By Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau
RENO – One Democrat running for lieutenant governor criticized the GOP incumbent for being invisible in the job, and all three Democrat candidates appearing at a debate Wednesday evening took jabs at each other as the June 8 primary election day draws near.
Paul Murad, a small business owner from Las Vegas and Robert Randazzo, owner of a management consulting firm and resident of Sparks, emphasized their private sector business experience and successes as qualifications for the job now held by Republican Brian Krolicki.
Reno City Councilwoman Jessica Sferrazza said she is the only candidate who has a record of success as an elected official that gives her an advantage in taking on the Republican nominee in the general election.
Krolicki is running for another term but faces Henderson businesswoman Barbara Lee Woollen in the primary. Independent American candidate Ryan Fitzgibbons will also appear on the November general election ballot.
The Democrat lieutenant governor debate, the only one scheduled for Northern Nevada before the primary, was attended by three of the four candidates. Bob Goodman, a former director of economic development and tourism for Nevada and resident of Pahrump, was unable to appear.
The discussion initially involved only Murad, who noted that his real estate brokerage firm has survived through the tough economic times in Southern Nevada, and Randazzo, who said his firm has grown to include employees in multiple states and countries.
Sferrazza was not expected to attend due to a Reno City Council meeting, but arrived about 30 minutes into the discussion at the Joe Crowley Student Union at the University of Nevada, Reno.
She quickly made up for lost time, calling herself the only life-long Democrat among the three candidates, and the candidate with all the major Democrat endorsements. She also pointed to her job creation efforts on the Reno City Council, including an emphasis on green energy development.
“I’m the only one up here who can say that I’ve actually done something,” she said. “The bottom line is our current lieutenant governor has to go. He is the invisible man. With the highest foreclosure rate in the country and the unemployment rate over 13 percent, we need somebody in there who can get the job done.”
Murad said he is not a career politician but someone who can bring fresh ideas to the position. The best candidate is one who can reach out to voters of all parties, and Murad said he is that candidate.
Randazzo said contrary to Sferrazza’s comment that he hasn’t done anything, he has a track record of job creation.
“While the city of Reno has been laying people off in record numbers because of poor budget management, because of budget mismanagement, I have continued to grow a business,” he said. “As hard as I try, I cannot hire as many people as the city of Reno can lay off.”
Sferrazza responded that the city avoided layoffs for as long as possible because the council created a rainy day fund.
She asked Randazzo how many employees he has in Nevada.
Randazzo said he would like to move all of his domestic employees to Nevada but he cannot do so.
“I can’t because our education system simply will not support the development of a high tech company that requires the type of skills and employees that my company needs,” he said. “We have continually let our students and our teachers and our academic environment down.”
If money is the deciding factor in the race, Sferrazza is the favorite. She reported $106,000 in contributions in her January report filed with the secretary of state’s office. Both Murad and Randazzo reported under $30,000. There was no report for Goodman.
Randazzo said he brings two decades of business success to the table, starting his career cleaning toilets on United Airlines jets. He was promoted to management and worked in international business development and became a pilot.
Randazzo is currently president and CEO of his firm, which he said has quadrupled in size since it began. He has employees in eight states and seven countries.
“We do business with some of the biggest names in the aerospace business,” he said. “And this is a job creation record I am looking to hold up against our incumbent lieutenant governor, a fellow who during the course of the past three and a half years has managed to lose about 335,000 jobs in the state of Nevada.”
Murad said he views the position of lieutenant governor as the state’s chief development officer, the kind of work he has been doing successfully around the world in the private sector. The job also means being an ambassador for economic development and tourism around the country and world.
“We’re not just competing with Tennessee or New Mexico,” he said. “We’re competing with China, Brazil, Korea; and so we need someone that has experience and the background and the understanding of what it takes to get business done internationally.”
Born in the Soviet Union before coming to the U.S. at age 16, Murad said he speaks three languages and has studied in four countries.
“I’ve lived worked and traveled in over 40 countries,” he said.
Randazzo said the lieutenant governor has to focus on job creation in the current economic climate. Randazzo said he would work with the Nevada Legislature to change state law to drive more economic development money to small businesses in the state.
Too much of this investment is going to out-of-state companies working on jobs in Nevada, he said.
“I would like to modify the NRS to require that a percentage of our state’s spending be made with Nevada businesses here in state and within our local communities,” Randazzo said.
Murad said he would seek to immediately build relationships with the governor and lawmakers, many of whom he said he knows through his business and other activities, to develop strategies to bring jobs to Nevada.
Murad said he would then push forward with his “50-50” plan which would seek to go after the 50 largest global companies and 50 largest domestic companies in an effort to lure them to invest in Nevada. He would also push for a rail connection between the northern and southern parts of the state.
Sferrazza said her first goal as lieutenant governor would be to work with the Legislature to properly fund education.
“We’ve got to fund our educational system,” she said. “It really is an oxymoron when we are providing economic development initiatives and carving out funding for education at the same time.”
The lieutenant governor, who presides over the state Senate when the Legislature is in session, also serves as the chair of both the Nevada Commission on Tourism and the Nevada Commission on Economic Development. The lieutenant governor also serves as acting governor when the governor is absent from the state.