Las Vegas Sun

April 18, 2019

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State Politics:

Recall attempt spurs renewed calls to change laws in Nevada

Badlands Golf Course

Christopher DeVargas

Councilman Steve Seroka fronts the former Badlands Golf Course, which is surrounded by the Queensridge master-planned community, Monday, Feb. 19, 2018.

Nevada’s laws governing the recall of public officials, state Democratic leaders say, are broken.

That’s something Las Vegas City Councilman Steve Seroka is feeling after learning he’s the target of the latest recall attempt by Victoria Seaman, a former Assemblywoman who three times previously has supported unsuccessful recalls of elected officials.

The Laborer’s Union, Seroka’s one-time ally, joined Seaman in pushing for the recall. They say stalled efforts to develop on the vacant former Badlands Golf Course, a project Seroka championed for and the basis of his 2017 campaign, and an open-space ordinance passed last month to limit development, are enough to merit the recall effort.

Nevertheless, Seroka was surprised earlier this week to learn that a recall petition notice had been filed.

“I campaigned on this very issue, being the voice of the people,” said Seroka, who represents the city’s Ward 2. “Now they’re recalling me for doing exactly what I said I would do. I’ve been resolute in being the voice of the people in representing their personal desires, not my personal views.”

Seaman and Laborer’s Union Secretary-Treasurer Tommy White filed the recall notice of intent Monday on behalf of the Washington, D.C.-based “Committee To Recall Steve Seroka.”

Another Las Vegas powerhouse union, the Culinary, disagrees with the recall move. Geoconda Arguello-Kline, secretary-treasurer of Culinary Union Local 226, said the effort against Seroka was nothing more than a political power-grab.

Nevada Republican Party officials came under fire for using the 2017 recall efforts as a vehicle to regain a majority in the Nevada Senate. Cannizzarro, who had defeated Seaman for the seat, and Woodhouse are Democrats; Farley is an independent who had left the Republican Party. Seaman signed onto the petition against Cannizzaro

Seaman has indicated interest in replacing Seroka on the nonpartisan City Council should the latest recall effort be successful.

State laws on recalling public officials are poorly written and defy the will of the electorate, said Nevada Democrat Party Chair William McCurdy. He said retooling the recall laws would be on the list of Democratic priorities for the upcoming legislative session, which begins in February.

“We’re looking at ways to best address those flaws,” McCurdy said.

The recall petition aimed at Seroka must gather signatures from 25 percent, or 1,850, of the 7,401 registered voters in Ward 2 that voted in the June 13, 2017, municipal election, city spokesman Jace Radke said. The recall effort has until March 11 to collect the necessary signatures.

Radke said the notice did not give a reason for the recall attempt. But Seaman, who lives in Ward 2, said Seroka’s opposition to building on the former Badlands Golf Course in the upscale Queensridge community near Charleston and Rampart boulevards has cost the city millions of dollars in lost revenue. The city is currently involved in 13 lawsuits related to the course, Seaman added, posing more burdens on local taxpayers.

“This is all about him representing a few folks in Queensridge and not the ward as a whole,” Seaman said. “We can’t afford any more of his job-killing ordinances.”

That’s where Seroka has a problem.

If Seaman wanted to be part of the council, she should have sought election when the seat was open, he said. Recalling him for “representing the voice of all people,” seems to suggest Seaman would only pander to constituents representing her own special interests.

“I don’t really understand that strategy, nor do I think it’s ethical,” he said. “I think we should be concerned for anyone who doesn’t stand for representing the voice of the people and defending our communities.”

White, the laborer union’s secretary-treasurer, also cited Seroka’s support of an open-space ordinance, which requires that developers submit impact studies to city officials before building and sets firmer regulations for developing on former golf courses. He argued the new ordinance handcuffed builders and prevented economic development across the city.

Calling the string of state and now local recall efforts “manipulative,” Culinary’s Arguello-

Kline said recalls undermined the democratic process.

“Nevadans deserve better,” she said. “Previous recall efforts failed and so will this one.”

Councilman Bob Coffin agreed. He affirmed his support for Seroka and accused Republican lawmakers of playing political games, disrupting what is supposed to be a nonpartisan local legislative body.

“Trying to undo an election just because you can’t get what you want is a big money game,” Coffin said. “It’s a takeover attempt and terrible what’s going on here.”

Seaman, a Republican who represented Assembly District 34 in Clark County from 2014 to 2016, was defeated in a 2016 State Senate bid by Cannizzaro. She backed out of a 2018 run for the 3rd Congressional District seat when fellow Republican Danny Tarkanian announced he was also running.

Recall efforts against Farley, Cannizzarro and Woodhouse last year all failed to gather the required number of signatures.

David Damore, a political science professor at UNLV, said Nevada’s “no fault” recall laws give political opponents of elected officials the legal rights to file a recall petition without a cause. It’s one of a small number of U.S. states to allow for that type of recall.

Last year’s attempted recall of state officials was unusual, Damore said, noting local officials are more often targeted because of the relatively small number of signatures required to gain the 25 percent of voters necessary for a recall election. While the last Las Vegas City Council recall petition — of Steve Ross in 2012 — failed, opponents of former Councilwoman Janet Moncrief successfully ousted her in a 2005 Ward 1 recall. Lois Tarkanian, who won the recall election against Moncrief, has held the seat since then.

Had embattled former Councilman Ricki Barlow not resigned in January after pleading guilty to using campaign finances for his personal use, Damore said, he would have likely faced a recall petition. But Seroka’s case is more benign, he said, increasing the chance the petition will fail to gain enough signatures.

Damore, too, warned that using recall efforts as a regular scheme in Nevada politics would create an “endless partisan battle.”

“Does that usher in a whole new era of this? We’ll see,” he said.

Given the likelihood of the recall to again fail, the embattled councilman will likely continue in his position with few hiccups. Meantime, Seroka said he planned to do what he initially campaigned on: representing the interests of Ward 2’s 110,000 constituents.

“I’m proud to continue to stand up for the property rights of all homeowners and their quality of life,” Seroka said. “And I’m going to continue doing that.”

CORRECTION: This story incorrectly characterized who was behind efforts to recall state Sens. Patricia Farley, Nicole Cannizzarro and Joyce Woodhouse in 2017. The recall against Cannizzaro was initiated by Neil Roth, Claire Roth, and Kathryn McKenzie. The recall effort against Woodhouse was initiated by former Republican Assemblyman Stephen Silberkraus; Silberkraus' wife, Chelyn Sawyer; and David Satory. The recall against Farley was initiated by Annalise Castor, Kevin Kean and John Gibson. Former Assemblywoman Victoria Seaman, who lost to Cannizzaro in a state Senate race, signed onto the petition against Cannizzaro. | (December 17, 2018)