In Las Vegas, the recent municipal election included a mayoral race between the wife of one of the most popular politicians in Nevada’s history (and one of the best mayors in the town’s history) and a county commissioner who seems to make many Democrats swoon. The city council battle featured less interesting people doing more interesting things: The winner may wind up suing the loser, who happens to work for another council member, for defamation.
All of which prompted 25 percent turnout. A quarter of Las Vegas’s registered voters chose two of the city’s most important elected officials. Turnout was even lower in Henderson and North Las Vegas.
All of which has prompted calls for consolidation of elections. Assembly Bill 132, which is now law, empowers cities to hold their elections at the same time as state elections.
News stories and commentaries have laid out the pros and cons. Pro: increased turnout, saving money by holding fewer elections. Con: municipal elections getting lost in the shuffle with other, possibly bigger races; tougher for candidates to raise money. Both Mayor-elect Carolyn Goodman (the wife) and Las Vegas Councilman-elect Bob Coffin (the possible plaintiff) have said they’re for it.
A thought or two on what all of this may mean:
- • Critics dismissed Goodman as a dilettante and Coffin as a professional politician, yet they seem to agree here. Could this be a sign that the two of them are different than they appear — and that both of them, perhaps from different angles, have changes in mind in the city, too? Don’t be surprised — Goodman will want to show that she is more than Mrs. Oscar (she is); and Coffin just finished more than a decade in the state senate as a slightly left-of-center, knowledgeable gadfly who was known for loving to discuss a variety of ideas and for taking no prisoners in a fight.
- • Municipal elections are supposed to be non-partisan. In some ways, they are. It’s easier for politicians in non-partisan races and offices to form alliances without a political party looking over their shoulders. But it’s also a canard. Goodman’s opponent, Chris Giunchigliani, is a Democrat and never has hidden it, and that fact both helped and hurt her in this election. In other races, and even in supposedly non-partisan judicial races, parties have increasingly involved themselves or become part of the equation.
But would shifting the municipal elections to the same time as the rest of the voting make them even more partisan? Probably: parties and interest groups on both sides tend to lump their people together. Is that a good thing?
The most obvious problem with the federal government isn’t finding solutions, but finding a way to reach a solution, and that’s because moderation has just about disappeared from the Republican party; Democrats are less liberal than Republicans claim and more liberal than liberals claim, and they face about as much criticism from the left as their Republican counterparts do from the right when they compromise. In turn, these attitudes have percolated down to state governments. Consider the recently concluded session in Carson City, where any Republican who talked of the slightest compromise faced the wrath of Brian Sandoval, who now faces the wrath of the far right for daring to overcome his impulses and do something good. Is that the kind of thing we want in municipal government? That’s a question worth long and hard consideration before shifting elections.
Michael Green is a professor of history at the College of Southern Nevada.