I publish the Tall Arrogant Bastard Voting Guide for a few reasons. Some of them are perfectly valid and useful, and some are probably just exercises in vanity. At its best, this guide may offer some insight into local races and candidates. I hope that this can be the starting point for your own research, thought, and discussion. If you look at my recommendations and accept them wholesale to mark your ballots, you are missing the point. I think that our Democracy works best when every voter does their best to gather reliable information and view it in light of their own values and priorities. My recommendations will come with a brief summary of my basis for making them so you know where I am coming for. These reasons are no substitute for your own thoughts. I hope you think through all of them as deeply as you can. Casting a vote based on thoughtful consideration is the foundation of all Democratic civic virtue.
At its worst and least useful, the TABVG may still offer some entertaining, artisanal snark.
Given a week, I could write a solid 150 pages summarizing the reasons why Donald Trump is entirely unfit for office. That book would not be likely to persuade anyone supporting Mr. Trump to change their vote. As such, I am not going to spend any time enumerating the President’s encyclopedia of lies, his policy failures, his racism, or his utter lack of anything resembling decency. This is all pretty well documented elsewhere.
Joe Biden seems generally competent, understands government, and seems to genuinely care about people. I think it is entirely possible that he will exceed expectations by making significant legislative progress on the most pressing issues we are facing. I suppose that Biden does not entirely thrill many people as a candidate or a prospective President. So what? If it is possible for you to contemplate four more years of a Trump presidency without a black veil of depression descending over your soul, then this is probably not the voter guide for you.
As such, I enthusiastically and without reservation recommend a vote for Joe Biden.
There is only one other federal office that Washoe County voters will have an opportunity to vote for, and that for our Representative in Congressional District Two.
Republican Mark E. Amodei is running for reelection against Democratic challenger Patricia Ackerman. I have in the past recommended Mr. Amodei. I worked for him at the Alison MacKenzie law firm during law school, and he is a very decent, agreeable fellow. I also think that he knows his district, which includes Washoe County and much of rural Northern Nevada, and represents its interests well. However, what Mr. Amodei has not shown is any ability to put any distance between himself and the worst of Republican excesses in the Trump era. He voted to take health care away from people, he voted to decrease taxes on the wealthy, and he voted against impeachment. No matter how much I like him personally, I just can’t recommend a vote for him.
Patricia Ackerman is a Democrat who has never held office. Based on her website, she has a pretty compelling life story. I would be very interested in seeing what kind of legislator she grew in to.
As such, I recommend a vote for Ackerman in kind of a tepid way.
Just to be clear, my recommendation does not matter. Washoe County is usually about evenly split between Ds and Rs. Elko, Douglas, Lyon, Churchill, Pershing, Humboltd, White Pine, Storey, Lander, and Eureka Counties are like 70-80% R. Amodei has garnered from 57% to 65% of the vote every time he has run. In the 2008 blue wave election, Dean Heller still won the district by 10 points. CD2 has not elected a Democrat to congress since it was created in 1982, and it is not going to start this year.
Also, as an aside, I once knew someone who lived in a house that Barbara Vucanovich, the first Rep from CD2, had owned and decorated. It was fantastically bad. Gold foil wallpaper, 70s bathroom mirrors with gold leaf, shag carpet, everything. It made the décor of Mark Twain Manor look positively restrained.
STATR LEGISLATIVE RACES
Senate District 15.
The big race in the State House is the Race for Senate District 15. Republican incumbent Heidi Seevers Gansert is running against Democrat Wendy Jauregui-Jackins. Ms. Gansert has been involved in one aspect of State Government for a while. Not to get all nostalgic here, but she is a kind of a throwback to the days of Bill Raggio, when (1) legislators looked at working with members of the other party as a virtue, and (2) problems could be solved with a book a matches.
Wendy Jauregi-Jackins is new to elected office, although she has worked in the Washoe County Assessor’s office for some years. She does not have much of a track record to talk about.
The real issue here is control of the State Senate. A Democratic flip here would give Dems a veto-proof majority. It also means that Dems would be able to raise taxes without Republican cooperation; under State law, you need a 2/3 majority for any tax raise. With the state undergoing a budget crisis of monumental scale, I feel like now is a time to look at broadening the tax base.
