It happens like clockwork.
Candidates announce their bids for office. Then the attack ads follow in short order, unabashedly targeting their voting records and more.
We’re here to help. The Nevada Independent already produces fact-checks for political advertisements and off-the-cuff remarks, but we also want to get ahead of the campaign game.
When politicians announce their candidacy for public office, we’ll roll out “On the Record” — our look at their voting history and stances on a broad array of subjects.
Now up: Former state lawmaker and current Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, who last week announced her candidacy for governor. She’s a Democrat.
Giunchigliani hails from the classroom. She spent more than 25 years working as a special-education teacher in the Clark County School District before taking an unpaid leave starting in the summer of 2007 after being elected to the Commission.
The budget woes affecting the Clark and Washoe county school districts have increased calls for fixing Nevada’s funding mechanism for public education.
Giunchigliani agrees that the funding formula — created in the 1960s — needs an overhaul. The gubernatorial candidate said she’s already speaking with lawmakers and other stakeholders to get the process in motion well ahead of the 2019 legislative session. She said the categorical funds — extra money given to schools with more students learning English or living in poverty — have helped but don’t solve the underlying problem, which is a faulty formula distributing education dollars statewide.
“It never fixes the structure,” she said. “Until the structure is fixed you will always have these shortfalls.”
The new formula, however, must contain hold-harmless provisions for school districts that could be the most affected by changes, she said. She also wants to inject more money into public education but said the formula changes need to occur first.
“We need more money for education — absolutely,” she said. “But it would be not prudent to just put more money in without trying to fix the structure.”
Fixing the funding structure, she said, will have a ripple effect across the education system, ultimately reducing class sizes and adding more resources to schools that should help boost student performance.
State lawmakers have been studying ways to update Nevada’s 50-year-old funding formula and move to a “weighted” system that would distribute funds based on student needs, although the price tag is considerable and the shift hasn’t been fully funded or implemented.
Giunchigliani wrote an op-ed last year opposing Education Savings Accounts, pointing out that private schools that could receive public money through the program aren’t held to the same set of standards as public schools.
“They don’t have to hire qualified teachers; they do not have to teach a standard curriculum; and if a private or religious school wants to reject science, they are entitled to do so by law,” she wrote. “These schools can turn away kids who are deemed not to ‘fit in,’ and statistics show that these are often children with disabilities, those from different cultures who may not speak English, or simply those who are behind in school.”
ESAs are still in the law, but the Legislature has not funded them and the program has never disbursed money to the accounts.
When Giunchigliani did her listening tour all over urban and rural Nevada, she heard a common refrain: The state needs to improve its mental health services. The nonprofit Mental Health America ranks Nevada’s system worst in the nation.
Giunchigliani has made the issue a top priority, already forming a work group led by University Medical Center’s Chief of Staff, Dr. Dale Carrison, to craft recommendations for how to fix what she’s called a broken system.
“I want a comprehensive plan,” she said. “I don’t just want a piece.”
She thinks the mental-health system needs structural changes that eliminate barriers, such as licensing hassles that prevent medical professionals from working in Nevada or confusing pathways for people seeking treatment.
While mental health has garnered more attention in recent years, Giunchigliani believes she can actually make progress fixing the system because she’s a listener who wants to bring together a diverse group of people to solve the problems.
“We went to always expect people to come to us, and we really should be delivering services out in the community,” she said.
Giunchigliani took a hard stance against using public funding to construct the estimated $1.9 billion stadium, the future home of the Oakland Raiders in Las Vegas.
She was a vocal critic throughout the planning process, including during the special legislative session in October 2016. The county commissioner urged state lawmakers to “have the courage to vote no” on the legislation.
A month later, Giunchigliani cast the lone “no” vote when the commission amended county ordinances to enact room-tax increases for the stadium project.
While lawmakers had approved the public-funding package, the local governing body was charged with imposing the room-tax increase — an act largely viewed as obligatory. Giunchigliani disagreed.
“No one tells me how to vote,” she said during the Nov. 15, 2016 commission meeting.
