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Opinion: What’s at stake in local races

By Bob Conrad

Local politics isn’t strictly a left-right battle between parties — Washoe County registered nonpartisans are the fastest growing party — it is more about positioning and issues. Local candidates, their backers and their vocal supporters are more engaging in attrition warfare that is hyper local and issue-based.

Think: who did what and sided with whom on certain homeless or housing initiatives; or, who gets the most money from developers. High level stuff.

The last day to vote in the primary election is tomorrow, and a number of local races are hot and nasty; fortunately, not all. From county commission seats to open positions on the Reno City Council, there is much at stake in local races.

A far-right movement around the country is seeking to fundamentally alter local politics, and that is evident locally.

County commission

Commissioner Jeanne Herman is up for re-election. Her attempt to overturn longstanding voter rights was resoundingly shot down in March, but those behind the effort are still trying to exert control into voting processes that would violate fundamental voter rights and protections. 

Although Herman claimed to be acting on behalf of “the people,” the bulk of the county saw through the shifty ploy that would have disenfranchised workers, people of color and would have put armed government agents in positions of authority at local polls. Much like a Banana Republic. 

Herman is being challenged by Wendy Leonard, also a Republican. The winner of that race will face off with Edwin Lygar, a Democrat, in November.

Lyngar is a surety for the November ballot, but whether he faces Herman or Leonard remains to be seen. Independent Krysta Jackson signed up to run before Lyngar’s announcement and is likely not a viable candidate. Leonard has knowledge of issues, and rules, that Herman demonstrably lacks. Lyngar brings fire and passion. Both want Herman gone.

Commissioner Kitty Jung will vacate her position on the commission at the end of this year and a host of Democrats are lining up to fill her seat. They each came across well at our local forum

The Lucey v. Clark race is shaping up to be the most negative of any local campaign. Clark, you may remember, is still barred from his normal access to the Washoe County administrative complex because of his mailing of more than 160 anonymously scribed attack documents aimed at exposing alleged nefarious city and county shenanigans. Numerous allegations were made, some rehashing issues at the City of Reno under former City Manager Andrew Clinger. 

The judge determined, however, “that the threat and the act [by Clark] would cause any reasonable person to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, or harassed. Specifically, the evidence shows that these intentional acts, and based upon the content of the exhibits, were objectifying of a county employee, sexualization of a county employee, fetishistic, sexist, inappropriate. The content was altogether creepy, disturbing.” 

His case continues in court. He appealed the judge’s decision that extended a protective order for a year. Clark maintains he was unable to present his side of his case, which detailed, among a number of allegations, Lucey had an affair with a county employee. A key source for the allegation? Jeanne Herman.

Lucey swore in court that the Clark packet’s allegations are untrue. Clark ratcheted up his claims more recently by suing the county employee, who filed the protective order against him. Clark is representing himself in the lawsuit, accusing her of lying under oath. 

The response by the employee’s attorneys, in an anti-SLAPP motion that will likely be successful, reads in part: 

“For [the employee] to have to deal with Clark’s harassment and sexism, and then defend against his false light lawsuit is galling and merits the maximum judicial condemnation. While Clark’s lawsuit is categorically barred by the litigation privilege, which immunizes [the employee’s] statements absolutely, Nevada’s anti-SLAPP law provides further protection for [her] from having to defend this frivolous lawsuit. 

“The consequences of permitting the lawsuit to proceed are stark and significant. The victims of workplace harassment would be discouraged from coming forward by the risk of retaliatory litigation and/or personal liability. Nevada’s statutory and common law protections, especially those for women in the workplace, would be thoroughly undermined if the harasser can continue their intimidation and bullying in the court system.” 

The tone of that race, primarily from Clark’s camp, is notably negative. Clark outlines a slew of things Lucey “has been accused of” with no real evidence. He is, perhaps unsurprisingly, backed in his mudslinging by the California crypto conspiracy theorist who tried to oust Commissioner Vaughn Hartung and School Trustee Angie Taylor.

Both were resoundingly failed recall efforts as was their attempt to overturn long standing voter protections under the guise of “integrity,” a talking point Clark is propagating. An allegation against Lucey, that he is against “election integrity,” rests on easily debunked points, but it makes for “wacky” political theater, as one source calls it. It’s unfortunate because Clark had some good things to say at our recent forum.

School board

Much of what Herman was pushing was so obviously batshit, but that didn’t stop the efforts from being pursued – and also shot down – on other fronts.

