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October 23, 2017

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election 2012:

State Senate candidates tussle over integrity, education funding, mining taxes

Senate District 9, which covers the southwest Las Vegas Valley, wasn’t supposed to be on the ballot in November. But when state Sen. Elizabeth Halseth, a Republican from Las Vegas, resigned in February, the district opened up — presenting another opportunity for Democrats to pick up a seat.

The race pits Democrat Justin Jones, an attorney at a prominent law firm, against Republican Mari Nakashima St. Martin, a former spokeswoman for Republicans.

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Elizabeth Halseth

With the backing of her party, St. Martin, 28, survived a hard-fought primary race to be the Republican nominee. In the general election, she faces another uphill climb, with voter registration totals this week showing a Democratic voter registration advantage of 7 percentage points over Republicans.

So it’s not surprising, perhaps, that St. Martin is aggressively attacking her opponent over a recent court reprimand.

A team of lawyers for the Las Vegas Sands, which included Jones, was sanctioned by a Clark County District Court judge for not disclosing the availability of evidence.

“The biggest glaring difference (in the race) is my opponent has a problem with the truth,” said St. Martin, who served for a time as a spokeswoman for Rep. Joe Heck, R-Las Vegas. “He fractured his relationship with the court. I think he fractured his relationship with the voters, as well.”

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Justin Jones

At issue is a wrongful termination case against the Las Vegas Sands by a former executive of the Macau company.

St. Martin said: “If he’s willing to hide the truth for a powerful client, what would he do as a legislator for those same powerful clients?”

It may seem unlikely that Jones would represent Las Vegas Sands. The company is headed by conservative billionaire Sheldon Adelson. A Las Vegas Sands sister company contributed to St. Martin in her primary race.

Jones said attorney-client privilege bars him from discussing the case, but he noted he’s not mentioned by name in the judge’s sanctions.

“I think she’s misguided if she thinks the court case should be the focus of the race,” he said.

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Mari Nakashima St. Martin

People he talks to in the district are concerned about education and the economy, he said.

“I will absolutely be representing my constituents,” said Jones, an attorney at the law firm Holland and Hart. “It’s ridiculous that I’m somehow doing this in the interest of my clients.”

When it comes to education, Jones said one of his concerns is the size of classes.

He wouldn’t commit to increasing taxes beyond extending $600 million in existing taxes that are set to expire in 2013 without Legislative action. But he said more state money should be shifted to Southern Nevada.

An interim legislative committee recommended a new funding formula that would allocate more money to pay for educating students learning English and those in special education. That would effectively shift more money to Southern Nevada, at the expense of other school districts.

“I’m hopeful with the new K-12 funding formula. If we pass that, it will give additional funds to the Clark County School District,” said Jones, 37.

St. Martin, who works for a lighting firm in community outreach and sales, said she’d be open to having a discussion about changing the funding formula and said each school district needs to be funded at its needs — even different schools within the same school district.

The Nevada State Education Association is collecting signatures for a corporate margins tax on businesses. Jones called that “one option on the table.”

“I think we need to look at the tax structure,” he said.

Jones said many of the people he has talked to in business are “not wild about” the tax on payroll the state has assessed, for example.

St. Martin also said she was open to extending the taxes set to sunset if it’s necessary to protect education funding.

“In 2013, my priority is not to cut education,” she said. “If that means extending some or all of the sunsets, that’s still my priority.”

She said she would not support the teacher’s tax initiative, calling it a “job killer.”

“I think it’s a few powerful groups trying to effectively change the tax structure in Nevada,” she said. The money won’t be earmarked for education, she noted. “At the end of the day, it will be a slush fund to whoever is in control.”

Another key policy fight in 2013 could be a measure that would allow voters to decide whether they want to take the state’s tax on mining out of the constitution, Senate Joint Resolution 15.

Jones said he has talked to both sides on the issue and took a cautious stance.

“My visceral reaction, is, ‘Why is mining deserving protection in the constitution?’ But if we simply took the provision out of the constitution, mining companies would pay less in taxes,” he said. “That’s not the result that we’re looking for.”

He also noted that mining has been one industry that has been willing to talk more broadly about funding education adequately in the past.

St. Martin said she would have to ask questions at the Legislature.

“What would their tax rate be if it passed?” she said.

She also noted her concern that Nevada has been too reliant on specific industries paying taxes.

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