The forum, hosted by the Reno Sparks Chamber of Commerce (RSCC), drew biting commentary on the Tea Party and humorous remarks about what might have been learned on Election Day.
For some participants, the election results lacked any true coherence.
“I don’t know what the message was,” said Eric Herzik, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, with a smile.
A number of pre-election polls and reports suggested strong evidence of an anti-incumbent streak coursing through voters while purported enthusiasm gaps were said to give Republicans a clear and decisive advantage over Democrats heading into Election Day.
But across Washoe County and the state, incumbents throttled their challengers on the way to re-election. Most prominently, Democrat Harry Reid scored a margin of victory over Republican upstart and Tea Party-backed Sharron Angle that defied media anticipation of a possible recount in the U.S. Senate race.
Early precinct data has revealed that Reid benefited handsomely from union and Hispanic support while also garnering major endorsements from prominent state Republicans, including Sparks Mayor Geno Martini and Reno Mayor Bob Cashell.
Angle’s determined efforts to avoid interviews with the media and a slew of ads targeting illegal immigrants backfired dramatically, some participants said, while Reid’s campaign was better equipped to orchestrate last-minute get-out-the-vote drives.
Chris Wicker, chair emeritus of the Washoe County Democratic Party, said the Tea Party represented an absolutist political ideology, which drove away moderate and independent voters.
But those who think Angle will go quietly from the political scene have another thing coming, said Tray Abney, RSCC director of government relations. Abney suggested three scenarios that could place Angle back in the spotlight by 2012.
First, Angle might challenge Republican John Ensign for his U.S. Senate seat during the party primary season two years from now. Ensign, who is currently under federal investigation for possible criminal activities associated with an admitted extramarital affair, is believed by many to be vulnerable, even within his own party.
Angle might also consider a move back to the state Legislature with an eye on unseating Republican Bill Raggio, who was forced to step down from his leadership post this week after party officials considered his vocal opposition to Angle and support for Reid a political liability.
Abney also speculated that Angle might run for the second district U.S. congressional seat currently occupied by Dean Heller were he to vacate that office for a move to Ensign’s Senate seat.
Beyond the political horse races of 2010 and 2012, participants at Thursday’s forum spoke about what local businesses can expect from next year’s legislative session.
Budget considerations are likely to dominate the agenda as local and state governments look for new ways to sustain public services with less money.
“Sacrifices have to be made for the long-term benefit of the state,” Wicker said.
The impact of budget cuts on the business community, participants told attendees, would extend its reach further than possible changes to the tax structure.
“The vitality of the business community is not just taxes but education and infrastructure,” Wicker said.
As if a reminder was needed, “The private sector is the revenue infrastructure for government,” said Mark Amodei, chair of the Nevada GOP.
“There will be more of an effort to push services to the local level rather than sweep some local monies,” said Lesley Pittman, political lobbyist, consultant and president of Sierra Strategies.
Pittman said that with the passage of a ballot question Tuesday approving a consolidation feasibility study between the governments of Reno and Washoe County, more emphasis would be placed on trying to reduce the costs of public services between the two entities.
Pittman also noted that political redistricting and reapportionment plans would heat up partisan divides when 2010 census data is released next year. Local county commission and state Legislature expansions are expected.