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August 20, 2014

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District 5 Senate candidates focus on budget woes in debate

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Erin Dostal

State Senate candidates Joyce Woodhouse and Michael Roberson debate at Congregation Ner Tamid in Henderson on Oct. 11, 2010. The focus was how best to balance the state budget.

Sun Coverage

The state’s budget and how to balance it was the focus of much of Monday night’s debate between the state Senate candidates for District 5.

Republican Michael Roberson had a clear message: Democratic incumbent Joyce Woodhouse will continue to spend wastefully and raise taxes on small businesses. Woodhouse was less pointed, showcasing her work as an educator and lawmaker -- and refuting Roberson’s attacks.

Although there was no apparent winner, Roberson had more fire in his belly. Moderator and Sun columnist Jon Ralston pushed Roberson to explain his positions, prompting what sometimes seemed like an argument between the two, rather than the candidates themselves.

At one point, Ralston asked whether Roberson knew what the payroll tax was – something Roberson said led to high unemployment in Southern Nevada. Roberson appeared flustered, but said he has to pay the tax and understands how it works.

Roberson is a lawyer who grew up in small-town, Galena, Kan. He works for Kolesar & Leatham, Chtd., a firm of business attorneys in Las Vegas.

Woodhouse moved to Nevada 44 years ago from Montana to become a first-grade teacher. She rose through the education ranks to become an administrator and was elected to the state Senate in 2006 after retiring.

Woodhouse said she had a method for balancing the state’s budget. First, find what can be cut and streamlined. Then, she said, look for other sources of revenue.

The state budget director has estimated that the deficit next year may reach $3 billion in a budget of $6.5 billion.

“We need to look forward five years, 10 years,” Woodhouse said. “We have the energy to do it.”

Woodhouse never directly mentioned having to raise taxes, and Roberson never said he wouldn’t raise taxes.

“We have to put it all on the table,” Woodhouse said.

Roberson has argued throughout his campaign that because of his work, he knows what can help small businesses. Lower taxes are key – and something Woodhouse wouldn’t provide, he said.

“More times than not, it’s the private sector folks who are getting the shaft,” said Roberson, adding that public sector employees on average earn 30 percent more. “I would love for every [public official] in this state to make as much as possible, but we’re in the middle of a crisis.”

During the debate, Roberson said he supported lower pay for state workers, with the exception of teachers, who he said should receive pay based on their students’ performance.

“I’d just like to ask my opponent for a little candor and honesty,” Roberson said. “I’m not going to Carson City to kill jobs.

“Every household has had to make cuts,” he said. “We’re going to have to make big cuts in government … we cannot sustain public sector salaries.”

Roberson claimed school administrators are sucking money out of schools and accused Woodhouse of being beholden to the teachers’ union.

Woodhouse responded, saying she does “what is best for Nevada families. I am not a puppet of the teachers union.”

Both candidates were asked to defend or refute some of their campaign mailers. One ad accused Roberson of wanting to investigate women who had miscarriages, while another accused Woodhouse of causing thousands of jobs to be lost in Nevada because of her vote to increase the payroll tax.

“You can’t prove it, you just said it,” Ralston said of Roberson’s claim.

Woodhouse said the Nevada Democratic Party, not her campaign, sent out the miscarriage leaflet. Woodhouse said she’d rather not have any negative ads in the campaign.

The 30-minute debate was the first of three at Congregation Ner Tamid, 55 N. Valle Verde Drive in Henderson. Roberson and Woodhouse were the only candidates Monday night who didn’t shake hands after their debate.

Senate District 5 includes much of Henderson west of Boulder Highway, but also includes areas west and north of Henderson stretching into unincorporated Clark County.

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