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The musical chairs of Nevada politics
by Joshua H. Silavent
Feb 22, 2012 | 1006 views | 0 0 comments | 2 2 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune File/John Byrne
State Assemblywoman Debbie Smith will run for a vacant seat in the state Senate.
Tribune File/John Byrne State Assemblywoman Debbie Smith will run for a vacant seat in the state Senate.
SPARKS — When Democratic state Sen. Sheila Leslie abruptly resigned her seat last week and announced her candidacy in a District 15 battle this fall with Republican incumbent Greg Brower, few in Nevada politics believed it was anything less than partisan maneuvering for control of the Legislature.

Leslie’s stated reason for vacating her District 13 seat might seem innocuous. Reapportionment done last year means her new home resides in a new voting district. State law requires legislators to live in the district they represent.

But the timing of Leslie’s announcement – just one month before the candidate filing deadline – struck some Republicans as opportunistic.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Brower described the move as a “partisan stunt” with the aim of holding onto a majority bloc. Democrats hold an 11-10 advantage in the Senate. They also hold a 26-16 advantage in the Assembly.

“A partisan move like this ... will be suspect in many people’s minds,” Brower told the AP.

Leslie’s departure from District 13 opens the door for Democrats to strengthen their hold on the Senate, or, at worst, maintain their current lead. Democrats hold a substantial edge in voter registration numbers in this district, an area that entails Sparks, Spanish Springs and portions of Reno. They’ve also got a proven candidate lined up for November’s election.

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith (D-Sparks) has announced she will run for Leslie’s vacated seat.

Though some on the conservative side of the political aisle believe this is an orchestrated effort to game the election, Smith said she was given only two days notice before Leslie resigned.

“It was hard because it did come out of nowhere,” Smith said of her decision to forego the remainder of her term in the state Assembly.

Smith, by all measures, wields a great deal of power in Carson City. As head of the Ways and Means Committee, she is one of the chief architects of the state budget.

This leadership role is difficult to leave behind, Smith said. But her desire to continue serving in the Legislature, coupled with the prospect of terming out of office after the 2013 session, prompted her to make the switch.

No Republican challenger has yet announced a run against Smith, but her name recognition, experience and the district’s history of electing a Democrat give her a distinct edge in the contest.

The upsides of moving to the Senate, Smith said, are longer terms, a smaller caucus and potential leadership roles at the highest levels of state government — not to mention the influence that comes with heading the majority party.

Smith said she has no great political ambitions beyond this.

“I never set out in my life to run for office,” she added. “I’m not a person that feels like this is my life – it’s just what I do.”

Smith said she would launch her latest campaign in early April. In the meantime, she will continue to serve on interim legislative committees.

If Democrats can retain Smith's Assembly seat, and pick up Brower’s, the coup will have worked.
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