Election 2024

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The three most interesting Assembly primaries in Nevada

The races include a Culinary-backed food server, Reno woman in the energy industry and chiropractor facing establishment-backed candidates.
Tabitha Mueller
Tabitha Mueller
Eric Neugeboren
Eric Neugeboren
Election 2024Legislature

A Culinary Union-backed food server is squaring off against an establishment-backed Air Force veteran.

A Reno woman in the energy industry is challenging an establishment-backed labor and litigation attorney.

A governor-endorsed former police officer is fending off a chiropractor who narrowly lost two years ago.

These are three Assembly primaries that The Nevada Independent is monitoring closely because of their potential to divide Democratic and Republican constituencies.

Read More: The four most interesting Democratic state Senate primaries in Nevada

In two of these races, the winner of the June 11 primary will most likely prevail in the general election because the districts are solidly Democratic. In the other race, Gov. Joe Lombardo’s endorsement power is being put to the test as his backed candidate is facing a well-funded GOP primary challenge in a district that Republicans are hoping to flip in 2024.

Democrats control 28 of 42 seats in the Assembly, giving them a two-thirds supermajority that allows them to overturn any vetoes issued by Lombardo, a Republican who vetoed a record 75 bills after the 2023 session. Flipping just one Assembly seat and at least maintaining the current balance in the Senate, where Democrats control 13 of 21 seats, would maintain Lombardo’s effective veto power.

And outside of political control of the chamber, recently redrawn districts favoring Democrats and substantial turnover among Assembly members (more than 15 who served in 2023 are not running for re-election) means the June primary will play a huge role in determining who goes to Carson City in 2025.

Here’s a closer look at the dynamics in the three races.

Assembly District 27 - Alex Velto vs. Heather Goulding

Assembly District 17 - Mishon D. Montgomery vs. Linda Hunt vs. Chauntille Roberts

Assembly District 21 - Jon Petrick vs. April Arndt

Assembly District 27

In Northern Nevada, where two sitting Democratic lawmakers won their initial bids for office without the support of the Assembly Democratic Caucus, the Assembly District 27 Democratic primary could signal how much sway the caucus holds in the North.

Heading into the primary, Assembly Democratic Caucus-backed candidate Alex Velto, an attorney, held a narrow fundraising lead over his opponent, Heather Goulding. However, he has a $25,000 cash-on-hand advantage.

The two Democrats are running to represent the open district — which encompasses parts of Northwest Reno, bordering UNR’s campus and sections of Sun Valley and Golden Valley — after Assemblywoman Angie Taylor (D-Reno) decided to run for state Senate.

Whoever wins will have a general election matchup with Republican Carmen Ortiz, who is running unopposed in the primary.

Goulding, a senior project manager at an energy research and evaluation firm, received an endorsement from Planned Parenthood Votes Nevada. She was also endorsed by the Culinary Workers Union 226, which has split with legislative Democrats this cycle.

Asked about the caucus endorsement for Velto, Goulding said the caucus largely consists of Southern Nevada representatives and that culturally, Northern Nevada is different from Southern Nevada.

“Do those people understand our community and what the needs are of Assembly District 27?” Goulding said. “I think Northern Nevadans want to pick their own representatives.”

In 2019, Goulding worked in a volunteer capacity to help pass legislation establishing an education program in partnership with the National Guard for 16- to 18-year-olds who are credit-deficient to gain life skills and graduate on time.

“Government can and should be impacting people's lives in a positive way,” Goulding said. “As ‘pie in the sky’ as it sounds, I want to leave the world a better place than when I got here.”

She said her priorities include having Nevada’s school funding reach at least the national average and increasing the number of mental health providers in schools. Goulding also wants to bolster the number of reproductive care providers in the state by looking at loan forgiveness legislation or increasing university training opportunities. 

Velto, a labor and litigation attorney, was endorsed by the Clark County Education Association, Southern Nevada Building Trades Union, police unions, the American Federation of State County Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 401 and the district’s last representative in Taylor, who he said leaves “big shoes to fill.”

“I am running for office because I like solving problems,” Velto said in an interview. 

He said he joined the Reno Planning Commission to make zoning changes that could improve the ability to develop affordable housing, and now wants to address similar issues in the Legislature to help expedite the development of affordable housing.

