Election 2024

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What’s at stake in the two Washoe County Commission races this year?

The board overseeing the fast-growing county and its elections could become more conservative depending on who wins the two seats up for grabs.
Carly Sauvageau
Carly Sauvageau
Election 2024Local GovernmentNorthern Nevada

In Northern Nevada’s fast-growing and politically swingy Washoe County, races for seats on the county commission are heating up, with the political lean of the panel — currently divided 3-2 with a Republican majority — hanging in the balance.

The commission makes decisions on business licenses and development projects in unincorporated areas and has a key role in addressing housing availability and infrastructure improvements for the state’s second-largest county, which is navigating growing pains as its economy grows and diversifies. 

But the county commission also has oversight over election administration in a purple county that has been decisive in presidential and statewide contests, and its execution of that role has been under a microscope in a politically polarized time. The commission races have attracted heavy attention from the likes of Robert Beadles, a wealthy activist whose chosen candidate ousted the former commission chair in a 2022 Republican primary.

In the June 11 election, a six-way Republican contest will determine whether moderate Clara Andriola — appointed to the seat by GOP Gov. Joe Lombardo and sometimes a swing vote — will hold the seat or whether someone to her right takes the spot. No Democrats have filed for the seat so the primary winner will take the role outright.

In the general election, attention is likely to shift to District 1, where Democratic Commission Chair Alexis Hill will face off with the winner of a three-way Republican primary. It could be a rematch that includes Republican former Commissioner Marsha Berkbigler.

Though Andriola and Hill have a significant financial advantage compared to their opponents, the incumbents are facing candidates who have political pull in the form of endorsements, mailers and funds from Beadles. 

Here’s a rundown of the two races and who’s running.  

District 4

Republican Clara Andriola is running to retain her seat as the Washoe County District 4 Commissioner. Despite facing significant criticism from other local Republicans, Andriola has far outraised her competitors and claimed a balance of more than $91,000 on her last campaign finance report. 

Republican Mark Lawson has the second-largest cash-on-hand balance with a little more than $4,000

District 4 includes east Sparks and the Sparks Marina as well as outlying areas near Reno such as Hidden Valley and Spanish Springs.

Andriola was appointed to the commission by Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo in April 2023 to replace former Commissioner Vaughn Hartung, who resigned to become chair of the board of the Nevada Transportation Authority. Andriola is now facing six challengers for her seat, including Republicans Tracey Hilton-Thomas, Trista Gomez, John L. Walter II and Lawson. 

Nonpartisans Gabriel Christenson and Marsela Kupfersmith are also running. 

If she wins the election, Andriola said in an interview with The Nevada Independent, she hopes to continue her work clarifying equestrian laws, promoting businesses and supporting law enforcement. 

One of Andriola’s challengers, Washoe GOP Vice Chair Hilton-Thomas, regularly makes an appearance at Washoe County Commission meetings to participate in public comment, often discussing elections or encouraging religious practices in county meetings such as invocations. She describes herself as having expertise in election work and a long history working for Washoe County, although her employment history is in tech for the county.

Hilton-Thomas received a Robert Beadles endorsement for the interim registrar position earlier this year despite Hilton-Thomas’ campaign for another role — commissioner. She is also mentioned on Beadles’ blog Operation Sunlight as a “Candidate to Support!”

Hilton-Thomas said in an interview with The Nevada Independent she wants to work on transparency in election processes if elected.

Lawson, a Republican, is also a candidate for Washoe County Commission District 4. He was previously Sparks’ fire chief but was publicly let go when the city council learned about a felony drug charge against him. He recently received a $381,000 settlement from the City of Sparks for wrongful termination.

Lawson said he wants to be an advocate for the public by increasing services for seniors, increasing transparency in elections and supporting law enforcement. 

Gomez, also a Republican, has experience in social work, business and real estate. 

Gomez said improving the life of people in her community has driven her to run. If she wins, she’d like to help the commission communicate county functions with the public she feels aren’t transparent and better represent the constituents in her district. 

“I'm fourth generation here. This community really matters to me,” Gomez said.

District 1

Incumbent Alexis Hill, a Democrat, may face a rematch with Republican Marsha Berkbigler, who lost to Hill in the 2020 election. Hill has far outraised her competitors and ended the last campaign finance reporting period with more than $192,000. Berkbigler has more than $4,500 in pocket with the second-largest campaign fund among the District 1 candidates.

District 1 incorporates the western part of the Truckee Meadows to the eastern Sierras and includes Incline Village and Crystal Bay at Lake Tahoe.

During Hill’s four years on the commission, she has helped bring a sustainability manager to the county, supported Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen’s Truckee Meadows Lands Bill that would free public lands for development and voted on items that direct more services and people to the Cares Campus, the largest homeless shelter in Northern Nevada. 

Hill has also expressed her support for the Washoe County Library Board and the registrar of voters at a time when both have been criticized in commission meeting public comment periods. The library board received criticism for organizing programming such as Drag Queen Story Hour and keeping books with LGBTQ+ themes in its collection. The registrar and county have been accused of facilitating voter fraud by Beadles and others, a claim the secretary of state determined as false

If re-elected, Hill hopes to use the next four years to address issues in public health, housing, mental health services and infrastructure for Washoe County.

Berkbigler is the only commission candidate prominent donor Robert Beadles has donated money to in the sum of $5,000. She told The Nevada Independent she has no personal connection to Beadles but was aware of the campaign donation. Berkbigler also said she does not support Beadles’ election fraud claims.

“I’m not an election denier,” Berkbigler said.

Beadles, a prominent donor who made his fortune on cryptocurrency and real estate, regularly spreads misinformation that the 2020 election was stolen.

If she is elected, Berkbigler said she wants to make life more affordable for Washoe County residents by investing in affordable housing and investing in more affordable housing for seniors. She also wants to increase unity among commissioners and make the public records process more efficient. 

Republican Eugene Hoover, who has run for state Senate and lieutenant governor in past cycles, is also running for the seat. According to his LinkedIn, he is president of Silver State Courier Service, a local trucking company. If elected, Hoover wants to create a more efficient public records system, relocate funds currently allocated to homeless services to seniors and increase affordable housing.

According to the latest campaign finance report, Hoover is completely self-funded. He currently has more than $4,200 in hand after contributing $10,000 to the campaign.  

Republican Melissa Fitch is also running for the District 1 seat. She has raised no money for her campaign.


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