Eight Predictions for Nevada Politics in 2014

As the election cycle heats up, our fearless pundit reads the tea (party) leaves

Illustration by Ryan Olbrysh

If Joe Heck is is re-elected in 2014, it will be by a narrow margin | Illustration by Ryan Olbrysh

If historians could predict the future, we’d all be in the stock market or playing baccarat. But here are a few political matters to bet on in 2014:

• Much of the media will focus on the horse races, but voters will focus more on ballot initiatives, which will help drive turnout in an off-year election. The mining industry will outspend everybody to block its tax hike—probably more than businesses will spend to stop the education initiative/margins tax. In fact, when all the figures come out, mining will have spent more money opposing the tax hike than it would pay in higher taxes. Mining will lose. The businesses will win.

• In the wake of the state Judicial Discipline Commission’s action against Family Court Judge Steve Jones—and the death of the prosecutor with whom he had a relationship—scrutiny of the judiciary will intensify. More scandals will emerge from Family Court, where some injudicious and un-judicial behavior will cause further disciplinary action. In turn, reformers will present their annual argument for changing our system of choosing judges. They will make a great deal of sense, but two things will happen: Someone will remind them of how there is no foolproof system for finding good judges (Google Clarence Thomas), and their efforts will lead nowhere.

Local journalism will be even more topsy-turvy than usual with a new CEO for the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s parent company and the Greenspun family winding up in court over the fate of the Las Vegas Sun. The Sun will survive in some form, and the R-J will endure another round of budget and staffing cuts. But the election year will bring out more of the worst in the R-J, unfortunately.

• In the meantime, expect more attacks on Governor Brian Sandoval from the Republican far right—attacks that will receive more attention than they probably deserve, in large part because Democrats haven’t managed to offer a legitimate critique of the governor, and have not yet rallied behind a viable candidate to oppose him. If Democrats do finally cast their lot with a solid candidate, it’s likely to be County Commissioner Steve Sisolak or state Senator Tick Segerblom. And as soon as a viable opponent appears, the far right will suddenly find Sandoval acceptable.

• If Representative Joe Heck is re-elected, it will be by a narrow margin. In his contest with Erin Bilbray, Heck will continue to try to maintain a balancing act between appealing to traditional conservatives and playing to the far right. Meanwhile, the national Democratic emphasis on economic issues will haunt him. Having a female opponent with long roots in the Democratic Party will make his life much tougher, too, as will having a Latina Democrat, Lucy Flores, running for lieutenant governor.

Senators Harry Reid and Dean Heller will have one noteworthy public blowup, probably when the allegedly bipartisan Republican again casts his lot with the Tea Party fringe. They also will have one noteworthy public battle on behalf of Nevada in which they will act like they really get along. Bet on the possibility of testing drones in Nevada to be what first unites them and then divides them.

The most interesting campaign will be for sheriff. Former Sheriffs Jerry Keller and Bill Young each have a candidate in the race (Larry Burns and Joe Lombardo, respectively). But a well-respected wild card who is considering running—sorry, no names for now—would totally upset the applecart. And the campaign will bring some of the scandalous ghosts haunting Metro out of hiding.

• Speaking of scandalous, K-12 test scores will remain poor, and a few more people will point out the evils of teaching to the test and destroying teacher morale and pay, but not enough to make a difference. Meanwhile, a real scandal, involving real public money, will emerge from higher education—and the business community will rally behind a significant push for change

What are your predictions for Nevada politics in 2014? Tell us in the comments below.

Michael Green is a professor of history at the College of Southern Nevada.