Posts Tagged ‘Kieckhefer’

Bill Bringing Transparency To State Employee Contracting Wins Final Legislative Approval

By Sean Whaley | 8:53 pm June 6th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A bill aimed at increasing transparency and accountability for state employees working as contractors saw final legislative approval today when the Assembly and Senate reached agreement on compromise language to the measure.

Assembly Bill 240, sponsored by Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, will now go to Gov. Brian Sandoval for his consideration.

There was a bit of drama in the Senate when a vote to adopt the conference committee report resolving differences with the Assembly saw a tie 10-10 vote after Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, expressed some reservations about the effect of the measure on the ability of state agencies to deliver services with a reduced workforce.

“We’re imposing a two-year moratorium for employees exiting state service when we’re about to lay off 600 state and (Nevada System of Higher Education) employees,” he said. “My concern is we will have unintended consequences on this one.”

With Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, out of the chambers, Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, the president of the Senate, exercised a rare opportunity to vote, and he sided with those rejecting the report, which then failed 11-10.

The drama was short-lived, however, as the Senate reconsidered the report upon Horsford’s return, adopting the report and sending the bill to the governor.

After acknowledging the positive elements of the bill in seeking to eliminate double-dipping by state workers, Kieckhefer decided in the second discussion to support the measure. It then won a unanimous vote from the Senate.

The legislation was prompted by an audit of Nevada state agencies using current and former employees as contractors. It identified numerous potential concerns, including a case of one worker seeking payment for 25 hours of work in one 24-hour day.

The audit also found an example of a current state employee earning $62,590 as a contractor in fiscal years 2008 and 2009 while earning a state salary as well.

The audit identified 250 current and former employees providing services to the state. These employees were paid a total of $11.6 million during fiscal years 2008 and 2009, the years covered by the review.

Smith said the Senate amendment to the bill, and the changes agreed to in the conference committee, strengthen the rules that will govern current and former state employees who work as contractors.

Smith said she sent the bill to conference to address some concerns raised by state Budget Director Andrew Clinger. The main change is to have the information on contracting reported to the Board of Examiners, headed by Sandoval, rather than the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee, she said.

“We certainly don’t want it to be an impediment; we want it to work; so absolutely we’re good,” Smith said. “It strengthened it because we raised the cooling off period from one year to two years, so we actually strengthened the bill.”

The bill would prohibit a current state employee from being hired under contract by a state agency unless approved by the Board of Examiners. The same approval would be required of a former state employee who has not been out of state employment for at least two years.

Such contracts could only be approved if certain circumstances are found to exist, including situations where a short-term or unusual economic circumstance exists for an agency requiring such employment.

The bill also requires all contracts with individuals entered into by the state or the higher education system to ensure the individuals being hired are in good standing with the secretary of state’s office with regard to business licensing.

Audio clips:

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith says the bill went to conference to address some concerns by Budget Director Andrew Clinger:

060611Smith1 :12 absolutely we’re good.”

Smith said the bill is actually stronger as a result:

060611Smith2 :07 strengthened the bill.”

Bill To Generate Money For Public Education, Create Jobs, Raises Legal Concerns

By Sean Whaley | 5:20 pm May 18th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A bill authorizing the state Treasurer to use up to $50 million in education funds to support economic diversification efforts and generate more money for public schools passed the Senate today despite questions about the constitutionality of the measure.

Senate Bill 75, amended twice before the vote, passed 12-9 with 10 Democrats and two Republicans in support. It will now be considered by the Assembly.

The bill is being sought by state Treasurer Kate Marshall.

It would create a first-for-the-state private equity fund to allow for investment in both existing Nevada companies and companies seeking to locate to the state that are in such industries as cyber security, alternative energy and health care.

The intent is to assist in diversifying Nevada’s economy while generating a better return on the invested monies from the state’s Permanent School Fund.

A big hurdle for the measure is the state constitutional prohibition on loaning state money to any company except a corporation formed for educational or charitable purposes. Supporters of the bill have a judicial determination that the proposed investments would be constitutional. Some Republican lawmakers say the determination is insufficient to satisfy their concerns.

The bill also has some political overtones. Marshall is a Democrat who has announced her intention to run for the open Congressional District 2 seat in the September special election. State Sen. Greg Brower, who voted against the measure today, is a Republican who has also announced his intention to seek the seat.

The constitutional question proved troubling for some lawmakers during a debate before today’s vote.

Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, said he wanted to see either an attorney general’s opinion or one from the legal counsel of the Legislature answering the constitutional question before he could support the measure.

“It’s one thing to ask a judge to sign an order,” said Roberson, an attorney. “It’s another thing to have the imprimatur of the attorney general’s office saying yes, we believe as a matter of law, this is our opinion, that it is constitutional.”

Brower, R-Reno, also an attorney, had similar concerns.

“I sat on the committee that heard this bill and was impressed by some of the ideas brought forward that were behind this bill, and considered it with great interest in terms of it being, as you might call it, an outside-the-box approach to this issue,” he said.

But, Brower said: “We haven’t been able to get a good, clean bill of health on this bill in terms of its constitutionality.”

Until the issue is clarified, the Legislature should not pass a bill that may not be constitutional, he said.

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, said waiting for the Nevada Supreme Court to rule on whether each bill passed by the Legislature is constitutional would unduly hamper the legislative process. He said he would rely on the district court determination.

Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, said the bill has the potential to help create desperately needed jobs in Nevada. There is time while the bill is being considered in the Assembly to resolve the constitutional question, he said.

The bill had already been amended by Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, who successfully put the authority of the investment process in the hands of the Commission on Economic Development. Even so, Cegavske said her concerns with the overall bill, including the constitutionality question, caused her to vote against the measure.

Kieckhefer and Hardy voted for the bill. Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, was the only Democrat opposing the measure.

The bill as originally introduced would create a nonprofit public entity, the Nevada Capital Investment Corporation, to be headed by a board that includes members appointed by the governor and legislative leadership based on their investment expertise. The state treasurer, whose duties include the investment of state money, would also be a member.

The NCIC would hire professional private equity fund managers that would seek to partner with capital investment firms to invest in select companies and innovative start-up businesses that would assist in the state’s efforts to grow and diversify its economic base, leading to increased employment.

Steve George, chief of staff to Marshall, said the office remains supportive of the intent of the bill. But he suggested the Cegavske amendment, by changing the focus of the bill from improving the investment return for public school funds to one solely looking at economic development, could actually make it unconstitutional.

The primary focus originally was to get a better rate of return on the Permanent School Fund, a trust fund made up of federal funds provided to the state for decades from such sources as the sale of federal lands and court fees, George said. It is a trust fund that can’t be spent, only invested.

Eleven other states, excluding Nevada and Colorado, can invest their funds in more diverse ways, George said. Nevada has earned 4 percent on its investments over the past five years with the current limitation, while three other states have earned in excess of 5 percent, according to information provided by the Treasurer’s Office to Gov. Brian Sandoval. Oklahoma has earned 6.22 percent over the past five years.

“With no focus on return, we don’t think it will pass the constitutional requirement,” George said.

Audio clips:

Sen. Michael Roberson says his constitutional concerns with the bill remain unanswered:

051811Roberson :12 that it’s constitutional.”

Sen. Greg Brower says he has the same concerns despite the outside-the-box thinking in the bill:

051811Brower :17 to this issue.”

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer says he will rely on the opinion of the district court:

051811Kieckhefer :23 on his opinion.”

 

 

 

Future Of Millennium Scholarship Focus Of State Lawmaker Interest In Upcoming Session

By Sean Whaley | 3:34 pm January 27th, 2011

CARSON CITY – While several state lawmakers say they are seeking changes to the popular Millennium Scholarship for Nevada’s academically successful high school graduates, no one yet is pushing for income eligibility restrictions to ensure the program’s continued viability.

None of the five bills requested so far dealing with the program, which has faced funding problems in recent years due to budget cuts and reduced revenues, seeks to restrict eligibility to those in financial need.

Two measures, one by former state Sen. Bill Raggio, and another requested by the Senate Finance Committee, were requested to ensure continuation of the program.

The need for these two measures will now be evaluated based on Gov. Brian Sandoval’s recommendation to continue the program as is. He has proposed adding $10 million in general funds to ensure its financial viability through 2016.

Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to Sandoval, said the governor would consider legislation to impose a means test for eligibility, or seek to restrict the scholarship to students who pursue specified courses of study.

“The first priority was to keep the program whole,” he said. “And really there are two schools of thought in this building and I don’t think there is consensus yet so we will participate in that conversation.”

Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, said he is seeking a requirement that high school students perform community service in addition to the GPA requirement to qualify for the scholarship.

