Las Vegas Sun

July 31, 2014

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Think you know Nevada politics? Check out these myths

Nevada politics is full of myths.

Converse long enough about Nevada and somebody will eventually say something about libertarian roots.

But many of the folks who popularized the conventional wisdom often did so decades ago, and new trends, new issues and new influences have the possibility to matter more than the common tropes and truisms about Nevada politics repeated in conversations and in the media.

Or, to put it briefly, “your regular political person who knows national politics doesn’t know jack about Nevada,” said Andres Ramirez, president of the Ramirez Group, a Las Vegas-based consulting firm that frequently works with Democrats.

The Sun challenges a few myths and looks at a few emerging trends that could influence elections, decisions and the course of the state in next year’s elections and beyond:

    • MYTH 1: Gaming and mining and developers run Nevada

      It’s still true that the state’s largest industries throw around a lot of money in political campaigns in Nevada, but the state’s focus on economic diversification could also lead to a more diverse group of individuals and industries participating in Nevada politics.

      Political journalist and longtime Nevada politics follower Jon Ralston said the state’s nascent renewable energy industry, a staple at the Legislature, could begin exerting more influence in political campaigns.

      The medical world is an often overlooked force in Nevada politics as well, said Republican consultant Ryan Erwin, president of Red Rock Strategies.

      “They remain a strong, but usually quiet, political force — a rare combination,” he said.

      Economic development plans to bolster the health sector could translate to more political clout for medical professions.

      But few insiders see Nevada’s tech companies wading into statewide politics anytime soon. Although Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh tends to wield influence in the city of Las Vegas, few see him making a jump into statewide races.

    • MYTH 2: The population may be in Las Vegas, but the power’s in Reno

      Fly into Reno and you may see a bust of Bill Raggio, the former state senator from Reno whose power at the Legislature is almost legendary. Mention any Reno vs. Las Vegas political battle, and Raggio’s name usually gets a mention.

      “For too long, Bill Raggio and other northern legislators did a masterful job of dividing and conquering the southern (legislative) delegation, which resulted in votes and actions that were against the best interests of Southern Nevada,” said one Las Vegas-based political consultant.

      But Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, and Assemblyman Cresent Hardy, R-Mesquite, are already getting a list together of Southern Nevada priorities for the 2015 legislative session.

      Yes, the majority of state government agencies are in Northern Nevada, but the vast majority of state legislators call Southern Nevada home.

      If Democrats and Republicans from Southern Nevada put their region ahead of their party, they could get a lot done in Carson City in 2015.

    • MYTH 3: The Hispanic vote is the only one to watch in Nevada

      The media spend a lot of time looking at Nevada’s Hispanic vote. And for good reason. Every election, more and more Hispanics are voting. But another voting bloc often gets ignored.

      “Asians are where Latinos were in 1998 when everyone just started paying attention to this growing group,” Ramirez said.

      The Asian vote will matter in 2014. Where you find the Asian vote is also where you find the political battlegrounds between Democrats and Republicans.

      In the three races that will likely decide whether Republicans or Democrats control the state Senate, Asians comprise the largest ethnic minority voting bloc in all three districts.

      These same districts are inside of Nevada’s battleground 3rd Congressional district. The contest there between Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., and Democratic challenger Erin Bilbray is already one that national political followers are watching. Here too, voting-age Asians are the largest ethnic minority in the congressional district.

      So does this voting bloc end up helping Republicans or Democrats?

      Consultants from both parties agree the Asian vote is up for grabs. Asians split about evenly in 2012 between Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Democrat Barack Obama.

    • MYTH 4: Nevada is a libertarian state

      “The biggest myth about Nevada is that it is libertarian,” said UNLV political science professor David Damore.

      He said Nevada is full of federal military bases, and its large gaming and mining industries “owe their privileged status to favorable federal regulation.”

      Yes, Nevada has legal brothels and gambling, but the average Nevada voter isn’t even from Nevada.

      “Nevada had this reputation as a rugged individualistic state with libertarian leanings,” said Chuck Muth, president of Citizen Outreach, a conservative political organization. “That’s changed dramatically over the past 10 to 15 years with the influx of escapees from California.”

      Only about 14 percent of Nevada’s eligible voters were born in Nevada, according to Ruy Teixeira, editor of a recently published book called “America’s New Swing Region.”

      Teixeira writes that 20 percent of Nevada’s eligible voters were born in California.

      Three-quarters of Nevada’s state legislators were born elsewhere.

    • MYTH 5: Nevada leans toward electing Democrats

      Nevada is a state of ticket-splitters, Ramirez said.

      There were plenty of voters polled last year who voted for Obama, a Democrat, and also voted for Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., rather than his Democratic opponent Shelley Berkley.

      “Nevada is one of the lowest party-loyal states in the country,” Erwin said. “Nevada is, and has been for a long time, a state that more often than not rewards good candidates that run good campaigns.”

      Observers often like to point to the fact that Nevada’s congressional delegation is evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, as well as the narrow Democratic advantage in the state Senate.

      Still, it’s not for no reason that people tag Nevada as a state that trends toward Democrats. The Democratic Party has a voter registration advantage, and independent voters are trending toward Democrats, Ralston said.

      “In Clark County, there’s a large number of voters in the South, and they’re heavily Democratic, and even the rural areas are not voting as conservative as they were,” said Ronni Council, president of Organized Karma, a political consulting firm that works mainly with Democrats.

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