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July 7, 2015

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Democrats ask: Where’s Republican state Sen. Elizabeth Halseth?

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Freshman Sen. Elizabeth Halseth talks with veteran Sen. Michael Schneider after a meeting of the Senate Revenue Committee on the second day of the 2011 legislative session Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2011, in Carson City.

Democrats on Wednesday asked where state Sen. Elizabeth Halseth, R-Las Vegas, has been in recent months, raising a question that could help decide which party will control the state Senate.

Halseth has not returned calls from lawmakers seeking to schedule meetings, legislators said. On Wednesday, she was absent from a Legislative Commission meeting.

Halseth is divorcing her husband, who was arrested in October on charges of “open and gross lewdness.” She is seeking custody of their children.

The freshman state senator has not responded to media inquiries about her plans regarding the Legislature as her absence has fueled speculation she might not complete her term.

Both parties are studying the ballot implications if she doesn’t.

Highlighting the sensitivity of the issue, state Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, said during Wednesday’s Legislative Commission meeting that he wanted to pull from the agenda a discussion of Halseth’s whereabouts.

“One of our colleagues has things going on in her life that have necessitated her missing a lot of meetings,” Roberson said. “There’s no need to have this on the agenda today.”

Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, said she was struggling to schedule an interim committee meeting on how taxes are distributed among local governments because Halseth, who was appointed by her caucus to sit on the committee, has not returned calls.

“We’ve had a hard time reaching Ms. Halseth to determine her role,” Kirkpatrick said. “The last thing I’d want is for a Senate Republican not to be represented on the committee.”

While the tax distribution issue — the consolidated tax — is important in the world of local government finances, Halseth’s absence raises a larger question that could have big political ramifications: Will she return to the Legislature in 2013?

If Halseth moves out of her district or resigns ahead of the June 12 primary, it would put her seat on the ballot. Because of redistricting, her seat has a significant Democratic voter registration edge.

If she stays, however, Halseth is in the middle of a four-year term and her seat would not be open until 2014. She was elected in 2010 and became the youngest elected state senator.

Before Wednesday, Republican state Senate leadership was confident it would be able take the state Senate, which it held for most of the past two decades before Democrats took control in 2008.

Republicans believed control would come down to two races — Senate District 5 and Senate District 6. While both seats slightly favored Democrats, both incumbent Democratic state senators decided not to run for reelection. Republican challengers significantly out-raised the Democratic candidates.

But state Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, announced Wednesday her resignation from her Senate seat to challenge District 15 Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno, and it instantly made that district competitive.

Whether Halseth’s seat will be on the ballot is unknown. She did not return requests for comment made through her website, her attorney or her political consultant from the 2010 election, when she beat an incumbent Republican in the primary and a highly touted Democrat based on a campaign that questioned her opponent’s values. Halseth’s cellphone has been disconnected.

State law provides a number of reasons to remove elected officials, including:

• “The neglect or refusal of the incumbent to discharge the duties of the incumbent’s office for a period of 30 days.”

• The person no longer lives in the district they represent.

State law requires the district attorney or attorney general to remove the person from office if the person will not give up the office.

Roberson said during the Legislative Commission meeting that the interim tax committee does not immediately need to name a replacement.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas, said he understands that with a citizen Legislature, personal and work obligations can interfere with legislative duties.

But, he said, the interim committee was struggling to form a quorum for meetings.

“I’d ask for some explanation if you have that,” he said. “Do you know why there’s a lack of response or availability?”

Roberson noted that Horsford has been absent from meetings.

“You have missed a couple of meetings,” Roberson told Horsford. “This is not the forum to debate this, unless we’re going to discuss why every member of commission misses meetings.”

Kirkpatrick then said, “This is not a battle we should have in a public forum.”

The next meeting of her committee is March 15, and Roberson said he hoped to have more information by then.

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