Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Sunday, Jan. 1, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Which presidential candidate will win Nevada in 2012? Will Nevada decide to soften its heart and better fund education? Will our freeways be less congested?
In all manners of politics and government, Nevadans may experience major changes in 2012 — or cling to the status quo. Are Nevadans ever predictable?
Political consultant Greg Ferraro, adviser to the presidential campaigns of Bob Dole and George W. Bush and a principal adviser to Gov. Brian Sandoval’s campaign in 2010
The big X factor next year is: How well does the president run despite bad economic numbers?
President Barack Obama has to contend with the increase in the unemployment rate, which was roughly around 8 percent when he won four years ago and is now at 13 percent. So that becomes a key number for him.
And I think the enthusiasm gap is gone. The Democrats have real problems keeping their base enthusiastic in light of all that has gone on.
So, it’s going to be very close. But I think the Republican, given the enthusiasm gap, can probably win Nevada.
This is going to be heavily influenced by the presidential race and what is happening nationally. We are one of the only states that is a battleground in both the presidential and the Senate race. Given some of those same factors, I think it’s Heller by a whisker.
The 1st Congressional District Democratic primary between state Sen. Ruben Kihuen and former U.S. Rep. Dina Titus will definitely have great entertainment value. We know Dina is a fighter and she’s a take-no-prisoners kind of candidate. Ruben hasn’t run on this level before. He has the safety of losing and going back to the Senate. I don’t really know what’s going to happen in that race.
The 3rd Congressional District race between Republican Rep. Joe Heck and Democratic Assembly Speaker John Oceguera obviously will also be influenced by the presidential race and the issues that are at the center of that, which are the economy and unemployment. I think it’s going to be hard for Oceguera to beat that incumbent if the president is not at the approval numbers he would like to be. I think Heck will hold onto his seat.
Which party will control the Assembly and the Senate? That’s the easiest one of all. The Democrats will hold a strong majority in the Assembly.
The Senate is probably a toss-up. You have such a slight margin for the majority now. There are far too many variables to predict, but I think there is a slight Republican edge.
— Anjeanette Damon
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Billy Vassiliadis, CEO of RR Partners, a veteran Democratic operative and campaign adviser to President Barack Obama
I do think the president is going to win Nevada, as we’re starting to see better signs in the economy. If the president has weathered the worst of this, we are going to be in pretty good shape and I think the rest of the races are fairly dependent on that.
Nevada has gotten more partisan. To the extent the president does well, it will drive the kind of turnout needed to drive the down ticket races.
The Senate race between Republican Dean Heller and Democrat Shelley Berkley is going to be close. They are both good candidates and it will be a good contrast election. It will be so close that the last three weeks, the early voting period and election day, will determine it. If the president is doing well and the machine is cranking, I think Shelley has a good shot.
I think that right now you’d be silly not to make Dina Titus the favorite in the 1st Congressional District Democratic primary against Ruben Kihuen. Ruben is a good candidate and he needs to run a pretty good race, but this is Dina’s, what, fourth straight time on the ballot? She’s got high name recognition. She’s got some fierce supporters. She’ll have the money. We don’t know if Ruben can raise the kind of money Dina has been able to raise in the past.
Democrat Assembly Speaker John Oceguera will have a tough race on a couple of fronts in his 3rd Congressional District race against Republican Rep. Joe Heck. One is that over the last year, Heck has been very smart to sort of go back to his own moderate roots. I think he’s been keenly aware that Nevada is not a really philosophical conservative or liberal state. So I think he’s done a pretty good job of not being painted as an extremist. He obviously has good fundraising. It’s a key seat for the Republicans to hold on to. I think the speaker is going to make it a good fight, a real good fight, but I think turn out is really going to have be above average for him to beat Heck.
The Democrats will control the state Assembly, but not by a significant majority. And frankly, the D’s can’t fall asleep on that or they could lose it.
