(Sean Whaley/Nevada News Bureau) – The neighborhoods of this capital city and the Washoe Valley just to the north are ground zero for one of the most fiercely contested state legislative races in Nevada this year.
Potentially at stake is the makeup of the 42-member Assembly and whether Democrats can sustain their dominance of the lower house with a 28-member, veto-proof majority.
If Democrats hold on to the Assembly 40 seat being vacated by Assemblywoman Bonnie Parnell, D-Carson City and maintain a two-thirds edge, Republicans will have a tough time exerting any influence over the legislative process or on issues ranging from taxes to redrawing the state’s political boundaries.
If Republicans win the seat in a district where they have a big registration edge and end up with at least 15 seats, Democrats will still be in the majority but they will have to deal across the aisle on a range of critical issues.
The race is between two current members of the Carson City Board of Supervisors: Democrat Robin Williamson and Republican Pete Livermore.
While recognizing the Assembly 40 seat is an important Republican-Democrat battleground, both Livermore and Williamson say there are running to serve the voters in the district and address constituent concerns.
A resident of Carson since 1990, Williamson said she has been active on a number of issues, including helping get an open space initiative on the ballot and approved by voters several years ago.
“At the end of the day what I really want to do is do a good job representing the constituents of Assembly District 40,” she said.
Livermore, who has lived in the community for 50 years, said he believes his character and track record of service to the community will outweigh the negative and erroneous campaign attacks being launched by Democrats in the race.
“I think it gets back down to my service in this community . . . and how the people have judged me and watched me and know what I’ve done,” he said. “It’s terrible to think that money can buy an election.”
The importance the state Democratic Party attaches to holding onto the seat can be seen in the frequent mail deliveries as the deadline for early voting approaches.
Three “hit” pieces of mail have been sent out by the state Democratic Party highlighting the sale of Livermore’s A&W restaurant and property to the city in 2005 as part of a road widening project. The city paid $604,000 for the property while Livermore was serving on the Board of Supervisors.
The mailers call the sale a “sweetheart deal” that cost city taxpayers.
In response, Livermore has sent out a letter saying he had received a $650,000 offer for the property from a private business before selling it for the road project for $604,000. After paying off loans and other costs, Livermore said he ended up with $20,000.
It was the Regional Transportation Commission, not the Board of Supervisors, that sought the purchase, he said.
“If unworthy campaigning is what Carson City wants, they won’t have to wait long,” Livermore said. “There will probably be more.”
The Nevada State Education Association has also weighed in on the race, sending a mail piece criticizing Livermore for signing the Americans for Tax Reform pledge to never raise taxes.
“Would Pete Livermore fire my teacher?” the mailer asks.
Livermore said he does not understand how the teachers union can equate his position on taxes, which is also held by both major candidates for governor, with laying off teachers.
Williamson has sent out a positive mailer about herself that calls for lawmakers to work together to create jobs and help Nevada small businesses recover from the economic slowdown.
Livermore raised $11,000 for the race up to the June primary. New campaign reports won’t come out until just a few days before election day Nov. 2.
Williamson raised $26,000, including contributions from Assembly Majority Leader John Oceguera and other Assembly Democrats. This does not include the money spent on her race by the Democratic Party or other interest groups.
As of Sept. 30, Democrats had 7,796 registered voters in the district, while Republicans had 9,660. There are also 3,005 nonpartisans and 1,010 Independent American Party voters in the district as well.
Williamson said the issues for voters are jobs, the economy and education. There are also a lot of state government employees in the district, so questions about the retirement system and other issues affecting state workers frequently come up as well, she said.
Williamson said she will fight to maintain those benefits for current employees and retirees. She would also wait before considering changes to the retirement system for new hires until the effects of changes made in the 2009 legislative session can be evaluated.
With regard to the state budget situation, where revenues are anticipated to come in much lower than needed to maintain current state programs and services, Williamson said there are ways to increase revenue without raising taxes. An example is the opportunity to collect sales taxes from sales over the internet, she said.
Changes to the current assessed valuation system for property could also be examined, Williamson said.
Job creation efforts should focus on small businesses, helping those already here to thrive and encouraging new businesses to come to Nevada that offer new types of employment opportunities, she said.
A project now in the planning stages in Carson City to bring in new jobs, called a Business Resource Information Center to get small businesses up and running, might become a model for the state, Williamson said.
The district has a strong Republican edge, but Williamson said she has always worked to find common ground on issues.
“I’m willing to work hard and I think people appreciate that,” she said. “And I’ve got a lot of energy. I try to build consensus and reach across party lines and put the emphasis on basics like getting people back to work. So far I think that message has kind of resonated.”
Livermore said as the representative in District 40, he will work to ensure that the state job base in the capital is protected. Losing state jobs will only add to the unemployment rolls and further hurt the economy, he said.
“I’m going to work hard to make sure that those state employees don’t become part of that unemployment number,” Livermore said.
But Livermore said he also wants to work to help small businesses recover from the severe economic downturn.
“I want to maybe look at the business regulations and the burdens of fees and charges and those complicated things that restrict our recovery,” he said. “That is going to be my main focus.”
As to the budget situation, Livermore said it is too early to have a clear picture of the severity of the problem. The August gaming numbers came in strong, and sales taxes have shown some improvement locally, so until the revenue picture is clearer, it is only speculation as to what a potential shortfall might look like, he said.
“Just blatantly going in and saying look, I’m going to be a supporter of raising 5 percent on banks, and 2 percent on mining and 6 percent on gaming, I think is unprofessional,” Livermore said.
Livermore said it is critical for Republicans to win some additional seats in the Assembly because of redistricting and all the other critical issues that will come up next year.
The 2009 session might have been much different if Republicans had won the seat in 2008. Incumbent Bonnie Parnell won by 379 votes over the Republican candidate. A third party candidate drew over 1,000 votes in the race. The win would have given Assembly Republicans 15 votes, one more than needed to take away the Democratic supermajority.
Livermore said having representation from both major political parties creates checks and balances that result in compromise and better legislation. It could be a Republican year that will generate as many as 17 or 18 Republicans in the Assembly, he said.