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Nevada Today

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2020 ElectionFeaturesNevada LegislatureNews and informationPolitical Analysis

Trail Mix: Redistricting Blues

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… for political junkies. Redistricting is here, and Democrats in the Silver State and at national party offices are eagerly awaiting some early holiday gifts to unwrap. What can they expect?

Fortunately, we have plenty of redistricting maps to analyze.

Let’s start with congressional redistricting. If this proposed map holds, BIG changes are in store.
Nevada Legislature, redistricting
Photo by Andrew Davey

Last week, the Nevada Legislature’s Interim Redistricting Committee released new map proposals for Congress and themselves. As we long suspected, Democratic legislators sought to draw districts centered in incumbent representatives’ respective home bases. Rep. Dina Titus (D-Las Vegas) keeps Downtown Las Vegas, East Las Vegas, UNLV, and The Strip. Rep. Susie Lee (D-Las Vegas) has all of Summerlin and most of the rest of the valley west of I-15. Rep. Steven Horsford (D-North Las Vegas) keeps most of the north valley and extends into Rural Nevada. Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Carson City) still has a Northern Nevada district that takes in more rural territory (mainly, White Pine County) that no longer fits in Horsford’s district. 

What I did not expect, however, was how aggressive the committee decided to go. Though Titus got to keep the turf she wanted the most in the First Congressional District (NV-01), this proposed map also places all of Henderson and Boulder City into her district. Though we’re still looking at a Biden +8.50% seat, that’s a far cry from the Biden +25% 2020 margin and the similarly hefty Democratic margins that Titus has been accustomed to in the current NV-01. Yet according to election analyst Zach Solomon, Senator Jacky Rosen (D), Governor Steve Sisolak (D), and the rest of the 2018 Democratic statewide candidates did comfortably win the newly proposed NV-01. 

Yet by moving the purplish-red Henderson and deep-red Boulder City into NV-01, that frees up the Third Congressional District (NV-03) to move westward, take more blue turf between I-15 and Durango Road (which forms much of the current boundary between NV-01 and NV-03), and fully reunite Summerlin into one district. The result is a Biden +6.64% seat (up quite a bit from the Biden +0.2% 2020 score in the current NV-03) that the Democratic ticket won comfortably in 2016, 2018, and 2020. This district should make Rep. Susie Lee comfortably happy. 

Speaking of reunification, North Las Vegas is fully reunified in the Fourth Congressional District (NV-04) that dips down to Sahara Avenue to take some heavily Democratic neighborhoods west of I-15 and Downtown Las Vegas that are currently in NV-01, then jumps back north to keep most of Northwest Las Vegas. The result is a Biden +8.29% district (up from Biden +3.9% in the current NV-04) that the rest of the Democratic ticket have won comfortably since 2016. This map should also leave Rep. Steven Horsford quite happy. 

Why is redistricting going like this? Why are Nevada Democrats willing to gerrymander in some ways, but not others?
Nevada Legislature, redistricting
Photo by Andrew Davey

Much to the dismay of laser-eyes emoji #PoliticsTwitter regulars, legislators are still not in the mood to draw the kind of gerrymander that snakes through the Las Vegas Valley, cuts through the rurals in weird ways, and slices and dices Washoe County in order to scoop up blue Truckee Meadows precincts for one of the Democratic-held seats. As much as some hard-core partisans mainly care about election statistics and national seat counts, our Congressional Democrats have preferences and concerns that may seem overly parochial to outside observers, but to our state’s political leaders it makes sense to keep Washoe County whole and attached to the rest of the north, and to give each of the three Clark County based Democrats in Congress Clark County voter bases to work with.

Then, there’s the matter of the Voting Rights Act and accusations of racial gerrymandering. In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Thornburg v. Gingles that unconstitutional racial gerrymanders occur when: a minority group prove that they are large and compact enough to constitute a majority in a single-member district; the minority group in question are politically cohesive; and the minority group prove that the majority group vote as a cohesive unit to defeat the minority group’s preferred candidate. Though some social media pundits have begun to accuse Nevada Democrats of racial gerrymandering by changing NV-01 in a way that lowers its Latinx voting age population (VAP), such an extreme gerrymander is needed to even get close to 50% Latinx VAP that Democratic leaders have counter-argued that such an extreme effort to pack Latinx voters into just one district would constitute a racial gerrymander that illegally packs most Latinx voters into one district to dilute their political influence. 