The state Senate will, again, be a function of the president and a function of fundraising. It will come down to probably (Sen. Shirley) Breeden’s and (Sen. Allison) Copening’s districts. I think the senate will go to whoever raises more money and runs a better campaign.
— Anjeanette Damon
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Carolyn Goodman, Las Vegas mayor
I’m very excited about 2012 because we already have planned the opening of a new city hall, the Mob Museum, the magnificent Smith Center for the Performing Arts, the new Lied Children’s Discovery Museum and the Neon Museum.
We’re also looking forward to expansion of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.
Of course we’re continuing to work on a sports arena for the 61 acres downtown. We’re moving into discussions on that in late January.
We’re seeing a real interest in people moving into downtown. We’ll see the great vitality of Fremont East, and we look to the start of Downtown Grand hotel remodeling and reopening.
It’s a very exciting time for us. We see the growth, and there are some real exciting plans for further development in the Arts District moving both south and north.
We have an incredible group of talented artists here who are spreading the word that downtown is the place to get a foothold.
I see it as a wonderful, wonderful time for us.
What we see are the old days of Las Vegas alive and well in the core of the city.
There’s great competition and great camaraderie. Everybody’s looking at each other to come up with something bigger and better. That creates a feeling downtown that’s very exciting.
— Conor Shine
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Andy Hafen, mayor of Henderson and a 22-year veteran of the City Council
We are going to focus on fostering education and business opportunities and building a sustainable community.
We have some exciting grants that will help promote those efforts on a regional level.
We’ve cut millions of dollars and hundreds of staff from our city, but we are continually finding creative, cost-effective ways to still provide the best services and amenities to our residents.
We’ll continue to look for ways to boost our local economy. In 2011 we began working with developers on two major projects — a sports stadium complex and Union Village (a 150-acre, $1.5 billion medical, retail and residential complex) — that will bring jobs and other long-term economic benefits to Henderson.
We are also at the beginning stages of making changes to our civil and criminal procedures to mitigate the reputation and types of activities associated with massage parlors. Henderson is a community where people choose to raise their families, and it’s important that all our businesses support that, as well.
— Aida Ahmed
Robert Lang, director, Brookings Mountain West
Next year is all about getting ready for the 2013 Legislature, where we can get things delivered to us.
In key areas, we need to get organized. In transportation, we need to continue planning the interstate to Phoenix, and it can’t be a toll road. We may need business improvement districts downtown for an arts and design area and a technology corridor just south of the airport.
And we need to resolve to make no further cuts to our already low levels of investment in higher education and K-12 spending. Whatever we do, we cannot go backward.
And that’s just a flavor. It’s a perfect year to begin a series of conversations about taking charge of the future, about doing what needs doing.
— J. Patrick Coolican
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Brian Hoeft, traffic management expert, Regional Transportation Commission
Motorists will see a number of changes on valley freeways this year, especially as some major construction projects come to an end.
We’re already starting to see more convenient and free-flowing traffic on Interstate 15 in the southern valley, especially for those going to and from the freeway at cross streets like Tropicana Avenue, Russell Road and the Las Vegas Beltway.
Interchange improvements along I-15 will continue in the next few months. They’re also continuing the express lanes with guideposts south to Silverado Ranch Boulevard, extending that idea of separating the traffic.
In the northwest part of the valley, work on U.S. Highway 95 is also wrapping up. The big benefit there is the carpool lanes will now continue past Rainbow Boulevard to Ann Road.
Motorists will also see an improvement with the new bridge that will directly connect the HOV lanes on U.S. 95 with Summerlin Parkway. It will provide people who are traveling in from Summerlin or the Westcliff Transit Station an opportunity to bypass some of the jam-ups that we see at the Rainbow curve.
We’re also finishing up our intelligent transportation systems on the beltway in the southern valley, on U.S. 95 between the beltway and Charleston Boulevard, and on I-15 between Silverado Ranch and Primm. These systems will give motorists more information on travel times, and we’ll be able to observe the traffic, gather data to evaluate the congestion and maybe find some operational solutions to help keep traffic moving.