While we are talking about the tax base, it is absurd that there is no personal income tax in the state. And that is one of many reasons why I will never be elected to office in the State of Nevada. (Another reason involves geisha makeup, a round 70’s bathtub, and my instructions to release photographic evidence if I ever consider running for office, but that is a completely different story).
For that reason, I recommend a vote for Wendy Jauregi-Jackins. But if your proclivities run to the sane Republicans (remember them?) then Gansert is a perfectly reasonable choice.
Assembly Districts 24 and 25
Democrat Sarah Peters is running unopposed in AD 24, and Republican Jill Tolles is running unopposed in AD 25. I am impressed with both of them.
Assembly District 27
In AD 27, Incumbent Democrat Teresa Benitez-Thompson is running against Republican Barb Hawn. This is not looking like a competitive race; Hawn has raised $1300.00 compared to Thompson’s $47,450.
Thompson has been in the Legislature for 5 terms. She understands issues and is a solid progressive to moderate Democrat. Her answers to the RGJ Candidate questions demonstrate some interest in policy and desire to work through the problems of government. The point that Barb Hawn seems to really want to get across in answering the same questions is that she wants no new taxes and law and order. So yeah, this is a pretty easy call:
Highly recommend a vote for Thompson.
Relevant RGJ Election Guide entries on these races:
Assembly District 26.
Republican Lisa Kasner has won her past two elections by large margins in this red district. Democrat challenger Dr. Vance Alm is a medical doctor running on a platform of raising taxes on mining and gasoline. Kasner has said that she categorically opposes any additional taxes on the mining industry. She thinks that the simple prescription for increasing revenue is to open businesses in the state. I think that is just plain obtuse, so I recommend a vote for Alm. While you are at it, shake your fist at a cloud. The two actions will have equal impact.
Assembly District 30
AD 30 is a seat left open by Mike Sprinkle’s resignation. This is a traditionally blue seat. Democrat Natha Anderson is running against Randy Hoff. Ms. Anderson is a teacher’s union lobbyist and the daughter of Bernie Anderson, who was a really decent man and a mentor to a couple generations of Democratic legislators. Ms. Anderson’s website seems to be mostly a study in not articulating specific policies. She wants to strengthen schools. Good for her. What, do you hate schools? On Randy Hoff’s website, you will learn that he promises “to bring common sense and sanity” to our state government. Also, on his website, he actually looks like a man getting ready to throttle the salesman at Men’s Wearhouse that sold him an ill-fitting suit. Seriously. See for yourself. https://randyhoff.com/. So yeah, based on the limited available information, I would rather vote for strong schools than murdered suit salesmen. Recommend Anderson.
Assembly District 31
AD 30 features the latest round in an ongoing grudge match between incumbent Skip Daly and former incumber Jill Dickman. Daly has represented the District since 2012. Dickman won the seat in the 2014 Democratic bloodbath, and Daly took it back in 2016 by 38 votes. Dickman is running on a law and order theme, as opposed to Daly’s efforts at police reform. So you know, fuck her. Honestly, if a candidate has the phrase “law and order” on their website, I throw up in my mouth a little. Recommend Daly.
Assembly District 32
AD 32 is an overwhelmingly red and rural district. Paula Povilatis is running against Alexis Hansen. This is a reprise of the 2018 race, which Hansen won by 40 points. Paula is a burner, a friend, and a smart and charming person. If Jesus Christ himself walked across Pyramid lake and endorsed her with a choir of angels at his side, she would still lose. Alexis Hansen is married to State Senator and former assembly speaker Ira Hansen, who resigned as speaker after the most dearly departed Dennis Myers published a compendium of Mr. Hansen’s thoughts on race, homosexuality and women. Mr. Hansen, having been exposed as a generally horrible person, went on to become a State Senator in the same year his wife was first elected to the assembly. Charming fucking people. Vote for Paula Povlatis.
NEVADA SUPREME COURT
Two seats in the Supreme are up this year. Kris Pickering is running unopposed. She is a very smart judge who, I am told, is also an avid bridge player. It would take a much stronger candidate than no one to convince me to recommend any vote other than her. And lest you imagine me to be damning with faint praise, I think bridge is the greatest game ever devised by humankind.
