As CSN taps ex-Rep. Ruben Kihuen for lobbyist job, some lawmakers question the move

Kihuen will come to CSN after leaving Congress in 2018, following a House ethics investigation over sexual misconduct claims.
Jacob Solis
Jacob Solis
CongressHigher EducationLegislature

A week after the College of Southern Nevada (CSN) announced it would hire former Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-NV) — who left Congress amid an investigation into sexual misconduct allegations — as its top lobbyist, some lawmakers have signaled concerns about working with the former representative. 

That includes Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV), once Kihuen’s colleague in the House of Representatives, and who, after initial allegations against him surfaced in late 2017, called on him to “step up and do what's right for the people of Nevada.”

“As an independent entity, [CSN] is entitled to make their own hiring decisions,” Titus said in a statement this week to The Nevada Independent. “To be clear, my office has a zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment, and Ruben Kihuen is not welcome.”

It’s not the first time the congresswoman, the longest-serving in Nevada’s delegation and a onetime electoral rival to Kihuen in Congressional District 1, has spoken publicly about Kihuen’s continued involvement in Nevada politics. Titus — whose district includes one of CSN’s three Las Vegas-area campuses — said of Kihuen in 2017: “What part of ‘no’ don’t you understand?”

CSN announced on Monday it would hire Kihuen, following an external search process. His arrival comes at a critical time for the college, both as it seeks to replace the outgoing President Federico Zaragoza, and as it tries to secure better funding in the 2025 legislative session through the first higher education funding formula revision in more than a decade next year. 

But Kihuen’s hiring raised eyebrows across the state’s higher education system, with at least one state legislator saying she was uncomfortable with Kihuen’s hiring in a job that would bring him to Carson City. As the college’s new executive director of government affairs, Kihuen’s job would require frequent, sometime one-on-one meetings with lawmakers and lobbyists.

That female Democratic lawmaker — who asked not to be named, so she could speak freely — said she was “shocked” to hear Kihuen was hired by the college.

“There's so many women in the building as lawmakers, as lobbyists, as interns or staff members,” the lawmaker said. “To put us in a position where we're making women uncomfortable in the building, I think, is unacceptable.”

That lawmaker added that she believed the hire put CSN “in a really bad place,” making it more difficult for her to either work with or reach out to their lobbying team. 

“I think as soon as the news came out, a number of people reached out to me — young women that worked in the building either as previously worked as interns and are hoping to work as staff in the future lobbyists, women and men — that are just appalled that he’d be invited to our setting, where we should be able to feel safe,” she added.

Read more: When and why does The Nevada Independent use anonymous sources? Find our full editorial policies here

But legislators are not a monolith. Assemblyman Reuben D’Silva (D-North Las Vegas) told The Nevada Independent that he had relied on Kihuen for advice during his freshman legislative session in 2023, and that he was glad that someone with “a great deal of local engagement” would represent CSN. 

“I’m optimistic,” D’Silva said. “I think he’ll serve that role well.” 

Asked what he would say to other legislators who have raised concerns, D’Silva said that, while other lawmakers accused of wrongdoing “have disappeared,” Kihuen has to continued to engage in community issues, and that he believed the former representative “has a desire to serve.”

“He made a mistake,” D’Silva said. “I think everybody's capable of making mistakes. But I think his sense of a commitment to the community has never been questioned, and I don't question it.”

Kihuen was elected to Congress in Nevada’s 4th Congressional District in 2016 after serving in the state Senate and Assembly. In December 2017, he was accused by a former campaign staffer of sexual harassment and making multiple unwanted advances during the 2016 campaign, according to a report by BuzzFeed News

Shortly after those initial reports, a female lobbyist shared text messages with The Nevada Independent in which Kihuen also made repeated, unwanted sexual advances while he was a state senator in 2015. 

At the time, multiple top Democrats — including then-Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), then-head of the House Democrats’ fundraising arm — called on Kihuen to resign. Kihuen denied the allegations, but within weeks, announced he would bow out of his 2018 re-election campaign. A House ethics investigation later found he broke the chamber’s code of conduct. 

After the House ethics report was made public, Kihuen apologized and told The Nevada Independent that “it saddens me greatly to think I made any woman feel that way due to my own immaturity and overconfidence.” In 2019, he mounted a failed run for Las Vegas City Council that ended after he finished third in that year’s primary. 

Asked about the reaction this week from lawmakers, a CSN spokesperson directed The Nevada Independent to a press release issued Monday after Kihuen’s hiring. In that release, Zaragoza said the college was “excited to bring him on board,” and that Kihuen “will be a staunch advocate for our students.” 

“He brings a wealth of knowledge about the ins and outs of government relations nationally and in Nevada, which is critical for someone in this position,” the college president said. 

Reporter Gabby Birenbaum contributed to this report from Washington, D.C.


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