Analyzing a municipal election after a low turnout is a bit like eating soup with a fork: You can try it, and you might have some success, but chances are you will get nowhere fast. But we can try.
First, voters made clear that term limits don’t really matter to them. Oscar Goodman had to leave after three terms, but they essentially kept him around. That isn’t meant to pile on Carolyn Goodman, who showed a sometimes woeful grasp of the issues, because we tend to forget that when her husband first ran for mayor in 1999, some critics said that the wrong Goodman had run (so did Oscar, come to think of it). The point is, if Chris Giunchigliani had been elected, Oscar wouldn’t have had much of a chance to have influence. Now he gets to stay around, and the betting here is that Carolyn Goodman will have her own agenda and surprise a lot of her critics.
Meanwhile, in Ward 3, voters could choose between Bob Coffin, who had been in the legislature forever and ran for the City Council only after being term-limited, and Adriana Martinez, a comparative newcomer. They chose Coffin. One reason was that his ward knows him—voters there undoubtedly would have kept him in the state senate if they could have. In that sense, it was as though Gary Reese, term-limited after twelve years, could have stayed around, although Coffin will be noisier, more liberal, and more of a gadfly.
Another reason was that Martinez wasn’t that well known, but what the voters got to know, they didn’t have much reason to like: some of her attacks on Coffin either fell flat or were misguided, and whether she even lived in her ward became a good question lacking a good answer. In that, she may have reminded longtime residents — Ward 3 has a lot of them — of Lynette Boggs-McDonald, who lost her bid to remain on the Clark County Commission in 2006 in part over similar issues related to her residency.
Voters also showed they love and hate career politicians. Carolyn Goodman isn’t one and easily won. Coffin has another career, but he’s been in politics for decades and easily won. Chris Giunchligiani has been in elective office for the better part of two decades and was politically active before that, and she lost easily. Was that because she had been in office and built a record that could be attacked, or did voters not warm up to her, or was she too liberal for a city that includes heavily Republican areas in the northwest? Probably all three, yet her followers seemed far more devoted to her — even starry-eyed — than Goodman’s.
A trend that continued in this election was the local media (yes, there’s a mirror right here, too) paying most of the attention to Las Vegas municipal elections and not to the second and third-largest cities in Nevada, Henderson and North Las Vegas. In North Las Vegas, Pamela Goynes-Brown won a job long held by her father, and Richard Cherchio got cross-ways with Mayor Shari Buck and paid for it with a one-vote loss with political newcomer Wade Wagner. Thus did North Las Vegas reflect its political history, with prominent roles played by the Mormon Church, African Americans, and unions — especially the police union, which worked to defeat Cherchio. In 1976, the police union ousted three of the five NLV council members in a recall, and that union has been a major player ever since — and proved that it still is.
Michael Green is a professor of history at the College of Southern Nevada.