Nevada's Redistricting News
Several residents of Ward one have complained to the City Council that Las Vegas' plan for redistricting will push them into new districts.
Some suggested political motives for their exclusion from the district represented by Councilwoman Janet Moncrief.
Moncrief says there are no political motives behind the plan. Moncrief is battling two recall efforts and criminal charges that allege she violated campaign laws.
The council has approved population numbers on which the redistricting will be based upon. It set a special meeting for September 27th to hear more public comment on the redrawing of the city's ward boundaries.
Wounds from the Nevada Legislature�s 2001 redistricting plan remain tender as the 2003 session begins in Carson City today, lawmakers said.
Five legislative seats were removed from the north and given to Las Vegas.
Now northern lawmakers are outnumbered by those from the south by a 2-to-1 margin.
Southern politicians hold all but one Assembly committee chairmanship, although the north has six of nine chairmanships in the Senate.
If battles for funding, state services and capitol improvements turn regional, northern lawmakers feel they would get wounded again.
�We definitely don�t want to get into a confrontation with southern Nevada because we will lose,� said Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno. �That is the political reality of northern Nevada. When two-thirds of the votes are from southern Nevada, confrontation is not the way to get your political agenda across.�
Talk of regional battles is not welcome by lawmakers from both ends of the state.
�The only thing it does is keep the rivalry alive instead of patching it up,� Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, said. �It is more of a political battle than a policy reality. If you look at the votes on appropriations, you will find that the south has never tried to (hurt) the north.�
Northern strategy dictates that issues and funding be decided on a ���statewide��� basis. What is good for Nevada is good for Washoe County, Reno, Elko and Yerington.
�We are here to represent the whole state, not just one region,� Sen. Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, said.
Gov. Kenny Guinn said the north-south rivalry � long part of Nevada�s legislative history � is overplayed.
�I can�t think of one issue that has been decided on north-south lines,� said Guinn, a Las Vegas Republican. �You might be able to show me one, but one does not come to mind.�
Others, however, are quick to disagree. They wonder how long this �statewide� strategy will last when they also have obligations to people in their district.
�I think everybody feels that way about thinking statewide, but when it comes down to not having much money, they are going to stand up for their territory,� Assemblywoman Dawn Gibbons, R-Reno, said. �I think we just have to prove that in northern Nevada and Washoe County, we are as valued and valuable and we need services, too.�
Denying funding to the north is not in the best interests of Las Vegas, Titus said.
�If we don�t keep Reno and Washoe county economically sound and protect the quality of life, who is going to have to pay for it?� Titus asked. �The south. So it is in the best interest of the south to be sure that the whole state is taken care of. That is just common sense.�
It�s already come to that in rural Nevada, where the flat economy has meant a loss in population and state school funding. Tax revenue from Las Vegas ultimately helps pay for many state services across the state.
�That is the only way rural Nevada gets some projects going,� Sen. Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora, said. �They know if the county goes broke or the school district goes broke, the state has got to pick it up.�
Tension over redistricting is a state tradition. The north-south rivalry goes back to the Civil War era, according to the secretary of state�s �Political History of Nevada�.
The composition of the Legislature changed 16 times from 1864 to 1919. In the 19th century, northern Nevada held a decided edge because of its vast wealth and population that supported the Virginia City mining bonanza.
Las Vegas increasingly became a political force as the population grew rapidly in the middle of the 20th century. The construction of Hoover Dam in the 1930s, the town�s importance in troop transportation during World War II and emergence of the modern gaming industry in the 1950s all fueled Las Vegas growth, said Guy Rocha, state archivist.
Northern and rural Nevada, however, still held the legislative majority through the first half of the 20th century under a plan that allowed for one senator per county, regardless population.
In 1965, federal courts forced Nevada to base representation in both houses on population, giving Clark County majorities in the Senate and Assembly. For the first time in state history, Las Vegas had more senators (eight) and more assemblymen (16) than any other county in Nevada.
�In a democracy, the seats go to where the people are,� said Fred Lokken, a political science professor at Truckee Meadows Community College and a registered Republican. �And with two-thirds of the population in the south, we�re bound to see this.�
The boom in Las Vegas� population has continually whittled away northern and rural representation ever since, now giving the south the decided majority.