“It would teach them the concept of service, get them out into the community and make them more well-rounded persons,” he said. “They would network with people, do good things and have a better resume.”

Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville, said his proposal would require eligible Millennium scholars to first fill out a federal financial aid form. Students eligible for federal aid or private sector scholarships would then use those funds first, offsetting the need for the Millennium scholarship awards.

“We have the potential to make the Millennium scholarship last longer if eligible students take advantage of other sources of funding first,” he said.

If a student was ineligible for other funding, there would be no restriction on the use of the Millennium Scholarship in his proposed legislation, Settelmeyer said.

Probably the most restrictive of the measures sought so far comes from Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, who said he will introduce a bill to limit eligibility for the scholarship to students who pursue specified courses of study.

“It makes sense to reform the program to make it more tailored to our areas of special need,” he said. “It would be a good incentive to lure new people into education as a way to help fund the education training that we need for new teachers.”

Courses of study critical to Nevada’s economic development would also be part of his proposal, which remains a work in progress, Kieckhefer said.

“As our needs change as a state in creating new jobs, we want to have the educated workforce to fill those areas of need,” he said. “If we can leverage something like the Millennium scholarship to ensure that people are trained to fill those jobs, I think that makes sense.

“It is a subject area test, not a means test,” Kieckhefer said.

Sen. Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said the purpose of the committee bill draft is to extend the life of the scholarship.

“I was very pleased that the governor announced $10 million in his budget for that and hope that we will be able to sustain that throughout the budget process so we can extend the life of the program because it is important to the students of the state,” he said.

Horsford said he would not support a change to the program based on financial need.

“I think that the merit based emphasis based on GPA is important to preserve,” he said.

While a separate issue, Horsford said that if student fees are increased in the coming two years as expected, it will be important to ensure there is financial aid available to those in need.

The scholarship currently provides about $25 million per year to Nevada high school graduates who attend a Nevada institution of higher learning. Initial eligibility requirements include graduating from a Nevada high school with a minimum 3.25 grade point average.

About 8,000 high school graduates per year are eligible to receive a millennium scholarship, of which about 60 percent choose to activate their award.

The scholarship ranges from $40 to $80 per college credit hour depending on the college attended. The scholarship limit is $10,000.

The scholarship is named after the late Gov. Kenny Guinn, who established it during his first term as governor.

Audio clips:

Sandoval Senior Adviser Dale Erquiaga says the governor is open to possible changes to Millennium Scholarship eligibility:

012711Erquiaga :22 the program alive.”

State Sen. Ben Kieckhefer says it makes sense to tailor the program to Nevada’s specific needs:

012711Kieckhefer1 :08 of special need.”

Kieckhefer says teaching and areas of study relating to economic development should be the focus of the scholarship:

012711Kieckhefer2 :11 of economic development.”

Kieckhefer says leveraging the scholarship to help develop an educated workforce makes sense:

012711Kieckhefer3 :15 that makes sense.”

Sen. Steven Horsford says the scholarship is important to Nevada’s high school graduates:

012711Horsford1 :14 of the state.”

Horsford says he does not favor a means test for the scholarship:

012711Horsford2 :05 important to preserve.”

Contested GOP State Senate Primary Races Split Between Moderate And Conservative Candidates

By Sean Whaley | 10:44 am June 9th, 2010

CARSON CITY – In the fight for control of the Republican Party in the state Senate in the Tuesday primary it was an even split, with conservative candidates taking two of four contested seats and two others going to more moderate candidates backed by Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio.

The winners of the contested GOP Senate primaries, depending on the results in the November general election, could change the character of the caucus. Raggio, R-Reno, has voted for tax increases in past sessions and has worked across the aisle with Democrats to end often contentious legislative sessions.

Those calling themselves the true conservatives in the contested primaries say they will not compromise on taxes or other core Republican issues.

In Washoe District 2, Assemblyman Don Gustavson, R-Sparks, defeated Washoe County Commissioner Bob Larkin, 59 percent to 41 percent. Larkin, the candidate endorsed by Raggio, had a much bigger war chest in the race. Gustavson has said he will not compromise on core Republican values and will not vote for tax increases.

In another closely watched race, Assemblyman Ty Cobb, R-Reno, lost to state employee Ben Kieckhefer, in the Washoe 4 contest. Kieckhefer, who is endorsed by Raggio and the caucus, won 42 percent to 37 percent. Two other Republicans also ran in the primary.