— Kyle Hansen
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Mike Willden, director of the state Department of Health and Human Services
We’re going to face a mass turnover in leadership at Health and Human Services — the top three leaders in welfare, the top three in mental health and the leader of aging services.
By my last count, 17 of the top 32 leaders in HHS plan to leave.
This has been a stressful period of time for people in the department. We’ve made a lot of reductions, cuts. We have less staff and higher caseloads. It’s a difficult time to be in state service.
Over the next nine-month period, we’ll start building our budget for the next cycle. Agency request budgets are due Sept. 1. We have to do all the prep stuff for the new legislative cycle.
I plan on sticking around. We have to find new leadership and mentor them. Even if they’re currently in the system, they’ll be learning new roles.
We’ll also be getting ready for health care reform. The Affordable Care Act mandates that by January 2013, if a state’s not deemed to have made adequate progress, the secretary of Health and Human Services can take over.
To implement the federal law, we’re setting up a health insurance exchange. We got a $1 million grant a year ago to get the exchange established and are about to announce a $4 million grant. We are applying for $15 million grant.
It’s a mountain of work.
— David McGrath Schwartz
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Carolyn Edwards, Clark County School Board president
I hope we can find a resolution to the labor negotiations so we can get to a better climate in the School District. Also, I hope for an improvement in the economy so that, next legislative session, we might be able to lobby for increases in education funding.
In our last adequacy study in 2006, we were about $2 billion short. No more cuts to education needs to be the No. 1 goal. I’m optimistic about the new year because of the direction we’re going.
I know it’s stressful for all of our employees to have the bar raised while we hold the line on costs. But we’re heartened and emboldened by the new superintendent’s vision. We’re on the right track.
— Paul Takahashi
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Don Burnette, Clark County manager
No one knows if tax windfalls like those from the boom-times will ever return to government in Nevada. A hint of improving conditions came in December, though, in a county report that “unanticipated” tax revenues were coming in. It’s a sign of improvement. But will it last?
We’ve truly made some good progress this past year, but we still have a general fund budget that requires our attention. We don’t have any (general fund) layoffs planned. But we still need to reduce our operating budget, obtain reasonable employee concessions, and hope property tax revenues don’t decline much more.
This could also be the year changes are solidified at University Medical Center, an annual drain on county coffers. That could include incorporating as a public benefit corporation, which would be a pretty substantial change. If the hospital advisory board gets its arms around that and comes up with something to recommend to the county commission, that could lead to long-term sustainability for UMC.
— Joe Schoenmann
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Shari Buck, mayor of North Las Vegas
We’re going to work on continuing to provide good service to citizens, balancing the budget and getting through tough economic times in a way to serve citizens the best. We have a new city manager and a new council, and there is definitely a feeling of hope and cohesiveness.
I have a lot of hope for this year. To go from a $30 million deficit to $15 million in a year is pretty good, so, yes, I see things getting better slowly.
We still have a$15 million budget deficit. One way or the other we’ll solve that problem.
— Aida Ahmed
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Tim Hacker, North Las Vegas city manager
In a general sense, I believe the community has turned a corner, along with the other communities in the region that felt the impacts of the recession.
North Las Vegas has created a foundation for success beginning in 2012 and beyond. As a city we project out five, 10, 30 years. The foundation is there has been a lot of infrastructure. The wastewater treatment plant, street improvements, working with developers, master-planned communities and constructing Craig Ranch Park to enhance the quality of life.
Financially that’s another corner we have turned with the recent restructuring of bond debt and putting off payments for the next six years to maintain our cash flow and general fund reserve.
I see a lot of promise as far as stability. Strategic planning with an outside consultant has really shown that our elected officials and community seem to have identified the challenges and opportunities. We need to start looking beyond two weeks and start looking at two years. It’s only going to get better.
— Aida Ahmed