Luckily for the north, the south has never taken full advantage of their voting power, Rhoads said. The division between Clark County Republicans and Democrats is deeper than any north-south rivalry, lawmakers said.
�Getting them to vote together is like herding chickens,� Rhoads said.
�I�ve been in politics now for 26 years and the problems with the south is that they never can hang together,� Rhoads said. �I remember when I was in the Assembly. There were 22 Clark County assemblymen out of 40. They voted on a county or police issue and the vote was 11-11. You will see a lot of that. The 14 state senators from Clark County rarely stick together and vote 14-0 on a issue.�
Minority with some juice
Northern Nevada still has plenty of clout, lawmakers from both camps said.
It�s especially so in the Senate. Northern Nevada Republicans chair six of the nine committees, controlling legislation dealing with taxes, spending, business and natural resources.
Northern senators who chair committees are Raggio, Rhoads, Sen. Mark Amodei, R-Carson City; Sen. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno; Sen. Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, and Sen. Maurice Washington, R-Sparks. Chairmen have influence and power, political experts say. McGinness chairs the taxation committee. All tax legislation must pass through him.
�Six out of nine, it�s really important,� said Rhoads, chairman of the natural resources committee. �As chairman, you can guide the direction of the legislation.�
The northern chairmen were chosen because of seniority and majority party affiliation. Northern Nevada has strong leadership because the voters keep electing the same people again and again.
�We probably know the ropes better,� Rhoads said. �We know how to get things done, more than the southerners who just got elected.�
Northern Nevada�s six Senate chairmen have a combined 104 years of state legislative experience. The experience and savvy bode well for the north, Titus said.
�You�ve got two rural senators chairing two very important committees,� Titus said. �You�ve got Dean Rhoads, who totally controls the natural resources committee. And Mike McGinness chairs the taxation committee, which is the No. 1 committee of this session. And that�s not to mention Bill Raggio, who chairs the finance committee, which is the whole lifeblood of the process.�
The value of Raggio
Raggio is northern Nevada�s biggest ace. The 30-year veteran is the most powerful man in the Legislature, lawmakers from both parties said.
Some say his power extends beyond the Legislature Building in Carson City.
�He�s more powerful than the governor,� Rhoads said. �He�s the most powerful person in the state. It�s too bad, Bill should have been the governor or a U.S. senator but he was just not in the right place at the right time.�
Raggio discounts the praise: �I think you would find 62 people who would disagree.�
Perhaps it is fewer than that.
�He is so smart politically and he�s got the governor on his side,� Titus said. �As long as he is in good health, he is a force to be reckoned with.�
Raggio, first elected to the Senate in 1973, says he has no plans to retire. He first gained notoriety as Washoe County district attorney in the early 1970s for prosecuting former brothel kingpin Joe Conforte.
�I�m asked every session if this will be my last,� he said. �I just don�t think about that. I just hope I�m effective and continue to be effective.�
�Time can take its toll,� Raggio added. �Sometimes it makes you brighter. Sometime it diminishes you.�
When Raggio goes, so goes much of the north�s power, lawmakers say.
�When he leaves, there is really going to be a void,� Rhoads said. �There could be a real fight between the south and a couple of people up north. But I think the majority leadership would probably go to the south because they would bind together.�
It�s bleaker for the north on the Assembly side.
Assemblyman Bernie Anderson, D-Sparks, is the only northern chairman: Judiciary Committee. Leslie, the other northern Democrat, Gibbons and Assembly Minority Leader Lynn Hettrick, R-Minden, are the only other northerners on the powerful Ways and Means Committee.
Missing however is Yerington�s Joe Dini. The former Assembly speaker and speaker emeritus did not seek re-election after 36 years in the Assembly. He was a powerful advocate for the north, said 25-year Assemblyman John Marvel, R-Battle Mountain.
�Joe had a lot of stature and influence,� Marvel said. �When Joe supported something, he was able to get his party (Democrats) behind us, and most of his party is from the south.�
The speaker probably will never be from Yerington or any other small town again, Marvel said.