Kieckhefer, who had more money to spend on the race, repeatedly ran an ad showing Cobb responding awkwardly to media questions about an incident in which he had destroyed a campaign sign belonging to a Reno Democrat running for another state Senate seat. The ad called his leadership abilities into question.

In Clark County in the GOP Senate 9 primary, challenger Elizabeth Halseth defeated incumbent Sen. Dennis Nolan, R-Las Vegas, 57 percent to 43 percent. Nolan was criticized by Halseth in the campaign for testifying as a character witness for a friend who was being tried for a sex crime. Nolan said he was subpoenaed to testify by the public defender’s office.

Halseth said she will not support tax increases if elected to the Senate.

In the Senate 12 race in Clark County, Raggio-backed candidate Assemblyman Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, defeated Patrick McNaught 55 percent to 40 percent. A third candidate pulled 6 percent.

In all four races, the senators that have been serving in the districts were supporters of Raggio in the GOP caucus.

Janine Hansen, a long-time political activist and Independent American Party candidate for the Assembly seat in Elko, said the outcomes of the state Senate contests are not a surprise.

“Races are often determined not by ideology but by who has the most money and who runs the smartest campaign,” she said. “Even when there is tremendous interest in the elections like this year, those who are involved are a minority.

“The vast majority of people still respond to the name they know the best,” Hansen said.

Gustavson said his grass roots, door-to-door campaign made the difference in the Washoe 2 race.

“I’m always outspent,” he said. “At least 2 to 1 this time. Hard work is what wins races.”

Kieckhefer, who faces an Independent American candidate but no Democrat in the November general election, said he believes his campaign of offering effective, conservative leadership made a connection with voters. He also challenged any notion that he is not a conservative Republican.

“Obviously we have a massive budget shortfall we need to address by prioritizing spending,” he said. “I stand ready to make those hard decisions.”

In a fifth GOP Senate primary, Assemblyman James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville, defeated fellow conservative Steve Yeater in the Capital Senate District. Settelmeyer is backed by Raggio, but has taken a strong stand against tax increases during his tenure in the Assembly. Long-time Raggio supporter Mark Amodei, who had held the seat, was term-limited out of office. He is now chairman of the Nevada State GOP.

In addition to Amodei, Raggio had the backing of Sens. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, Maurice Washington, R-Sparks, Warren Hardy, R-Las Vegas, and Nolan in past legislative sessions. Townsend and Washington also left office due to term limits. Hardy resigned.

A change in the approach by Senate Republicans in the 2011 session could mean tough negotiating with Democrats over how to balance a budget that is expected to be $3.4 billion out of balance. Other critical issues include the redrawing of political boundaries, economic diversification and a major tax debate.

If enough GOP Senate Republican are unwilling to compromise on taxes and the budget in the 2011 session, Raggio’s job could be considerably more difficult as leader of the caucus. Republicans are a minority in the Senate 9-12, the first time they have not been the majority since 1991.

Raggio is in the middle of his final term in the Senate, having served longer than anyone in state history. He was first elected to the Senate in 1973. Rumors circulated earlier this year that Raggio might resign in mid-term and not serve in 2011. Raggio has said he has no plans to step down.

Conservative Candidates Challenge Moderates in Key GOP State Senate Primary Races

By Sean Whaley | 3:55 pm May 21st, 2010

Part 2 of a Series on Key GOP State Senate Primary Races

CARSON CITY – While Republican voters have a rare chance to chart the course of the GOP Senate caucus in the upcoming primary, the candidates described by some political observers as the establishment choice say they too are true fiscal conservatives who believe in core party values.

Both Ben Kieckhefer, running against Ty Cobb in the Washoe 4 race, and Bob Larkin, running against Don Gustavson in the Washoe 2 race, reject any label to the contrary.

Both have been endorsed by the Senate Republican Caucus headed by Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno.

“I consider myself a pretty darn conservative guy,” said Kieckhefer, a former press secretary to Gov. Jim Gibbons. “Any notion of me as some pro-tax Republican is totally flawed. I’m not.”

Larkin said his work on the Washoe County Commission, which has involved cutting $100 million from the budget over the past three years and eliminating 500 positions, is evidence of his strong GOP philosophy.

“Government can’t live beyond its means,” he said. “There was too much fat. That is what a conservative does.”

