Las Vegas Sun

October 18, 2017

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Next leader of Assembly Democrats has yet to emerge


Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Assemblymen William Horne, left, and Marcus Conklin talk before an Assembly meeting on the third day of the 2011 legislative session Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2011, in Carson City.

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Kelvin Atkinson

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Marilyn Kirkpatrick

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Debbie Smith

Sun Coverage

CARSON CITY -- The jockeying to be the leader of the Assembly Democrats has been simmering all session. But the picture remains murky, the first time in decades that the succession plan has been so uncertain.

Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, is forced to leave because of term limits.

Traditionally, the position would fall to the majority leader, who is Assemblyman Marcus Conklin, D-Las Vegas.

But a host of forces make the picture unclear, including regional, racial, personal and redistricting factors.

Joe Dini, D-Yerington, had been the top Assembly Democrat from 1987 to 1999.

After that, Assemblyman Richard Perkins, D-Henderson, served from 2001 to 2005; then it was Assemblywoman Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, until Oceguera took over this session. Both Perkins and Buckley were majority leaders before taking the top spot.

Among those telling lobbyists that they're interested:

• Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks

• Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas

• Assemblyman Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas

• Assemblyman William Horne, D-Las Vegas

The rivalries have mostly happened behind the scenes at the Nevada Legislature, which ends at midnight Monday.

But Atkinson bristled at a deal cut between leadership and Republicans late last month.

“They can’t tell me to vote for something I don’t like and then tell me I have five minutes to make up my mind,” Atkinson said. Conklin, Smith and Kirkpatrick all said they were focused on finishing the session. They declined to discuss their own interest in the position.

Atkinson said he'd be interested in seeing the first black Assembly speaker.

"I do think it's an exciting time in Nevada. To have the first African-American speaker, why not?" said Atkinson, who is black. "There has to be a first at some point. Why not next session?"

He said the Assembly has typically known at the end of a session who the next speaker would be. He said he didn't expect an "anointed" person to emerge, and suggested the caucus should vote.

He said having a northerner be speaker "would be a challenge when a majority of lawmakers are from the south."

Kirkpatrick said the regional difference "doesn't really matter as long as it's the right person."

Horne also said he would be interested.

"If I come back, I certainly see myself as making a run as speaker," he said.

Other caucuses also face leadership fights. Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas, is uncertain about whether he will seek another term. Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, will also leave because of term limits.

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