The man most responsible for the passage of the new commerce tax lost his bid for higher office on Tuesday, as did three other lawmakers. But many other tax-supporting Republicans won their races despite facing conservative, anti-tax challengers.
Those are the mixed lessons of the 2016 primary election, which saw just 18.5 percent of voters turn out statewide, according to the Nevada secretary of state’s office. Here’s a look at some of the key races and results.
Tax vote claims top victims
Of all the lawmakers on the ballot in the primary this year, state Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson is most responsible for the passage of Senate Bill 483, the bill that contains the new commerce tax. Roberson’s political skill in passing the tax was essential to Gov. Brian Sandoval plan to pay for his education reforms, and it certainly wouldn’t have become law without Roberson’s help.
In an interview last month with PoliticsNOW on 8NewsNow, Roberson explained his decision to advocate and vote for the tax bill thusly:
“I’m proud of what we did last session, I’m proud to have led the effort to support Gov. Sandoval’s agenda,” Roberson said. “You know, as Gov. Sandoval says, it’s not conservative to have one of the worst education systems in the country. It’s not conservative to be in a situation where you don’t have enough seats for kids to sit in in schools. …
“When you’re in a position of leadership, and a position of responsibility, you’ve got to pay for things,” he added. “If you want a good school system, you have to pay for it. …
“So, we looked out for small business owners, we looked out for individual Nevadans, we looked out for Nevada families, and yeah, we asked large, out-of-state corporations to pay a little bit, to pay something into Nevada to fund education. So I’m proud of that. …
“We want to have a better education system, we want to have a better mental health system, a better health-care system, we need roads, bridges, infrastructure here in this state, people want a great community to live in, and some of that costs money. That’s just the reality of life.”
Similarly, Assemblyman Erv Nelson, R-Las Vegas, was an important vote for the tax bill, having entered office as a tax skeptic. His floor speech before the final vote on the package, delivered May 31, 2015, was probably the best explanation of how a conservative Republican could be persuaded to vote yes on a tax.
“It’s easy to sit at home and spout the party line, and I did it, based on my limited knowledge of our state’s archaic tax system, and significant challenges in public education,” Nelson said in that speech. “I initially opposed the proposed budget and new tax plan, again based on my limited knowledge at the time. But in the last few weeks I have spent many hours, talking to legislators and lobbyists both in favor of, and opposed to, the budget and tax plan, studying proposed plans, analyzing the budget cuts over the past few sessions, questioning the architects of the competing tax plans, and just thinking.
“I gradually changed my mind, and now honestly feel that Gov. Sandoval’s plan for education reform, budget and new tax plan is right for our state. The revenue plan is not perfect, but it is elegant, in that it balances taxation more appropriately over a broader scope of businesses and better reflects the changing economy of the state of Nevada. What really, finally convinced me was hearing from the heads of economic development throughout this state, that they want this bill because many companies have refused to come to Nevada not because of taxes but because of our poor education system. They want their employees to be able to send their children to good schools. And they want employees they can hire who are ready to work. We owe this to the rising generation. …
“I have done months of due diligence, as I know all of you have. Maybe it’s because I’m almost 60, but I’m not too proud to say, I was uninformed. I made a mistake. I sat and spouted the party line of no new taxes, no matter what. And I dare say there are some philosophies that even if ISIS were storming our building to kill us all, we wouldn’t raise a penny in taxes. And I don’t think that’s appropriate. … You know, it’s funny, before I came here I was a right-wing extremist. Now I’m a RINO [Republican In Name Only]. Fine. Call me what you want. I’ve thought about this. I’ve fasted, I’ve prayed and I think this is the right thing to do.”
On Tuesday, however, Roberson and Nelson found that even those well-reasoned, well-founded arguments in favor of taxes weren’t enough to persuade the voters in their respective Republican primaries. Roberson’s loss in the 3rd Congressional District to Danny Tarkanian (32 percent to 24 percent) was decisive, made more so by the fact that the race featured five other candidates. Votes for those five — including Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, R-Las Vegas, Dr. Annette Teijeiro and Andy Matthews — would almost assuredly have gone to Tarkanian had those other candidates not filed. (Fiore gave up her Assembly seat to run for Congress, and will not be returning to Carson City for the 2017 session.)