Democratic candidate for Assembly District 27 Alex Velto speaks to supporters at Panther Valley Park before canvassing voters on May 11, 2024, in Reno. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

On labor issues, he wants to address problems that state unions face when they achieve a contract through arbitration, but don’t receive funding because the Legislature — which only meets every two years — has to be in session to approve spending on higher wages won through arbitration.

Velto said that what differentiates him from Goulding is the “unique skill set” he developed while serving on the planning commission and experience he gained representing dozens of labor unions in legal matters. Velto also said he can relate to teaching professionals because of his time as an adjunct professor at UNR, where he has taught a course focused on legal matters.

Goulding said what differentiates her from Velto is that her work has always been values-based. She referenced an op-ed Velto published in April stating that he left his previous employer after “my boss made it his mission to challenge a person’s right to choose.” Velto had worked at the Hutchison and Steffen law firm, whose previous Northern Nevada managing partner, Jason Guinasso, has represented several anti-abortion groups in court (and who is an occasional columnist at The Nevada Independent).

“There's no work that I've done that I would say that I have to apologize for, or that I need to run away from,” Goulding said. 

After Velto’s op-ed was published, two separate op-eds responded to his comments, one by Guinasso, who characterized Velto as immature but committed to reproductive rights, and one by longtime abortion rights lobbyist Elisa Cafferata and former Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie that detailed past actions by the firm against Democrats and said, “Voters should consider whether … [Velto’s] joining the recent chorus of candidates who have read the polls and are taking a stand for political gain.” 

Velto said he went to work at the firm because of the mentoring opportunities available from Democratic attorneys who also worked there.

“[In a] 70 attorney law firm, you're gonna have different perspectives,” Velto said about the op-ed by Cafferata and Leslie. “It’s truly a misunderstanding of how law firms operate to try to characterize and lump me in with what was one person taking on their political views.”

Members of the Culinary and Bartenders Unions rally during a strike vote while gathering at Thomas and Mack Arena on Sept. 26, 2023. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Assembly District 17

In the reliably blue North Las Vegas district encompassing the Nellis Air Force Base, Culinary Union-backed Linda Hunt is squaring off against the Assembly Democratic Caucus’ pick, Mishon Montgomery.

The seat is open after Assemblywoman Claire Thomas (D-North Las Vegas) opted to run for the open Senate District 1 seat. As of mid-April, Montgomery had raised $47,500 more than Hunt, who announced her bid for office after Montgomery and is largely supported by individual contributions and donations from union groups. Montgomery’s highest contributions come from Democratic groups and other state lawmakers.

A third Democratic candidate, Chauntille Roberts, is also running, though her fundraising is much lower than that of either Montgomery or Hunt. The Nevada State Education Association teachers union has endorsed her. 

Republican Robert Olson is the only Republican running in the primary and will automatically advance to the general election. 

Montgomery, a United States Air Force veteran and motivational speaker who works with organizations on diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, has received endorsements from the Southern Nevada Building Trades Union, the Las Vegas Chamber and the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund. 

Hunt is a union shop steward and food server at the El Cortez Hotel and Casino who has been endorsed by several unions, including the AFL-CIO, which represents more than 150,000 members, and the American Federation of State County Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 4041, which represents 17,000 state workers.

“Talking to the community members … there’s a lot of issues and concerns that they have and they feel like politicians have not listened,” Hunt said in an interview about why she’s running for office. “I'm just an everyday working food server … We need someone that understands the working person.”

Hunt said her parents moved to Las Vegas from Mississippi in 1961 because of segregation and Jim Crow laws in the South. Her parents belonged to unions, and Hunt said they taught her that unions offer job security and a way to advocate for workers. 

Hunt said she’d like to see full-time teachers replace long-term substitutes in area schools, the development of community centers and the hiring of more police officers from the local community. Hunt, who also works as a real estate agent, added that she has seen people who can’t find affordable housing and wants to look at legislation to cap rent increases and reform the state’s eviction process.

Asked what differentiates her from Montgomery, Hunt said she’s been focused on voters and hasn’t thought about her competitor much.

“When I get up to Carson City, I'm going to do whatever is right for the people,” Hunt said. “They are the ones that elect me in. So I'm going to make sure that I work for them the same way I’m a shop steward and I work for the members inside my hotel.”

Montgomery joined the Air Force in 2002 and retired 22 years later in North Las Vegas, where she was stationed at Nellis Air Force Base. She said she decided to set down roots in Southern Nevada because she felt like she’d found a place where she could be herself and be comfortable and supported as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.