The Other Nevada Supreme Court Race is interesting. Ozzie Fumo is an experienced criminal lawyer with extensive trial experience. However, he has very limited appellate experience and has never worked as a judge. Doug Herndon is a former Clark County assistant DA who has been a district court judge since 2005. He has typically received fairly good evaluations in judicial surveys of lawyers. The fact that he is an experienced and well-thought of judge running against someone with no judicial experience and a legal background focussed almost entirely on criminal law would normally make this an easy recommendation.
There is, however, a complicating factor. Herndon was the DA who prosecuted Fred Steese, a drifter who was convicted of killing a guy who trained dancing dogs for a show at Circus Circus. Steese confessed to the murder after a being interrogated for 14 hours while he was coming off a lengthy speedball jag. Steese’s conviction was upheld on direct appeal by the Nevada Supreme Court, in a case that I worked on as a clerk to Justice Young. After conviction and direct appeal, it came to light that the Clark County DAs office had failed to disclose the existence of solid alibi evidence that conclusively proved Steese’s innocence. Steese spent more than two decades in jail before eventually having his conviction reversed and, later, being found to be innocent.
So, you know, that is a pretty big ethical failure on the part of the prosecutor. And one with devastating consequences. In his defense, Herndon has said that he got the Steese file a week before trial and had nothing to do with disclosing evidence. He also has clearly acknowledged that it was a mistake to defend the conviction. That only goes so far, in my mind it still speaks to a win-at-all-costs culture that is contrary to a prosecutors’ ethical obligations to serve justice. At the same time, as Patrick Flanagan once explained to me at some length over a glass of white wine in the Hale Lane break room, good judgment comes from the previous exercise of bad judgment.
In a final coda to the story, Herndon’s daughter was an important advocate for the passage of a bill allowing exonerated people to recover damages based on their wrongful convictions.
On balance, I recommend Herndon. But choose your own adventure on this one.
COURT OF APPEALS
Bonnie Bulla, who was appointed to the Court of Appeals in 2018 when Abbi Silver was elected to the Supremes, is running for election against Susan Bush. Bulla served as the Discovery Commissioner (a judge who resolves nothing but discovery disputes) in Clark County for several years. As such, she has pretty extensive judicial experience. I don’t have any personal experience with her, but I have not heard lawyers complain about her much. Susan Bush has no judicial experience. She seems to work primarily in criminal law. Recommend Bulla.
SECOND JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT
Most judges here are running unopposed. There are three contested races:
Kathleen Sigurdson is running against incumbent Elliott Sattler. I have appeared in front of Judge Sattler a number of times. It has not always gone my way. However, I have never come away thinking that he was anything less than thoroughly prepared, completely fair minded, and hard working. When he issues a ruling, it is thoughtful and thoroughly researched. He manages his courtroom effectively, but with a humility and grace that befits the dignity of the office. I heartily recommend a vote for him.
There are two races in the family division, which is not really my bailiwick.
In the Bridget Robb/ Aaron Bushur race, I highly recommend Robb. She is smart, experienced, and prepared. I have used her many times as a mediator/ settlement conference judge. I think pretty highly of her. However, I should note that my view is not universally acknowledged in this matter, I have friends working in family law who have told me they think Judge Robb unfairly favors men in divorce cases. Still, this is the Tall Arrogant Bastard Voting Guide, not the voting guide of his friends. Also, Bushur’s signs look like they were salvaged from a super sketchy defunct gun shop.
Finally, in the Dollinger/ Shannon race, two Family Court Masters are running for Chuck Weller’s vacant seat. Either one will probably be an improvement. Based on conversations with folks who work in family law, I tend to recommend Dollinger, but that is not a recommendation rooted in personal experience or other strong feelings.
I have such an awkward relationship with the initiative process. The idea of citizen led initiatives is an outgrowth of the earliest 20th century progressive movement. State legislatures were thought to be deep in the pocket of robber baron business interests. The initiative process developed as a way for citizens to circumvent corrupt state legislatures by making law directly. It worked out great, and now wealthy corporations need to struggle for the attention of their state congressmen on equal footing with nuns, nonprofits, and unions. OK, maybe it isn’t quite like that. But really, I have to admire the ideas of participatory citizenship embodied in the idea.