Nelson’s loss to Assemblywoman Victoria Seaman, R-Las Vegas, in a two-person race for the state Senate District 6 seat was even more stark (63 percent to 37 percent). Unlike Roberson, Nelson avoided the media during his campaign, declining to explain his vote much beyond the statement he made on the floor of the Assembly chamber last year. Seaman, by contrast, highlighted her vote against the tax bill, a vote that apparently earned her support from fellow Republicans. (Seaman will face prosecutor Nicole Cannizzaro in the general election. The district has more than 3,800 more Democrats than Republicans.)
Assembly tax voters survive attempted coup
Down the ballot in the races for state Assembly, conservative insurgents Assemblymen Ira Hansen, R-Sparks and Brent Jones, R-Las Vegas, mounted assaults on their fellow Republicans, including the speaker, majority leader, committee chairs and the author of the popular-with-the-GOP bill to break up the Clark County School District.
Most survived, however.
There were some notable exceptions. Appointed incumbent Assemblyman Glenn Trowbridge, R-Las Vegas, lost his bid for election his Assembly District 37 seat to conservative challenger James Marchant. And Assemblyman Philip “P.K. O’Neill, R-Carson City, lost his bid for re-election to challenger Al Kramer.
But in most of the challenged races, the incumbents survived. Speaker John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas, easily defeated Clayton Hurst in Assembly District 2. Newcomer Artemus Ham turned away Anthony Baca in Assembly District 5. School-breakup author David Gardner, R-Las Vegas, survived a challenge from GOP national committeewoman Diana Orrock in Assembly District 9. Majority Leader Paul Anderson, R-Las Vegas, won over two conservative challengers in Assembly District 13. Taxation Committee Chairman Assemblyman Derek Armstrong, R-Henderson, defeated Blain Jones, the son of incumbent Brent Jones, in Assembly District 21. Education Committee Chairwoman Melissa Woodbury, R-Henderson, defeated Nigam Swadeep to keep her Assembly District 23 seat. Assemblyman Stephen Silberkraus, R-Henderson, survived a challenge from Amy Groves in Assembly District 24. And in Nye County, Assemblyman James Oscarson, R-Pahrump, beat back three conservative challengers in Assembly District 36.
In fact, Brent Jones had a closer call than most of the people he targeted, winning his own primary in Assembly District 35 by just 61 votes. (Hansen, for his part, ran unopposed.)
The message? A vote for taxes makes things considerably more difficult, but isn’t entirely fatal to a person’s re-election. (Fundraising help and endorsements from a popular Republican governor such as Sandoval don’t hurt much, either, although they didn’t save Roberson from defeat in his race.)
Still, Roberson’s and Nelson’s fate will likely be remembered more than the fate of most of the Assembly tax-vote survivors, which will make creating or raising taxes more difficult in future legislative sessions. (This was undoubtedly the point of the challenges; even if unsuccessful, they give Republican lawmakers pause about straying from the party’s usual stance on taxes.)
And the fact that Democrats in the Legislature tried and failed for years to implement a business tax, one that Republicans promptly passed the moment their divided party controlled both houses of the Legislature, the governor’s office and all constitutional offices? An historical irony, to say the least.
Justice for judges
The arrogance and heavy handedness that led Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Conrad Hafen to order a public defender to be handcuffed and seated in the jury box during proceedings in his Department 14 courtroom would have been staggering on a regular day. But to do so right before early voting starts? That’s a special kind of arrogance and heavy handedness!
Attorney and Assemblyman Elliot Anderson, D-Las Vegas, said it best on Twitter on election night: Voters who don’t know anything about judges often ask their friends for whom to vote, and in this case, many lawyers seemed to advise their friends to vote against the judge who literally cast a fellow attorney in irons. Publicity over the case in the Review-Journal didn’t help Hafen, either. In a world where judicial discipline investigations can take years and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, where justice is usually delayed, this was the most lightening-quick resolution of a Las Vegas scandal in living memory.
But that wasn’t the only judge-behaving-badly saga that was resolved on Tuesday. Over in District Court Department 20, North Las Vegas Municipal Court Judge Catherine Ramsey mounted a “revenger” type assault on incumbent Judge Eric Johnson. (Ramsey is the subject of a recall in her hometown over various and sundry allegations of abuse while in office, and Johnson rejected her fantastical contention that judges may not be recalled in the manner of ordinary politicians.)
But Johnson took 45 percent of the vote in his race, with Anat “Annette” Levy coming in second, with 24 percent. Ramsey was third with 21 percent, which puts her out of the running, and leaves her to battle it out in North Las Vegas, assuming the Nevada Supreme Court upholds Johnson’s reasonable conclusions in the Ramsey recall case.
Again, justice prevails.