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Culinary targets Democratic state senator for not supporting daily hotel room cleaning law

Primary opponent Geoconda Hughes says Sen. Rochelle Nguyen hurt union housekeepers who are predominantly women.
Howard Stutz
Howard Stutz
Tabitha Mueller
Tabitha Mueller
Election 2024ElectionsLegislature

Nevada Sen. Rochelle Nguyen (D-Las Vegas) is being targeted by the Culinary Workers Union Local 226, which announced Wednesday that she doesn’t deserve to hold the seat after she voted against the union’s interests during the 2023 legislative session.

Instead, union leaders said voters should support Geoconda Hughes, a cardiovascular thoracic nurse practitioner and the daughter of former Culinary Secretary-Treasurer Geoconda Arguello-Kline. 

Hughes announced her candidacy Wednesday at the Clark County Government Center, where she formally filed her paperwork to run as a Democrat for the seat, and will face Nguyen in the June primary election.

The union on Wednesday also endorsed Democrat Linda Hunt, a food server at a downtown hotel-casino and a Culinary member for 45 years, for Assembly District 17, which covers portions of North Las Vegas. The Assembly Democratic Caucus already endorsed a candidate in the race, U.S. Air Force veteran Mishon Montgomery, setting up another primary fight for the seat vacated by incumbent Assemblywoman Claire Thomas (D-North Las Vegas) who is running for Senate District 1.

Culinary Secretary-Treasurer Ted Pappageroge said Nguyen supported SB441, which called for removing pandemic-imposed requirements placed on the gaming industry, including the cleaning of hotel rooms on a daily basis. The debate over the legislation led to heated testimony from union members and gaming industry leaders when lawmakers heard the legislation in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee.

The bill passed out of both houses of the Democrat-controlled Legislature, with support from all Republican lawmakers, 10 Democrats in the Senate and 19 Democrats in the Assembly. Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo signed the bill in mid-May. 

Hughes said she supported Nguyen in the last election but was “highly disappointed” by the senator during the most recent legislative session.

“When she led the fight against housekeepers who were predominantly women,” Hughes said, “I reached out to her as a constituent about the bill she was backing to ensure she understood she would be hurting predominantly women. I never heard back as a constituent.”

A spokesperson for the Senate Democratic Caucus said that Nguyen, who is part of the caucus and was endorsed by the group for re-election, has been instrumental in raising wages for health workers, leading the way to cap drug prices, advocating for clean energy and standing up for abortion access.

“Just last year, she helped deliver the largest education budget in state history while serving on the Senate Finance committee,” the spokesperson said. “That’s why she’s endorsed by teachers, labor unions, environmental organizations, and reproductive rights groups. And that’s why she’ll be re-elected this year.”

Nguyen did not immediately respond to a voicemail left on her phone Wednesday evening.

Less than 24 hours after Culinary's announcement, the Clark County Education Association (CCEA) announced it was endorsing Nguyen. In a post on X, formerly Twitter, CCEA President Marie Neisess wrote Nguyen “has been a fierce CCEA ally during her time in the assembly and the senate and will continue to fight on behalf of educators.”

Pappageorge said that despite the contract settlements, the union doesn’t believe Nguyen should retain her seat.

SB441 was sponsored by state Sen. Marilyn Dondero Loop (D-Las Vegas), who is not up for re-election this cycle, but Pappageorge hinted that she would have been targeted by the union as well. Culinary leaders were upset that Nguyen co-presented SB441 with Loop.

“The Nevada Legislature worked with these big casino companies to get rid of our daily room cleaning law,” Pappageorge said. “Getting rid of that law hurt the guest room attendants who are the backbone of our union.”

The announcement came after the union polled the issue in Nguyen’s district last year.

Another bill the union supported that Nguyen opposed was SB1, a measure to provide $380 million in public financing for the planned Oakland A’s baseball stadium in Las Vegas.

Nguyen is a first-term state senator who was vice-chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. She previously served in the Assembly. The Clark County Commission unanimously appointed Nguyen to the seat after Sen. Chris Brooks (D-Las Vegas) resigned to take a position with a private-sector energy company.

Updated at 12:28 p.m. on 3/14/2024 with additional information.


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