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Where do the candidates in the key Senate District 3 primary stand on the issues?

The race is between Culinary-backed nurse Geo Hughes and prominent Sen. Rochelle Nguyen, who declined to be interviewed about her policy positions.
Eric Neugeboren
Eric Neugeboren
Election 2024
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The Democratic primary in Senate District 3 is a test of the political power of the Culinary Union.

The hospitality workers union, which has long been a powerhouse in Nevada politics, has turned heads this primary cycle by retracting endorsements for any lawmaker who voted in favor of SB441, a bill passed during the 2023 legislative session that ended pandemic-era requirements to clean all hotel rooms daily.

And in Senate District 3, a solidly Democratic district stretching from central to northwest Las Vegas, the union is hitching its wagons to a nurse practitioner challenging a prominent incumbent.

Geoconda Hughes, a nurse and the daughter of Culinary Union Local 226’s former secretary-treasurer, is squaring off in the primary against Sen. Rochelle Nguyen (D-Las Vegas), an attorney appointed to the open Senate seat in 2022 after a four-year stint in the Assembly. 

From January through March, Nguyen raised more than $72,000, compared with Hughes’ less than $7,000 haul, though she had only entered the race a couple of weeks before the reporting period ended.

Hughes has centered her campaign around Nguyen’s vote to end the daily hotel room cleaning requirements. The bill passed overwhelmingly and was eventually rendered moot for union members in major Las Vegas hotels because the union’s new contract reinstated the requirement. 

Hughes has accused Nguyen of siding with casinos over workers, and Culinary released an ad last week accusing Nguyen’s vote of taking money away from hotel employees. Nguyen has defended her vote because the policy had the narrow intent to protect workers during the peak of the pandemic.

But where do the candidates stand on the other issues?

The Nevada Independent reached out to both candidates to better understand their policy positions. Nguyen declined to be interviewed for this story through a Senate Democratic Caucus official, while Hughes agreed to a phone interview. Nguyen’s issue stances are based on her prior votes and statements.

While both candidates’ policies appear to be largely aligned, Hughes said she wants to prioritize bringing more nurses and mental health personnel into the workforce, while Nguyen’s priorities are less clear because she declined an interview, though she has campaigned on lowering prescription drug costs. 

Click below for where each candidate stands on the following topics.

Health care

Education

Gaming

Economic development

Housing

Gun control

Election reform

Health care

Nguyen has leaned into her support of AB250, a bill that would have seen Nevada piggyback off the federal Inflation Reduction Act — which allowed Medicare to negotiate the price of prescription drugs beginning in 2026 — by applying those price caps statewide, not just to those on Medicare. 

Culinary officials testified in opposition to the bill, arguing for the issue to be introduced in 2025 (closer to when the federal drug pricing negotiations begin) and for a more collaborative bill process, though a union spokesperson later told The Indy that it did not oppose the legislation but had to register as an opponent to suggest changes.

Meanwhile, Hughes did not say whether she would have supported the bill, adding that she would have “listened to the union's concerns about the timing.” She also said any affirmative vote would have not made a difference because Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo vetoed the bill.

Hughes, whose son has Type 1 diabetes, said she was a supporter of the Culinary-backed bill in 2017 to mandate greater transparency from manufacturers of insulin drugs.

Hughes also said she would prioritize improving the state’s nurse-to-patient ratio by lowering fees for nursing students. At UNLV, for example, nursing students must pay up to nearly $240 more per credit than the university’s standard credit rates, depending on the course level.

“There's a big burnout rate, but would it be such a high burnout rate if we made the environment just a little bit easier for the nurses?” Hughes asked.

In 2023, Nguyen supported SB375, which provided funding to higher education nursing faculty.

Hughes also thinks the state does not have enough mental health facilities and recalled one time when the Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital was closed, meaning hospital emergency rooms were transformed into mental health facilities.

She said she wants to see more funding for higher education scholarships for those entering mental health-related fields, such as a new school psychology program at Nevada State University where students are eligible for scholarships and internship stipends.

“I have a lot of friends that work in the psych facilities and just different psych environments,” Hughes said. “You have to be a special person, and you have to have the love for the career. And so we need to attract people into those careers.”

Meanwhile, Nguyen sits on the state’s Interim Finance Committee (IFC), a panel of lawmakers that makes funding decisions when the Legislature is out of session, and has voted to allocate millions of dollars in pandemic relief funds into mental health efforts. She is also vice chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

Both candidates also support the ballot effort to enshrine abortion rights in the state Constitution. Nguyen was a primary sponsor of a similar bill that passed the Legislature last year.