However, I think the record is fairly mixed as to the question of whether the practice of ballot initiatives has vindicated the aspirations of those who proposed the notion. I think that in most circumstances, it is better to pass laws as a result of the back and forth of the legislative process. Nonetheless, the people of many states, including our great State of Nevada, have kept this constitutional hammer in their toolbox, and every couple of years we go looking for nails. This year, the following are on the ballot:
QUESTION 1 is a proposal to remove the University Board of Regents from the Nevada Constitution and transfer the ultimate responsibility for management of university and community college system away to the legislature. The initiative was pushed by a number of former state lawmakers who think that it was a mistake to give the Board of Regents their own constitutional status, independent of the legislature. I have read the arguments in the sample ballot and several editorials on the subject, and for the life of me I can’t see why the existing structure should be changed. Yes, it is sort of awkward and ungainly, but I don’t see how putting a legislature that meets for 120 days every two years will facilitate the efficient administration of the University system.
I don’t think the Board of Regents has been above reproach. I am sure that there are reasons for legislative frustration. But I don’t think the solution lies in taking constitutional control of the University system away from a freely elected board of regents and giving it to the same legislature that approved the Raiders’ stadium. I’m giving this a hard no.
QUESTION 2 would reverse the 2002 initiative that defined marriage in Nevada as being between a man and a woman and would recognize same sex marriage in the Nevada Constitution. The argument in favor is that it not only codifies what has come to be viewed as a fundamental human right, but it brings the Nevada constitution in conformity with Supreme Court precedent.
If you want to argue against this, you can go fuck yourself.
QUESTION 3 amends the constitution to require the Board of Pardons to meet quarterly, and allows the Board to make clemency decisions without the governor’s authorization. The Pardons board has only met once per year for several years and, apparently, there is a significant backlog. I have not seen much discussion of this initiative, but I plan on voting yes. If anyone wants to talk me out of that, I am open to persuasion.
QUESTION 4 would amend the constitution to include a series of voter rights that already exist in statute. It would not change anything, it would just make it more difficult for a future legislature to infringe on any of these rights. Particularly in light of the US Supreme Court’s recent tepid approach to enforcement of the voting rights act, I recommend a yes vote.
QUESTION 5 is not a thing this year. The pandemic made the State run out of the number 5.
QUESTION 6 would require utilities to increase the amount of electricity generated from renewable sources to 50% by 2030. Under existing law, the Renewable Portfolio Standard should be at 34% by 2024; this initiative keeps that trajectory going. I am generally disposed favorably to more renewable energy, so I looked hard to find smart arguments against this requirement. I didn’t find much. That tells me that the smart people I know who write well reasoned arguments about energy regulation are not saying much about this. I am inclined to vote yes.
RENO CITY COUNCIL
WARD 1: Jenny Brekhus is running for reelection to the Reno City Council for (I think) her third term. He challenger, JD Drakulich, is a real estate agent and a board member of the Eddy House. I am having more trouble coming to a decision on this race than any this year. I like Ms. Brekhus very much. WHile we are my no means homies, I think of her as a very friendly acquaintance; I am always happy to raise a glass with her. As a council member, she has always been responsive to questions. She is absolutely a straight shooter and she is committed to doing her job well. On the downside, she has a reputation for a kind of contrarian streak that walks the line between creating a helpful dialogue and outright obstructionism. Mr. Drakulich has impressed me by showing that he has put some thought into the homelessness issues and a genuine interest in finding workable solutions to the problem. I think both candidates are honorable and well intentioned people. I probably won’t know how I am going to vote until I touch the screen. Choose your own adventure.
WARD 3: Oscar Delgado is running for reelection against Rudy Leon. I think that Mr. Delgado deserves reelection; to the admittedly limited extent I have seen, he has represented his ward well. However, huge props to Ms. Leon for showing up to the This is Reno candidate form prepared and for showing that she had considered issues well. I think experience is valuable, so I recommend Delgado, but I hope that this is not the last time Ms. Leon runs for office.
