NEVADA FOCUS: Redistricting plan has incumbents running against each other
CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) – Fourteen incumbents in the state Legislature must run against one another and only seven will survive in the next election – the consequences of a redistricting compromise that keeps the Assembly at 42 seats and the Senate at 21 seats.
”This is how it is in politics,” Assemblywoman Dawn Gibbons, R-Reno, said. ”Sometimes you’ve got to take the bitter pill and swallow it.”
The compromise plan, influenced by explosive growth in southern Nevada and the need to add Hispanic representation in the state capital, was designed to give Democrats who now control the Assembly a 25-17 advantage in the lower house, and give Republicans who run the Senate a 12-9 advantage. Some incumbents lost out in the process.
Gibbons said she’ll back Assemblyman David Humke, R-Reno, rather than oppose him in the primary.
”There are plenty of other things I can do to do good,” she said. ”One door closes, another one opens.”
One of the main reasons for the face-offs was the need to get more Hispanic representation in the Legislature.
No lawmakers in the past session identified themselves as Hispanic. Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, is Hispanic on his mother’s side while freshman Assemblyman John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, is Hispanic on his father’s side.
”It’s one of the facts of life with redistricting,” said Assemblyman Doug Bache, D-Las Vegas, who was placed in the same heavily Hispanic district as Democratic colleague Vonne Chowning.
”It was a show of faith (by the Democrats) to Hispanics that we would create an open seat,” said Bache, who plans to run again in 2002.
”Everyone knew going in some of us would have to run against each other,” said Chowning, D-North Las Vegas.
In the Senate, the effort to get more Hispanic representation resulted in incumbent Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, getting a new district that’s more than 60 percent Hispanic.
Another big reason for putting incumbents into head-to-head elections in 2002 was the need to reflect massive southern Nevada growth – meaning more legislative seats in the south and fewer in northern and rural Nevada.
As a result, several northern Nevada Assembly members are in political survival battles. That includes Sharron Angle, R-Reno, who would face Greg Brower, R-Reno; and Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, who would face Don Gustavson, R-Sun Valley.
In the Senate, Lawrence Jacobsen, R-Minden, was moved into a district now held by Mike McGinness, R-Fallon. And McGinness’ district was stretched southward so that he will end up with constituents as far away as Mesquite, several hundred miles from Fallon.
”I don’t like it,” said Jacobsen, a longtime legislative veteran who turned 80 on July 1. ”Nobody even talked to me about this. Someone else made the decision for me.”
”But with these large districts, it would be a real burden to get around them.”
Other races will pit David Parks, D-Las Vegas, against Kathy Von Tobel, R-Las Vegas; and Assemblyman Bob Price, D-North Las Vegas, against Morse Arberry, D-Las Vegas.
Price has decided to move into another district, and Arberry is relieved.
”I won’t run against an incumbent,” Price said. ”I’ll see where there’s an open seat. I’ll move to the northern part of the state if I have to.”
”If he wasn’t moving, I was going to fight harder for the lines to stay the way they were,” Arberry said. ”I wouldn’t want to run against Price, who is so well-respected across the state.”
Arberry’s new district grew from 35,000 to 45,000 – picking up constituents in parts of Price’s old district in North Las Vegas.
Other Assembly members – mostly Republicans – are so unhappy with the Democrats’ redistricting plan that it’s uncertain how many of them will try to return.
Assemblyman Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas, estimated that most of the 15 Assembly Republicans ”are not planning on being back” for the 2003 session.
Brower, who would vie for the same seat as fellow-Republican Angle, agrees that many of the lawmakers won’t return. He said some are likely to seek other elective offices, some will lose in GOP primary battles, and others will just drop out of politics.
”I had hoped (the plan) would give Republicans in the Assembly a chance to be competitive in more than just a few seats,” Brower said after seeing the plan.
Angle was disgusted with the redistricting plan that developed in the Assembly.
”Gerrymandering is when a group draws the lines to its own advantage over another group,” she said. ”That’s not what redistricting is supposed to be about. The Democrats drew the lines completely in their favor.”
Gustavson, who was placed in the same district as Assemblywoman Smith, agreed.
”The lines are not drawn fairly,” he said. ”The plan doesn’t give (Assembly Republicans) an equal, fair opportunity.”
While Smith isn’t enchanted with the plan, she understands her party’s reasoning behind it.
”It wouldn’t be my preference,” said the freshman lawmaker. ”It’s a little easier for me because it’s my first session. I don’t have a long-standing relationship with constituents.”
Democratic Assemblyman Parks also plans to run again. While he’d be running against Republican Von Tobel if she chooses to seek re-election, he said he has the advantage.
”Half of the district – geographically – is new to me, but less than one-third of the population is new to me,” he said. ”I’d have a stronger possibility.”
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