Hughes also said she does not support requiring minors to receive parental consent before obtaining an abortion.

Education

Hughes and Nguyen are both opposed to using state funding for school choice options, such as providing subsidies for private schools.

At an IFC meeting last August, Nguyen joined other Democratic lawmakers in opposing using federal pandemic aid money to fund a school choice scholarship program. She said at the time that the need for more funding looked like “a manufactured crisis that was created to expand this program.”

Hughes also said that state tax dollars should only go toward the public school system.

Asked about specific ways to improve the public education system, Hughes said she wants to push for legislation to keep older and more experienced teachers in the classroom but declined to go into specifics. A Nevada Independent analysis earlier this year found that lower-performing and higher-need schools tend to have less experienced teachers.

Nguyen was a primary sponsor on multiple education bills last year, including one vetoed by Lombardo to require schools to offer summer school for the next two years as well as transportation and meals for students.

Democratic candidate for senate district 3 Rochelle Nguyen, left, gathers signs for a group photo during a canvassing event at Rainbow Family Park in Las Vegas on May 4, 2024. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

Gaming

One bill that is guaranteed to come up in 2025 will again pit labor unions against the casino industry.

The Legislature passed a measure last year to remove the state’s 159-year-old constitutional ban on lotteries. The bill must again pass next year and then be approved by voters in 2026 to take effect.

Nguyen supported the bill, siding with the unions. Hughes said she would do the same because of supporters’ stated intention to use lottery revenue to fund youth mental health programs.

Economic development

Nguyen voted against the $380 million deal aimed at bringing the Oakland A’s to Las Vegas.  

“Can you explain to me why we need to provide hundreds of millions of dollars for a billionaire’s team to come to the Las Vegas Strip, on some of the most valuable property in the world, if we can’t provide funding for critical resources for summer school and health care?” she said during one Senate hearing.

The special session legislation included a required community benefits agreement that required the Athletics to invest $500,000 annually in the Las Vegas community while the stadium is under construction, and the greater of either $2 million or 1 percent of annual revenue in the ensuing years. The team also pledged to ensure diversity and living wages in its hiring processes.

Hughes said she would have liked to have seen a “stronger” arrangement, though she did not explain what that might have looked like. The bill had the backing of labor groups including Culinary because of its potential for job creation.

“If I had been able to strengthen the package, I would have voted for it,” she said.

Housing

Among the most controversial housing policies in Nevada is the summary eviction process, which requires a tenant, not the landlord, to make the first filing in an eviction case. 

Nguyen supported a measure (AB340) that would have required landlords to make the initial filing in an eviction case, but Lombardo vetoed it. Hughes told The Indy that “evictions happen too fast” in the state, but that she would have to look more into the summary eviction process.

Hughes also said she wants to increase the staffing for state rental assistance programs and make rental aid forms easier to understand.

Nguyen supported a 2023 bill to provide $18 million in rental assistance.

Gun control

Lombardo vetoed three gun control bills last year, all of which Nguyen supported alongside the rest of the Democratic caucus.

Read more: Lombardo vetoes three Democrat-backed gun control bills

Hughes also said she would have supported all three bills.

Gun control is a personal issue for her. When her son was a sophomore in high school, he was taking an SAT prep class at a local church when an unclothed man entered with a gun, she said. Eventually, her son’s teacher took the class outside and authorities arrived.

“It was absolutely one of the scariest moments of my life,” she said. “It makes me very emotional to even think about it.”

Soon after, the 1 October mass shooting happened, and Hughes was working at a hospital where victims received treatment. 

“If my family has gone through that multiple times, then I can only imagine what other families are going through,” Hughes said. 

Election reform

Hughes said she wants to protect early voting and universal vote by mail. As an assemblywoman, Nguyen supported the pandemic-era expansion of mail voting and the subsequent permanent expansion of mail voting in 2021.

Hughes also said she opposes requiring voter ID because IDs are not free, but “that would be a different story” if IDs were free. Nguyen also opposes voter ID because she believes it would disenfranchise older voters and voters of color, and she thinks that the current election laws support free and fair contests, a Senate Democratic Caucus official said.

Hughes also wants to place stronger limits on how much money corporations can give to political candidates (candidates can receive as much as $10,000 from a single entity per election, but large businesses often circumvent those restrictions by donating the maximum amount through affiliated businesses) and wants poll workers to be trained to assist people with disabilities, such as vision or hearing impairments.

Updated on 6/3/24 at 3:40 p.m. to clarify which workers the daily hotel room cleaning requirement applies to.

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