As 2017 comes to a close, the holiday season provides a time to reflect on a year gone by. And when it comes to state politics, there is certainly plenty to reflect on. Below is a recap, a selection of highlights covering all the highs and all the lows of a year in Nevada politics.
A Year of Partisan Fights
A biennial affair that brings transients from across the state to Carson City once every two years, Nevada’s legislative session is always a hectic affair. But in 2017, proceedings were driven largely by one thing: partisanship.
Democrats controlled both the state assembly and the state senate and were eager to push through a wide-ranging agenda that included a minimum wage hike, among other things. However, an early spat between Dems and the GOP over education savings accounts — a voucher-like program meant to fund tuition for public school students who wish to go to private school — set the stage for a 5-month-long back and forth on any bill that came with any amount of controversy. And it meant a number of bills were passed through on straight party-line votes.
In the end, Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, used a record number of vetoes to stop most of the Democratic agenda — including that minimum wage increase. By sine die in June, bipartisan bills — such as a measure that makes price changes for insulin drugs more transparent — were few and far between.
And outside of the policy sphere, a sexual misconduct scandal struck. Longtime state Sen. Mark Manendo, D-Las Vegas, was forced out of his seat shortly after the session ended when an internal investigation found dozens of instances of sexual harassment over just the last few years of his time in office.
As the session ended, so too sprung up even more partisan fights — this time over recalls. A group linked to state Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Clark County, has been looking to unseat three state senators: Democrats Joyce Woodhouse and Nicole Cannizzaro, and Independent Patricia Farley, all of Las Vegas.
The move, if successful, would provide Republicans a chance to flip the state’s upper house in 2019 — something that would likely not happen under normal electoral circumstances.
The first petition, targeting Woodhouse, was initially successful. However, though it brought in several thousand more signatures than it needed to succeed, a legal challenge from the Woodhouse camp that alleges more than 5,000 signatures are invalid may yet derail the petition altogether.
The petition against Cannizzaro was also initially successful, though by a slimmer margin and with lingering challenges to the method by which the signatures were verified. The final petition against Farley failed after gathering less than half of the signatures needed to trigger a recall election.
The Marijuana Boom
Much of the legislating done in Carson City this year centered around pot. The drug had been OK’d for recreational use by Nevada voters in 2016, and both legislators and the state tax commission were eager to get rules in place in time for the planned start to recreational sales in July.
That deadline was met, but early sales were somewhat stalled by problems with distribution. Liquor distributors argued the wording of the original ballot measure that legalized pot gave them the sole ability to distribute pot to individual stores. However, the drug proved to be so popular that stores quickly began selling out — and had no way to stock back up quickly enough to meet demand.
To ease the supply problems, the tax commission sought to allow marijuana businesses to also act as distributors. That move was immediately challenged by the liquor distributors, however, and the matter is still hung up in the courts after the state supreme court denied a move from the tax commission to give pot businesses distribution licenses and dismiss the liquor suit altogether.
Even with those problems, however, early sales numbers have been stronger than predicted. Pot shops in the state sold about $27 million in July and $33 million in August, amounting to nearly $9 million in total tax revenue through the first two months.
Campaign Season Starts Early
Now less than a year away from midterm elections in 2018, a number of candidates for all manner of different offices are settling into the campaign grind.
In the race for the U.S. Senate, Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen is looking to unseat sitting Republican Dean Heller. Heller is considered one of the most vulnerable Republican senators in the country and is facing an uphill primary battle against a challenging Danny Tarkanian.
Tarkanian lost by a narrow margin to Rosen in the 2016 race for Congressional District 3 but has since courted the support Steve Bannon and the Breitbart crowd in his effort to replace the highly unpopular Heller.
In the race for governor, Republican Attorney General Adam Laxalt is looking to take over for Sandoval. Challenging him in next summer’s primary are Dan Schwartz, the state’s treasurer, and grassroots candidate and bike shop owner Jared Fisher.
That’s in addition to two Democratic entrants, Steve Sisolak and Chris Giunchigliani, both Clark County commissioners. While Sisolak is far better funded than Giunchigliani (entering the race this summer with roughly $4 million in his campaign war chest), the latter has brought several outside consultants to her campaign — including a campaign manager who helped Democratic Montana Gov. Steve Bullock win reelection in 2016, even as Donald Trump won his state.
And while northern Nevada’s congressional seat will likely remain with Republican incumbent Mark Amodei, seats in the south look to be up for grabs. As Rosen leaves Congressional District 3 for a chance at the senate, Democrat Susie Lee — who lost a bid for CD 4 in 2016 — will seek to replace her. That’s in addition to a number of Republican hopefuls, including former Assemblywoman Victoria Seaman, sitting state Sen. Scott Hammond, and former TV reporter Michelle Mortensen.
In CD 4, the looming sexual misconduct scandal surrounding incumbent Rep. Ruben Kihuen has the potential to throw a wrench into Democratic plans to hold the seat in 2018. It’s not yet clear if Kihuen will choose to run for reelection, though he has said that he won’t resign from his seat. If that remains the case, then CD 4 — which includes North Las Vegas and has a not-insignificant Democratic voter registration advantage — will likely be far more of a toss-up than in a “normal” election year.
And All The Rest
Even as the holidays approach, there has yet to be a shortage of political happenings. Be it graceful resignations or exits from politics — from the likes of top gaming regulator A.G. Burnett to the state legislators like Reno Assemblywoman Amber Joiner, or Assemblywoman Irene Bustamante Adams or Sen. Patricia Farley, both of Las Vegas — or the less graceful downfalls of those who’ve been accused of sexual misconduct, including the likes of Manendo and Kihuen.
If one thing is for sure, then, it’s that the political world keeps on turning.
Jacob Solis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.