Nevada Legislature, Nevada Supreme Court
Photo by Andrew Davey

The fact that this proposal has three minority-majority districts probably bolsters Democratic leaders’ legal case should anyone file a lawsuit against this redistricting plan. Under this proposed map NV-01 and NV-04 are both above 30% Latinx VAP, NV-04 is about 18% African-American/Black VAP, and NV-03 is over 22% Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) VAP. Yet despite Democrats’ preferred congressional map probably staying within the confines of federal redistricting law, local community advocates were not as impressed by Democratic leaders’ slicing of the Las Vegas Valley (more on that later).

Finally, let’s get to the part that a lot of you have been waiting for. While it’s possible that the final map will look different, Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) and Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) have both given this proposed map their blessing, and that probably means this is where they want the 33rd Special Session of the Nevada Legislature to land. Pending final approval, my tentative 2022 ratings go like this: NV-02 remains Safe Republican, and NV-01, NV-03, and NV-04 all start out as Likely Democratic. If the trends that materialized in Virginia and New Jersey earlier this month take root across the country next year, then there’s little that Nevada Democrats can do with redistricting (save for ceding NV-03 or NV-04 to Republicans in advance) to fully prevent any kind of wipeout. But if 2022 ends up being more of a neutral year, or even the kind of mild pro-GOP wavelet that 2010 ended up being here in Nevada, then the new map should be enough for Titus, Lee, and Horsford to all hang on. 

What about the alternatives?

Over the weekend, Republican leaders proposed their own alternative maps. At first glance, Republicans’ congressional map may appear “fair”. But in reality, it locks in a 2-2 House delegation split by moving Horsford into a Biden +33.6% NV-01 that packs in most of the most Latinx and Black heavy neighborhoods in Las Vegas and North Las Vegas, moving Titus into a Biden +12.9% NV-03 that packs in most of the rest of the bluest parts of the Las Vegas Valley, and essentially locking Lee out of the game by hurling her into a Trump +10.3% NV-04 that includes all of Henderson, all of Summerlin, and plenty of rural territory – it would amount to an automatic Republican pickup next year that should hold up well for Republicans for the rest of the decade. And of course, Amodei would continue to coast in a Trump +11% NV-02.

Latinx civil rights activists have also countered with their own respective maps. Dr. Sylvia Lazos’ map manages to bump up NV-01 to a Latinx-plurality VAP, though it cuts up Henderson in interesting ways and probably gives Lee a modest boost in NV-03. Election analyst Alex O. Diaz’s map also bumps NV-01’s Latinx VAP past 40% and gives Democrats about as good of a shot at a 3-1 House delegation as their own original proposal, though Diaz’s map “double-bunks” Horsford and Lee into NV-04 while turning NV-03 into a new Democratic Leaning open seat. Another map from Alexander Martinez gets NV-01’s Latinx VAP to 38% while also stretching it well into Henderson, places all of North Las Vegas in NV-04, and puts all of Summerlin and most of the rest of the valley west of I-15 into NV-03.

And then, we have the proposed map from Silver State Voices Executive Director Emily Persaud-Zamora and a coalition of progressive community non-profit groups. This map hews most closely to the current 2011 court-drawn map in that: Titus’ NV-01 remains Latinx-plurality and holds together many of the most Latinx-heavy communities west and east of I-15; NV-04 remains a North Las Vegas centered district that also includes the historically Black West Las Vegas; NV-03 continues to unite most of the outer suburban neighborhoods along the 215 Beltway; and NV-02 remains very much a Northern Nevada district. Just by eyeballing the progressive coalition’s map: Lee gets a slight boost in NV-03 by switching out Henderson’s Green Valley neighborhoods north of I-215 for more of the west valley (or Spring Valley) west of I-15; Horsford also gets a slight boost by trading in some Summerlin neighborhoods for Las Vegas’ Cultural District east of I-15 and north of US-95; and Titus continues to hold the bluest district in the state, though NV-01 gets less lopsidedly Democratic by picking up more of Henderson north of I-215 (Green Valley) and east of Boulder Highway (Old Henderson).

