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September 1, 2014

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ELECTION 2008 :

Attacks, retorts crowd out issues

In the race to succeed Bruce Woodbury, the political becomes personal

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Leila Navidi

Clark County Commission District A candidate Steve Sisolak, left, listens to instructions from his political consultant, Gary Gray, in Gray’s office with Gray’s director of operations, Emily Allen-Wiles. Sisolak, a Democrat, faces Republican businessman Brian Scroggins in the race to succeed Bruce Woodbury, who has endorsed Scroggins.

In the office of his campaign consultant, Gary Gray, County Commission candidate Steve Sisolak watches a replay of one of his recent debates.

“See there?” Gray says, pausing the recording. “You both have business experience, you said that nicely. But what’s different? Talk about your experience on the Board of Regents. You have all kinds of news clippings. Look at all the good you’ve done. Make yourself stand out.”

“OK,” Sisolak nods, “I got it.”

Play.

Both Sisolak, 54, a Democrat, and his opponent, Brian Scroggins, 45, a Republican, look dour, almost angry.

Pause.

Gray points to one of Sisolak’s yard signs, propped against the office wall. “Look at that smile,” Gray says, “That’s a warm smile. Let people see that.”

In the countdown to the Nov. 4 election, smiling is a rare commodity in a race where the attack factor ratchets up almost daily. One side mails potential voters a list of allegations about the other. The other responds in kind. Each side says the other is spreading lies.

Thanks to at least $500,000 of his own money, Sisolak’s campaign war chest is roughly 10 times that of Scroggins. After Scroggins started trying to counter that advantage with a barrage of negative mailers, Sisolak’s campaign came back at Scroggins in kind.

Scroggins has also been broadcasting the hefty endorsement of fellow Republican Bruce Woodbury, who for 27 years has represented the far-flung District A. It includes not only parts of Henderson, Las Vegas and Mesquite but takes in Boulder City and Laughlin.

In the past month, the district’s registered voters received robo-calls featuring Woodbury’s taped voice urging support for Scroggins. Woodbury’s backing is also the focus of a mailer.

Woodbury told the Sun he has for years known Scroggins to be trustworthy and reasonable. Woodbury also said he supports Scroggins because the commission should seat at least one Republican for balance. “I wouldn’t want it to be seven Republicans and zero Democrats, either,” he added.

Trust, balance and character seem to have overtaken a race that might have benefitted more from the candidates duking it out over how the county will deal with budget cuts.

Then, again, there’s “illegal aliens.”

One of Scroggins’ mailers rails against illegal immigrants and calls for English to be “our official language.”

He says he has nothing against people from other countries. As a Mormon, Scroggins notes, he gives 10 percent of his income to his church and that money “is sent all over the world.”

And, he says his mailer is “not talking about Hispanics, I love — I have nothing against them. But illegal immigration is just that, illegal ... How many Middle Easterners do we have here with expired student visas? We just don’t know.”

His mailer suggests organizing a joint task force to study the issue.

Sisolak sees it as a nonstarter. “Because I don’t really see how, as a county commissioner, we have much to do with that,” he said. “Immigration is a federal issue. It’s like saying the price of gas is too high — but there’s not much county commissioners can do about it.”

Scroggins, who owns a sign-making business, United Sign, says he knows what the commission can do because he has served four years on a minor league version of it, the board that oversees the Enterprise Township, an unincorporated neighborhood that had a population of 14,670 in 2000.

Sisolak has for 10 years on the Board of Regents, which governs the $2 billion Nevada System of Higher Education.

He has had a high profile as a regent at least since 1999, when he successfully argued for more per-student funding for Southern Nevada campuses.

In 2002, Sisolak called for an investigation into the “exorbitant” consulting contracts at Nevada State College in Henderson, including a $60,000 contract with prominent political strategist Kent Oram, Woodbury’s longtime campaign manager.

It was typical of Sisolak, who has a reputation for asking tough questions. “I just expect a lot from government employees that we hire,” he says. “I expect them to perform.”

If elected to the commission, he said, his chief goal would be to attract and maintain businesses. “We need developers willing to come forward, and we need to facilitate the process for them, helping with permitting and the approval process. We need to create jobs and keep taxes low.”

Sisolak has another connection to the body he hopes to join.

In 2003, he won a $6.5 million court judgment against Clark County, arguing that airport-related building height restrictions had diminished the value of his property near McCarran International. The judgment ballooned to about $17 million including court costs, interest and legal fees after he beat the county’s appeal in 2006.

Scroggins’ attacks haven’t included the court award. He has focused instead on Sisolak’s former career as a telemarketer. Sisolak sold his telemarketing businesses in 2005; he’s now a business consultant.

One of Scroggins’ mailers is emblazoned with “Sued for Bilking Seniors” in bright red letters. In the smaller print beneath, it points out that it was Sisolak’s “crony and contributor” who was sued by the Missouri Attorney General. The same flier has the words “Fined Millions,” also in bright red. Again, however, it is “one Sisolak supporter” who was fined, not Sisolak.

Another flier says Alaska slapped one of Sisolak’s companies with a cease and desist letter in 1995.

Scroggins’ campaign gave the Sun a list from Alaska’s Consumer Protection Department showing American Distributing Co. as the recipient of a letter. It does not, however, give an address for the company or show the actual letter.

And Sisolak said he never received such a letter, that many companies use that name and that he quit doing business in Alaska in the 1980s.

Cindy Drinkwater, Alaska assistant attorney general, said information on cease and desist letters is not public record, so she could not confirm or deny the allegation.

Sisolak complains that the negative campaigning and the response it requires “has made us totally stop talking about the issues, and people are getting disgusted with it.”

Sisolak’s campaign developed a Web site, www.shameonscroggins.com, that shows a bobble-headed Scroggins in front of various titles: Job Hopping, Tax Liens, Mr. Partisan, The Lobbyist, The Developers’ Best Friend, etc.

Scroggins has said the tax liens were against a business over which he had no fiduciary management responsibility.

One complaint against Scroggins — that while serving on the state Contractors Board, he took campaign contributions from contractors he regulated — did make it to the state Ethics Commission when Scroggins ran for secretary of state in 2005. The commission ruled that Scroggins had done nothing wrong.

As a commissioner, Scroggins said, he would try to work toward development that satisfies builders and neighbors.

“And you give deference to the commissioner who is representing a particular district,” he says. That’s how he will prevent his former role, as chairman of the Clark County Republican Party, from tainting his working relationship with a largely Democratic county commission, he adds.

“You try to be less partisan because you’re trying to do what’s right for neighbors,” he said.

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