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Answers: Clark County:

Election results spawn speculation about Congress, governorship, County Commission

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Justin M. Bowen

Clark County commissioner meeting Tuesday, June 7, 2011.

Speculation about why the elections turned out the way they did and what happens now is echoing through the halls of the Clark County government building.

For instance, what does it say that a former firefighter lost a winnable race for Congress? Who will lead the Clark County Commission? With the election in hand, will a prominent member of the commission run for governor in two years?

Who’s the firefighter?

First, the only reason people are talking about firefighters in county circles is because of the protracted dispute between the county firefighters union and administrators/elected officials a few years ago.

John Oceguera, a longtime member of the state Assembly, is a retired firefighter from North Las Vegas. Since he announced his candidacy to unseat Republican Joe Heck, observers wondered if his firefighter background would hurt more than help his chances.

The race was potentially winnable because of the even split of registered voters in the district: 108,119 Democrats to 109,288 Republicans and 64,874 unaffiliated.

Did Oceguera’s firefighter background hurt him?

Not according to several political observers, who wished to remain anonymous because some do business with local governments.

“Just talking to people, I don’t think his firefighter background hurt, but it didn’t help,” one consultant said. More hurtful was the fact that at 43, Oceguera retired from 20 years of service with about a $100,000 annual pension.

“And that is more a statement of how the world looks at public unions,” the consultant said.

•••

That summary leads to more speculation.

The leader in the county’s attack on firefighter sick-leave abuse was Commissioner Steve Sisolak. His consistent fight against “gaming” the sick-leave system led to policy changes and a resulting large decrease in overtime payments to firefighters filling in for sick colleagues.

It also endeared the Democrat to some Republicans.

So, what’s the speculation?

Many believe Sisolak’s sights are set on the governorship.

“He will feel emboldened,” one consultant said. “I’m hearing he’s considering a run for governor.”

Brian Sandoval still has two years left as governor before the next election cycle. Unless he does extremely poorly during the 2013 legislative session, there doesn’t seem to be anything to indicate that he could be unseated, right?

“True,” the consultant said. “But Sisolak has a lot money left over (from his County Commission run) that he can use to start a campaign. And he has the ability to raise a lot more money.”

What about speculation that U.S. Sen. Harry Reid wants Sisolak to be Nevada’s next governor?

All Sisolak would say was that after his re-election Tuesday, Reid called with his congratulations.

The consultant put that in different terms, saying that when someone like Reid calls “and they come and woo you, and says he wants you to run for governor, it’s really hard to say no.”

Then again, “it’s really hard to beat a sitting governor. Sandoval will carry the rurals, and he is siphoning Hispanics (from the Democrats), and his numbers are good with independents.”

Anything else?

Sisolak versus Sandoval also could be portrayed as wealthy (Sisolak) versus middle class (Sandoval), the consultant said.

“And that portrayal did not help (Mitt) Romney one bit,” the consultant added.

•••

A more local fight for power will happen in the Clark County Commission.

In January, commissioners will decide who will become the next commission chairperson. Susan Brager’s two-year term expires. If she isn’t chosen by her colleagues, speculation is that three people will fight for the position: Sisolak, Tom Collins and Chris Giunchigliani.

Who is the money on right now?

No one seems to know. It’s all about counting to four, the number of votes that a commissioner would need to become chairperson. Commissioners generally seem to like each other. They all also are Democrats but vary greatly in their political views, with Sisolak seen as more middle-of-the-road and Collins and Giunchigliani as more left-leaning.

Commissioner Larry Brown appears more middle-grounded, too, as is Brager and Mary Beth Scow. Lawrence Weekly probably is a little to the left of those three.

Would Brown, Brager and Scow vote for Sisolak? Or could Collins or Giunchigliani get those votes?

That could depend on who would be promised what seat on what board. In other words, that’s a lot of potential horse-trading from now.

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