Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Published Saturday, March 1, 2014 | 5:11 p.m.
Updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 | 8:40 p.m.
Touting her rags-to-riches tale, Democratic legislator Lucy Flores on Saturday declared her candidacy for lieutenant governor in a race that could foil Gov. Brian Sandoval’s potential plans to run for the U.S. Senate.
The usually mundane race is more important this year because of its effect on Sandoval, who is expected to win re-election in November and could challenge U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for his seat in 2016. If Sandoval were to vacate the office with Flores in the lieutenant governor’s seat, however, he'd have to hand the keys to the governor’s mansion to Flores.
Flores — an attorney and a second-term assemblywoman representing the 28th district in northeast Las Vegas — promised to push for an emphasis on education initiatives and economic diversification in the part-time role, which typically involves presiding over the state Senate and serving as Nevada’s chief tourism officer.
She hopes to lure voters with her background: Flores grew up poor in the district she now represents and got involved in gangs before a parole officer persuaded her to get her General Educational Development diploma. She then enrolled in college and earned a law degree from UNLV. Last year, Flores made headlines when, while lobbying for a sex education bill, she revealed that she had an abortion as a teenager.
"I'm here to bring a vision and a voice to Nevada that hasn't been heard before," Flores told an audience of about 300 that packed into the student lounge of the College of Southern Nevada's Cheyenne Campus, where Flores studied as an undergraduate. "I'm here so that every community in Nevada has a leader who understands the challenges they face."
The highlight of Saturday's speech came when Flores quoted Shania Washington, an 11-year-old girl who lives in a housing project near Flores' neighborhood.
A coordinator at the nonprofit Nevada Youth Network told the legislator that Shania expressed interest in becoming a lawyer after meeting Flores because she "didn't know girls could be that."
"You can be absolutely anyone that you want," Flores told the girl before embracing her onstage. "Everyone needs to know that, in fact, anything is possible."
Reid, who has described Flores as a "perfect" candidate, publicly endorsed her Saturday for the role, extolling her efforts to increase economic opportunities for the poor and to strengthen the state's education system. Endorsements also came from U.S. Reps. Dina Titus and Steven Horsford, Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick and state Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis.
Flores has had a successful run in the Legislature: Bills authored or co-authored by her had a 70 percent survival rate in the 2013 session.
"(Flores) never forgot where she came from," Reid said in a prepared statement. "Lucy’s story is an inspiration for thousands of Nevadans who are living paycheck to paycheck, who don’t know where their next meal will come from, or who simply strive to provide their children with a better life than they themselves inherited."
Sandoval has endorsed state Sen. Mark Hutchison in the race. Hutchinson’s leading opponent in the Republican primary is former state Sen. Sue Lowden.