Assemblyman Justin Watkins says he won't seek re-election

Michelle Rindels
Michelle Rindels

Freshman Democratic Assemblyman Justin Watkins says he won’t be running for re-election in 2018, marking at least the sixth Assembly member who won’t be back next session.

The Las Vegas lawmaker, 37, told The Nevada Independent that he’s not seeking a second term because of the toll that the work would take on his family. He and his wife Marni moved their two daughters, who were then age 4 and 6, up to Carson City for the four-month legislative session but decided they didn’t want to keep uprooting them.

“My No. 1 job is to be a dad and we don’t think it’s necessarily good for them to continue to go up there every other year and switch schools every other year,” he said. “My wife and everybody was supportive of me going up without them, but frankly, I’m unwilling to miss that many days of my girls’ lives at this stage in their life.”

Watkins is one of a half-dozen Assembly members who have announced plans not to return for another term. Others are Democratic Assemblyman Nelson Araujo, Republican Assemblyman Ira Hansen, Republican Assemblyman Keith Pickard and Democratic Assemblyman James Ohrenschall, who are all running for higher office.

Assembly Republican Leader Paul Anderson resigned last month to take a job with the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.

Watkins said he wasn’t closing the door on potential political runs in the future. He said he didn't face pressure to sit out in the upcoming cycle and enjoyed his time as a state lawmaker.

“It was one of the best experiences I ever had,” he said. “This decision is more of a reflection of how honored I was by that and I don’t want to shortchange the people of Assembly District 35 and the State of Nevada if I can’t be 100 percent committed to the process again.”

But his freshman session came at a tough time for Watkins, who is a founding partner at Battle Born Injury Lawyers. Just weeks before he moved to Carson City, his law firm partner Troy Atkinson died of cancer at the age of 39.

“Had I known that was in the cards, I’m not sure I would’ve run the first time,” he said. “For me wanting to carry on his legacy and keep the firm growing — that’s part of the analysis too.”

Bills Watkins introduced included a ban on hydraulic fracturing (it didn’t pass) and a requirement to place diaper changing stations in both men’s and women's restrooms in new buildings (it became law). He also distinguished himself as the only Democratic lawmaker to publicly support Education Savings Accounts. He presented a compromise amendment that aimed to bridge the gap between Democrats and Republicans on the divisive school choice issue, but negotiations eventually broke down and the program received no funds from the Democrat-controlled Legislature.

He said he’s most proud of a bill he sponsored that aimed to revive the moribund rooftop solar industry after regulators had overhauled the rate structure. The measure, which provided a path forward after the unpopular solar decision from 2015, passed the Legislature with only two votes in opposition.

Watkins credited Assemblyman Chris Brooks, who’s long worked in the energy industry, with heavy lifting on the bill, but said he is “super proud” that he could help usher it through.

“Getting educated on the issue and understanding the issue to the point that I was able to help shape policy ... was an incredible experience,” he said. “That one had an immediate impact the day it was signed and I think it could serve as a model for the rest of the country.”

The candidate field in the swingy, southwest Las Vegas district has yet to shake out. Watkins prevailed over staunchly anti-tax Republican incumbent Brent Jones in 2016, but said he wasn’t aware of any Democrats who had solid plans to run.

“I’m unaware of anyone who’s ready to announce,” he said. “Hopefully what comes down to is some great candidates for the people to vote for.”


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