�If you come from rural Nevada, you could probably never be speaker, that�s for sure,� Marvel said. �Most of the plumbs will go south.�
Leslie chairs the Ways and Means subcommittee on human resources.
�One concern I have is the fact that northern Nevada adolescence and child mental health services are not scheduled for any increases,� Leslie said. �What I will do on the subcommittee is draw that information out and make sure that northern Nevada�s needs are highlighted. That is our job. We have to look at the state as a whole but we have an extra duty to our special communities that we represent.�
Jon Porter (R) held a narrow lead over Dario Herrera (D)in the open-seat race for Nevada's new House seat, according to the first major poll conducted since the district's lines were drawn in June. Nevada gained a House seat in reapportionment.
Porter led Herrera 41 to 39 percent, according to the July 19-21 poll of 300 voters conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, a GOP polling firm based in Alexandria, Va.
Twenty percent of respondents were undecided. The survey, conducted for the National Republican Congressional Committee, had a 5.7 margin of error.
Among voters paying close attention to the race, Porter, a state Senator, opened up an 8-point lead over Herrera, the chairman of the Clark County commission.
Pollster Glen Bolger said Porter, who lost a 2000 challenge to Rep. Shelley Berkley (D) in the Las Vegas-based 1st district, faces more favorable conditions in the new 3rd. While Al Gore carried the 1st by 12 points, he won the new 3rd by less than half a point.
"The poll's good news," said Steve Schmidt, the National Republican Congressional Committee's communications director. "Porter's going to win that seat."
But Jim Mulhall, a D.C.-based consultant for Herrera, questioned the poll, saying it surfaced shortly after Porter reported "abysmal" fundraising numbers, and local news reports quoted NRCC Chairman Tom Davis (Va.) characterizing the new seat as a likely toss-up.
"So I find it somewhat amusing that, mysteriously and miraculously, this poll now comes out showing him running within the margin of error," Mulhall said.
Las Vegas Review-Journal
Top lawmakers split on expanding Legislature
Jane Ann Morrison
January 21, 2001
When it comes to the number of legislative districts, Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio believes bigger is better. But Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins says what's important is how you exercise what you've got. This disagreement likely will be one of the major tussles of the 2001 legislative session. Raggio, the old pro from Reno, wants to make the Legislature larger by adding new seats so that Northern Nevada and the rural counties don't lose legislators through reapportionment.
Perkins, the new Assembly leader from Henderson, wants the Legislature to remain at 21 senators and 42 Assembly members, both for cost reasons and because it preserves the power of Clark County lawmakers by adding seats in Southern Nevada and taking seats away from the rest of the state. Adding two senators and five Assembly members in Clark County, as Raggio wants, would cost an estimated $ 2.2 million in continuing costs every two years. Keeping the Legislature at 63 members would mean that more seats end up in the more populous south in order to equalize the size of the population in each district, the whole point of reapportionment.
If Raggio fails in persuading his colleagues to expand the Legislature, some of the rural lawmakers will have large districts covering hundreds of square miles, districts that make it more difficult to make personal voter contact. Expanding the Legislature 'makes more sense,' Raggio said. 'You already have unimaginably large districts in the rurals.' The size fight will be the first reapportionment decision to be resolved before legislators can make the other decisions about how to draw new districts across the state.
It's the Legislature's responsibility to draw districts for three U.S. House of Representatives seats, as well as state Senate, Assembly, Board of Regents and State Board of Education seats. Since it's an issue where Raggio and Perkins have already taken public positions, the choice of bigger vs. the status quo will be a major test of Perkins' ability as the Democrats' new top dog in the Assembly. Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, who chairs the Elections Committee that will deal with reapportionment, says the way to win the size argument is to wage a public relations effort with the public and stress the cost of expanding the Legislature. If the public cries out that less is more, that could pressure lawmakers to support a same-size Legislature as they did 10 years ago, when there was talk of adding nine seats.
