Three Democrats squaring off for Assembly District 9 seat

Three first-time candidates with vastly different backgrounds are squaring off in the Democratic primary race for Assembly District 9.

Clark County public defender Steve Yeager, 35, financial adviser Kelly W. Mercer, 33, and residential care facility owner Joe Tinio, 62, are competing to replace outgoing Assemblyman Andrew Martin, who is running for state controller after residency questions clouded his 2012 win.

Yeager, who has the endorsement of the Assembly Democratic Caucus, graduated from the University of Michigan and received a law degree from Cornell University.

A five-year veteran of the public defender’s office, Yeager said he was inspired to run for political office after he lobbied for Clark County during the 2013 session.

“I’m not one of these guys who always had (politics) in his mind,” he said. “But I really enjoyed the process.”

His experience in Carson City last year separated him from the other candidates, he said. His three priorities are education, the economy and mental health, he said.

“Our education system is at the bottom of most lists,” he said. “That’s what people said they’re concerned about. We need to find a funding formula that works.”

As a public defender, Yeager said the number of clients he’s seen with a serious mental illness “has really gone up” in five years, he said.

Instead of criminalizing the mentally ill, Yeager said he’d look for other options.

“If you were creating a system that’s the most expensive and least effective, you’d probably create what we have now,” he said. “I want to take a more regionalized approach with mental help. Our mentally ill are languishing in jails and emergency rooms.”

One of his opponents, Tinio, is also an advocate for the mentally ill and the elderly.

After spending 30 years in the banking industry — the last 12 in New York City — Tinio retired and opened a care facility in Las Vegas specializing in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

Lawmakers in Nevada aren’t fixing the mental health industry, he said. As the recent patient-dumping scandal showed, Tinio said, they don’t know how.

“Our legislators are ignorant. They’re not idiots. They just don’t know how to ask the right questions,” he said. “They made the problems in the first place. They don’t know how to solve it.”

His other concern is the future of Nevada’s economy. He doesn’t support the proposed 2 percent margins tax on businesses, which he said won’t grow the economy.

Tinio said his finance experience, combined with his health care experience, make him the best candidate.

“Yeager doesn’t have the right experience,” Tinio said. “I want to do something positive for the state and the district I live in.”

The third candidate, Mercer, was a Marine who fought in Iraq before becoming a financial adviser.

At UNLV he was executive director of the student veterans organization, he said.

Like Tinio, Mercer is opposed to the margins tax. He supports legalizing and taxing recreational marijuana, however.

“Politics has always interested me,” he said. “I want to make sure my community is going in the right direction.”

He said Yeager was likely his main competition, but the Legislature needs less lawyers.

“We need more legislators with business and financial experience,” he said.

The winner of the Democratic primary will face Republican candidate David Gardner, who is running unopposed, in the November election.

Contact reporter Mike Blasky at Follow @blasky on Twitter.

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