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January 27, 2015

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Upcoming redistricting battle likely to boost Southern Nevada’s influence

Bill Raggio

Bill Raggio

The muscle of the north is atrophying — maybe.

It is a long-held belief — if difficult to verify — that if the state’s taxing and spending balance sheets were to be weighed by region, it would be found that Clark County contributes more in tax dollars than it receives in return.

Southern Nevada partisans don’t need accountants to tally it up. They have a series of grievances — the Legislature’s repeated cash grabs from Clark County governments, disproportionate transportation funding (the $440 million “Bridge to Nowhere” between Carson City and Reno being Exhibit A) and a K-12 funding formula that has the state spending dramatically less per pupil on Clark County students.

With the redrawing of legislative boundaries in 2011, plus the hammer of term limits, areas beyond metropolitan Las Vegas could soon get their comeuppance.

Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno and the north’s champion for decades, said last week that areas outside of Clark County are going to lose in the redistricting process.

“It’s been happening gradually,” he said after a legislative committee meeting on redistricting. “But this time will be more extreme.”

The battle between Clark County and the rest of the state will be brought into sharp relief with the process of redrawing congressional and state legislative district boundaries after each decennial census.

To be sure, this power struggle between Clark and the rest of Nevada’s counties is about more than numbers.

From Raggio to Randolph Townsend, Bernice Mathews, and Mark Amodei, northerners have held seniority and key posts in the Legislature.

That will change. Four of the north’s senior senators served in their last session in 2009. The remaining three will serve their last session in 2011.

Another reason for the unbalanced influence: Lawmakers with statewide political ambitions, whether they represent the north or south, are wary about angering northern and rural voters, who make up for their smaller numbers by turning out to vote in greater percentages.

But the shift in population is undeniable.

Ten years ago, 68.7 percent of the state’s population was in Clark County. Officials expect the 2010 Census to show about 70 percent in Clark County.

Raggio and others, particularly from the north, want the Legislature to expand.

The state has 63 lawmakers, 21 in the Senate and 42 in the Assembly. Under the state constitution, the Legislature can expand to 75.

Legislative Council Bureau Director Lorne Malkiewich said the Legislature could add two senators and four Assembly members “without major renovations” to the offices of lawmakers.

Raggio said he supports expanding to 75 because it would give citizens better representation. And the rural districts have grown too large to represent effectively.

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, also said she supports adding seats. During the last redistricting, in 2001, her seat was eliminated.

“I’m very sensitive about redistricting and very sensitive about the north preserving its voice,” said Smith, who is in line to chair the powerful Assembly Ways and Means Committee.

She predicted that Democrats and Republicans from outside Clark County would work together during the impending redistricting fight.

Unlike the north, though, Southern Nevada lawmakers have rarely mustered much beyond unorganized grumbling about inequities, real or perceived.

Tick Segerblom

Tick Segerblom

Assemblyman Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas and chairman of the Legislature’s redistricting committee, wouldn’t commit to expanding the number of seats in the Legislature.

“The reality is that Southern Nevada has been growing faster than the rest of the state,” he said. “I don’t want to deprive them (the north and rurals) of representation. But more people are living in Southern Nevada.”

He added: “At the end of the day, I’m sure they’ll have strong representation.”

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