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September 2, 2014

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ELECTION 2012:

Congenial tone in state Senate race belies stark policy differences

The Election Day results in Senate District 6 won’t just help determine which party controls the Legislature’s upper house. It could also yield a future leader for whichever party is lucky enough to win it.

Both of the candidates vying for the northwest Las Vegas district — Republican Mark Hutchison and Democrat Benny Yerushalmi — have been tapped as rising stars.

Take, for example, the televised debate earlier this month with political journalist Jon Ralston. After discussing issues ranging from education funding to wages on government construction projects, Ralston, not known for false praise, said, “It’s a shame one of you has to lose.”

The Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce has offered a dual endorsement of both candidates in the race.

Both candidates praise each other and have not directly attacked each other — though independent expenditure groups have sent negative mailers.

The congenial tone is somewhat surprising, given the stakes.

Republicans are fighting to wrest control of the state Senate from Democrats, who currently hold an 11-10 lead. To do so, they need to win 4 out of 5 competitive Senate races. Democrats have to win two races to maintain their majority.

But beyond the friendly tenor of the debates, the rivals have different viewpoints.

Yerushalmi works for his family’s company, The Jewelers of Las Vegas, which has 11 stores throughout Las Vegas. He has a master's degree in business from UCLA and a law degree from Stanford. He was appointed by Gov. Brian Sandoval to the Commission on Economic Development.

Hutchison is a founding partner of the law firm Hutchison & Steffen, which has about 90 employees. He was selected by Gov. Jim Gibbons and reappointed by Sandoval to head Nevada’s legal challenge against the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, which was ultimately unsuccessful.

Click to enlarge photo

Mark Hutchison

Hutchison said it’s important to not cut education. He said he supports Sandoval’s decision to include taxes set to expire in 2013.

“I trust the governor,” Hutchison said. “He has more information than I do.”

After looking for efficiencies — he thinks too many nonteachers in the Clark County School District receive over $100,000 in compensation — and determining “real needs,” he’d consider further tax increases.

“What are true needs — not our wish list?” he said. “If we still have needs that are unfunded, now let’s talk about new revenues.”

But Yerushalmi said merely keeping education flat equates to supporting the status quo. He said that’s not enough. And he did something rare in Nevada politics: offered up a specific alternative during a campaign.

In an interview with the Sun, Yerushalmi said he’d support a tax on large retailers’ profits.

“Not cutting education leaves us with the education system we have today,” Yerushalmi said. “That is unacceptable. Anyone who just says that he doesn’t want to cut education more supports more of the same today. That’s not OK.”

He said some of his family’s stores would have to pay the new tax, which he said would be designed to cover only stores that generate a certain — undetermined — dollar amount in sales. He would want a new tax to be partially offset by a reduction or elimination of the state’s payroll tax and by reducing the vehicle registration fees paid each year by individuals.

But, he said, it’s not unreasonable to ask large businesses to contribute more to education in Nevada, noting that surrounding states all have corporate income taxes.

“What they’re doing, it’s not an impressive contribution to the community,” he said.

Click to enlarge photo

Benny Yerushalmi

A tax on profits wouldn’t prevent stores from closing or block businesses from moving here.

“They’re not going to close a store at the Bellagio or Wynn or Forum Shops to open a store in St. George or Tennessee,” he said.

Yerushalmi said given his business background, he’d be a bridge between Republicans and Democrats. He pointed to his appointment by Sandoval to the state’s economic development board.

“We need to work together, which I’m demonstrating,” he said.

Hutchison said he’d support extending taxes set to expire in 2013. But he also said he wanted to change the rules by which local government employees negotiate with elected leaders, known as the collective bargaining laws. He said the process needs more transparency.

And, he said, he’d do away with binding arbitration and put the decision in disputes between management and workers in the hands of elected city councils, county commissions and school boards — a major shift in collective bargaining in the state.

Senate District 6 covers western Las Vegas and a large part of Summerlin. Democrats outnumber Republicans by 7 percentage points.

But Hutchison has outraised Yerushalmi by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Hutchison also said he wants to see reforms to prevailing wage, which dictates how much governments pay workers on public work projects. Some of those wages are significantly higher on public projects than similar private projects, he said. Savings there could be used to fund more construction projects.

Yerushalmi noted that money for things like school construction can’t be used to pay for teachers. But he defended the prevailing wage scale, in the Ralston interview, as an important boost to middle-class voters.

Hutchison, despite his opposition to the Affordable Care Act on constitutional grounds, said that he’d be open to expanding Medicaid to more poor people, something that the Supreme Court found the states could decide to reject. It’s a decision that Sandoval is still weighing.

Hutchison said he’d rather use any additional money to increase funding to education.

“If by expanding Medicaid eligibility we would have to decrease education funding, I’m not in favor,” he said. “If we have money to do both, great. Let’s do both.”

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