GOP Primary Opponents Debate In Fiercely Contested State Senate Nine Race

CARSON CITY – In the Republican quest to regain control of the state Senate in the 2012 general election, two GOP candidates in a bitter primary traded accusations today in a televised debate.

Whether GOP establishment favorite Mari Nakashima St. Martin or challenger Brent Jones wins the June 12 primary, the fiercely contested primary presents another challenge for Republicans to return to dominance in the state Senate.

GOP Senate 9 candidate Mari Nakashima St. Martin.

The issues aren’t taxes or education reform, but questions of judgment and personal responsibility. The candidates debated on the Face To Face television program.

St. Martin issued a press release raising questions about whether Jones took advantage of a mentally disabled man more than a decade ago by selling him two ostrich eggs for $30,000 to establish an ostrich farm. Jones, in return, has raised questions about St. Martin’s suitability for public office.

Jones’ claim, detailed today by the Las Vegas Sun, characterizes St. Martin as a “party girl,” on a website launched by Republicans United, a new political action committee with which Jones said he is unaffiliated. The site features pictures of St. Martin holding alcoholic drinks and socializing.

St. Martin’s criticism cites a Los Angeles Times article from 2000, which looked into Jones’ transaction with the mentally disabled man to buy the ostrich eggs.

In the debate, St. Martin said her campaign did create a website, called Freinds of Mari St. Martin, focusing on the civil lawsuit filed against Jones and others in order to “vet” the GOP candidates so that “fringe” and “marginal” candidates don’t win the primary and lose to Democrats in the November general election.

Jones has filed a lawsuit alleging defamation, saying the claims are false and defamatory. Jones said St. Martin’s campaign volunteers are telling voters wrongly that he was jailed for the civil case, which was settled.

St. Martin said her campaign is not making such calls. Volunteers are calling voters, she said.

Jones defended the website questioning St. Martin’s suitability for public office.

He also said St. Martin has no business experience, has never met a payroll, and has refused to sign the Taxpayer Protection pledge affirming a stand to reject tax increases.

GOP Senate 9 candidate Brent Jones.

“Those are the issues,” Jones said.

St. Martin downplayed the pictures, saying the characterization of her behavior suggests that young mothers are unqualified and unfit to run for and serve in public office.

St. Martin said she won’t sign any pledge, but that she supports transparency and lower taxes. She did not commit to support or oppose Gov. Brian Sandoval’s plan to extend a collection of tax increases set to expire on June 30, 2013, into the next budget cycle.

Jones said St. Martin’s equivocation on taxes is due to her support from the Senate GOP establishment, specifically Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, who voiced support for Sandoval’s decision to extend the sunsetting taxes into the next budget.

St. Martin said Jones’ comments show that he considers anyone “under the age of 40, and female, basically, is unfit and unqualified for office . . . ”

The Senate 9 District is vacant, with former Sen. Elizabeth Halseth, R-Las Vegas, having resigned from the seat.

The primary battle is draining energy and resources  in a contest that Republicans need to win to take the majority in the 21-member Senate where Democrats now have an 11-10 advantage. The winner will face another Jones, Democrat Justin Jones, who has received financial help from U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

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Audio clips:

Senate 9 candidate Brent Jones says St. Martin is unqualified:

053112Jones :08 payroll; absolutely unqualified.”

St. Martin says Jones thinks young women are unqualified for public office:

053112St.Martin :12 the power brokers.”