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The Nevada Independent

Freshman Orientation: Assemblyman Andy Matthews

Riley Snyder
Riley Snyder
Legislature
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As in sessions past, The Nevada Independent is publishing a series of profiles featuring all the new lawmakers in the state. This is the ninth installment of more than a dozen. Check back in the coming days for additional stories on new legislators' backgrounds, interests and policy positions.

ASSEMBLYMAN ANDY MATTHEWS

  • Freshman Republican who succeeds Democratic Assemblywoman Shea Backus
  • Represents District 37, which is north of Summerlin and contains parts of Sun City Summerlin in Las Vegas
  • District 37 has a slight advantage in voter registration for Democrats (36.8 percent Democratic, 35.2 percent Republican and 21.8 percent nonpartisan in the 2020 election)
  • Matthews defeated three other candidates with 49 percent of the vote in the 2020 Republican primary, including former television journalist Michelle Mortensen, Jacob Deaville and Lisa Noeth.
  • He then defeated incumbent Assemblywoman Shea Backus in the 2020 general election, winning a little less than 51 percent of the vote.
  • He sits on the following committees: Government Affairs, Health and Human Services, Legislative Operations and Elections

FAMILY AND EDUCATION

Matthews was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts. He graduated from Boston University with a degree in journalism and worked as a sports journalist before entering the political field.

He and his fiancé Valerie live in Las Vegas.

CAREER

Andy Matthews never expected to be here.

For one, he thought he would be working on the other side of the Capitol Amphitheater after serving as policy director for former gubernatorial candidate Adam Laxalt’s 2018 campaign. But Laxalt lost the race to Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, and no job in the governor’s office materialized (Matthews described the loss as a “punch to the gut”).

But beyond that, 42-year-old Matthews never really expected to end up in the political field, much less in the Nevada Legislature. Born in Massachusetts and initially trained as a sports journalist before transitioning to the political realm, he says he “took the scenic route” to the Legislature.

“If you told me at 12 years old when I was living in rural Massachusetts, I would serve in the Nevada State Assembly someday, I’d probably ask you what a state assembly was, and ask you a lot of questions about how I got from point A to point B,” he said. “But I’m honored to be here, and it's been a great experience so far.”

Matthews was born in New Bedford, but grew up in a rural area (Freetown) about 50 miles south of Boston. A life-long Red Sox fan, Matthews played basketball and baseball in high school but moved away from athletics after getting a job at a local newspaper, writing up box scores and brief game summaries. In high school, he and another student helped start a student newspaper — the “Laker Pride,” named for the bodies of water around the area, not a reference to the Celtics’ main rival.

After graduating college with a journalism degree, Matthews worked at a variety of sports reporting jobs, including at FOX Sports and a stint for MLB.com (where, for an article, he went undercover and attended an open-to-the-public Red Sox tryout. Matthews says he was never “really in danger of making the team.”)

But his interests broadened beyond sports; first with the contentious circumstance around the 2000 presidential election, but also with the terror attack on 9/11. At the time, Matthews was living in Hoboken, New Jersey, with a view from his bedroom window into lower Manhattan. Working nights, he said he didn’t know about the attacks until his dad called him. He remembers pacing between the television and his bedroom window.

“I think the combination of those things in my early 20s for me put issues front and center in my life, in my mind, that I hadn't really given a whole lot of thought to before,” he said.

Matthews worked on a New Jersey political race in 2005, then moved to Nevada to work as campaign manager for former state lawmaker Bob Beers’ ultimately unsuccessful gubernatorial run in 2006. Deciding to stay in Nevada, Matthews was hired on as communications director for the Nevada Policy Research Institute (a nonprofit, pro-free market think tank) and eventually became the group’s director in 2011.

He said the organization was a great fit for him because of his political interests and background in communications skills, but at times he was frustrated that the group’s legislative advocacy didn’t translate into desired policy results.

Outside of “facetious barstool conversations,” Matthews said he hadn’t really considered a run for office himself, but a turning point came in 2015 after former Gov. Brian Sandoval (a Republican) pushed through a record-breaking package of new and extended taxes worth more than $1.1 billion.

“If we're not getting what we should be getting, in my view, out of the current crop of elected officials, maybe we need some different officials,” he said. “The best way to change policy sometimes is to change policy makers.”

So in 2016, Matthews decided to jump in the contentious Republican Party primary for the state’s 3rd Congressional District. With then-state Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson (who helped Sandoval shepherd through the tax package in 2015) and well-known and perennial conservative candidate Danny Tarkanian also in the race, Matthews said he hoped to run as a “new face principled outsider” — and carve out the middle ground between Tarkanian and Roberson.

But that pathway was largely closed off when firebrand then-Republican Assemblywoman Michele Fiore also decided to jump in the primary. Matthews says he continued to campaign hard, but ended up coming in fourth out of the seven-way contest (noting that he and Fiore combined had a vote share roughly equal to that of Tarkanian, who ended up winning the primary but losing to Democratic nominee Jacky Rosen).

