Election Preview: Candidates spend thousands to compete for seat on Nevada’s most powerful board
With casinos closed and Clark County facing a devastating drop in revenue driven by the pandemic, high-dollar contests are underway as candidates fight for a seat on the board widely considered the most powerful local government in the state.
There are seven seats on the Clark County Commission, and four of them are up for grabs this cycle. They include that of Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, who is seeking re-election in District B, and of Vice Chairman Lawrence Weekly, who has reached his term limit, and cannot run again in dominantly Democratic District D.
In District A, incumbent Michael Naft is trying to retain his seat for another four years. In District C, where incumbent Larry Brown has reached his term limit, six Democratic candidates are competing for the nomination in order to go up in the general election against Republican Las Vegas City Councilman Stavros Anthony, the biggest spender so far in the race.
District D, where Weekly is leaving an open spot, is even more competitive and the most expensive primary being run, with seven Democratic candidates duking it out for the nomination, including three who have spent upwards of $40,000 since January. Among them are the head of the state Democratic Party, William McCurdy, longtime state lawmaker Mo Denis, and North Las Vegas councilman Isaac Barron.
The prize these high profile competitors seek: A seat on a powerful commission with a large budget, tasked with decision-making about business licensing, homelessness, the University Medical Center, and foster services among others.
The Clark County Commission’s jurisdiction includes three quarters of Nevada’s population and the board oversees a budget of $1.28 billion. A place at the table for these politicians means a full-time salary of about $86,000 a year — far more than the state legislators earn for their part-time role — and oversight of the Las Vegas Strip.
Here’s a look at the state of play in the primary.
Democratic incumbent Michael Naft has amassed a massive war chest, spending heavily on his quest to retain his seat against a not-so-well funded opponent.
Naft faces only one opponent in the Democratic primary— Ken Patrick “Sully” O’Sullivan, a former casino worker who ran unsuccessfully for Clark County Treasurer in 2018.
Naft first took office in 2019, selected by Gov. Steve Sisolak as his replacement when Sisolak left the commission two years into his term to become governor. Naft is a former district director for Rep. Dina Titus and has been endorsed by SEIU Local 1107 and the Culinary Union, among others.
The incumbent has been far outraising his opponent this cycle, sitting on a total fund of $843,814 while O’Sullivan has only reported $125 in contributions since January.
Registered Republicans make up approximately 31 percent of the district, compared to 39 percent for registered Democrats. Only one candidate, Michael Thomas, is on the Republican ticket.
The former police officer is running on a platform of public safety funding, gun safety and the preservation of natural lands. He previously ran in 2016, losing the race to Sisolak who was re-elected with 57 percent of the vote.
Thomas has not reported any contributions or spending since January 2020, but is unopposed in the primary and is guaranteed to compete in November’s general election.
In Democratic-leaning District B, Clark County Commission Chair Marilyn Kirkpatrick is running unopposed for the Democratic nomination. But even without a campaign to run, the candidate has received plenty of contributions.
Kirkpatrick has served on the commission since 2015 and was a Nevada assemblywoman for 11 years. She has been endorsed by Nevada State AFL-CIO, the Culinary Union and the Vegas Chamber. The commission chair has brought in $54,000 in campaign contributions since the start of the year, bringing her total cash on hand to more than $336,000.
Among her contributors are the SEIU Local 1107, the Clark County Fire Fighters PAC and fellow commissioner Larry Brown, who is leaving his seat on the commission.
Also running unopposed in their primaries are Warren Ross Markowitz, a Las Vegas attorney and member of the Independent American Party, and Kevin M. Williams of the Republican Party. Neither candidate has reported any contributions to or spending by their campaigns so far.
In the district, roughly 43 percent of registered voters in the district are Democrats, while 32 percent are Republicans and roughly 4 percent are registered with the Independent American Party.
Former Secretary of State Ross Miller is among the six candidates vying for the Democratic nomination in Democratic-leaning District C for a chance to face off against a Republican candidate who already has spent more than $200,000 campaigning in the district so far this year — even without an opponent.
Stavros Anthony is the only candidate on the Republican ballot for the open seat. He has served on the Las Vegas City Council since 2009, following 30 years with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.
Unlike Thomas, the unopposed Republican running in District A, Anthony has been bringing in major contributions throughout 2020 and has spent more than any other candidate running for the commission.
District C Commissioner Larry Brown reached his term limit this year and is unable to seek re-election. The Democrat has held the seat since 2009, and while the district has a higher number of registered Democrats than Republicans, the party does not hold a majority in the district as it does in District D.
Democrats make up just under 40 percent of registered voters, compared to approximately 31 percent registered as Republicans. Voters registered with smaller parties or as non-partisans make up a lower but still significant percentage of voter demographics at 29 percent.