Joe Hardy, running for the Clark Senate 12 seat against newcomer Patrick McNaught, could not be reached for this story.

Sen. Dennis Nolan, who is facing a challenge in his re-election bid in Clark Senate 9 from newcomer Elizabeth Halseth, also could not be reached for comment.

The June 8 primary offers an unusual opportunity for GOP voters. Five GOP Senate contests are on the ballot with four offering a choice between what some observers say is an establishment candidate and a more conservative opponent.

The Capital Senatorial District race will see conservative representation regardless of which GOP candidate wins in the November general election. Both James Settelmeyer and his primary opponent, Steve Yeater, say they will not be willing to compromise on tax issues in the 2011 session where lawmakers face a potential $3 billion funding shortfall.

Gustavson, Cobb, Settelmeyer and Hardy, all current members of the Assembly, voted against a package of tax increases in the 2009 session. Nolan voted with Raggio and three other GOP senators for the tax increase, giving the bill three more votes than needed to meet the two-thirds requirement for passage and enough to override a veto by Gibbons.

Republicans were in the minority in the Senate in the 2009 session for the first time since 1991. But Republican support was critical to reaching the two-thirds vote needed to raise sales and payroll taxes on Nevada’s largest businesses as part of the final budget.

A new position of unwavering opposition to general tax increases on the part of Senate Republicans could make the 2011 session one of the more contentious in state history.

In addition to Larkin, Kieckhefer and Hardy, Settelmeyer has also been endorsed and given financial support by the Senate Republican Caucus headed up by Raggio.

Janine Hansen, a long-time political activist as a member of the Independent American Party, said that support is an enormous hurdle for Republican challengers to overcome.

“More money and access to the establishment power base is a significant issue in any race,” she said. “For non-establishment Republican candidates it is incredibly difficult to overcome. It will be very significant if it happens.”

Gustavson said he is being outspent by Larkin, who he describes as his more moderate GOP opponent, but that a low turnout in the June 8 primary could benefit his campaign. Conservatives will turn out, and Gustavson said the conservative mood of GOP voters in Nevada should be a trend in his favor.

“I think it is a revival for the true Republican Party, the conservative wing that values true conservative principles,” he said. “This is the best opportunity we have had in years.”

Gustavson said there is no question but that the Senate Republican Caucus approach in the Legislature will change if he and his conservative colleagues win in the primary.

“We would have a much more conservative state Senate that we have had for years,” he said.

Raggio’s leadership position could also be jeopardized as a result, Gustavson said.

Larkin said that if he is elected to the Senate, he will work to balance the budget while maintaining the core Republican values of limited government, minimal taxes and fostering business growth and individual freedoms.

“I am the conservative candidate who gets things done,” he said.

Cobb said he is not a member of the Senate GOP caucus and so declined to comment on what the future might hold for the group following the November general election.

But Cobb said the caucus approach would likely change with the election of himself and his fellow conservatives.

“We would be getting rid of a lot of the old school way of handling things,” he said. “There would be more conservative, aggressive members of the caucus.

“There will be a new type of leadership focused on core values,” Cobb said. “We will use every bit of leverage we have when we enter into negotiations with the opposition.”

Kieckhefer disputed any characterization of him being the establishment candidate, noting that it is Cobb who is serving in the Legislature.

While he has not signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, Kieckhefer said he won’t be supporting a budget in 2011 that is any larger than the current spending plan.

“Now is not the time to increase taxes,” he said. “We need to look at our spending.”

Kieckhefer said Cobb voted for the 2007 budget that saw spending go up by 17 percent over the 2005 budget.

“So let’s be clear who people claim to be as well,” he said.

Kieckhefer said the real choice for GOP voters is a candidate who is focused on solving problems or one who has a track record of failure. Cobb has only seen one of his 17 bills become law, he said.

“We don’t need people who just sit there and be conservative and accomplish nothing,” Kieckhefer said. “The question is who is going to be an effective legislator, an effective conservative voice.”

Kieckhefer said he has the endorsement of the Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce, which he described as a fairly conservative business organization in Northern Nevada. He believes anti-incumbent sentiment among voters will also help his bid in the primary.

Settelmeyer said the Senate GOP caucus will see more focus on core conservative values next session, but to what degree will depend on the voters.

