Taking the ‘non’ out of nonpartisan

If Republicans are poised to score a handful of campaign victories in Nevada, then it must be a nonpartisan election.

Hey, every rebuilding project has to start somewhere.

In case you didn’t notice (and Clark County voters rarely do), Tuesday is municipal election day in Southern Nevada. By the middle of last week, barely 15,000 people had cast early ballots in the handful of Las Vegas, Henderson, North Las Vegas, Boulder City and Mesquite contests that weren’t decided in April’s primary.

But this decidedly quiet election, coupled with the lack of partisan labels, appears to be just what the GOP needs to get Republicans back in the win column, especially after November’s beat-down. Conservatives hope it’s a stepping stone to recovery in time for the 2010 campaign.

And make no mistake, although city council and mayoral races are considered nonpartisan, the major parties and their loyal constituencies are deeply involved.

“Absolutely, we’re helping all of them,” said Clark County Republican Party Chairman Bernie Zadrowski. “We’re walking neighborhoods, blasting e-mails and getting the candidates’ messages out.”

The GOP has one win locked up before the votes are counted. Glenn Trowbridge, a Las Vegas planning commissioner and former Clark County parks official, and Stavros Anthony, a longtime Las Vegas policeman and current university system regent, are in a runoff for the Las Vegas City Council’s Ward 4 seat — and they’re both Republicans.

Big deal? When you consider that elected Democrats currently control every spot on the Clark County Commission and the Las Vegas City Council, yes, getting back just one seat is a big deal for the GOP. Ward 4 had been represented by Larry Brown, a Democrat, but he vacated the seat when he won election to the County Commission.

It’s also a big deal to the public employee unions who hold huge sway over every local campaign. Anthony learned as much when he failed to get the endorsement of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association — remember, Anthony is a 29-year cop — because of his position on a highly partisan issue.

“They wanted to know where I stood on card check,” Anthony said, referencing the misnamed Employee Free Choice Act, which would effectively end secret-ballot elections in union organizing. “I said, ‘What does that have to do with the City Council?’ And they said, ‘We need to know where you stand on this issue.’ And I told them I could never support it.”

The biggest races on Tuesday’s ballots are for mayor of Henderson and North Las Vegas, where term-limited incumbents are leaving office. In the Henderson primary, Councilman Andy Hafen and Councilman Steve Kirk advanced with 37 percent and 32 percent of the vote, respectively. Hafen is a Democrat, Kirk a Republican. In the North Las Vegas primary, Councilwoman Shari Buck, a Republican, won with 31 percent of the vote. Councilman William Robinson, a Democrat, advanced with 30 percent.

Buck is no stranger to partisan races — she lost a bid for the Clark County Commission to Democrat Tom Collins in 2004. But she’s keeping the Republican brand off this campaign.

“I’m trying to keep it nonpartisan,” she said. “I don’t tell voters unless they ask, and it’s not on my fliers.”

That’s not a bad strategy considering recent Republican fortunes in Nevada. In addition to being swept off the County Commission, Southern Nevada Republicans were bounced from the Assembly, the state Senate and the House of Representatives. They were out-organized, outworked and outspent by Democrats. This spring, in an e-mail to party faithful, Zadrowski bluntly pointed out the GOP’s biggest problem going forward: “The issue is money. Quite frankly, we don’t have any.”

That’s changing, albeit slowly. Zadrowski said that in response to last year’s pants-down spanking and the recession, the county party has had to rethink its fundraising and grass-roots approaches.

“We’re not where we want to be to be able to do the things we want to do,” he said.

Notching a few wins Tuesday certainly would help. The county party needs new faces in new offices to build a new identity and restock its farm system.

“It’s a fact that people utilize city council and mayoral races to raise their profiles for potential runs in the future,” Zadrowski said. “They might not, but they could. Democrats have been doing this for years, jumping from the School Board and other bodies to higher office.”

Most high-profile Nevada Democrats graduated from lower office. On the County Commission, besides Brown and Collins (who was an assemblyman), other risers include Lawrence Weekly from the Las Vegas City Council, Susan Brager from the School Board, Steve Sisolak from the Board of Regents and Chris Giunchigliani from the Assembly.

Rep. Shelley Berkley started as an assemblywoman and was a regent when she ran for Congress. Rep. Dina Titus moved to Washington from the state Senate. And don’t forget that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s first elected job was in the Assembly.

Republicans have to get their foot in the door somewhere — anywhere — if they hope to reclaim some of those positions.

Tuesday could be the start — even it it’s “nonpartisan.”

Glenn Cook (gcook@reviewjournal.com) is a Review-Journal editorial writer.

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