Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014 | 8:12 a.m.
Republican Mark Hutchison and Democrat Lucy Flores, candidates for lieutenant governor, sparred over education, tax reform, raising the minimum wage and other issues Wednesday morning during their first debate.
Flores criticized Hutchison for his support of a mining tax to fund education and opposition to allowing same-sex marriage in Nevada, while Hutchison knocked his opponent for being part of a democratic legislative majority that did not accomplish enough in the last session.
The only things Hutchison, a state senator, and Assemblywoman Flores, appeared to agree on is that the Nevada education system is in need of an overhaul and that Gov. Brian Sandoval will serve out his term through 2018. If Sandoval decides to vacate the office to run for a U.S. Senate seat or another office in 2014, as some political pundits have speculated, the lieutenant governor would rise to the top spot in the state.
The race is perhaps the most compelling state contest this election cycle, as Sandoval is not facing a significant challenge. Hutchison is the governor’s hand-picked selection to be his deputy, while Flores has garnered national attention as a rising Democrat.
The debate was hosted at Doña Maria’s restaurant by Hispanics in Politics, a local non-partisan organization geared toward promoting Hispanic civic participation. The majority of questions were given to the candidates a couple of days in advance, HIP president Fernando Romero said, and a few questions at the end came from audience submissions.
After brief bios from Hutchison, an attorney who grew up in the state and was appointed by former Gov. Jim Gibbons to lead Nevada’s legal challenge of the Affordable Care Act, and Flores, an attorney who has a well-documented story of rising from gang member to political office, the discussion quickly turned to the floundering education system.
On education, there was consensus that the Silver State’s schools must perform better, but little agreement on how to get there. Neither candidate said they support the proposed 2 percent business margins tax initiative on the ballot this November for funding public schools.
“I’ve traveled all over Nevada and I’ve talked with business owner after business owner and they know where they’re going if this tax passes. They’re going to Idaho. They’re going to Montana. They’re going to leave the state,” Hutchison said. “I was one of the few that proposed an alternative and said let’s have a discussion about this … There were crickets from the Democrat’s side during the last legislative session about this.”
Flores retorted that the mining tax proposed by Republican state legislators in 2013 was never a real solution, and was introduced to help defeat the margins tax proposal. Education funding is at “crisis level,” Flores said, but she opposes the margins tax because she prefers broader tax reform.
“We need to do some changes to our tax structure, that part is clear. It has not been amended or changed in over 40 years, and we need more funds for our kids,” Flores said.
Hutchison expressed support for “school choice” programs that would give parents options on where to send their children using tax credits.
“I believe parents are the ones who make the decision about which school is right for their children,” Hutchison said. “We need strong public schools with strong options and with choices for parents to be able to educate their children.”
Flores said the proposal is a “vouchers” program that would still leave minorities and others who are traditionally underserved by the education system at a disadvantage.
“(Vouchers) do not give families equal opportunity in terms of getting high quality education in any school,” she said. “Private schools still have the ability to discriminate against kids. They don’t provide busing services.”
When the questions turned toward the economy and development, Flores said she supported a hike in the minimum wage to help low- and middle-income families, while Hutchison said the increase would do too much harm to business owners.
“Business owner after business owner, job producer after job producer has told us it will be very difficult,” Hutchison said. “If you really want to fight poverty, deal with the earned income tax credit. That’s a direct subsidy to those with low income.”
The Nevada lieutenant governor chairs the state tourism commission, and Flores blasted Hutchison for opposing the legalization of same-sex marriages which she said would be a boon to tourism.
“I think it’s incredibly unfortunate that my opponent voted against marriage equality for Nevada. It’s a market that’s flush with tourism dollars and we need to take full advantage of that,” Flores said.
Hutchison said while his religion leads him to a “different definition of marriage, he has “great respect for those that believe differently” than he does.
Hosted by Hispanics in Politics, the questions turned to both immigration reform and support for issues important to the local Hispanic community.
Flores said she supported immigration reform, lashing out at Republicans for stalling proposals in Congress, and expressed her backing for executive action by President Barack Obama. Hutchison said he supports comprehensive immigration reform, but that the president’s actions created “uncertainty by executive order.”
While Hutchison trumpeted his ties to Sandoval several times, and favors an economic approach closely aligned with the governor and the existing tax and business structure, Flores advocated for a new approach and a shift to new economic policies.
“I’m far more optimistic than my opponent. Nevada’s best days are ahead,” Hutchison said, touting Sandoval’s economic development initiative and work to bring aerospace businesses to the state.
Flores said it is time for a change, and economic recovery has not come fast enough in Nevada.
“I’m a very optimistic person, you can’t grow up the way I did and not be optimistic,” Flores said. “You know who is not optimistic? All of our unemployed families …. You know who is not optimistic? Our children who are homeless, who try to go to school day in and day out without a home to live in. All of our families struggling right now aren’t very optimistic.”
See below for feed of the debate as it happened.