In recent years, most discussions concerning Nevada’s economic growth have revolved around massive undertakings such as Tesla’s gigafactory in Northern Nevada or the professional sports teams flocking to Las Vegas.
Giunchigliani wants to inject “mom and pop” businesses into conversations about how to bolster the state’s economy. The gubernatorial candidate said she’d like to see community analyses done to determine what small businesses may be needed in a particular area followed by outreach to encourage either existing or new small-business owners to set up shop.
“We don’t do enough to grow and groom the smaller businesses, which are still the backbone of society,” she said. “Many of them were destroyed by all these big boxes, but now as retail is shifting, there’s going to be another opportunity to really look at smaller spots, less square footage, cheaper rent.”
The dilemma regarding the so-called “More Cops” tax dragged on for more than two years, with Giunchigliani at the center of the debate.
Giunchigliani consistently opposed iterations of the measure, which sought to increase the sales tax so local police departments could hire more officers. She was the only county commissioner who voted against the final proposal in September 2015 that boosted Clark County’s sales-tax rate to 8.15 percent — a 0.05 percentage-point increase. Giunchigliani has defended her decision, calling it a regressive tax that disproportionately affects low-income residents.
The commissioner says she’s not anti-public safety. Last year, she joined her fellow commissioners in voting unanimously to enact a 0.1 percentage-point increase to pay for more than 300 additional police officers, a chunk of whom will patrol the tourist-heavy corridors of Southern Nevada. That sales-tax increase was part of the Crime Prevention Act of 2016 that lawmakers approved during the special legislative session in October that cleared the way for the Raiders stadium.
As a member of the Assembly in 2005, Giunchigliani voted in favor of property tax caps meant to protect homeowners from skyrocketing housing prices. But the move had an unintended consequence when property values nosedived during the Great Recession.
As property values started inching back up when the economy improved, the tax caps prevented that revenue from recovering as well. Local governments and schools, which rely on property taxes, suffered as a result. Giunchigliani has supported re-examining property tax caps.
Giunchigliani said the caps need to be adjusted and she hopes a bipartisan effort will emerge again to pass legislation that would make the tweak. A push to rethink the property tax setup in the 2017 session encountered stiff opposition from Republican Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, who declared early that it had “no hope of passing.” Bills carrying out the concept eventually died.
Giunchigliani wants to help convene meetings with business owners, elected officials and others to explain the complicated formula behind the tax caps and why an adjustment is the right thing to do.
“You need to make sure you’ve got the right people at the table who can help explain what it does, what its purpose is, what it funds and, periodically, look back and say is there a better way to do it?” she said.
Giunchigliani has long been involved in the marijuana policy realm. As a legislator in 2001, she led the charge to require the University of Nevada, Reno to research medical marijuana.
Giunchigliani was the first to urge the County Commission to consider regulating marijuana consumption lounges. Public consumption of pot is prohibited under a ballot measure passed last year, but the Legislative Counsel Bureau opined that state law doesn’t prohibit local governments from proceeding on the issue.
But the actual discussion didn’t get far. Commissioners — including Giunchigliani — expressed concerns about regulating the lounges so soon after recreational marijuana became legal and tabled the discussion.
“I think there’s room for discussion still,” she said, referring to marijuana consumption lounges. “Let people mull it over in their minds; bring it back up for conversation.”
It’s far from the only marijuana-related issue she wants to tackle, though. Giunchigliani rattled off a host of other ideas, including doing more marijuana-related research in Nevada (UNR still hasn’t done the studies required in her 2001 bill) and creating certificate programs that would train people to work in the marijuana industry.
She’s also open to taking a second look at how marijuana tax dollars are distributed. The Clark County School District’s superintendent, Pat Skorkowsky, has lambasted the current distribution method, saying the marijuana tax revenue generated in Southern Nevada should stay here and fund local schools. Some Nevada counties don’t allow marijuana dispensaries despite the legalization of recreational cannabis.
“At some point, the conversation needs to come back up that if you don’t allow it in your county, then you really should not be reaping the benefit of that money,” Giunchigliani said. “But you have to go back and make sure you don’t hurt schools all over again.”
