by Michael Lyle, Nevada Current
Even before inflation and gas prices hit a historic high this year, Democratic U.S. Rep. Dina Titus worried the previously solidly blue 1st Congressional District would be a casualty in the general election of 2022.
Nevada Current previously reported that Titus, speaking at an AFL-CIO town hall in December, criticized maps drawn and approved by state lawmakers and the governor and warned all three Democratically held congressional seats, including hers, were at risk.
Amy Vilela, a former state co-chair for the 2020 presidential campaign for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is challenging Titus in the Democratic primary for CD1, agrees it would be a challenge for the five-term incumbent to win the seat.
But maybe not as much of a challenge for her.
Vilela thinks new blood in the Democratic Party could energize the base and survive a potential red wave.
“What use and what good does having experience or length of being the representative in the district if you do nothing with that power,” she said. “She has been in office for almost a decade and has become complacent. Instead of being a leader when she did have a safe blue seat, we’ve seen a total lack of drive on the issues important to the working class.”
Titus didn’t respond to requests to be interviewed.
After the 2015 death of her daughter Shalynne, who Vilela said was denied medical treatment because she lacked proof of insurance, Vilela became an advocate for a single-payer healthcare system through Medicare for All.
“When she was dying in my arms, I remember telling her you would not die in vain,” she said.
Vilela unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford in the 2018 primary for the 4th Congressional District, an effort captured in the documentary “Knock Down the House,” which also featured U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s successful run.
Vilela decided to challenge Titus after talking to people in the district, who she said drafted her to run.
But she faces an uphill battle.
Titus has outraised both her Democratic opponent, as well as the various Republican challengers, with nearly $1.03 million according to Federal Election Commission filings as of March 31. She has $1.1 million cash on hand.
Vilela has raised $392,269 with $46,506 cash on hand.
Vilela, who announced she was entering the race prior to the demographics changing from redistricting, isn’t discouraged by the fact the area is no longer as blue as it once was.
The Democrats’ approved congressional maps shifted thousands of registered Democrats from CD1 into CD3 and CD4, which are considered swing districts and have switched party control over the past decade. It did this by shifting the boundaries of CD1 south and east — swapping more left-leaning parts of central Clark County for Henderson and Boulder City. That also changed the racial and ethnic makeup of the district — dropping the Hispanic population from 45% to 35%.
The issues Vilela is running on — including advocating for an overhaul to the healthcare system, taking bold action on climate change, and addressing the national housing crisis — are winning issues regardless of demographics, she said.
“What I’m running on are the things that really ignite a base and are so desperately needed,” she said.
Vilela added that residents “need a reason to vote and need to know they are going to have a representative who actually is going to go and not just cosponsor or sign on to legislation but go to congress and work around the clock to use everything at their disposal to organize not only in D.C. but here in Nevada to build support for those bills.”
In a virtual town hall in April with the National Organization for Women, Titus said Democrats shouldn’t focus on the legislative priorities that have failed but rather the achievements made in the last term.
Some of the accomplishments include the American Rescue Plan Act, a federal relief bill that infused Nevada with $6.7 billion in funding and temporarily expanded the Child Tax Credit.
With the $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure and Jobs Investment bill, which passed with bipartisan support, Nevada will receive about $4 billion in funding for federal highway repair, public transportation, bridge replacements and expanding broadband internet.
“That was our agenda, that was the president’s agenda and we need to brag about it,” Titus said in April. “Not talk about what we didn’t get done, but let’s talk about what we did get done, because it has made a difference.”
However, Vilela is critical that Congress wasn’t able to pass Build Back Better, a climate policy and social spending bill that would have invested in child care, housing, a federal paid leave policy and continuing the expanded Child Tax Credit.
The bill, which would have cost nearly $2 trillion over the course of a decade, passed the House in November with all Republicans opposed but has all but died in the Senate.
In August of 2021, when the infrastructure and social spending bills were still being negotiated, Titus said both bills “have to go together” to ensure their survival.
Believing they were negotiating in good faith with Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a sponsor of the infrastructure bill who balked at the size of the social spending legislation, Democrats, including Titus, voted on the infrastructure bill in November.
“The public demand for something was very great,” Titus told the Current in December. “I was glad we at least got the infrastructure bill out.”
A few weeks later, Manchin sank Build Back Better when he said he wouldn’t support the bill.
Vilela said Democrats shouldn’t have caved.
“We saw the progressive members vote no against the infrastructure bill, which was largely just a giveaway to corporations,” she said. “They voted no because we wanted to force them to vote on the Build Back Better bill before giving them the infrastructure bill. We saw they caved. If we would have held our ground, we might not have gotten everything we wanted in the build back better bill but we would have gotten some things out of the build back better bill.”
She also said too often Democrats have failed immigrant communities by not passing immigration reforms.
“Cycle after cycle, Democrats in Nevada and across the country are running on a platform of comprehensive immigration reform,” she said. “But after the election nothing ever gets done. We need to stop using our immigrant communities as political footballs and quite frankly it’s time for our immigrant communities to stop living in fear.”
In addition to Medicare for All, Vilela said her campaign is focused on climate policy, specifically backing the Green New Deal, a comprehensive climate proposal advocated by other liberal officials, including Ocasio-Cortez.
“We are literally running out of water and running out of time here in Las Vegas,” Vilela said. “The reality is the climate crisis is threatening the lives and livelihood of people across our district. We could fight the climate crisis by fighting for people with good paying union jobs that focus on providing affordable housing for people by building up instead of building out and stopping our never-ending sprawl through the desert.”
Vilela and Titus overlap in various policies including legislation protecting organizers’ right to unionize and eliminating pay disparities between men and women.
Even the Medicare for All Act, which Vilela is a longtime advocate for, is cosponsored by Titus.
However, Vilela said it’s not enough “just to be a cosponsor or to sign on” and says she would do more than Titus to ensure legislation is passed.
“We have to be consistently organizing and drafting legislation and working around the clock to make sure we are getting the support to get it passed,” she said.
With a lack of enthusiasm plus a long history of the party out of power regaining Congress in midterm elections, there is a chance Republicans regain the House or the Senate – or both.
“I’m not of the mindset that because it’s a Republican-led house or Senate that we throw up our hands and say nothing can be done,” Vilela said. “Of course there is. There is lots of work that can be done to make sure we are garnering the support for these bills that are necessary.”
Whoever wins the Democratic primary in June will face one of eight Republicans.
Republicans in the running
Leading in fundraising as of March 31 were Carolina Serrano, a former Hispanic outreach coordinator for former President Trump who has raised $422,477, and Mark Robertson, a retired army colonel who has raised $486,697.
FEC filings show Serrano had $261,851 cash on hand while Robertson had $236,330 at the end of the first quarter.
Former U.S. Rep. Cresent Hardy is also running.
Hardy represented the CD4 for one term by ousting Horsford during the red wave of 2014. Hardy lost his reelection campaign in 2016 to Democrat Ruben Kihuen, then lost again in 2018 to Horsford.
FEC candidate filings show Hardy hasn’t submitted campaign financial disclosures. His campaign has almost no online presence.
Other candidates include David Brog, Morgun Sholty, Cynthia Steel, Jessie Turner and Jane Adams.
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