After that election cycle, Matthews moved to the political orbit of former Attorney General Adam Laxalt, leading his Morning in Nevada PAC for a spell before moving to work on Laxalt’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign. 

But the 2018 election cycle was a nadir for Nevada Republicans, and Matthews said that though that loss stung, he figured political fortunes in a swing state such as Nevada would eventually swing back. Running for the Legislature, he said, was a way to get in on the ground floor.

“We're going to rebuild, one way or another, we're going to get stronger, and I'd love to be part of that,” he said. “So that as our party starts to gain strength and have more of a say, in the future, I can be at the table and try to try to shape things as best I can, in a way that aligns with the principles that I think we really ought to adhere to.”

Assemblyman Andy Mathews during the first day of the 81st session of the Legislature in Carson City on Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

ON THE ISSUES

Taxes

Matthews is a signer of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, a written promise for federal and state candidates to oppose any and all tax increases without some kind of corresponding revenue-neutral tax cut. Matthews said that pledge includes the gaming and sales tax initiative petitions circulated by the Clark County Education Association and now before the state Legislature. 

“We need to rebuild our economy, and I do not believe saddling Nevadans with higher taxes is the way to do it,” he said.

Election security

Matthews plans to introduce a bill that would repeal AB4 from the state’s 2020 summer special session, which provided for sending out mail ballots to all active registered voters and also legalized ballot collection, the practice where individuals can collect and turn in absentee ballots for other voters (Republicans often refer to this practice as “ballot harvesting”).

He said he was fine with no-excuse absentee ballots, but that the practice of automatically mailing ballots to voters made the state’s election system “susceptible to fraud and error.” 

Asked whether he believed that massive voter fraud happened to a level that would have affected the outcome of the presidential race in Nevada, Matthews noted that there was some degree of “error, fraud, or irregularities” that happened in the election (citing statements made by Clark County Registrar Joe Gloria on discrepancies in a close county commission race).

But he said his primary focus is election security, and that he doesn’t want to get “bogged down” in whether “the outcome of one particular race (was) the proper outcome in terms of voter intent.”

“Right now under our system, it's designed in a way that makes it much, much easier than it should be to cheat if one wanted to,” he said. “And so, we can go back and forth all day on, did no one cheat, did one person cheat, did 200,000 people cheat? We don't know; no one knows; you don't know; I don't know. Because we have a system that's designed in such a way that we can't know. So my job as a legislator, it's to make sure that we have the proper systems in place to make sure that we do have an election that's secure.”

(The secretary of state’s office has said it did not see any evidence of “wide-spread fraud” in the 2020 election, though election officials have said they’re pursuing several individual cases of possible election-related fraud in the 2020 election).

Criminal justice reform

While critical of measures passed in recent sessions that he said “went much too far in terms of tying the hands of law enforcement,” Matthews said he was broadly supportive of efforts to reduce recidivism and help current and former inmates successfully adjust back into normal society.

“That's an area where I think we all can look at, because we are all going to benefit,” he said. “If someone comes out of our prison system after a number of years and doesn't have the skillset to find a job, there’s a very good chance that person may end up back in that cycle of disruptive behavior. That benefits nobody.”

Other proposals

Other bills that Matthews plans to introduce this session include the following:

  • A measure that would allow local jurisdictions to opt-in to the 287(g) program, a federal partnership between local police and federal immigration officials to place “detainers” on people not legally in the country but arrested or taken into police custody for non-immigration related reasons. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department opted out of the program in 2019 after a federal court case enjoined ICE from issuing so-called detainers without “explicit state statute authorizing civil immigration arrests.”
  • A measure creating a state-level REINS Act, a proposal championed by Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul essentially requiring significant regulations with a major financial impact to be approved explicitly by the Legislature, as opposed to an executive branch agency. Former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker implemented a similar program in that state
  • A measure to increase penalties for public agencies that fail to comply with public record law violations
  • A bill to subject the collective bargaining process between government employee unions and local government employers to requirements in the state’s Open Meeting Law
  • A measure allowing creation of “charter agencies,” a concept promoted by former Controller Ron Knecht and the Nevada Policy Research Institute to rework state government agencies by giving them broad policy goals and “allowing agency directors to determine the best means of achieving those objectives.”

Matthews acknowledged that many of his bills will likely not move very far in a Legislature and governor’s office controlled by Democrats. He said that while he hopes to attract bipartisan support for at least some of his proposals (including the bills aimed at improving government function), there was still some value to be gained by at least introducing the concepts.

“If I can move the needle at least on the conversation on some of these things, there's value in that as well,” he said. “If a particular bill doesn't get implemented in this particular legislative session, at least (we’re) beginning the conversation, and maybe changing some minds, and hopefully taking a step toward a place down the road.”

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