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Freshman Orientation: Assemblywoman Tracy Brown-May

Michelle Rindels
Michelle Rindels
Legislature
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ASSEMBLYWOMAN TRACY BROWN-MAY

  • Freshman Democrat who succeeds Democratic Assemblyman Alex Assefa
  • Represents District 42, which includes the central portion of the Las Vegas Valley west of Interstate 15 and parts of Spring Valley
  • District 42 leans heavily Democratic (43.4 percent Democratic, 23.2 percent Republican and 26.8 percent nonpartisan in the 2020 election)
  • Brown-May was appointed by the Clark County Commission on Feb. 2, 2021 to fill the seat after Assefa resigned amid an investigation into whether he met residency requirements.
  • She sits on the Government Affairs, Growth and Infrastructure and Natural Resources committees
Democratic Assemblywoman Tracy Brown-May with Justice James Hardesty at her swearing-in ceremony on Feb. 8, 2021 in Carson City. Photo courtesy Nevada Assembly Democrats.

FAMILY AND EDUCATION

Brown-May was raised in the town of Ware, Massachusetts. Many of her family members still live there — her sister has a farm and her brother is an elementary school teacher.

She graduated from the College of Southern Nevada with an associate’s degree in 2015, and is enrolled in Northeastern University — a school she was accepted to after high school graduation in 1985 but didn’t attend until recently. She is in the final stages of obtaining her bachelor’s degree in policy and public administration, and is finishing a capstone research project on disability services delivery.

She and her husband, Jeff, have a combined six children; the youngest is 18.

CAREER 

Brown-May pursued photography immediately out of high school, but shifted gears after realizing the challenges of making a living in the field. She worked in the gaming industry in Las Vegas and later began a career at Opportunity Village, a nonprofit serving people with disabilities through respite care, job training and enrichment programs. 

She has been with the organization for nearly 20 years, and is on leave during the session from her job as director of advocacy, board, and government relations. As a nonprofit, Opportunity Village is not allowed to engage in lobbying per se but does advocate before the Legislature and track bills.

PROFILE

Some of Tracy Brown-May’s most defining moments have come out of periods of great sadness.

She left Massachusetts in 1994 after being laid off from her job at the unemployment office. She also had a series of unsuccessful pregnancies — nine before she eventually had her daughter — and was looking for a new beginning.

“It was actually part of a trauma recovery in my life,” she said. “I picked up and moved away 2,500 miles completely by myself. It was an exciting time. It was really very empowering.”

It was also around the time the MGM casino, then new and heavily themed after the Wizard of Oz, had opened a yellow brick road.

“And I thought, wow, if there's a yellow brick road in Las Vegas, I'm gonna go find it,” she said. “So I did.” 

One of her earliest jobs in Las Vegas was as a graveyard shift bingo caller in the Showboat casino, walking distance from where she lived. Some players, who recognized her distinct East Coast accent that has faded over time, considered her lucky and played extra cards when she was calling.

“We had lots of homeless people that were living in a vacant lot that would come in and bathe in the restrooms,” she recalled. “And so it was really an eye opening experience about some of the issues I think our community continues to face.”

Brown-May went on to work at the Sam’s Town casino in marketing and human resources, later heading up all training related to problem gambling and alcohol awareness.

“The whole problem gambling piece is about helping staff recognize when somebody might have a problem with gambling, and it's not recreational anymore, and then steering them in the right direction to get help,” she said. 

It wasn’t until she finally had her first baby — and worked through health problems with her daughter — that she changed careers. She said God called her.

“Because she was my tenth pregnancy ... I have a sense of mortality, I guess, and how you value life and you need to live it when it's here in front of you, because you don't know what tomorrow is gonna bring,” she said.

Her first day on the job as an administrative assistant at Opportunity Village on 9/11, the day the Twin Towers were hit. But there would be other formative moments in the job, including her first trip to Washington, D.C., where she watched her boss advocate for people with disabilities to powerbrokers in the nation’s capital.

“I fell in love with the opportunity to have these really high level conversations about how do you improve life for people that don't often get engaged in this climate,” she said.

Still, pursuing elected office was never in her plans. She wanted to continue being an advocate, until her Assembly representative, Alexander Assefa, resigned in January amid an investigation about whether he actually lived in the district.

