Sunday, June 26, 2011 | 2:01 a.m.
Sen. Michael Roberson, the freshman who emerged from the legislative session as conservatives’ top pugilist, will head Republicans’ efforts to retake the state Senate next year.
The job positions Roberson to lead the Republican Senate caucus and, if his campaign efforts are successful, the state’s upper house in the future.
Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, selected Roberson, a Henderson attorney, over veteran state Sen. Barbara Cegavske, another Southern Nevada conservative who had expressed interest in leading the caucus.
Roberson will raise money and recruit candidates as Republicans attempt to wrest control of the Senate after two sessions in the minority. Republicans need to take one seat from Democrats to gain the majority.
The position gives Roberson the upper hand in currying favor with his state Senate colleagues, who will choose a replacement for McGinness for the 2013 session. Because of term limits, McGinness served his one and only session as leader of the caucus last session.
Roberson’s rapid rise was aided by his provocative floor statements.
During budget debates he accused Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford of “lecturing” Republicans. Roberson also accused Democrats of being “beholden to public-sector unions.”
He seemed to relish the verbal battles, wearing a small smile as he rose to joust in his Kansas twang.
Democrats accused him of ignoring decorum. Sen. Mike Schneider, D-Las Vegas, memorably referred to him as the “rookie from Green Valley” and attacked him for signing a pledge not to raise taxes.
Roberson and Cegavske both voted against the budget compromise reached by Democrats and Gov. Brian Sandoval. In total, four Republicans, including McGinness, voted for the compromise; six voted against it.
Reached last week, Roberson wouldn’t say what his tactics will be in the upcoming campaign.
The chances of control of the Senate flipping to Republicans depend in large part on how Senate districts are drawn, a fight that will be decided in District Court.
Roberson is on the inside track to be the leader, observers said, unless his campaign efforts result in an electoral flop.
Democrats have controlled both the Assembly and Senate for the past two sessions. But Democrats are uncertain about some candidates facing re-election and have several seats to defend. Senate Democrats are expecting Horsford to run for Congress instead of seeking re-election. Speaker John Oceguera is termed out, and several assemblymen have expressed interest in the leadership post.
And Roberson has proved he can raise money and run campaigns. During his 2010 election, Roberson raised $380,000, a considerable sum, to unseat incumbent Democrat Joyce Woodhouse. Both parties considered that race a priority.
Roberson confirmed last week he’s interested in being leader after the November 2012 election, but noted his priority is having Republicans take control of the upper house.
“I’m focused on working with everybody else in that caucus, under the guidance of Sen. McGinness, to make sure we’re in the majority,” he said.
Cegavske did not return calls for comment.
Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, agreed that Republicans should be focused on claiming the majority and wait until later to worry about who the leader will be.
He said Roberson will likely manage Southern Nevada candidates. “The north will take care of the north,” he said.
“The leader will naturally emerge. Individuals will rise to the top,” Settelmeyer said when asked if he’d be interested in leading the Senate Republican caucus.
McGinness was equally tight-lipped when asked who he thought would lead Senate Republicans next session.
Wading into that fight is “a good way to get shot,” he said. “I’m staying the heck away from that.”
But McGinness’ actions speak quite loudly, and he has put Roberson in prime position to be the next leader.