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The Nevada Independent

Freshman Orientation: Senator Roberta Lange

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 sixth installment of more than a dozen. Check back in the coming days for additional stories on new legislators' backgrounds, interests and policy positions.

SENATOR ROBERTA LANGE

  • Freshman Democrat who succeeds Democratic Sen. David Parks
  • Represents District 7, which includes parts of Las Vegas southeast of the Strip and north of Henderson 
  • District 7 leans heavily Democratic (43.5 percent Democratic, 23.8 percent Republican and 25.8 percent nonpartisan in the 2020 election)
  • Lange defeated two other candidates — former Assembly members Ellen Spiegel and Richard Carrillo — in the 2020 Democratic primary with 38.2 percent of the vote.
  • She did not face an opponent in the 2020 general election
  • She will sit on the Education, Legislative Operations and Elections, and Commerce and Labor committees

FAMILY AND EDUCATION

Born in California and raised in Whitefish, Montana, Lange attended and obtained her undergraduate degree from a private Christian college in Southern California on a basketball scholarship (the school is now The Master’s University, but was previously named Los Angeles Baptist College).

After graduating, she moved to Washington state and took a job as a public school teacher. She met her husband, Ken, at a teacher’s conference, and moved to Las Vegas in 1995. She has four adult children.

CAREER

Lange is a retired public school teacher, but is best known for her past involvement with Democratic Party campaign and issues, including serving as chair of the Nevada State Democratic Party from 2011 to 2017.

PROFILE

For a brief period of time in 2016, Roberta Lange was in the center of the national political universe.

The simmering conflict between supporters of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary erupted during a raucous Nevada state party convention, filled with accusations of rule-bending and cheating over the awarding of Nevada’s delegates to choose the next Democratic nominee for president.

In the center of the firestorm was Lange — the state party chairwoman, and soon the object of scorn and even death threats from Sanders supporters around the country.

Five years later, Lange said the attacks and attention from her role in the convention have largely evaporated. In talking with Democratic primary voters while running her office, she said she spoke with several Sanders supporters who were at the convention, but was able to have calmer, productive conversations about what had happened.

“People had deep convictions for what they believed in, whether it was Medicare for All, or a progressive agenda, and they want to make sure that that was a part of the overall package moving forward, and that Bernie Sanders was the best messenger for them in that situation,” she said. “I think they still have those convictions. I have my convictions, but now I think we can talk about it.”

With the benefit of hindsight, she said the entirety of the experience re-committed her to involvement in political life.

“After I was able to step away and heal myself, my voice inside of me... said, you still have that conviction, and you can't let it go, you still have to fight for what you believe in,” she said. “And I think it never went away. And it's stronger than ever. And so I think things happen in our lives for a reason, and if we can take those things and grow from it, then we are better in the end.”

Lange’s interest in political issues didn’t begin at an early age — her family largely avoided bringing up the topic, and a similar dynamic awaited her at college. But after moving to Washington to take a teaching job, she joined her teacher’s union and a “whole new world opened up to me.”

She served two terms as president of the Washington State Education Association, spent time as the union’s chief negotiator and lobbied the state legislature on education issues. A memento from that time followed her to Carson City — a framed photo of her (then a teachers’ union lobbyist) sitting at a Washington state senator’s desk, whom she had visited to lobby.

“I remember asking him if I could please sit at his desk,” she said. “And so I'm going to take that picture to Carson City, because I think that's when I first thought that maybe I would like to be in elected office someday. And sometimes those things have a life of their own.”

Lange moved to Nevada in 1995 after meeting her husband at a national teachers convention, taking a job at Durango High School. But her involvement in the political sphere continued apace — taking a position as a deputy campaign manager in U.S. Sen. Harry Reid’s 1998 re-election campaign. Additional political stints included work for a congressional candidate (Tom Gallagher), Dina Titus’s gubernatorial campaign in 2006 and state director for former presidential candidate Bill Richardson in 2008.

She then transitioned to party politics, chairing the Clark County Democratic Party for three years and eventually taking over as chair of the Nevada State Democratic Party in 2011 — a role she held for three two-year terms (she also mounted an unsuccessful bid for Democratic National Committee secretary in 2017).

Despite two decades in either behind-the-scenes or party organization roles, Lange said she always had an interest eventually running for office — finally taking the plunge after longtime Democratic Sen. David Parks termed out of office after the 2019 session. She said it was “hard to run against people that are your friends” — Lange narrowly defeated two former Assembly Democrats in the primary — but that she knew it was her time to run for office.

“I felt like I had gathered all my tools,” she said. “And all the years that I had been in political work, that I would be ready to run whenever the opportunity presented itself. And so, this time was the time.”

State Senator Roberta Lange on the fourth day of the 81st session of the Legislature in Carson City on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

ON THE ISSUES

Ending the caucus and other election issues

While saying that she wants Nevada to remain early or even first on the presidential nominating calendar, Lange said she would support moving Nevada from a caucus to primary election state.

It’s a move being worked on by Nevada Democrats statewide — part of the jostle between the early states on the primary election calendar — and is likely to come up in the Legislature, with Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson proposing a bill that would enable the state to transition away from a caucus to a primary election.

Lange said she liked that the caucus process required presidential candidates to campaign in the community, and hoped that a similar dynamic would continue to exist even if Nevada switched its election process for presidential preference contests.

“Whether we're a caucus state or a primary state, I want the same kinds of things to happen with the candidates, because I think we reflect the fabric of the nation,” she said.

Lange also said she was working on a bill draft that she described as “revisions” to current laws governing political parties, based on her experience as head of the state Democratic Party. She declined to give explicit details as the proposal is still in the works, but said it would include reducing the size of political party conventions and also getting rid of precinct chairs. 

Taxes

Lange declined to stake a position on any of the pending tax issues facing the Legislature, including proposals by the Clark County Education Association to hike the sales and gaming tax rates, measures passed during the 2020 special sessions changing the constitutional limits on mining taxes and any effort to change the property tax formula.

Lange said that she thought teachers should be paid more, but was cautious about pushing for any tax increases given that the state’s economy was still in a recovery phase.

“I'm not a person that thinks we should be governed by petitions,” she said. “I was an educator, where I lobbied and always asked for more money, and more money, and more money to raise salaries, and we never got it. I understand the frustration, and I want to help find a solution. It's just really hard at this time when everybody's getting cuts to talk about how we give more.”

Other legislative proposals

Lange’s list of bill draft request topics cover a wide range of subjects, including:

  • Updating planned unit development laws for counties or cities to streamline the process for businesses to make “minor changes” without going through the normal zoning or code process
  • Education changes, including allowing for college credits if high school students get certain seals on their diplomas, and a civics program that includes community service projects and recognizing “schools of distinction” in civics education
  • A measure related to energy storage
  • Health care changes, including allowing cancer patients to access drugs typically reserved for more serious cancer cases earlier in their treatment, and a measure related to female privacy and medical examinations
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