“I was a little upset by that. I'm a voter. And I understand what it means to put your trust and your elected officials,” she said. “I thought, well, I have a lot of years of experience. And I could do some good quickly, right? Because I don't have to learn the legislative process, necessarily, from the outside having been a part of how the Legislature works.”

She threw her hat in the ring, and was chosen out of a half-dozen hopefuls. In less than a week, she had to find a place to live, make the move and get sworn in to her new job — a ceremony that her children watched with enthusiasm.

“I didn't think any of them were gonna watch it,” she said. “But they were all — my phone was buzzing like crazy.”

She plans to go back to Las Vegas most weekends to spend time with her family. Among her favorite hobbies are reading and riding her road bike. Raised Catholic, she’s now active at The Crossing, a nondenominational church in Las Vegas.

“There's something to be said about the reverence of the Catholic Church, and sort of that ritual. I missed that. So a lot of times, I still carry a rosary in my purse,” she said. “My faith goes everywhere.”

Her legislative service means she missed important events like Night to Shine, a virtual prom for people with disabilities hosted by former football player Tim Tebow and churches worldwide. But the people around her have been supportive, including her boss, who allowed her to go on leave and encouraged her to pursue the seat by telling her it was something she was made to do.

“I don't have to worry about being torn in two directions,” she said. “It's about supporting Assembly District 42, the constituents in that area. And I can do that. That's what I'm here to do.” 

ON THE ISSUES

Taxes

Brown-May said she’s undecided about specific tax proposals, including ones backed by the Clark County Education Association to raise the gaming and sales taxes, and ones to adjust the mining tax. But she's not making any "no new taxes" pledge either.

“I certainly would never make that blanket statement,” she said. “But I also think we have to be very careful that we're not raising taxes for families that can't afford taxes. … For me, nothing is off the table.”

Election integrity

Brown-May said she had “great confidence” in the integrity of the 2020 election and said that as the Legislature pursues any changes to the law, she would seek input from the secretary of state.

Close to her heart are issues of accessibility and ensuring every eligible voter has the chance to cast a ballot.

“When you start asking for certain types of identification, or even verification processes, you're going to eliminate access to many people,” she said. “If you can't get up a ramp, then you know, you can't get in. Or if you have an intellectual disability, or somebody perceives you to have an intellectual disability, and they make you have to go through an additional hoop, you don't get a vote. That's not right.”

Climate change

Nevada lawmakers have set aggressive goals to reduce carbon emissions, but policymakers have acknowledged that achieving them could be costly on the front end and require change for consumers.

Brown-May said she loves that the state has set its sights so high, but believes adjustments such as moving from gas to electric appliances requires persuasion.

“The residents in my district are working class families that have lots and lots of other concerns. Many of them have been hit significantly by this COVID-19 pandemic, they're out of work,” she said. “Climate change is super important. But it might not be relevant to their everyday need right now.”

She said Nevada could take cues from how it addressed drought — by making water conservation relevant to consumers through marketing campaigns. It would also mean providing resources to help families make what could be a costly transition.

“The one thing I've learned in disability services over the last 20 years — you can't make someone do something that they don't agree with or are not comfortable with,” she said. “So helping people to understand why it's good, and then helping them to achieve that goal, will get us much farther.”

Criminal justice reform

Brown-May’s work with people with disabilities has shaped her views on criminal justice reform.

“I love the police. I got to tell you, they've protected me on more than one occasion ... so I think our police are essential,” she said.

But she acknowledges that people have been killed by police officers in the past because law enforcement can misunderstand someone who has a developmental disability or mental illness. 

“We did pass legislation last session that requested additional training for our law enforcement officials and emergency responders, to be able to understand when they were working with someone who had a disability, which is awesome,” she said. “So education is great. And I hope we can continue to move in that direction.”

Disability services

Brown-May says the Nevada community of people with disabilities is fragmented because members’ needs can vary so widely and services are funded so differently. But she hopes that the community can come together during the interim in a setting similar to the Southern Nevada Forum to determine policy priorities.

Past governors have created committees and commissions, but she believes the work can be done without an executive order. 

“If we could come together as a disability community, to really address the areas where there's such disparity, I think that we would have much more success,” she said. “If they feel empowered to take on their issues in that way, I think that we could have an opportunity to make good progress.”

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