“If they choose to send more conservative representatives we will see less going along with the increases in taxes and spending” he said. “Efforts in the past to place surpluses towards the unfunded liability of the retirement and health programs have always taken a back seat to new program creation.”

While general tax increases have been a part of many budget compromises in the past, Settelmeyer said he won’t be on board with such proposals because they, “just kick the can down the road.”

Continuing the sales and payroll taxes approved in the 2009 session, for example, won’t be an option, he said.

“They are killing businesses in the state, and we need jobs, not more boarded up businesses,” he said.

“There will definitely be a roadmap for the future of Nevada after this primary,” Settelmeyer said. “But that roadmap will be dictated by voters, as it should.”

Yeater said a true conservative will be representing the Senate capital district regardless of which GOP primary candidate wins the general in November. Yeater said he has signed the taxpayer pledge and does not believe raising taxes is a good idea, especially in the current economy.

“I want to reduce existing taxes,” he said.

Yeater said GOP voters are energized and informed and as a result, the conservative candidates will win out on primary election day.

“I believe the Senate will look a lot more conservative in 2011 than it does in 2010,” he said.

Halseth said she will not be a vote for tax increases if elected to the Senate.

Negotiations in past sessions seem always to end up favoring the Democrats, she said.

“This election cycle will be different,” Halseth said. “I’ve been meeting with the people in my district for eight months. What they want is lower taxes. Raising taxes has never been the answer. We can’t afford that anymore.”

McNaught said he decided to run for the seat because of concerns Hardy has been too willing to compromise with Democrats in the past, sacrificing core GOP issues in the process. The Republican Party has lost its way by giving in to Democratic demands, he said.

McNaught said he won’t be the party of “no.”

“I will be the party of no taxes,” he said. “Any corporate or broad-based business tax will drive away jobs.”

McNaught said the state has lost tens of thousands of jobs and, “we need to get those jobs back.”

McNaught said he reached out to Raggio but that the minority leader failed to respond, instead opting to “anoint” Hardy for the open seat. He also noted that Hardy has passed up at least three different opportunities to debate him on the issues in recent weeks.

The voters in Clark Senate 12 have a clear choice, he said. A candidate who won’t raise taxes and who will seek fiscal reform, or a candidate who will consider tax increases to balance the state budget, McNaught said.

GOP Primary Voters Could Chart Course of State Senate, Nevada Legislature

By Sean Whaley | 1:29 pm May 20th, 2010

Part 1 of 2 on Five Key State Senate Races

CARSON CITY – Over the past several legislative sessions the state Senate Republican caucus has shown a willingness to work across the aisle with Democrats, with some GOP lawmakers voting more than once for tax increases as a way to balance the budget.

Led by Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno, Senate Republicans have often gone along with programs and policies pushed by Democrats in a spirit of compromise to finish the Legislature’s business every other year.

But this long-held practice could soon change.

Three of Raggio’s long-time allies in the Senate are being termed out of office and a fourth has resigned. Former Sens. Mark Amodei, R-Carson City, and Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, are already gone, having resigned to take other jobs. A third senator loyal to Raggio, Sen. Maurice Washington, R-Sparks, will be replaced in the 2010 general election. Sen. Warren Hardy, R-Las Vegas, also resigned from the Senate.

Another Raggio colleague, Sen. Dennis Nolan, R-Las Vegas, is facing a primary challenge from Elizabeth Halseth in his Clark Senate 9 re-election bid. Halseth calls herself a “true conservative” for Nevada.

These primary races all have something in common. They include Republican candidates who are, if you believe their campaign promises, far less likely to seek compromise with Democrats if they win in the primary and then general elections.

In four of these five cases, more moderate Republican primary challengers are also on the ballot, giving Republican voters a choice.

Republicans are expected to easily take at least two of the seats in the general election, and three of the five have sizable GOP voter registration edges over Democrats.

If voters decide to back the more conservative GOP candidates in the June 8 primary, the 2011 legislative session could see a far more confrontational relationship with Senate and Assembly Democrats over a multitude of issues, not the least of which will be taxes.

A conservative turnout in the primary might also shift the balance of power away from Raggio, potentially putting his position as current Senate minority leader in jeopardy. Rumors have circulated that Raggio, who is in his final term in the Senate, might step down before the 2011 session. He has denied these rumors, saying he will serve in his final session.

Raggio has served in the Senate since 1973, most often as the leader of the GOP caucus, either as majority leader or minority leader.

