By SAM METZ AP / Report for America
CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Republicans recaptured three seats in Nevada’s state Assembly, ensuring that Democrats lose the veto-proof majority they would need to approve new taxes unilaterally.
Former Assemblyman Richard McArthur, former Assemblywoman Jill Dickman and Andy Matthews won election in Las Vegas and Reno-area battleground districts. McArthur and Dickman regained seats that they lost in 2018 and 2016, respectively.
The three flipped Assembly seats will likely change dynamics when the Legislature reconvenes in 2021 to address the coronavirus pandemic, the state budget and redraws state legislative and congressional districts based on the 2020 census. The result is expected to add a degree of difficulty to Democrats’ plans to raise taxes on mining business to shore up pandemic-prompted deficits.
Democratic Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson said politicians always want their party’s candidates to win, but regardless of the outcome, he’s always planned to work with all lawmakers to address unprecedented struggles facing Nevada families, students and businesses amid the pandemic.
“I don’t think that anything has changed with respect to wanting to explore a way for mining to have a broader, more meaningful role in supporting our state’s basic needs,” Frierson said. “We will certainly continue to talk.”
In a state where both parties have invested heavily in their ground game over the past decade, the coronavirus upended campaigns for the Legislature. Democrats criss-crossed districts in masks and, to prevent the spread of the pandemic, opted to use no-knock literature drops as a primary tactic. Republicans engaged with prospective voters in the traditional face-to-face fashion, with many opting to forego masks on the trail.
In the state Senate, Republican charter school executive Carrie Buck defeated Democrat Kristee Watson in the race to succeed term-limited Democrat Joyce Woodhouse. Woodhouse defeated Buck narrowly in 2016. Reno Republican Heidi Gansert also won reelection to the state Senate. Democrats had hoped flipping her seat could win them a supermajority in the chamber.
Groups representing realtors, labor unions, the pharmaceutical industry and mining businesses funneled hundreds of thousands into statehouse races, however, they focused on more on swing districts in the state Senate than Assembly. In the Assembly, Matthews raised more than twice as much as Democratic incumbent Shea Backus, but neither Dickman, McArthur nor the Democratic incumbents they unseated, Skip Daly and Connie Munk, raised the level of contributions that some other candidates did.
Campaign finance filings that cover up to Oct. 15 show Matthews raised $364,000. Dickman raised less than $60,000 and McArthur, $35,000 — less than their opponents and far less than the $300,000-plus hauls that at least eight legislative candidates raised over the same duration.
Matthews unseated Backus in a northwest Las Vegas area district, four years after a failed bid for U.S. Congress. He has also worked at the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a state-based think tank that advocates for conservative causes, and worked on Republican Adam Laxalt’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign.
Dickman, a Sparks businesswoman, defeated Assemblyman Skip Daly after losing to him in both the 2016 and 2018 elections. In the past six years, Dickman and Daley have squared off against each other four times in the district that wraps the perimeter of the Reno-Sparks metro area and after Tuesday’s result, both have won twice.
Dickman said the economic struggles that have afflicted her district made it easy to connect with voters about representing their needs. Many voter calls have been about problems with Nevada’s unemployment system, which has been hit by fraudulent claims and been slow to pay out eligible recipients, she said.
“It’s a conservative district with young, middle-class families who benefitted from the president’s tax policies but now are struggling,” she said, explaining her victory.
As Nevada struggles to balance its budget, Dickman called mining an “easy target” and said she was unlikely to support changing Nevada’s Net Proceeds of Minerals tax structure. But she said she’d be open to discussions as long as mining businesses had input.
McArthur, a U.S. Air Force veteran, wrested the District 4 seat from Connie Munk in a similar rematch. Munk flipped the northwest Las Vegas seat in 2018 by 120 votes. He attributed his win to high Republican turnout and said he hadn’t examined the mining tax proposals, but would hesitate to raise taxes during an economic downturn.
In the lead-up to the June primary, the Assembly Republican caucus endorsed neither Dickman nor McArthur, picking newcomers rather than backing the perennial candidates.
In other races:
__ State Senate District 6: Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro clinched a narrow victory over Republican challenger April Becker. The race was the election’s most expensive legislative race.
__ State Senate District 15: Reno Republican Heidi Gansert won reelection, successfully defending her seat against Democratic challenger Wendy Jauregui-Jackins. Democrats had eyed the seat as a pick-up opportunity that could win them a veto-proof supermajority in the state Senate if they held all other seats.
__ State Assembly District 29: Incumbent Assemblywoman Lesley Cohen eked out a third narrow victory in her Henderson district, defending her seat against Republican challenger, dentist Steven DeLisle.
Find AP’s full election coverage at APNews.com/Election2020.
Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues.