Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012 | 2 a.m.
- Congenial tone in state Senate race belies stark policy differences (10-25-2012)
- State Senate candidates tussle over integrity, education funding, mining taxes (10-02-2012)
- Las Vegas Senate candidate raises north-south education funding issue (09-25-2012)
- Northern Nevada race could determine control of the state Senate (09-23-2012)
- Sun Editorial: Choices for the state Senate
- More Sun political news
Senate District 5, which covers a large portion of Henderson including Green Valley, has the greatest number of nonpartisan voters of any district on the ballot this year.
So both Democrat Joyce Woodhouse, a former state senator, and Republican Steve Kirk, a former Henderson city councilman, say the attacks from outside political groups that paint them as extremist are misleading.
“I’m not an ideologue,” said Kirk, who works for a document management company. “I’m a pragmatist.”
The prime example for Kirk: He supports expanding the state’s Medicaid program, a provision of the Affordable Care Act that Gov. Brian Sandoval said he’s still considering. Even many Democrats have approached that question cautiously, even though it would mean providing health insurance to some of the state’s poorest citizens.
For Woodhouse, criticism that she will be in lockstep with the teachers union is wrong, she said.
Woodhouse, a former teacher and administrator with the Clark County School District, pointed to her work during a special session to allow for student performance to be used to evaluate teachers — a policy the teachers union has in past years opposed.
But the change allowed Nevada to compete for a federal Race to the Top grant. It was a process, she said, that was bipartisan and involved teachers, administrators and school board members.
SD5 is one of the five key state Senate races on the ballot this year that will determine which party controls the state’s upper house. Democrats currently hold an 11-10 lead, and to take control, Republicans must win four out of the five contested races.
Republicans have outraised Democrats in campaign contributions, but many of the seats favor Democrats in voter registration. In SD5, Democrats hold a 5 percentage point lead over Republicans, 40 percent to 35 percent.
Woodhouse was first elected to the state Senate in 2006 but lost re-election in 2010 to Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas. Redistricting drew her into the new district, and when incumbent Sen. Shirley Breeden resigned, Woodhouse decided to take another run to serve in Carson City.
Woodhouse said one of her top priorities if re-elected would be to change the state’s tax structure.
“The most realistic goal for next session, No. 1, is to build a broad-based tax structure,” she said.
She said talking to businesses in her district showed her that the tax on payroll — called the modified business tax — is hurting job creation.
The Nevada State Education Association, which is supporting Woodhouse, is collecting signatures and fighting legal challenges to introduce a margins tax. She would not commit to voting for it next session. Instead, she said it should be part of the broader discussion about the state’s tax structure.
Kirk said he supports extending the sunsetting taxes, as Sandoval has proposed, but wouldn’t commit to going beyond that to raise additional revenue.
He said the state needs to review its tax structure. One proposal, he suggested, is broadening the state’s sales tax to include services, such as lawyers, accountants and hair dressers. Currently, the state sales tax is only on physical goods.
“We should review our tax structure to find something more stable,” he said.
Woodhouse, like Kirk, supports expanding Medicaid. She said those people without insurance are more likely to end up in hospital emergency rooms, where taxpayers often foot the bill.
Kirk framed the Medicaid expansion in moral terms.
“These are the poorest of the poor, the most vulnerable in our society who don’t have much of a voice,” he said. “Caring for people is a humanistic ideal.”
Kirk said he doesn’t support the teachers union’s proposed margins tax. While he would support more money for education if possible, it can’t be the only answer, he said.
“My opponent doesn’t offer any new solutions. Just more money, more money, more money,” he said. “That might be part of the solution. But it’s not the only solution.”
Kirk said he favors a school choice program that would include a simple way to grade schools so parents can evaluate where to send their children.
He also said he supports changing collective bargaining rules to add more accountability and eliminate “binding arbitration,” in which final disputes between employee unions and the School District are resolved by a third party.
Kirk criticized the arbitrators, who often are from out of state, for being disconnected from the broader impact of their decisions.
But Woodhouse said that the collective bargaining process has worked for years.
“The system we have can work; it will work,” she said. “I believe in the process of collective bargaining for labor peace.”
She added she would be willing to consider changes.