Early voting for the primary begins Saturday.

Janine Hansen, a long-time political activist with the Independent American Party, said she believes Republican voters will show up on election day and cast their votes for the true conservative candidates.

Republican voters are fed up with establishment candidates who have voted for tax increases and an ever-expanding government, she said.

Hansen, who is running as the IAP candidate for an Assembly seat in the Elko area, said some Republicans have left the party because true conservative candidates don’t get support from the powers that be.

“There is a chance for significant culture change in the state Senate,” she said. “I think it would benefit the public.”

Many observers says turnout will be a key in the contests. Lower turnout is generally viewed as favoring the more conservative candidates.

Pete Ernaut, a political consultant with R&R Partners, said there are too many variables at play to make any predictions about who will win in the contested Senate and Assembly races. The ability for candidates to talk with voters one-on-one plays a big role in such contests, he said. But Ernaut said he does believe turnout will be higher than many observers are predicting.

Several candidates also cite the adage that “all politics is local,” meaning that voters in each district may vote for a candidate based on local issues and concerns rather than some overarching conservative versus moderate theme.

Running in Washoe Senate 2 are Assemblyman Don Gustavson, R-Sparks, and Washoe County Commissioner Bob Larkin, viewed as the more moderate of the two candidates. There are also two Democrats in the race. The district favors the GOP by 2,000 voters based on active registration numbers as of April.

Running in Washoe Senate 4 are Assemblyman Ty Cobb, R-Reno, and former Gov. Jim Gibbons press secretary Ben Kieckhefer, again considered to be the more moderate of the two candidates. Two other Republicans, Todd Bailey and Frank Wright, are also running, but no Democrats are on the ballot. An Independent American Party candidate will be on the November ballot. The GOP has a 6,000 vote edge over Democrats in the district.

Running in the Capital Senate District are Assemblyman James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville, and Steve Yeater. A Democrat and IAP candidate are also running but the district has an 8,000 GOP edge. Both Settelmeyer and Yeater, of Dayton, describe themselves as traditional GOP conservatives.

Running in Clark Senate 9 are Nolan and Halseth, along with three Democrats and an Independent American. The district has a nearly 4,000 Democrat voter registration advantage, however.

Running in Clark Senate 12 are Assemblyman Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, and newcomer Patrick McNaught, viewed as the more conservative of the two candidates. The registration balance in the district is virtually tied with Democrats. There is a third Republican, Steve Sanson, as well as a Democrat and IAP candidate, in the race as well.

The conservative Keystone Corporation, which says its goal is to recruit, support and advocate for candidates for public office who support private sector job creation, low taxation, a responsible regulatory environment, and effective delivery of essential  state services, has endorsed Cobb, Settelmeyer, Halseth and McNaught. There was no endorsement in the Washoe Senate 2 race.

Keystone Treasurer Monte Miller said the Senate candidates endorsed by his organization were selected because they share the view that the public employee sector has not shared in the job losses, salary reductions, benefit reductions and other sacrifices made by the private sector in the current downturn.

“These candidates believe that public employees need to be part of the solution,” he said.

Essential government services can be preserved if public employee wages and benefits are put more in line with what is offered in the private sector, Miller said.

The endorsed candidates also agree that businesses cannot afford to pay more taxes. The “compromise” in the 2009 session led to a 97 percent tax increase on business, he said.

The trend seen nationally of voters rejecting candidates who don’t share these views will be in evidence in Nevada in the primary as well, Miller said.

“Compromise has to come from the other side of the aisle,” Miller said. “It’s our turn.”

Next: The Candidates Weigh In on Their Races

Kieckhefer Lobs at Cobb

By Elizabeth Crum | 3:29 pm May 19th, 2010

Dullard Mush has the hardball ad posted (complete with Hollywood voice-over and ominous sounding background music).

Here’s the background if you missed the sign-kicking story when it broke.

GOP Washoe Senate District 4 Candidates Question Opponents’ Records in Televised Debate

By Sean Whaley | 2:54 pm April 20th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Two of the four Republican candidates seeking to replace Sen. Randolph Townsend in state Senate District 4 in Washoe County attacked one another’s records in a debate televised today on the Nevada NewsMakers program.

Assemblyman Ty Cobb said one of his opponents, Ben Kieckhefer, has called for “revenue enhancements” which Cobb said is support for a tax increase. Kieckhefer denied the charge.