WARD 5: Neoma Jardon is running for reelection against challenger Darla Fink. I came away from the This Is Reno candidate forum thinking that Ms. Fink had no real idea about why she wanted to be a council member. Recommend reelecting Jardon.
AT LARGE: Devon Reese, who was appointed to council in 2019, is running for reelection against Eddie Lorton. Mr. Reese has really impressed me as a council person. He has always been responsive and thoughtful. He works hard for his constituents and he is smart. Eddie Lorton has never impressed me much, but when he released a radio ad referring to “Reno's self-proclaimed gay councilman Devon Reese,” I put him firmly into the “fuck that guy” camp. I enthusiastically recommend a vote for Reese.
WASHOE COUNTY COMMISSION
DISTRICT 1: Marsha Berkbigler is running for reelection against Alexis Hill. I cannot recommend Ms. Hill enough. For the past several years, she has worked for the City of Reno as the Arts and Culture director. She shows up prepared for meetings and she works hard to sort out workable solutions between conflicting interests. I have been really impressed by her. While I really enjoy the fact that “Berkbigler” rhymes with “Dirk Diggler,” (the screen name of the protagonist of “Boogie Nights,”) this is might not be a strong enough reason to vote for her. Strongly recommend a vote for Hill.
DISTRICT 4: Vaughan Hartung is running for reelection against challenger Marie Baker. Hartung does not blow me away as a public servant. He joined the majority of the commission in authorizing the DA’s office to file an amicus brief in support of a lawsuit to compel the State Pharmacy Board to approve the use of hydroxychloroquine for the treatment of the ‘rona. However, in reviewing his campaign site, his record, and statements he has made in newspaper stories, one does get the impression that he has thought about what government should do. His opponent gives sort of the opposite impression. I recommend Hartung, in a tepid sort of way.
BOARD OF REGENTS
This is only one Board of Regent’s seat on Washoe County ballots this year: Joseph Arrascada vs. Kevin Melcher. A few days ago, someone asked the question on my Facebook page about who I recommended. I demurred because I had not yet researched. However, like 20 people responded with gushing recommendations for Arrascada, who is by all accounts a man exemplary in all respects. It was almost like in “The Manchurian Candidate” where everyone describes the secretly brainwashed mole Senator as “the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I have ever met.” So, there is obviously some chance that Mr. Arrascada has been somehow subject to neurolinguistic programing, and he will commit some unspeakable act when triggered by a Frankie Goes to Hollywood song (see what I did there?). However, assuming we do not learn facts substantiating such wild speculation in the next few days, I recommend Arrascada.
WASHOE COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD
DISTRICT A: Scott Kelley is sort of running for reelection against Jeff Church. This race is bizarre enough to be the big wacky news story of the week. Scott Kelley resigned a few months ago in a cloud of scandal relating to allegations that as his marriage was falling apart, he was dating strippers and making drunken threats of violence against his wife, with their children present. Jeff Church is an ex-cop, current crank who shows up at lots of public meetings to explain why they are doing it wrong. In fairness, the school board often is doing it wrong. These are both deeply flawed candidates running for a position on a dysfunctional school board. “None of the Above” is looking like the strongest candidate here.
DISTRICT E: Angie Taylor is running for reelection against Matthew Montognese. Ms. Taylor has a doctorate in educational leadership and a masters in public policy. She provides a valuable BIPOC voice in a board that is awfully pale. Mr. Montognese, on the other hand, seems to be running for school board because he wants to apply the things he learned coaching little league to the school board. He says that the Bible is his favorite book, which I think means that he has never read any other book. I mean really, even leaving aside the question of whether it is useful to use the collected folk tales of stone age nomadic tribesmen as an ethical guide, it is absolutely unreadable. I mean Jesus, has he even read anything by Michael Chabon? That guy can tell a story. Or how about Raymond Chandler. Even Stephen Fucking King. The Bible? As Joe Biden once said, “C’mon, man!” Strongly recommend Taylor.
DISTRICT G Diana Nicolet and Craig Wesner are running for an open seat. Both seem like reasonably decent people. Ms. Nicolet has an extensive background in education and has briefly served as an appointed school board member. Recommend Nicolet.
So there you have it. This concludes the Tall Arrogant Bastard Voting Guide for 2020. We will see you again in 2022.