As someone who served overseas, Montgomery said she didn’t get the chance to get into politics until she moved to Nevada and got involved with the Air Force Sergeants Association, which lobbies for veterans on Capitol Hill. In that capacity, she said she was able to speak out about issues that affected active duty members, saying the experience made her want to get more involved in politics.

“Service is just woven into the fabric of my DNA, and so, how do I continue to be of service to a place that I love and call home? This is one of those avenues,” Montgomery said.

Montgomery has an acronym for the issues she’d like to focus on in the Legislature: “HEAVY” or Health care and lowering prescription drug costs, Equality, Affordable housing, Veterans and Youth. She said that equality encompasses issues such as the needs of the LGBTQ+ community and access to reproductive rights.

As far as differentiating herself from Hunt, Montgomery cited her 20 years of experience in the military, her master’s degree in public administration and her strategic mindset.

Though the Democratic caucus endorsed her, Montgomery said that when she talks to voters at the door, no one asks about endorsements.

“It's really beautiful to have the support and I welcome it, always,” she said. “But I want to be in service to the residents of AD17 that elect me to represent them.”

Assembly District 21

Two years after narrowly losing in the general election, Las Vegas chiropractor Jon Petrick is running again for Assembly District 21, but now faces a serious primary challenge in the effort to flip this Las Vegas-area district.

Lombardo has endorsed political newcomer April Arndt, a retired Henderson police officer and detective. She narrowly trailed Petrick in fundraising by about $6,000 in the first quarter and had $18,300 in cash on hand heading into the primary to Petrick’s $18,100.

The winner of the GOP primary will face Assemblywoman Elaine Marzola (D-Henderson), who defeated Petrick in the 2022 general election. The district has around 2,000 more active Democratic voters than Republicans, while nonpartisans make up the largest share of party registration.

In a Friday interview, Arndt said she’s lived in the district for 30 years and wanted to run for office amid rising crime and Democratic-control of the Legislature.

“I think it's important for everyone to have a voice and I think it's gotten to the point now where, if we don't flip our district, we are going to have such an issue with a lack of checks and balances in our government,” Arndt said. 

In the realm of public safety, Arndt said she’d like to implement Lombardo’s priorities on crime reduction — such as stricter possession thresholds for fentanyl and reassessing how domestic battery crimes such as strangulation are evaluated. She added that as a mother of three children who all had different learning styles, “it’s important that you’re not dictated by your ZIP code” and will advocate for school choice programs. 

Arndt cited her law enforcement background as a distinguishing factor from her opponent, noting that she’s had to work with various groups, from corporations as a property detective to coordinating with hospitals and social services while serving in the special victims unit.

“In [the law enforcement role], you see so many different elements of society versus working in one industry and only coming from that perspective,” she said. 

Petrick told The Indy that he and Arndt got lunch after she entered the race, and that he has “no animosity” toward her and the governor, but that he thinks they are in the race for different reasons.

“She doesn't really want this. She's running because she claims and says that they asked her to run,” Petrick said.

While speaking with voters, Petrick said he is leaning into his time as a doctor and as the CEO of Las Vegas Pain Relief Centers. He said he has worked with nonprofits and helped veterans who are coming out of prison.

Petrick said he’s approaching his 2024 bid in a few different ways. First, he is leaning into so-called ballot harvesting, a process he renounced in 2022 that allows non-family members to drop off another person's completed ballot. He still wants to eliminate the process as a legislator, but because it is legal, he is using it to his advantage this go-around.

Second, he has a new campaign manager and is trying to spend less money after he said he “fell victim to wasted spending” in 2022. From January through March, Petrick spent around $20,000, after spending roughly $28,000 in the same period two years ago

And third, he is changing his messaging on abortion as polls show a majority of Nevadans describe themselves as pro-choice. That includes making it clearer to voters that the only way abortion could become illegal in Nevada is through a vote of the people (that’s because a 1990 referendum legalized abortion up through 24 weeks). 

As a legislator, he also said he would write legislation to make natural remedies to mental health issues more accessible, though he did not say what those remedies might be. He said Americans are overly medicated, and that pharmaceutical companies are creating consumers, rather than cures.

“As a physician, I can guarantee you I know this issue better than my opponent,” Petrick said.


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