Kieckhefer said Cobb has been an ineffective lawmaker by failing to stop legislative tax hikes and by getting only one bill signed into law in two sessions of the Legislature.

Cobb said his record opposing tax increases is evidence of his effectiveness.

Two other candidates did not wade into the fray to such a degree, with Todd Bailey calling for the repeal of the state payroll tax as a way to create more private sector jobs.

“We need to get Nevada back to a place where we create a lot of new jobs,” he said. “That’s what we need to be focused on.”

Frank Wright said the recession gives lawmakers a chance to reign in the runaway government growth of recent years by reducing taxes and creating a more favorable business climate.

“We have for the last 10 years had a crazy increase in government spending and now we have to cut back,” he said. “It is because of the policies we have enacted that haven’t worked. We need to bring businesses back to this state.”

Cobb was also asked for a brief statement on a recent incident in which he kicked down a political campaign sign for Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, a Democrat who is running for a different state Senate seat.

Cobb said he apologized and offered to pay for a replacement, and that the incident is not a reflection on his judgment as a candidate for public office.

Cutting taxes, reducing the size of government and improving efficiencies in how necessary state services are provided are ways offered up by the candidates to help bridge what is expected to be a multi-billion dollar hole in the next two-year state budget.

Kieckhefer, currently the public information officer for the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, said improved efficiencies is one key to balancing the budget.

Kieckhefer, who said he will step down from his state job if he is elected to the Senate, said an example is an electronic application process being implemented in his agency that will make government more efficient.

“We need to pare down government to its most effective and essential levels, we need to cut our spending to that level, and at that point we need to evaluate as a state how we provide our services,” he said.

This would include a review of which levels of government are providing which services as a way to improve efficiency, Kieckhefer said.

Cobb said as a member of the Assembly he has consistently voted against tax increases approved by a majority of lawmakers. To get people back to work, he said Nevada should stop paying benefits to illegal residents, reform the public employee pension plan and limit the size of government to increase the amount of money available to the private sector.

The debate got a bit heated when Bailey accused Cobb of voting to eliminate the ability of voters to elect judges. Cobb rejected the claim, saying all he did was vote to put the issue of whether to elect or appoint judges to the voters in the 2010 general election.

Kieckhefer jumped in at this point, saying taxes and spending are the big issues in 2011.

“We’re all against higher taxes,” he said.

“No, you’re not against higher taxes,” Cobb said.

Cobb said Kieckhefer has made statements supporting higher taxes.

“I have not said that,” Kieckhefer replied.

Pointing to Cobb’s record, Kieckhefer said it is one of failure, demonstrated by the fact that Cobb has twice been voted the worst lawmaker in Carson City.

“I think the people of Washoe Senate District 4 need better representation than that when we’re going into a session that is going to be deciding redistricting  and deciding the future of our state,” he said. “He’s no good for us and we need to do better.”

Cobb replied that his ranking of worst lawmaker was the result of lobbyists grading him poorly because he has refused to raise taxes or expand the size of government.

“What I’m suggesting is that when Mr. Kieckhefer says we need revenue enhancements, which of course means tax increases, we cannot afford tax increases,” he said.

Kieckhefer said as a former member of the Gibbons administration, he worked on a policy of lower taxes.

Besides the four Republicans, Independent American M.K. Yochum is on the ballot in the Senate 4 race.

Candidate Filings: Day Two

By Elizabeth Crum | 10:16 am March 2nd, 2010
10:10 AM:

Danny Tarkanian (R) – U.S. Senate (filed in LV)

Jodi Stephens (R) – Assembly District #32

11:25 AM:

Jim Wheeler (R) – Assembly District #39

Harry Schiffman (D) – Assembly District #36 (filed in LV)(

(Tea Party of Nevada Candidate, Jon Scott Ashjian, where are you?!)

(Update:  “Ask and ye shall receive…”)

Candidate Filing Update #11 – 11:45 AM, March 2
Posted Date: 3/2/2010

Scott Ashjian (Tea Party of Nevada) – U.S. Senate
Filed in Carson City this morning

3:15 PM:

Ben Kieckhefer (R) – State Senate Washoe District 4

Jessica Sferrazza (D) – Lieutenant Governor

4:00 PM:

Robert S. Randazzo (D) – Lieutenant Governor

5:00 PM:

Ryan Fitzgibbons (IAP) – Lieutenant Governor