SANCTUARY CITIES & IMMIGRATION
Giunchigliani made waves when she posted on Facebook in February that she planned to introduce a resolution before the county commission that would make Clark County a sanctuary county. The move prompted a vociferous response from Roberson.
“Commissioner Giunchigliani has decided that she will try to enact a radical, left-wing agenda by deciding which laws she believes should and should not be enforced. This flouting of the law is irresponsible,” said Roberson, who is now running for lieutenant governor and is sponsoring a ballot measure to ban sanctuary cities.
She later told KSNV in Las Vegas that she just wanted to start a conversation about the issue and acknowledged that the point might be moot because of how the police department handles immigrants who are in the country illegally.
“I think sanctuary cities is probably not the right reflection or the term because it really doesn’t tell you what it does,” she said recently. “What it really means is do your local police officers subsidize the federal government? And my answer is no. We’ve got enough need out here for our police officers.”
But Giunchigliani has been a strong and vocal defender of DREAMers, children who were brought to the United States illegally but grew up here. Five years ago, former President Barack Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which shielded young undocumented immigrants from deportation. President Donald Trump rescinded the program in early September, starting a wind-down process that he said would force Congress to come up with a better measure by March.
Giunchigliani said she supports providing a clean pathway to citizenship — free of numerous barriers — for undocumented immigrants who were brought here illegally as children.
“It seems shameful to me to go after the youth who have never known or can’t even remember— because of their age — another country,” she said. “I just think it’s inhumane.”
Giunchigliani has defended both Obamacare and the Medicaid expansion in Nevada, arguing that both policies have led to more people having health insurance.
“I think the (Affordable Care Act) still works for folks except that the current president is doing everything he can — he’s killing it by death by a thousand cuts,” she said. “Are there tweaks that need to be made to it? Yes. The Cadillac tax should go away … but, overall, it insured people that never had it.”
Giunchigliani said she favors a single-payer health-care system, but how to transition to that model is the question. She doesn’t want to “destabilize” the health-care industry.
On top of convening medical professionals, business leaders and others to discuss how to improve health care in Nevada, Giunchigliani said she would also focus on ensuring that federally qualified health centers are strategically placed throughout the state based on need.
Giunchigliani led the fight to ban the death penalty for juvenile defendants under the age of 18, introducing bills in the Legislature at least three times that would have raised the minimum age for capital charges from 16 to 18.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that states couldn’t carry out the death penalty on defendants who committed their capital crime before they were adults. That meant the death sentence was scrapped for Michael Domingues, a Nevada inmate convicted of murdering two people as a teen.
She remains an opponent of the death penalty. But that wasn’t always the case.
Giunchigliani’s sister was kidnapped at gunpoint as an 18-year-old while camping with a friend in Redwood, Calif. She escaped his motorhome three days later after convincing her abductor not to kill them. The man who kidnapped her sister now sits in prison, which is where Giunchigliani thinks he belongs.
“I came to the conclusion that, as a Catholic, I don’t get to play God,” she said. “I would rather that man have to think every day of his life what he did. To simply just end it for him really doesn’t bring peace to anybody in the long run.”
Giunchigliani is a member of a statewide coalition that has worked to abolish the death penalty in Nevada. It’s an issue that’s been relatively quiet in recent years, but Giunchigliani suspects it’s a debate that will resurface soon — Nevada is scheduled to carry out its first execution in more than a decade this November.
“It was never a deterrent,” she said. “Somebody that’s going to be bad is going to be bad no matter what.”
ABORTION & WOMEN’S HEALTH
Giunchigliani waded into controversy in 1999 with a bill requiring insurance companies to cover contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy if they cover other prescription drugs. It provides that an insurer can’t require a patient to pay a higher deductible and can’t offer financial incentives for providers that withhold such services.
The provisions didn’t cover fertility drugs and exempted insurers who are affiliated with a religious organization. A bill passed in 2017 built on that measure, requiring that contraception be covered without a co-pay.