Nevada’s top two Democratic candidates for governor say they oppose a major energy ballot initiative in 2018, despite both voting for it in the previous election.
The two candidates — Clark County commissioners Steve Sisolak and Chris Giunchigliani — both confirmed to The Nevada Independent this week that they planned to vote against the Energy Choice Initiative, a proposed constitutional amendment that would end Nevada’s de facto electric monopoly system and require the state to set up and run a competitive, retail electric marketplace by 2023.
The announced opposition marks a clear departure from 2016, when the ballot question — which is largely bankrolled by the Las Vegas Sands and data center giant Switch, and is endorsed by former Democratic Sen. Harry Reid — passed on an overwhelming 72 to 28 percent margin. Some opposition to the measure has emerged this election cycle, with a coalition group (including NV Energy) against it recently announcing it had reserved nearly $12 million in television ads.
The announcement marks a flip of position for Giunchigliani, who said in October that she had supported the ballot question in 2016 and planned to do so again in 2018, but would want to flesh out the initiative as governor to prevent price gouging and enshrine consumer protections in law.
The former Assemblywoman and longtime county commissioner in March said she had additional “concerns” that the ballot question could make ratepayers “really be at risk” and was worried about how it would affect rural parts of the state. On Tuesday, her campaign confirmed she would oppose the ballot question.
“Chris opposed deregulation in the Assembly, and she's seen this experiment hurt consumers and jobs,” Giunchigliani spokesman Eric Hyers said in a text message. “As she said previously she has serious concerns that this would hurt rate payers again and these concerns have not been addressed. She will not be supporting this initiative this year.”
In October, Sisolak said he supported the ballot question in 2016 but had concerns about the measure’s effect on workers with NV Energy and also had concerns about possible sudden spikes in electric bills, as well as general apprehension over “legislation by initiative.”
The Clark County Commission Chairman announced his formal opposition to the ballot question during the AFL-CIO’s conference in Reno on Monday, and confirmed his position in a statement sent late Monday.
"After listening to the concerns of Nevadans across the state, I believe Question 3 is harmful to Nevada and I cannot support it,” he said in a statement. “I have long had concerns about the negative impact the initiative could have on consumers, labor, the environment and our economy. Question 3 risks the reliability of our electricity system, threatens the jobs of hardworking men and women and could slow our growing renewable energy sector. It provides too much risk without guaranteeing rewards of lower rates for consumers."
The announced positions against the measure could help the two candidates garner support from several of the state’s top labor unions.
Audio obtained by The Nevada Independent last month of two major labor leaders — Nevada AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Rusty McAllister and his predecessor, Danny Thompson — appeared to indicate that the union would require candidates to oppose the ballot question if they wished to receive the organization’s endorsement. Thompson also said that opposition to the ballot question would be a prerequisite for an endorsement by Nevada chapters of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
In a statement, the Yes on 3 campaign noted both candidates had previously supported the ballot question and pledged that voters won't be "swayed" to oppose the initiative.
"Voters will not be swayed by special interest groups that are pressuring candidates if they come out in favor of Question 3.," Yes on 3 spokesman Bradley Mayer said in an email. "Both commissioners have publicly stated their support for Question 3 previously and we look forward to working with both to implement the energy choice vision that Nevadans overwhelmingly want but the special interests oppose."
Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who is running for governor as a Republican, indicated that he would support the ballot question during a closed-door session last October.
“With the absence of a competitive energy market in Nevada, we deny our customers the freedom to lower their electricity costs,” he said at a National Energy Marketers Association meeting last year. “And that is why we must open our energy market to consumers both large and small.”
Disclosure: Switch, NV Energy, Steve Sisolak and Chris Giunchigliani have donated to The Nevada Independent. You can see a full list of donors here.
Updated at 12:17 p.m. to add a comment from Yes on 3 spokesman Bradley Mayer.