Lieutenant Governor: Crowded race in Nevada primary

Lisa Cano Burkhead, left, Kimi Cole and Debra March, Democratic candidates for Nevada's lieuten ...

A long list of current and former elected officials, business owners and more are vying to become Nevada’s lieutenant governor.

Among them is longtime public school educator Lisa Cano Burkhead, who was appointed to the post in December and is running for election to the seat this year.

Burkhead will face a Democratic primary field that includes Henderson Mayor Debra March and Kimi Cole, chair of the Nevada Democratic Rural Caucus. There are seven candidates vying for the Republican nomination, a field that includes Las Vegas Councilman Stavros Anthony, former state Treasurer Dan Schwartz and Las Vegas businessman John Miller.

The lieutenant governor fills as the state’s top executive when the governor is indisposed. The job also serves as a member on committees and commissions related to tourism, transportation, economic development and audits, as well as the mostly symbolic role as the president of the state Senate.

Here’s a look at the four Democrats and seven Republicans running in the June 14 primary races for lieutenant governor:

Democratic primary

Cano Burkhead was tapped by Gov. Steve Sisolak in December to fill the vacant lieutenant governor role after former Lt. Gov. Kate Marshall resigned to take a job with the Biden administration.

Cano Burkhead, a Las Vegas native who retired from the Clark County School District after 25 years, said education will be a heavy focus for her if she were to be elected to a full term.

“The foundational piece of everything we do is education,” she said in an interview. “We need to pay attention to and work collaboratively and collectively to make sure our educators and our kids and our families have everything they need.”

She said she wants to make sure the office can serve as a hub for small businesses by helping to remove barriers for those businesses, “providing the information they need and pointing them in the right direction.”

Cano Burkhead spent 10 years as a teacher in the district before moving into administration. She worked as the principal at Fertitta Middle School and then at Foothill High School. The executive skills that she developed and used as a principal in the school district, she said, translate well to the job duties of the lieutenant governor.

“I’ve always said that if you want something done, ask an educator to do it and they’ll get it done,” she said.

Record in Henderson

March said that she’s running for lieutenant governor because “leadership and experience matter in that role,” and that her time as mayor of Henderson will let her “hit the ground running.”

March was first elected to the Henderson City Council in 2011 and served as a council member until she was elected as mayor of the state’s second largest city in 2017. In those roles, she’s served as the chair of the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada and Regional Flood Control District.

She said she’d push for economic diversification across the state, and pointed to major economic development projects in Henderson during her tenure, including Google’s $600 million data center and Haas Automation’s $327 million manufacturing facility as examples of her experience and ability to bring in companies that can help lower the state’s reliance on gaming and tourism.

“I think I’ve demonstrated that I’ve worked on diversification and have been successful at it in Henderson,” March said.

March said she would also look to influence other areas such as pushing for workforce development and education.

“While that’s not the role of the lieutenant governor, I think as a member of the governor’s cabinet I’d lean in on issues important to our entire state,” she said.

Rural Democratic voice

A longtime Northern Nevadan, Cole, 67, underwent gender transition about 12 years ago. And it was the experiences that followed, often feeling unwelcomed, she said, which spurred her to get involved in politics with the Douglas County Democrats in 2011.

“I realized there were things I’d taken for granted my whole life,” Cole said. “This is what it could be like for anyone who is perceived as different.”

She said she understands that her candidacy is unique and is open and proud of that. But she said “that is not all of me.”

“We’re still talking about the economy, about our environment and are we going to be able to protect it, about healthcare, especially out in the rural areas,” Cole said. “These are issues that I hear across the board from Nevadans.”

On the economy, Cole said Nevada needs to move beyond just gaming and mining revenues, and that it can do a better job of marketing state’s mountains, lakes and other natural areas.

Cole also said she’d look for ways to further address the state’s growing affordable housing crisis by looking for more potential funding and identifying models that have worked in other jurisdictions,, even though that’s not specifically part of the lieutenant governor’s job.

Eva Chase, 63, is a naturalist at the Shark Reef aquarium at Mandalay Bay and said she is running because she feels like there has been “too much movement against the LGBTQ community and trying to take away voting rights.”

Chase, a transgender woman, said said she has been in the tourism industry since 2000 and understands expanding a customer base in the industry. “Nevada’s a mecca for tourism. Let’s capitalize on it,” Chase said.

Republican primary

John Miller said he is running for lieutenant governor because he felt Nevada “needed someone to wake up every day being concerned with the businesses in the state and how we employ Nevadans.”

Born and raised in Las Vegas, Miller is an investor and entrepreneur who founded and served as the CEO of Lexicon Bank in Las Vegas. The race for lieutenant governor is Miller’s first time running for any office.

“I realized that my expertise in loaning businesses the capital to be successful and create opportunities was exactly the kind of thing we needed in government,” he said.

His goals of diversifying the economy include highlighting what he called “the cores” of Nevada in innovation, mining, tourism and entertainment and using that to recruit more innovative companies to the state.

