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College of Southern Nevada names ex-Rep. Ruben Kihuen to top lobbyist job

Kihuen declined to run for re-election in 2018 amid a congressional ethics probe into alleged sexual misconduct on the campaign trail.
Jacob Solis
Jacob Solis
Higher Education

The College of Southern Nevada (CSN) tapped former Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-NV) — who left Congress following sexual harassment allegations — as its new executive director of government affairs on Monday, multiple sources confirmed to The Nevada Independent.

After this story’s initial publication, CSN announced the hire in a press release Monday afternoon. Kihuen did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

The move would mark a return to the governmental sphere after Kihuen exited Congress in the wake of a congressional ethics probe into sexual misconduct allegations in 2018. After declining to run for re-election in 2018, Kihuen finished third in a nonpartisan Las Vegas City Council race in 2019, narrowly excluding him from that year’s general election.

Kihuen, a Democrat, served as an assemblyman from 2007 to 2010 and as a state senator from 2010 to 2016. A decade ago, Kihuen worked at CSN as the college’s diversity programs manager, which the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported was a position created exclusively for the then-legislator.

A CSN spokesperson said Tuesday that Kihuen will be paid $145,280 annually — toward the low end of the higher education system’s salary schedule that puts any community college executive in a range between $140,000 and $266,000.

He was elected to Nevada’s 4th Congressional District in 2016, when he beat incumbent Republican Cresent Hardy (R-NV) by 4 percentage points. 

In December 2017, BuzzFeed News reported that Kihuen had allegedly made repeated unwanted advances toward a female campaign staffer in 2016. Kihuen denied wrongdoing, but faced mounting calls to resign including from then-Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) amid other reporting (including from The Nevada Independent) that he had made similar unwanted advances toward female lobbyists in the past.

Within weeks, Kihuen announced he would not run for re-election. A nine-month investigation from the House Ethics Committee later found he violated the House’s code of conduct

In 2018, after the release of the House ethics report, Kihuen apologized, telling The Nevada Independent that “it saddens me greatly to think I made any woman feel that way due to my own immaturity and overconfidence.”

Kihuen — a onetime CSN student and former employee — currently works as the director of government and community relations at Cano Health, a primary medical care provider headquartered in Miami. His sister, Mariana, also served as CSN’s vice president for government affairs in the 2019 and 2021 legislative sessions.

In a statement, CSN President Federico Zaragoza said Kihuen would be a “staunch advocate for our students,” and that “he brings a wealth of knowledge about the ins and outs of government relations nationally and in Nevada.”

His hire would come at a critical time for CSN, as lawmakers are poised to overhaul the state’s higher education funding formula next year. It would be the first such revision since 2012, and comes as community college leaders — including outgoing CSN President Federico Zaragoza — have vocally argued that the existing formula punishes colleges at the expense of universities because of the way money is allocated based on completed credit hours, rather than students. 

In 2023, legislators created a new study committee charged with making new formula recommendations. The committee — which began meeting monthly this year — will potentially coincide with Question 1, a ballot measure that would remove the Board of Regents from the state Constitution and open the door to sweeping legislative reforms for the Nevada System of Higher Education. 

All the while, CSN will choose a new president for the first time in six years. Zaragoza is set to exit the role in July, and a succession plan has yet to materialize. Regents scuttled the appointment of Vice President for Academics James McCoy in December, amid charges that his potential appointment may have run afoul of the open meeting law. 

This month, regents heard a new plan to appoint an outside candidate as temporary president from a list called “The Registry,” run by a company that places similarly qualified candidates at open higher education posts nationwide. However, a decision has not been made and regents have yet to establish a search timeline for a new permanent president.

Update: Feb. 26, 2024 at 2:30 p.m. — This story was updated to reflect the formal announcement of Kihuen’s hiring Monday by CSN, as well as a statement from CSN President Federico Zaragoza. 

Update: Feb. 27, 2024 at 9:51 a.m. — This story was updated to include Kihuen's salary


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