Fields of dreams

Photo/Dennis Myers Reno Mayor Bob Cashell, left, and Sparks Mayor Geno Martini, center, talk here at a function in Sparks in November.

In Nevada, term limits are talking hold with a vengeance both statewide and locally. There is no presidential or U.S. senate race to drive turnout in the 2014 election, and the governor’s race may also depress turnout.

The only federal race in this part of the state is the northern U.S. House race for the seat held by Republican Mark Amodei. Since the creation of the district in 1981, it has been a safe GOP seat. After the state added another seat in 2001, and the district was reconfigured, it became somewhat more competitive for Democrats but still a hard fight. In the 2011 special election in which Amodei was first elected, Democrat Kate Marshall collected just 36 percent of the vote. Now the Democrats are as silent as the grave about the district.

Republican Brian Sandoval has spent his term as governor raising money, which was uncomfortable for some of his fellow Republicans who—during Sandoval’s first two years—had to compete for campaign dollars for the 2012 election while he was raising money for the 2014 campaign (“Republicans miffed at guv,” RN&R, Oct. 27, 2011). Democrats, meanwhile, seem to be intimidated by Sandoval’s campaign treasury. No major Democrat so far has shown any sign of taking the plunge.

Other state officials elected statewide are in quite the game of musical chairs. State Controller Kim Wallin, termed out, will run for state treasurer. State Treasurer Kate Marshall, termed out, will run for secretary of state. Secretary of State Ross Miller, termed out, will run for attorney general. (All are Democrats.) And when the music stops, Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki and Democratic Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto seem to be the players with nowhere to go. Both are termed out but neither have indicated plans to run for anything else.

Given the strong field of statewide Democratic talent, it is remarkable that the two top state offices are left wanting for Democratic candidates. The party is nothing if not anxious for Cortez Masto to run for governor or lieutenant governor, but she has ruled it out. Even importuning from Harry Reid did not convince her. The party so far has turned up only one candidate for lieutenant governor, Clark County Assemblymember Lucy Flores. Democrats would like the post in order to keep Sandoval’s activities in check and to complicate his life if he tries to run for U.S. Senate in 2016. On the other side, Sandoval—who reduced the visibility of the lieutenant governor by reorganizing some state agencies—anointed his own candidate for lieutenant governor, Clark County Sen. Mark Hutchison, a step that did not sit well with some Republicans. Hutchison has drawn primary opposition from former Clark senator Sue Lowden.

Among other state offices, Nevada Supreme Court seats currently held by justices Kris Pickering and Mark Gibbons are up for election this year. So are numerous state district judgeships, including 15 in Washoe County. A Board of Regents seat for district 10, one of three representing Washoe, is up for election.

Closer to home, the Washoe delegation in the Nevada Legislature is currently Republicans seven and Democrats five. The Assembly is Republicans four and Democrats four. In the Senate, it’s Republicans three and Democrats one. Republicans benefit from districts that overlap with smaller counties. There are four Washoe legislators with such districts—two in the Assembly, two in the Senate—and those seats are all held by Republicans. But Washoe has also been drifting Democratic. Moderate Republicans have always done well in the county, so the county GOP’s recent habit of nominating hard rightists may be aiding the Democrats. Three of the four Washoe Senate seats—Districts 13, 14 and 16—and all Assembly seats are up for election this year.

In municipal races, three Washoe County Commission seats are up for election, in Districts 2, 3 and 5. So are the county posts of assessor, clerk, district attorney, public administrator, recorder, sheriff and treasurer.

At the city level, mayor and the city council seats currently held by Sharon Zadra and Dwight Dortch are up for election this year. Zadra, Dortch and Mayor Robert Cashell are all term limited.

One mayoral candidate, George “Eddie” Lorton, has filed a legal action to try to keep some of his prospective opponents—term limited city councilmembers—from running, on the theory that because the duties of council members and mayor are similar, a termed-out city councilmember is ineligible to run for mayor because it would be the equivalent of running for another term on the council. Among the possible candidates who could be affected by Lorton’s lawsuit are Councilmembers Dortch and Zadra and former councilmembers Jessica Sferrazza and David Aiazzi. Surprisingly, the Nevada Supreme Court accepted the case in October even though legally, there were no candidates yet—and there still aren’t—so government is not yet involved. Filing for these offices. does not open until March 3. The Nevada Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on this matter on Jan. 21.

In a court filing, Lorton argued that the law “prohibits a person from being re-elected to the governing body as a whole, regardless of which seat the person seeks to serve [in].” Lorton’s chances of success in the lawsuit have been widely discussed in political circles. In similar electoral cases, the Nevada Supreme Court has a history, when the facts of the case leave any doubt or flexibility at all, of defaulting to the voters’ judgment and allowing the widest possible choice. That was the way the court ruled in allowing independent candidate for governor Charles Springer’s name to appear on the ballot in 1970 and in clearing Bob Miller to run for a third term as governor in 1994.

In addition, although the duties of councilmembers are similar to those of the mayor, they are not identical, making it possible for the court to find that the two offices are distinguishable. The mayor is empowered to deal with civil disturbances, which is not true of councilmembers. The mayor can convene the council in special session; a councilmember cannot. The mayor signs city ordinances passed by the city council. The mayor nominates members of the Civil Service Commission, airport authority and other bodies; the council approves or rejects the mayor’s nominees.

The popular Cashell would likely be able to win another term if he were eligible, and he was certainly willing. “I will miss it very much,” he said in 2012. “I’m probably getting to the age where I should think about retirement, but really I don’t want to retire.” But term limits took that decision out of his hands. His endorsement will probably be one of the most sought-after in municipal politics. Soon after the current council took office, he was asked if he would cultivate a successor. “I don’t know if I’ll cultivate one,” he said. “There’s three or four people that I’ve heard talking about it, running, and all I can [do is] see who’s there and see who I could work with or who’s going to carry on and do some of the things that I’d like to see done.” Since then he has done little to put his imprimatur on anyone.

The posts of Reno city attorney and municipal court judge are also up for election.

In Sparks, the mayor’s post held by Geno Martini and the council seats currently held by Ed Lawson and Mike Carrigan are up for election, along with the municipal court judgeship now held by Barbara McCarthy and a vacant justice of the peace. Carrigan is term limited after serving 15 years, well above the 12 allowed. He benefited from a legal glitch involving a switch of Sparks municipal elections from the spring of odd numbered years to the autumn of even numbered years.

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Dennis Myers
About Dennis Myers 1397 Articles
Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely Nevada, a children’s history textbook, and a contributor to the books The Mythical West and Covering the Courts in Nevada. In September, 2020, he was inducted into the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame.