Property taxes, growth and water issues may dominate the day-to-day activities of the upcoming 2005 Nevada Legislature, but be sure not to miss the real show being played out on the Carson City stage. The actors will be setting the scene for November 2006 as each attempts to land the role of the next governor of Nevada.
It’s shaping up to be quite a show. Thankfully, the anointment process we witnessed when Gov. Kenny Guinn ascended to the mansion doesn’t seem to be quite as obvious this time around. While the powers that be are quietly tapping on a few shoulders, there are still going to be some wildcards. Here’s what we know, so far.
Sen. John Ensign is not going to run. That eliminates one strong Republican contender, but his choice isn’t a huge surprise. With the Republicans gaining a stronger majority in the Senate, why wouldn’t he want to stick around there? Besides, he’s got to put in the time if he wants a shot at party or committee leadership positions back in Washington, D.C.
Next in the Republican lineup is Congressman Jim Gibbons. He’s going to run for governor, also no surprise. He’s been in Washington, D.C. since 1997 and has been passed over for a committee chairmanship that congressional protocol would almost have guaranteed him by now. For some reason, he’s not on Speaker Dennis Hastert’s favorite list and instead, has a good shot at getting the big prize here at home. Don’t forget, a nice new revision to the federal campaign finance law allows him to sink his $500,000 congressional war chest into a state race.
Some might say that Rep. Gibbons is the anointed one for 2006 and that may be true. The anointers have been talking about him at cocktail parties for a while now. But there’s certainly a dark horse contender that could make the Republican primary a real nail-biter.
Secretary of State Dean Heller could make a strong showing. With all the scrutiny and interest in election reform technology, Heller has certainly got some decent name recognition across the state – even though he’s a northerner. His populist positions would resonate well in the rural counties, where many already know him as a regular on the car racing circuit.
The Democratic primary ticket is just as crowded right now. Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins has made his intentions to run for governor clear. Just look at how he’s structured the Assembly committees. The new Growth and Development Committee – which will deal with the sticky web that is the property tax issue – is a nifty venue for the speaker to create a nice campaign platform.
On the other side of the legislative building will be Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus, who has already declared her intention to run. Always a strong voice in the upper house, Titus is sure to use her position this session to try to define herself for a statewide run.
Other Democratic contenders include Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, Henderson Mayor Jim Gibson and former Harrah’s Chairman Phil Satre. For Goodman, the governorship may seem like a step backwards, since Carson City doesn’t get nearly as much media attention as Sin City. And Nevadans outside of the south have likely never heard much of Gibson. Satre could certainly do well in the fundraising department with his strong relationships in the gaming industry, but again name recognition could be a challenge.
So the field of contenders is essentially a handful of seasoned Nevada politicians, each of whom has spent much of the past decade readying for this race. And each is going to use the 2005 Legislature to help build his or her candidacy for the state’s top job.
Gibbons is certain to make use of his legislative address and Education First initiative to keep his name in the public’s ear. Heller will continue to push populist issues like election reform, which resonate well with voters. Perkins will use his platform to try and make himself a figure recognizable around the entire state. Titus will be the frank voice in the mix, telling it like it is, but not getting much credit for it.
The posturing, positioning and posing set to begin in Carson City promise to be quite a show and one you won’t want to miss. It could turn out to be critical research for those casting votes in 2006.