The so-called Save WCSD group put forward a host of candidates, many of the same conspiracy theorists alleging voter fraud in Washoe County.

One drew concern for bringing a firearm onto school property, being threatened with arrest and investigated by school police after claiming to be a domestic terrorist, saying during a school board public comment something like “…blow up this school district…” (the link goes to PiconPress, a website registered to a business for a Larry Chesney of Carson City, according to the Secretary of State’s website.)

Others spew conspiracy-laden invectives during public comment at local school board and county meetings — mainly sound, fury and time-wasting.

Washoe Education Association President-Elect Calen Evans said the needs of the school district are far apart from these narratives (listen to the podcast) since they are so outlandish. The WEA, consequently, is endorsing incumbents Beth Smith, Ellen Minnetto, Adam Mayberry and Joe Rodriguez. 

The mayoral race

Our local mayoral race is also fraught with stifling allegations and jockeying for incumbent Hillary Schieve and challenger and Council member Jenny Brekhus. 

Schieve has been hit with at least three ethics complaints during her mayoral tenure – she won’t provide details of the allegations – but none have stuck. The lobbing of these complaints appears, then, as acts of desperation resting on tepid footing. 

Schieve’s crypto obsession, however, judging from responses online and off, is interpreted as flaky and out of touch. It’s also become meme fodder.

“NFTs can’t pay rent!” homeless activists yelled at the recent U.S. mayors conference attendees. That was in response to housing problems in Reno and, in part, to Schieve announcing the Space Whale NFT and then giving away potentially lucrative copies to the country’s mayors. 

The mayor’s muteness on the vicious attacks against her opponent – by her close allies – is also resounding considering how much she preaches niceness, respect and hope. Her chronic disclosures about her developer lobbyist friend over major council decisions, her critics say, exemplifies how big money wins in Reno at the expense of equitable decision making.

Brekhus, on the other hand, makes enemies. She’s had public fallouts with at least two city managers and was even prevented from attending agenda briefings with city staff

Current City Manager Doug Thornley told her he would only communicate with her in writing due to what he said were untrue allegations Brekhus said about him at her campaign events. Brekhus, among other things, accused Thornley of drinking on the job and said the email-only communication was retaliatory.

Her frequent no votes on most everything, often for obtuse reasons, has her viciously trolled and lambasted by other council members online. Public bodies need some amount of disagreement and even discord, but the Brekhus pile-ons, online and off, contribute to toxicity at City Hall to the point that some online commenters are saying people avoid doing business in Reno because of the hostile environment exhibited by the city’s governing board..

It’s embarrassing.

Some say a vote for Schieve or Brekhus will ensure four more years of the current city trajectory in some fashion. Meantime, a host of other candidates had a lot to say about the state of Reno affairs. Change is needed now, they said. Watch the video of the recent This Is Reno candidate forum below. 

William Mantle’s challenge of Brekhus’ eligibility to run, due to term limits, failed at the district court. His appeal to the state Supreme Court could monkey-wrench Brekhus’ ability to become mayor, but that too remains to be seen. 

City council

Two Reno City Council seats are up for grabs. North Valleys incumbent, Republican Bonnie Weber, is about as pro-development as a local elected official can get. She’s also a career politician, criticized for being vacant on major North Valleys issues, such as the Swan Lake flood debacle. 

Will her challenger Meghan Ebert unseat her? It may come down to who has the biggest road signs. Ebert took the floor at our candidate forum, vowing to add integrity to the city council.

Incumbent Council member Naomi Duerr is being challenged by business owner Jay Kenney. He is touting what he says is needed change, and Duerr is championing her accomplishments as council member since 2014.

Watch what they had to say in the video:

Board of regents

The board of regents races never get enough attention. Which is unfortunate, because the issues they create and foister upon Nevada System of Higher Education employees are legion. They are also expensive for taxpayers and students.

It’s unlikely the mess that is NSHE governance will cease regardless of who sits in the two seats on the board for northern Nevada, but whenever a crisis of leadership occurs within NSHE, the 13-member board almost certainly plays a role. The unwieldy nature of this governance structure ensures madness. 

Nevertheless, the Nevada Faculty Alliance recently held a forum for local regents candidates. Watch it below.

Another race getting some attention is the County Clerk seat. Our Town Reno covered one candidate of the Herman ilk noted above. Read about it here. 

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