Democrats, who have a 65,000 voter registration edge statewide, also have an advantage in the maps that redraw Nevada’s 21 Senate and 42 Assembly districts, and carve out a fourth a Congressional seat.
Carson City District Judge James Todd Russell entered his final order Thursday, officially adopting effective dates for the maps drawn by a panel of court-appointed special masters.
Two plans approved by Democrats during the legislative session were vetoed by Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval. Sandoval refused to call a special session to tackle the issue, tossing the political hot potato to Russell.
“I don’t get the sense that anybody got rolled in this effort unfairly,” said Robert Uithoven, a Republican strategist.
Some rural legislators and other political analysts disagree. Republicans “gained nothing and the rurals got thrown under the bus,” said Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka.
“The rural interests are the ones that probably did the worse in this process,” said Eric Herzik, political scientist at the University of Nevada, Reno. “And so the Republican governor, by going to the courts, actually hurt the most Republican base in the state.”
The so-called cow county lawmakers “went from an area where they had some bargaining power to an arena where they didn’t, Herzik said.
During the political jostling in the Legislature, Republicans were adamant that at least one of Nevada’s Congressional District have a majority of Hispanics to reflect that population groups surge over the past 10 years. Latinos now make up a fourth of Nevada’s population.
Democrats called that “packing,” and said it would dilute the overall political Hispanic influence.
In his veto message, Sandoval, a former federal judge, said the maps drawn by Democrats violated the Voting Rights Act and amounted to partisan gerrymandering.
Ultimately the special masters determined federal law doesn’t require a “minority-majority” Hispanic district in Nevada, a finding Russell adopted.
Northern Nevada’s 2nd Congressional District held by Mark Amodei remains solid Republican territory, while the 1st District in the south stays a Democratic stronghold.
Democrats have a sizeable advantage in a new 4th Congressional District, while the 3rd District currently held by Republican Rep. Joe Heck has a slight Democratic edge.
In the state Assembly, Democrats currently hold a 26-16 majority. Under the new maps, 25 districts have clear Democratic leanings, based on voter registration numbers used to realign the boundaries. Eleven seats appear solid GOP territory and six are competitive.
Assembly Democrats would need to hold on to the seats they have and gain two more to command a supermajority needed to approve tax and fee increase.
“The Assembly will still be very difficult for the Republicans to capture over the next 10 years,” Uithoven said, adding he thought chances were “very good” the GOP could pick up a majority in the Senate along the way.
Senate Democrats have a narrow 11-10 edge over Republicans. Under the new maps, 12 districts favor Democrats, six favor Republicans and four could be considered close.
The GOP has their sights on two seats held by Democratic Sens. Shirley Breeden and Allison Copening, who benefited in 2008 from the buzz and momentum that propelled President Barack Obama into office.
“There could be the reverse of that this time around,” Uithoven said. “A lot can happen between now and November.”
Rural Republicans, however, are feeling slighted.
Where maps drawn by legislative Democrats took one seat, District 3, from Washoe County surrounding Reno and shifted it to Clark County — home to about 70 percent of the state’s population — the special masters retained that district at the expense of rural areas. District 3, once held by powerful former Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno, is now held by Sen. Greg Brower, a Republican appointed when Raggio retired. But the new boundaries make it competitive and target for Democrats.
Goicoechea said in hindsight he thinks the GOP could have struck a better deal for rural concerns with Democrats in the Legislature than what the court masters decided.
“I know we could have negotiated a better package for the rurals,” said Goicoechea, who last week announced his intent to run for the state Senate in District 19 — an area that spans roughly 500 miles from the Idaho to the California line in southern Nevada.
“I think there would be a number of legislators who would have negotiated if they thought this was going to be the outcome.”
Assemblyman Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, said he was disappointed lawmakers couldn’t come to agreement during the session.
“The maps are what they are and we’re going to live with them,” said Segerblom, chairman of the Assembly committee that handled reapportionment.
“Hopefully this is not something 10 years from now we will try to repeat.”