Miller, the son of former Gov. Bob Miller, was secretary of state from 2006 until 2014. Upon reaching his term limit in that role, he lost a high-profile race for attorney general against Republican Adam Laxalt. Miller has been endorsed by Nevada State AFL-CIO, Planned Parenthood Votes Nevada, SEIU Local 1107 and the Nevada Conservation League.
In the first quarter of 2020, Miller brought in nearly $53,000 and has the most cash on hand of any Democratic candidate in District C with more than $51,000.
Though Miller has the most in the bank, he has not been spending as heavily as his competitors. Miller spent only $1,023 in the first four months of 2020, almost entirely on office expenses, with no money designated for consulting or advertising fees.
By contrast, Hunter Cain, who also has been endorsed by the Nevada Conservation League, has spent more than $4,000 on consulting and advertising expenses since the beginning of the year. Cain has received fewer contributions than Miller but has spent nearly five times as much.
Additionally, Cain has largely self-funded, loaning his own campaign $3,100. He had $428 cash on hand as of April 15.
Cain spent nearly a decade in the U.S. Army before working as director of community outreach for Rep. Dina Titus. He has received nine higher education degrees, in fields including political science, business administration and sustainability. If elected, he will be Clark County’s first openly LGBT commissioner.
Another candidate who has spent almost as much as he’s brought in since January is Fayyaz Raja, who reported expenditures of nearly $19,000 as of April 15. Raja has received nearly $20,000 in campaign contributions this year, including a $7,500 loan from his wife, Kathleen Raja, made in early January. Raja serves on the Clark County Asian-American Pacific Islanders Community Commission.
The three remaining contenders are Gary Hosea, Patsy Brown and Jenny Penney. Hosea, who filed to run on the last day of candidate filing, has run for the District C seat in the past as a Republican and has received $100 in campaign contributions this year.
Brown is a former restaurateur and managing partner at a law firm, and Penney has worked with the county office. Neither has reported any contributions since January.
In the race for the open seat representing a deeply Democratic district home to Fremont Street, seven Democratic candidates are competing in the primary, including big name legislators and heavily funded players in the Democratic Party. Three candidates have spent upwards of $40,000 just since January.
Registered Democrats make up the majority of voters in District D, with 56 percent of all voters registered with the party. Non-partisan and minor party voters also outnumber Republicans in the region, at 31 percent, with 13 percent registered as Republican.
Three non-partisan candidates have also filed to run for the seat in District D.
Assemblyman William McCurdy II has been the biggest spender in the District D race so far, spending $57,670 during the first period of 2020. McCurdy has been endorsed by the Nevada State AFL-CIO as well as the Nevada Conservation League and the Culinary Union.
In addition to spending the most, the two-term representative of Assembly District 6 and chairman of the Nevada State Democratic Party has received the highest number of contributions in the same period.
Mo Denis has been a state senator since 2010 and served as an assemblyman for six years before that. The legislator has been close behind McCurdy in terms of spending, with $55,600 in expenses this year. Of that, more than $50,000 has gone toward consulting and advertising. Even with the high spending, Denis still sits on more cash on hand than any of his competitors, with more than $96,000.
Denis got his community service start in education serving on the PTA and has been involved ever since, serving on the Clark County Library Board and as the chair of the Commission of Education Technology. He also has been endorsed by the Nevada State AFL-CIO.
The third big spender on the ballot is Isaac Barron, who has held a seat on the North Las Vegas City Council since 2013 and was the city’s first Hispanic mayor pro tempore. He is a teacher at Rancho High School and has been involved in a variety of mentoring projects for Nevada’s youth. Between January 1 and the end of March, he brought in $32,200 in campaign contributions and spent more than $44,000.
His campaign is far from in the red, with a total fund balance of $77,059, second in the district only to Denis.
The only female candidate on the ballot in District D is Tanya Flanagan, who has brought in nearly $12,000 since January, mostly from small donations, bringing her total fund to $35,453.
A breast cancer survivor and advocate for women’s health, Flanagan has been endorsed by the Nevada chapter of the National Organization for Women and is the president of the Board of Directors for Susan G. Komen Nevada.
Among the remaining three Democratic candidates is Deepen “My Friend” Kothari, a former science teacher and community organizer involved with Las Vegas PRIDE. Dr. Dillard Scott is on the ballot, promising to focus on supporting businesses in the county, as is Jesus Carlos Moreno, who first ran for the seat in 2004.
Neither Kothari or Moreno reported any campaign contributions during the first four months of 2020, while Scott made a loan to the campaign in his own name for $200.
Three nonpartisan candidates have thrown their hats into the ring. Henry Thorns, David L. Washington and Stanley L. Washington have all filed to run for the district seat without a party affiliation, none of whom have reported any contributions or spending thus far.
This story was updated at 11:15 a.m. on May 24, 2020 to reflect Isaac Barron's teaching status.