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November 21, 2014

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Daily Memo: ELECTION:

Proposal to appoint judges seen as hot issue

But Reid, governor’s races may limit air time available to advocates, opponents

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Nevada Sen. Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, speaks in the Senate Chambers at the Nevada Legislature in Carson City on Friday, May 22.

Next year’s ballot initiative to appoint rather than elect judges appears to be on its way to becoming a hot-button issue on the campaign trail.

“I think it’s going to get a lot of attention,” says longtime Republican strategist Sig Rogich, who is lining up against the proposed constitutional amendment.

Rogich says “preliminary efforts” are under way to organize the opposition, which he believes will be substantial.

On the other side, Rogich’s good friend, state Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, says he was flooded with calls from supporters of the ballot initiative following a June 6 Sun story.

“I have talked to a lot of people who are interested in helping,” the influential Reno Republican says. “Before long, you’ll see people coming together to determine how best this should be presented to the public.”

If the voters approve the initiative, a selection panel would be created to recommend candidates for a judicial position to the governor. After serving their initial terms, all judges would undergo an evaluation that would be made public before they run in a retention election. They would have to persuade 55 percent of the voters to keep them in office.

There are strong opinions on both sides of the issue. Supporters say the appointment process would result in more qualified judges and remove the influence of campaign money over legal decisions. Opponents argue the process would place the selection of judges in the hands of a few and strip the public of voting rights.

However spirited the debate gets next year, both sides could have trouble buying television airtime to get their messages to the public in what is shaping up as a huge election year.

Topping the crowded 2010 ballot will be Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Republicans in Washington have made it clear they’ll be gunning for the Las Vegas Democrat, and Reid is gearing up for a nasty fight, which means that race alone will fill the airwaves with campaign ads.

If you throw next year’s much-anticipated governor’s race into the mix, there will be even less airtime available for other campaigns. The governor’s race could become the most exciting and expensive in state history, with solid candidates emerging in both parties, looking to defeat Republican incumbent Jim Gibbons. Some prominent politicians are even thinking about jumping into the race as independents.

But as effective as television ads can be in a campaign, there are other, less expensive ways to reach the public.

Dan Hart, a Democratic political consultant who supports the initiative, says that just by being on the ballot, the initiative will force the candidates running for office to take a stand.

“There will be some lively debate on the issue and that’s what it deserves,” he says. “I think we’ll see a far more frank and honest discussion of this, rather than just a 30-second TV spot that gives you just talking points.

“You’ll see the print media write about it. There will be radio ads. And you’ll see the issue included in the debates with the candidates.”

Hart says the initiative’s success will hinge on how well each side organizes itself on a grass-roots level and gets its surrogates out in the field.

Others not involved in the campaign, such as Nevada Chief Justice James Hardesty, also are likely to drum up publicity for the ballot question.

Hardesty doesn’t officially support the initiative, but he is a believer in switching to the appointment process and has been encouraging the judiciary to look at the need for change.

Many people in high places want this debate to flourish.

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