Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Sunday, June 17, 2012 | 2 a.m.
By taking out a sitting Democratic lawmaker in last week’s election, progressives asserted themselves on the state’s political field, defeating a heavily funded incumbent lawmaker and taking on the Democratic Party establishment.
And they’re already looking to do it again.
Sen. John Lee’s defeat Tuesday by Patricia Spearman in the Democratic primary marked the first time that a lawmaker was targeted and defeated from the left.
“Our goal is to re-center the party,” said Erin Neff, executive director of ProgressNow Nevada Action, one of the groups involved in the effort. “We want to pull the party back from the right wing. To do that, we have got to replace the conservative Democrats with normal Democrats, Democrats who hold our values and vote with us.”
Specifically, Neff said she was watching http://www.marilynkirkpatrick.com/Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, and Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, who’s running for state Senate.
“I think there’s room for them to change next session,” she said, pointing to Kirkpatrick’s involvement in the late and ultimately unsuccessful tax debate last year and Smith’s bills changing work conditions for teachers. (Smith said she was surprised to be targeted. Kirkpatrick did not return a call for comment by deadline.)
Members of the coalition said they have no intention of working from within the Democratic Party structure. Instead, they intend to flex their newfound muscle in future Democratic primaries and in Carson City in 2013.
This is a contrast to anti-tax and Ron Paul conservatives, who have tried to work within the state Republican Party to gain influence — a task made easier by the lack of strong leadership within the party.
“We have no interest in taking over a party,” said Bob Fulkerson, executive director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. “It’s important we maintain ourselves as an independent political organization so we’re not seen as puppets or co-opted by the establishment of either party.”
Nevada Priorities formed as a political action committee to take on Lee. It was born, in part, out of frustration with his individual record. But it also came out of a larger unhappiness from the left with recent legislative sessions in Carson City, where budgets have been cut.
The coalition was made up of a previously untested collection of liberal groups, including ProgressNow Nevada Action; the Nevada Conservation League; Nevada Advocates for Planned Parenthood; PLAN Action; MoveOn.org and the Sierra Club. (The traditionally powerful Democratic supporters, like the teachers union and AFL-CIO, did not participate in the effort.)
Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, said the senate Democratic caucus will be balanced, with lawmakers willing to listen to all sides.
Smith said it’s too early to assess the impact of Lee’s defeat.
“It was one primary in a moment in time, and it’s one person,” she said.
She, too, has been unhappy about budget cuts, but there are political realities.
“Legislating is not a pretty process. It’s not a simple black and white process,” she said.
Neff said the Democratic Party establishment has listened to the grass roots on some issues, like civil rights legislation for transgender people. But now, “We want to be listened to on fiscal issues.”
Taxes, which take two-thirds to pass through the Legislature, is the most difficult arena of Nevada policy, especially for those who want more revenue for government. And it could be the biggest test of whether this budding political movement can be sustained.