Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2004 | 3:21 a.m.
Longtime Republican Sen. Ann O'Connell is facing a tough primary challenge from physician Joe Heck.
The focal point in Senate District 5 has been taxes, with both candidates trying to portray themselves as fiscal conservatives.
O'Connell has held the seat since 1985 and is front-and-center in the public debate over capping property taxes. O'Connell was one of the first to sign on to an idea to cap the assessed property value at 6 percent each year.
Soon after, Heck announced that a 6 percent cap would create too much government growth, saying a cap should be lower.
With major gaming interests backing Heck, O'Connell is rallying longtime business supporters, including the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce.
O'Connell, 70, is a retired business owner who said she is running partly because she anticipates another tax problem next session and wants to use her experience to help the state get through it.
If the referendum on last year's $833 million tax increase goes to the ballot, legislators will have to deal with the complications, O'Connell said. Another initiative to fund schools at the national average could add additional tax issues, she said.
She also would look at reducing the costs of school administration and ways to hire and retain quality teachers. And she said she would explore ways to cut health care costs.
O'Connell would like to look at more innovative ways to use water, including potentially desalinating water or giving incentives to people who take out lawns for desert landscaping.
"Some things like that need to be discussed and debated," O'Connell said. "We're really, I think, about 10 years if not more behind the line as far as what we should have been doing about water."
Heck, 42, portrays himself as an outsider, saying that O'Connell showed some support for massive tax increases last session and is not fiscally responsible. Heck is in the Army Reserve and has served active duty recently to prepare a medical response to terrorism.
Growth should pay for itself, said Heck, who has focused his campaign on better educating Nevada's work force, better health education and prevention, creating safer neighborhoods and ensuring quality teachers receive "fair pay."
"By decreasing bureaucracy, eliminating wasteful practices and curtailing discretionary spending, we can maximize our revenues to fund our priorities," Heck said.
The winner will face Democrat Richard Fitzpatrick in the Nov. 2 general election.