Thursday, July 15, 2004 | 9:39 a.m.
In his own tempered way, Sen. Ray Rawson, R-Las Vegas, fought back Wednesday against criticism that he supported too many taxes and irresponsibly juggled his duties as a professor and legislator.
He and Assemblyman Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas, spoke Wednesday at a luncheon held by the Republican Women of Las Vegas.
They will face each other in a primary race Sept. 7 that could be one of the state's most competitive. Rawson, an 18-year Senate veteran, will try to fend off Beers, who gained notoriety last legislative session by adamantly opposing tax increases.
Rawson calmly struck back at Beers on Wednesday, arguing that Beers has acted more as a candidate and less as a responsible legislator.
"I haven't sought the limelight," he said. "I'm not in the press every weekend."
Beers said it was "not an easy decision" to decide to challenge Rawson, but he said the two men "diverge spectacularly" in their opinions on taxes. He said he felt compelled to run after last year's legislative session, when legislators passed $833 million in new taxes over two years.
And, he said, when he walks his district, he hears complaints about the new taxes. The sentiment makes him hopeful that Republicans can win three more seats this year, giving the party the majority in the Assembly. Voters, he said, want to punish people who voted for taxes.
"They're aching to complain," he said.
He argued that state revenues should not increase disproportionately to population growth and inflation. Legislators have been too quick to increase state budgets, and Rawson is one of the guilty parties, he said.
"A group of legislators decided to increase our state's spending three times faster than the sum of our population growth and inflation," he said.
Rawson, while admitting to the crowd that Beers had a "personable" speaking style, asked them to consider his legislative record and called attacks against him "not appropriate."
There was an impasse in the last legislative session, he said, and lawmakers had to push a resolution. He said he is willing to cut taxes next session if there are revenue surpluses.
He pointed to his work on class-size reduction, insurance reform, health care reform, truth in sentencing, and a program to put prisoners at work before they are released so they aren't as likely to return to prison.
"My opponent hasn't been at the table at any of those serious discussions," he said. "He got the headlines."
While Beers has argued that Rawson was one of the highest paid professors in the Community College system, Rawson said he didn't rank within the top 100.
And he said he has carefully separated his pay as a professor from his legislative time. Once, he said, his staff members put him down for 16 days of sick leave when he was serving, he said. The mistake occurred because had undergone major surgery and was not yet released by his doctor, he said.
He said he quickly paid back the state for the time he was paid.
Now, he said, he receives $4,000 a month in retirement money.
"You have to decide, is that excessive?" he said. "I paid into that fund for 25 years."
Rawson said he has unfinished work to do strengthening health care and capping property taxes.
Beers also focused on education, saying he wants to allow parents to move their children out of their zone if they have a problem, break up large school districts and create smaller schools.