The Legislative Counsel Bureau estimated that it costs $ 65,000 for every additional lawmaker and $ 250,000 for staff costs for each during the biennium. Depending on how many lawmakers are added, there would be additional remodeling costs to expand facilities. The chambers themselves can handle three more legislators before remodeling would be required. While the first decision on size pits north against south, the second pits Republicans against Democrats: whether to use the actual head count from the Census Bureau or a statistical sample. The GOP wants to go with the actual count; the Democrats favor a statistical sample that might help pick up traditionally undercounted minorities. The third decision will be made by Gov. Kenny Guinn: Should he call a special session to deal only with reapportionment?
The Republican governor isn't saying whether he wants a special session, but he has a legal opinion that says he can call one if all the necessary information isn't available by the time the legislative session ends June 4. Senate Democratic Leader Dina Titus believes there will be a trade-off. She says the final compromise will be expanding the number of districts as Raggio wants, and doing it during the session. He'll give up the idea of a special session, she said. Raggio already has softened his special session talk. In September, he said, 'We are looking at the likelihood of a special session.' This month, he said he will agree to a special session 'only if it's necessary. But we'll make every effort to get it done during the session.' In terms of the political games that come with reapportionment, Raggio said he 'will not participate in allowing the reapportionment issue to be used as a leverage on those other issues. I hope a special session is not required.'
Lawmakers almost universally oppose a special session to deal with the matter because it would remove their ability to use bills to get concessions in reapportionment. Essentially, it would remove some of the politics from reapportionment _ which is why Guinn might think it a good thing. Assemblyman Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas, will be one GOP point person on reapportionment because of his mastery of the technology. 'I'm awfully fond of the idea of coming home after 120 days, but the traditional political wisdom is that doing it in a regular session is a benefit to the minority party in each house so they can use it as a bargaining chip,' he said. 'I think the Assembly Democrats and the Senate Republicans favor a special session so the minorities won't prevail.' The nitty-gritty of carving up districts won't begin until after the Census Bureau releases more detailed numbers in March.
For now, here's the number that matters: 1,998,257. That's the count of Nevadans released Dec. 28 by census officials. The only hard-and-fast rules are that the three congressional districts must each have about 666,086 people in them, and state legislative districts cannot vary in population by more than 10 percent. If the Senate districts remain at 21, then the ideal Senate district would contain 95,155 people and the ideal Assembly district would have 47,578. Republican Sens. Ann O'Connell and Bill O'Donnell represent 350,000 people in their jointly shared and oddly shaped district. Even if they keep their multimember district, they'll still see it cut to less than 200,000 residents. O'Donnell favors a special session 'to take the politics out of it. That way, there's no bartering, no concessions, and no integrity has to be compromised.' O'Connell agrees reapportionment will be heated but said Republicans learned from their experience with redistricting 10 years ago. 'We're wiser now about how we approach it,' she said.
In 1991, 'it was pretty one-sided and we didn't have a lot of voice.' The Democrats hired a consultant 10 years ago, the Republicans didn't. This time both parties will have paid consultants helping them. Legally, they can draw districts to try to maximize a minority group's voting strength, as they did in Assembly District 28 in 1991. That's true even if the district has an odd configuration, like District 28, which is shaped like the letter C. The law also says it's OK to draw districts in ways to protect the incumbent or make sure the incumbent still lives inside his district, even if it means some odd-looking lines. Multimember districts are also legal, although they have been challenged in other states if they are designed for racial discrimination purposes, Brian Davie of the Legislative Counsel Bureau said. The constitutionality of Nevada's multimember districts was challenged in the 1970s and upheld, he said. Fish with a periscope In Las Vegas, Senate District 5 is represented by two Republican senators - Ann O'Connell and Bill O'Donnell. Their district has about 350,000 residents andis the largest in the state. O'Connell describes her district as one that ' looks like a pregnant fish that has swallowed a periscope , or a cat laying upside down.' Neither senator is quite certain why the district was cut the way it was.
O'Donnell said the district has a larger population than the entire state had in 1958 ' when Grant Sawyer was elected governor.' C for Hispanic Assembly District 28's C shape was designed in 1991 to give that district a larger number of Hispanic voters to make it more likely for a Hispanic candidate to get elected. However voters never voted behind a Hispanic candidate and the district is represented by Democratic Assemblywoman Vonne Chowning.