Las Vegas Sun

August 25, 2019

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Primary election might bring clarity in battle for soul of state GOP

Pragmatists versus purists. The establishment trying to fend off the Tea Party. Republicans who signed a pledge not to raise taxes versus those who haven’t.

The most interesting theme of next week’s state primary election, on June 12, is the ongoing battle for the soul of the Republican Party.

It’s the latest manifestation of internal strife that has been simmering since the 2003 Legislative fight over taxes, stretches to Sharron Angle’s race against Sen. Harry Reid and goes into the Ron Paul takeover of the Nevada Republican Party earlier this year.

Of the Republican fights on the ballot next week, the stakes are the highest in the state Senate races.

Republicans want to take over the upper house of the Legislature, where they sit at an 11 to 10 disadvantage to Democrats. To do that, they have to win four of five competitive seats in November’s election.

Brent Jones

Brent Jones

The Senate caucus has endorsed a slate of candidates they believe are best positioned to win those competitive races. None of them have signed the anti-tax pledge — though that wasn’t a condition for the endorsement.

“We never had a litmus test over who we would endorse,” said state Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno.

“I think we wanted candidates who were going to do two things: be excellent, pro-business legislators who would advance the cause of individual and economic liberties in Nevada,” Kieckhefer said, “and people who would win in the general election.”

Mari Nakashima St. Martin

Mari Nakashima St. Martin

The two most competitive primaries will be:

• Senate District 9, which pits Mari Nakashima St. Martin, who has the endorsement of the Senate Republicans, against Brent Jones, who said he has the backing of Tea Party groups and Ron Paul supporters.

• Senate District 18, where Assemblyman Scott Hammond, endorsed by the caucus, faces Assemblyman Richard McArthur. Hammond won’t sign the pledge not to raise taxes and supported extending the 2009 tax increases last year. McArthur has signed the tax pledge and voted against extending the taxes.

Those races also will be among the hardest fought in the general election. While SD18 has a moderate Republican advantage, SD9 in the southwest Las Vegas Valley has the highest number of nonpartisan voters of any Senate district.

The insurgent candidates trying to upset the establishment want to make these races about taxes and which candidate is the most ideologically conservative.

Ignoring the raft of absurd accusations — ostrich eggs and party girls — that have marked his race, Jones said in an interview with the Sun that he wanted the campaign to be about one thing: He signed a pledge not to raise taxes while St. Martin would not.

Click to enlarge photo

Republican Assemblymen, from left, Richard McArthur, Pete Goicoecha, Joe Hardy, James Settelmeyer and John Hambrick meet before the start of the second day of the legislative special session Tuesday, February 23, 2010 in Carson City.

In SD18, McArthur and Hammond spent much of their debate on “Face to Face” sparring over the decision to extend $620 million in tax increases last session. McArthur criticized Hammond for supporting the extension and also took a swipe at Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval.

McArthur said Sandoval “wanted to spend more, just like a lot of Republicans who also voted for it. They wanted more spending.”

Hammond’s defense was a line Sandoval has often used: Businesses and individuals paid no more in taxes after the session than they did before it.

Laurel Fee, a former staffer on Angle’s Senate campaign and a co-founder of the political group Tea Party and Republicans Uniting Nevada Conservatives said the problem is not that Republicans have been too conservative.

“The party has become too moderate,” said Fee, whose group is working with Jones and Assembly candidates running against establishment-endorsed candidates. “There are too many Republicans who don’t honor their own platform or principles.”

The insurgents were strong enough to take over the state party last month from the establishment.

June 12 will be the test of whether they’re strong enough to beat the establishment in an election.

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