might seek other elective office in the future, but because of the caucus support and his service in the Assembly, Atkinson should be the Democrats’ candidate.

Neal said she intends to run for the Senate sometime in the future, but for now chooses to run for re-election to the Assembly. Her father, Joe, was District 4’s senator for 32 years.

“When I was elected to the Assembly, I made a pledge to the community,” Neal said. “I need to continue my work in the Assembly for our neighborhoods and our children.”

Atkinson said he is a strong supporter of Neal and hopes she can serve in the Senate someday. Under the term-limits law, no legislator can serve more than 12 years in one house of the Legislature.

The wild card is Assemblyman Harvey Munford, D-Las Vegas. He also could run for the Senate District 4 seat, although he said Monday that his chances of running are “slim.”

A retired schoolteacher, Munford, 71, has lived in the district for decades and believes he could beat Atkinson.

Senate District 4 becomes vacant with the November 2012 election because Horsford is running for a new seat in Congress. African-Americans traditionally have won the Senate seat in part because it includes the so-called “Westside,” the area where most blacks lived during segregation. But because of redistricting and population changes, the district is now 41 percent Hispanic and 28 percent African-American.

Atkinson said he serves all people, regardless of their ethnic backgrounds.

“I feel comfortable working with all people, black, white, Hispanic,” said Atkinson, a management analyst for Clark County. “I hope people see me as viable enough that they won’t challenge me. Nevadans are still struggling and I would like to help them through the transition.”

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.

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