Replacement named for Nevada controller
CARSON CITY – Steve Martin of Las Vegas, a former state Republican Party official who’s running for state controller, was appointed to that job on Wednesday by GOP Gov. Kenny Guinn following the sudden death of Controller Kathy Augustine.
Augustine, the only constitutional officer in Nevada history to have been impeached and convicted, died Tuesday at a Reno hospital after suffering an apparent heart attack over the weekend. She was 50.
Authorities conducted an autopsy Wednesday to pinpoint the cause of death. It could take several weeks to complete all tests.
“This is someone who was relatively young, who appears to have no medical history. When you’re going through a review (of a death), this is one you take another look at,” said Reno Police Department spokesman Steve Frady.
With his appointment to the rest of Augustine’s term as controller, until the end of the year, Martin, 58, got a big boost in his bid to be elected to the job in November. He moved to the state in 1999 and is making his first run for public office.
Martin, a certified public accountant, had served as treasurer for the state Republican Party Central Committee. He faces Democrat Kim Wallin of Las Vegas and Floyd Fitzgibbons, an Independent American Party candidate, in the general election.
Wallin, also a certified public accountant, criticized Guinn’s move as “a very political appointment that’s not really allowing the voters to decide who should be controller.”
“If I had been asked to serve, I would have thought long and hard about it because it’s not the right thing to do,” Wallin said. “But I have to look at the bright side. He’s going to have to be in the controller’s office working, so he can only campaign on nights and weekends.”
Guinn issued a statement saying it was important to quickly find a qualified person to handle the controller’s check-issuing duties and other responsibilities. He added that with Martin’s background in accounting he “certainly meets those standards.”
Guinn spokesman Steve George said there was nothing unusual about the appointment, adding, “It’s a normal process for a governor to fill a vacancy with someone from the same party.”
Martin said Wallin is right about his reduced campaign time, adding, “I had a game plan laid out and now I will have to regroup because I’m not going to have a lot of time for campaign events.”
Martin also said he planned no immediate changes and would depend on the current staff at the controller’s office. “We’ll work our way through this together,” he added.
If elected, Martin has said he will try to streamline government bureaucracy, create a program to spot anyone trying to defraud the state and improve debt collection services.
Martin, who will be sworn in July 13 in Las Vegas, also has said he doesn’t oppose efforts to consolidate the state treasurer’s and controller’s offices, as long as internal controls are preserved.
Augustine’s husband, Chaz Higgs, said campaign stress was to blame for his wife’s heart attack. She faced fundraising difficulties and opposition from within her own party in her bid for state treasurer. Because of term limits, she couldn’t seek a third four-year term as controller.
Impeached by the Assembly for using state equipment for her 2002 campaign, Augustine was censured but not removed from office by the state Senate. She also was fined $15,000 by the state Ethics Commission.
State election officials say it’s too late to remove Augustine’s name from Nevada’s Aug. 15 primary ballot. Early voting starts July 29. Augustine was in a three-way race for the Republican nomination for state treasurer, facing Mark DeStefano and Joseph Pitts.
It’s not the first time a dead person has been listed on a Nevada ballot as a statewide candidate. State Archivist Guy Rocha said Republican Clara Cunningham got more than 9,000 votes in 1926, to nearly 18,000 for Democrat Ed Malley in a race for state treasurer, about two weeks after she was killed in a car wreck.
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