Las Vegas Sun

January 21, 2018

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District E campaign gets uglier by the day

It's the political equivalent of "Girls Gone Wild."

Indeed, a documentary of the Clark County Commission District E campaign might appropriately be called, "Hit Pieces Gone Wild."

The race features two hardened politicians trying desperately to gain or retain one of Nevada's most powerful political offices - and it seems they are willing to claim almost anything to do it.

The most recent barbs revolve around the word "nudity" - appropriate for a race in which negative attacks have been raw and uncensored.

The question is, what impact will mailboxes stuffed with factually shaky assertions have on voters, who must make a decision based on misinformation and counter-misinformation?

To believe the fliers going out to residents in the largely urban district in the central eastern part of the valley, incumbent Myrna Williams is a liar, and her primary challenger, Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, puts children at risk.

Those are just the most recent accusations.

The two Democrats will face off in the Aug. 15 primary - a contest that many observers believe will decide the general election winner in the predominantly Democratic district because there is no well-known Republican challenger.

The race has featured accusations that Giunchigliani promotes marijuana and that Williams should have known about the bribery scheme for which several of her former fellow commissioners have been convicted.

Even the third Democrat in the race, 20-year-old UNLV student Priscilla Flores, jumped on the hit-piece bandwagon. Her mailer included a doctored photograph of Giunchigliani in front of a blackboard. "We have a right to use marijuana," were inserted into the photograph on the blackboard. It also included a photograph of Williams with her eyes closed. Flores suggested the commissioner was asleep, which Williams denied.

This week, the Williams campaign continued the tide of negative mailers with a flier featuring a photograph of Giunchigliani and dramatic capital letters that declare, "Material Not Suitable for Children."

The flier accuses Giunchigliani, a special education teacher with Clark County Schools, of voting against "a law to restrict the distribution, exhibition and sale of obscene material to minors."

Like so much posturing in the race, the statement is a stretch.

As introduced, the 1999 bill cited by Williams would have banned certain vending machines from carrying material harmful to minors.

What the Williams mailer doesn't say is that by the time Giunchigliani voted on the bill, the language about vending machines had been removed.

Although the bill retained a title referring to "the unlawful exhibition or distribution of material that is harmful to minors," all it did was more carefully define "nudity" in state law.

Giunchigliani responded swiftly to the flier, calling Williams "a desperate woman running a desperate campaign."

"Myrna Williams knew the truth, but chose to publish a lie," Giunchigliani said. As originally introduced, Giunchigliani said she would have voted in favor of the bill.

Williams said Tuesday: "I don't lie. Anything my campaign sends out is thoroughly researched."

She then referred The Sun to her campaign consultant, Mike Sullivan, who admitted he wasn't sure which version Giunchigliani voted against.

But the mailer remains valid, he argued, even if the bill simply adjusted the definition of nudity.

"The intent of the bill was to stop that kind of thing," he said. "She voted against that, whether the bill was watered down or whatever."

Such public squabbling, especially in the form of assertive mailers, can leave voters at a loss for the truth.

Take Giunchigliani's recent mailer - a reaction to a Williams flier accusing her of increasing taxes - that accuses Williams of raiding constituents' wallets when she voted for "Nevada's largest tax increase in the 20th century."

The fact is, both women voted in favor of that 1991 tax hike.

Pinning down the facts behind such claims can require extensive research.

"The average voter doesn't have the time, energy, resources or interest to do this," said Richard Lau, a Rutgers University political science professor.

The mixture of facts and half-truths leaves voters in an unreliable political twilight zone.

"It does the voters a disservice because they are going to just throw their hands up at the whole thing and pick a name out of a hat," said David Damore, a political scientist at UNLV.

The Williams-Giunchigliani contest is especially prone to negative attacks, Damore said, because both candidates have extensive legislative records.

Williams has held her commission district for 12 years. She served for 10 years on the state Assembly before that. Giunchigliani has been an assemblywoman since 1990.

"When you have two established candidates with long records, both candidates are going to look for anything they can use against their opponent," he said.

So much negative campaigning leaves voters feeling like they lack control of the elective process, said Lau, author of "How Voters Decide," a book about information processing in election campaigns.

"If you are just inundated by negative stuff, you feel like you have less control over government," he said.

The result could be voters staying at home.

"Maybe they will say, 'Screw it, it doesn't matter, they are both Democrats,' " Lau said. "I think another way to react is to say, 'They are both jerks, I don't want to vote for either of them.' "

The voter registration deadline is July 15. Early voting begins July 29.