On transportation, which he called a “key pillar for economic development,” Miller said the focus should be on innovation as the state moves forward on major projects such as Interstate 11 and the Brightline train between Las Vegas and Southern California.

Familiar names

Anthony, a resident of Las Vegas for more than 40 years who retired from the Metropolitan Police Department as a captain after 29 years, is no stranger to elected office.

He was elected to the university system Board of Regents in 2002 and re-elected to a full six-year term in 2006. Anthony has been a Las Vegas councilman since first being elected in 2009 and he is now in his last term. Those experiences, Anthony said, give him insight into each of the job duties of the lieutenant governor.

“That’s why I’m running for lieutenant governor, because it fits my experiences perfectly,” Anthony said.

Anthony said that if elected, he’d push for reducing taxes, fees, regulations and licensing requirements on small businesses.

“Beyond that, I’ll use my influence as the lieutenant governor with legislators and with the governor’s office to make sure that tourism is promoted, that there is economic development and that small businesses are supported,” he said.

In 2020, Anthony lost a bid for Clark County Commission to Ross Miller by a razor-thin 15 votes, and a judge rejected his request for a new election. He dropped out of a 2018 race for Congressional District 4, citing health problems.

Schwartz, who previously served a single term as Nevada treasurer from 2014-2018, said his main focus as lieutenant governor would be on education.

He said that he would use one of the three bills the lieutenant governor gets to propose in Nevada’s every-other-year Legislature to push for things like school choice and private school vouchers. He believes he can move those proposals forward even if Democrats control the Legislature by adding in proposals to reduce class sizes. (A voucher-like program was passed by Republicans in 2015, but a court challenge to its funding stalled implementation. Democrats repealed it in 2019.)

“What we have now is an insult to the kids, the parents and the people of Nevada,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz, 71, ran for governor in 2018, but came in a distant second to Adam Laxalt in the Republican gubernatorial primary. He also ran unsuccessfully in the 2020 Republican primary for Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District.

During his one term as treasurer, Schwartz fought with fellow Republicans in the Legislature and then-Gov. Brian Sandoval in 2015 over a commerce tax on business revenues, going as far as proposing a three-page “alternative state budget” that relied on an legally-questionable airport passenger tax and a politically dubious 25-cent per receipt food and food and drink fee. He also correctly predicted the failure of a car-building project slated for North Las Vegas from electric vehicle maker Faraday Future, and campaigned to more heavily regulate payday loan companies.

Publisher in the mix

M. Kameron Hawkins, 59, is a Virginia City resident and the founder and publisher of Great Basin Magazine, a tourism magazine that focuses on Nevada.

He said he is running because he doesn’t want to see small businesses close again like they were forced to during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The core for me is that we need to keep our businesses open and focus on the small businesses in our community,” Hawkins said. “I think the biggest thing that’s been missing is they’re not focusing on the locals first. We need to focus on our local businesses, and keeping local businesses open.”

Mack Miller, 45, operates a legal consulting company in Las Vegas, and says that if elected he wants to “step outside” of the lieutenant governor’s official duties, including auditing the state and any state worker with 30 years of employment.

“Rather than do the mundane, tedious work that would be the case of some of the committees, I can have extra time to represent the people,” Miller said.

A controversial candidate, Miller has previously made unsuccessful bids for Las Vegas mayor and the Nevada Assembly.

Miller’s business dealings have come under scrutiny in recent years. In 2019, state officials demanded miller stop operating a document-preparation business they said was illegal and to comply with court order to return more than $50,000 to a former client.

Court records show that the Nevada attorney general’s office last year filed a felony theft charge against Miller stemming from that issue. Miller called it “a political hit,” but said he couldn’t go into details about the case, and referred specific questions to his lawyer. The case is set to go to trial on May 31.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported in 2018 that Miller had been sentenced to 18 months confinement for deserting his fellow Army soldiers on the frontline during the height of the Iraq War.

In 2021, Miller was forcibly removed by security from a Clark County Commission meeting before commissioners were set to adopt a resolution to declare COVID-19 misinformation a public health crisis. He’s filed a slander lawsuit against Commissioner Tick Segerblom as a result of the incident.

Transportation candidates

Peter Pavone, 67, said his career includes 35 years in the transportation and entertainment sectors. He worked in the food and beverage industry while in college before becoming a caterer in San Diego. He then went to work as a business consultant in the 2000s before becoming an entertainer in Las Vegas in the early 2010s.

“I see our country and our state sliding slowly into the abyss, and felt it was time to get up and do something,” Pavone said about why he’s running.

He said he’d look to introduce bills in the Legislature to “revamp the education system” and roll back taxes.

Tony Grady, 66, spent 20 years as an Air Force pilot followed by 20 years as a pilot for FedEx. For the last two years, he’s worked as the director of flight operations for the Reno Air Races, where he started digging into the impact of education on workforce development.

He said that as lieutenant governor, he’d push to better promote Nevada’s outdoor tourism to show that “Nevada is open year round, that we’re not just a one-season state.”

Grady said he’d like to use the office to “influence educators to change the trajectory they are on,” and work with the governor to change the job duties of the state’s Department of Education.

Contact Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.