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November 21, 2014

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HIGHER EDUCATION:

Candidates square off in hotly contested regent race

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Mark Doubrava, left, faces Ray Rawson in the District 7 board of regents race. Doubrava, 47, won the primary by 34 votes out of more than 18,000 cast.

Unlike some states, the Board of Regents for Nevada’s university system is elected, not appointed. The races are usually low-heat, nonhanging-chad affairs.

But not this year, not in District 7, in the heart of Clark County and with a volatile group of retired voters who don’t have school-age children.

In the May primary, a classroom’s worth of votes — only 34 out of 18,238 cast in a four-person race — separated Ray Rawson, the incumbent who finished second, from previously unknown Mark Doubrava. The face-off is Nov. 2.

Doubrava raised $100,000 — most of it his and his friends’ — compared with Rawson’s $16,000. Although Doubrava’s sum is not without precedent, it is for a post that pays $89 a meeting for six meetings a year.

Nonetheless, the 13-member board is powerful. It is like a corporation’s board of directors, hiring executives, approving budgets, setting the tone. And unlike California, for example, where separate boards have say over university, state college and community college systems, the Nevada board has jurisdiction over all three. A regent serves a six-year term.

The next board faces unprecedented budget cuts to the Nevada System of Higher Education. The state budget director estimates that the deficit next year may reach $3 billion in a budget of $6.5 billion. The university system’s budget is $1.6 billion.

Both candidates are health care professionals — Doubrava is an eye doctor, Rawson a dentist.

They were born elsewhere, but went to Las Vegas public schools. They are UNLV graduates. They say they will work hard to improve higher education in Nevada.

And when it comes to the most basic policy question confronting the board today, they both agree: The board was right to submit a proposed 3 percent budget increase, instead of a 10 percent cut, as Gov. Jim Gibbons has demanded.

And that’s where the similarities end.

Doubrava, 47, couldn’t be greener, having never held public office. Rawson, who turns 70 on Election Day, couldn’t be more veteran, having spent 20 years as a state senator.

So, why didn’t Rawson win? He is blunt: “I lost my wife in February. I couldn’t raise money. I couldn’t campaign. I was busy burying my wife.” He and his wife, Linda, were married for 50 years.

Rawson rose to assistant majority leader during his legislative career, but he was defeated in the 2003 Republican primary, in part because he supported higher taxes.

In January 2009, Gibbons named Rawson a regent after Steve Sisolak left to run successfully for the Clark County Commission. Rawson remembers the governor’s public-spirited pitch: “You know the budget. We’re going into the worst time we’ve ever seen in this state.” Rawson is running now for a full six-year term.

Michael Wixom, chairman of the regents when Rawson was appointed and now chairman of the regents’ investment committee, said, “Ray’s wisdom and legislative experience have been very, very helpful.”

Rawson was born in 1940 in Sandy, Utah, where his father was a carpenter and his mother a homemaker. The family (Rawson had two brothers and two sisters) moved to Las Vegas when he was 10.

He went to Wasden Elementary School and Las Vegas High School. By the time he was 19, he had a wife and baby. He went to UNLV, known then as the University of Nevada, Southern Region.

Rawson worked his way through school as a carpenter and took five years to graduate, becoming part of the first graduating class when the campus became UNLV. He became a dentist, rather than physician, which requires years more training, to spend more time with his growing family. He has seven children, 22 grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.

Rawson entered politics in part to promote education. A huge parcel of land, about 80 acres, was set to return to the Bureau of Land Management if it remained undeveloped, Rawson said.

After winning by 684 votes out of more than 100,000 cast, Rawson, as a new senator, pushed for what would become the College of Southern Nevada.

In a political year that is cloudy for incumbents and insiders, Rawson has faced pushback from voters. He acknowledges the conservative mood and District 7 covers a largely middle-class, conservative community. About 18,000 votes were cast in the nonpartisan primary and substantially more are cast in the general election.

He notes that he lost in 2003 “because I wasn’t Republican enough.”

If Rawson wins, he wants to convince a cost-conscious public that education is worth the expense, that to make radical cuts would be like a family losing its house. “It took us 50 years of sophistication to build what we have,” Rawson said. “The next five years, the decisions we make now, could put us 50 years behind.”

Like Rawson, Doubrava was born elsewhere, in Wauwatosa, Wis., in 1963. He is the son of an anesthesiologist and a homemaker. The family (like Rawson, he has two brothers and two sisters) also moved to Las Vegas when Doubrava was 10.

Doubrava went to Kelly Elementary School, Hyde Park Middle School and Clark High School. Inspired by his father, he wanted to go into medicine but also get a liberal arts education. He went to Carleton College in Minnesota, found to his dismay that he had underestimated the winters and returned home after a year.

Doubrava thought he would stay a short time at UNLV before going to another school. Instead, he remained at UNLV. He organized a group called Student Ambassadors — UNLV students who, like Doubrava, had attended other schools but could vouch for the soundness of UNLV.

As a member of the group, he had his first brush with the regents and the encounter annoyed him. He overheard a few regents disparaging UNLV.

It was 1984, Doubrava said: “Some regents put their nose up high in the air,” he said. “My children, they said, go to Stanford. They would never go to UNLV or UNR.” Doubrava thought, “Well, gosh, why are you a regent then?”

An ophthalmologist for 13 years (his specialty is Lasik corrective surgery), Doubrava believes he brings a love of the university and experience with other educational institutions.

After UNLV, he went to medical school at UNR, with further training at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas and Louisiana State University.

He and his wife, Sabrina (whom he met at a Clark High reunion), have no children. They have decided, as Doubrava put it, to “invest” their money, about half of his campaign funds, in the regent’s race.

Besides raising another $50,000 from friends and others, Doubrava has been meeting voters. He recently was endorsed by the Henderson Chamber of Commerce.

“If I am elected to the board,” he said, “I would be focused on the overall betterment of Nevada. Some of this is self-serving. I went to these schools. I want them to be better.”

Tony Alamo, a physician in Henderson, went to college with Doubrava and was a member of the Student Ambassadors.

Alamo recalls Doubrava’s frustration with how he thought UNLV was being underestimated by the public. So, Alamo said, why don’t you become president of UNLV? Well, Doubrava replied, the president has to defer to the regents. So, Alamo pressed, why don’t you become a regent?

Doubrava smiled and said, “Hold that thought.”

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  1. Comment removed by moderator. Name-calling.

  2. Mr. Ramirez, it is not a $3 billion budget shortfall in a $6 billion budget. It has never been. Its a $3 billion shortfall out of an imaginary $8 to $9 billion budget - an amount of money Nevada has never, in its history, spent. In otherwords, Nevada's political elities want to increase the current budget by $1.5 to $2 billion or more above what we're already spending.

    As for budget cuts to higher-education, they've been much smaller than advertised: http://npri.org/publications/inside-the-...

  3. At one time, Rawson represented my district as a state Senator and was unresponsive to inquiries. He would not return calls or acknowledge messages. Who needs a representative like that? Not me!