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December 18, 2014

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Political memo:

As Berkley eyes Ensign’s Senate seat, Legislature sharpens redistricting knife

Shelley Berkley

Shelley Berkley

Steven Horsford

Steven Horsford

John Oceguera

John Oceguera

A quiet excitement is brewing among Democratic leaders in the Legislature over the prospect of Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., running for the U.S. Senate.

It’s not because they’re necessarily enthusiastic about her ability to win. In fact, some worry about her strength in a statewide race.

No, these term-limited leaders with an eye on higher office have a more Machiavellian reason: If Berkley gives up her congressional seat to run for Senate, they won’t have to answer to a Democratic incumbent when it comes time to carve up her district during reapportionment.

“As an incumbent she would be very protective of the composition of her district,” Democratic operative Dan Hart said. “If Shelley is running for re-election, they are going to pretty much leave that district alone, or at least any changes to the district they are going to have to persuade Shelley (to accept).”

Berkley represents the 1st Congressional District, where Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 2 to 1. It’s a geographically compact district that hasn’t grown as much in the past 10 years as the state’s other two districts.

As they set about redrawing districts to accommodate a fourth seat in Congress, state lawmakers must create districts with equal populations. The magic number: 675,138.

That means the 1st Congressional District must give up 154,000 people.

Lawmakers in charge of redistricting are practically drooling over that Democrat-rich pool of potential voters.

Berkley has been openly exploring a run for Sen. John Ensign’s seat. But his decision last week not to seek re-election, making way for Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., makes it more difficult for a Democrat.

If Berkley enters the race, it would leave another open seat for the politically ambitious to pursue.

Both Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, and Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas, are considering running for Congress. Oceguera is termed out after this session, but Horsford could run for re-election once more, in 2012.

Currently, Nevada has one Republican district, one Democratic district and one Democratic-leaning swing district, that one held by Republican Joe Heck.

Eyeing the map and Nevada’s voter registration, Democrats are expected to fight Republicans’ expectation of a two-and-two split. Instead, Democrats will likely push for two Democratic districts, one Republican district and a swing district.

Freeing up Berkley’s district gives Democrats significantly more options for making that happen.

“It’s a three-dimensional chess game here, and Shelley Berkley is the first piece,” Hart said.

How do the remaining pieces fall? The possible moves on an early board that is expected to change repeatedly over the next three months:

1. Nevada’s existing swing seat, the 3rd Congressional District, becomes more Democratic, giving a Democrat, perhaps someone such as Oceguera, an easier shot at unseating Heck, a freshman Republican.

2. The 1st Congressional District remains a safe Democratic seat, but becomes more compact, and lawmakers don’t have to worry about protecting Berkley’s favorite precincts.

3. The 4th Congressional District could be drawn as a safe Democratic seat with voters from the 3rd and 1st districts. Horsford is thought to be eyeing that district. But so is his predecessor as the Senate Democratic leader, former Rep. Dina Titus.

4. The 2nd Congressional District, which includes parts of Clark County and the rest of Nevada, opens a potential opportunity. Democrats would have a hard time passing legal muster if Republicans came out of redistricting without at least one solidly Republican seat.

Given the distribution of the state’s population, it would be difficult to create a safe Democratic seat in Northern Nevada. But Washoe County is trending more Democratic. And the Democratic Congressional Committee is looking for a candidate strong enough to win the seat for the first time since it was created.

The committee’s representatives were in Carson City last week and expressed interest in Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, one of the three most powerful Democrats in the Assembly.

Under that scenario, an effort to augment Washoe County’s Democratic voters with some in Clark County could materialize.

But the true wild card is what Gov. Brian Sandoval, who has veto power, wants. The Republican governor, who is building a national profile, has remained quiet on his intentions.

His only public statement: “I will not sign a bill that favors one political party over another. Congressional seats and legislative districts should be drawn with a fair and proportional representation of constituents. Period.”

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  1. This is not "redistricting." It is "gerrymandering," a despicable practice that has ensured voters have just 2 parties controlling the political agenda and that means our lives. I couldn't care less if it's Republicrats or Dumbocrats doing it! It goes against the grain of what our founders had in mind and we're left having to choose from "dumber & dumber" or the "lesser of two evils." Hopefully, the TEA Party can change that. We need to be freed from the yoke that Republicrats and Dumbocrats alike have hung around our necks!

  2. Shelly is just like Harry...a criminal who thinks she is above the law who will cheat, lie or steal to secure her own wealth and power.

    To allow her and any party to play with the system and cheat her way into office is sick, and should be stopped.

    She should be banned from public office...just for being the lying scumbag that she is!

  3. The climate change denying Republicans caused the earthquakes and Tsunamis and should be tried for environmental crimes against humanity in the Hague.

  4. mred: it must be difficult typing on the computer encased in that straitjacket. You better schedule extra appointments with your psychiatrist this coming week. You're coming unglued!

  5. Shelley Berkley can not win Ensign's seat. Her voting record for the common good is abysmal, her mindset is like the other political lawyers, condescending and arrogant. We need statesmen/women
    to represent the people, not political action committee rookies. In the best interest of the state, she should retire from politics altogether because she is too old, figuratively speaking. Those of her evaluative set are going down.

  6. And while we persuade Shelley Berkley to resign, we should begin in earnest to rescind federal retirement pensions and health care programs for her AND John Ensign, as well as all the other corrupt "long-cons". Term limits NOW! After the free ride in Washington, go get a job and discover what it's like to exist in the 3rd world county you've helped to create.

  7. Will Nevada self-destruct? As-if one liberal Senator is not enough, could we possibly sustain double the damage by electing another liberal? Must we cede Clark County to California in order to preserve the rest of our once-conservative beloved Silver State?

  8. to mred: I got hold of some of that bad weed you got once.

  9. Now that Heller has voted to "Coupon" Medicare Twice - Once as a Congressman and Once as a U.S. Senator its time to retire him home to Northern Nevada with his Government Pension and Full Health Care Plan. Wonder if He or Sharon would be willing to give up their Government Health Care?