Nevada Legislature: Small adjustments hide greater changes.
Photo by Andrew Davey

Speaking of Cannizzaro and Frierson, they did not mess around with the newly proposed maps for the Legislature. Let’s start with the recently revised Senate plan. Thanks to Senator Joe Hardy’s (R-Boulder City) pending retirement and the need to shift more seats toward the fastest growing Vegas suburbs, most of the current Senate District (SD) 12 moves to the newly proposed SD 20. At Trump +23% (in 2020), the new SD 20 will either provide an easy soft landing for Senator Keith Pickard (R-Henderson), or it will mark an epic primary fight for ambitious local Republicans.

If Pickard picks a district that has more of the current SD 20’s turf, then he risks a potentially explosive primary fight against Senator Carrie Buck (R-Henderson) in the new SD 5 that stretches from Sunridge Heights to Whitney Ranch and Old Henderson. And at around Trump +1%, SD 5 may still be competitive depending on the national political environment in 2024, and if Democrats can recruit a strong candidate – such as Assembly Member Lesley Cohen (D-Henderson). Meanwhile the new SD 12 takes in most of the bluest turf from the old SD’s 5 and 20. At around Biden +6% SD 12 will be an inviting open seat for Democrats, though it’s probably well within reach for Republicans in a 2014-like “Red Wave” cycle. 

COVID-19, Nevada Legislature, primary, caucus, redistricting
Photo by Andrew Davey

Moving west, Senator Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas) gets a more competitive SD 11 at Biden +9% due to it taking on a lot of the old SD 9 from Southern Highlands to Mountain’s Edge, but Republicans will probably need a 2014-like “Red Wave” in order to flip the Southwest Valley based seat. Meanwhile, Senator Melanie Scheible (D-Las Vegas) gets a safer new SD 9 at Biden +11% thanks to that Southwest turf swap with SD 11 and a new eastern arm that stretches through Spring Mountain Chinatown all the way to Decatur Blvd. Senator Marilyn Dondero Loop (D-Las Vegas) still has to contend with a swingy SD 8, but the Summerlin-centric district does bump up to around Biden +4% thanks to creative fingers into the Southwest Valley and the shifting of some more GOP-friendly neighborhoods west of the 215 Beltway into SD 19. Also, Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro herself gets a slightly better almost Biden +9% Summerlin North and Northwest Las Vegas seat with minor adjustments. 

Moving much farther north, SD 13 remains a very safe seat for Senator Julia Ratti (D-Sparks) at Biden +24%. But by moving SD 13 a little more to the east, that frees up just enough Reno territory to shift the new SD 15 to Biden +15% – the kind of solid top-of-the-ticket Democratic performance that’s probably too strong for Senator Heidi Seevers Gansert (R-Reno) to outrun. All in all, the proposed Senate map has ten Safe Democratic seats (1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 9, 10, 13, 15, and 21), five Safe Republican seats (14, 16, 17, 19, and 20), two Republican Leaning seats (5 and 18), and four Democratic Leaning seats (6, 8, 11, and 12). Though a very strong GOP wave year may be enough for Republicans to take the majority, there’s probably a better chance of Democrats gaining a ⅔ supermajority with the new map.

#NVLeg Redistricting, Continued
Nevada Legislature
Photo by Andrew Davey

Shifting gears to the Assembly, the new map does quite a bit to solidify Democrats’ majority on that side of the building. Returning to Assembly Member Lesley Cohen, her AD 29 becomes an almost Biden +9% seat by scooping up more Green Valley North precincts from the old AD 20 and stretching out to Boulder Highway, and this should only help Democrats hold onto this seat once Cohen terms out later this decade. Meanwhile AD 21 inches up past Biden +6%, providing a little boost for Assembly Member Elaine Marzola (D-Henderson). And by stretching AD 41 a little more to the north past Silverado Ranch, as well as stretching more to the south to The M Resort, Assembly Member Sandra Jauregui (D-Henderson) gets around a Biden +6% seat. 

Moving west of I-15, Assembly Member Michelle Gorelow (D-Las Vegas) gets stuck with a roughly Biden +5% AD 35, while Assembly Member Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas) gets bumped up to a Biden +9% AD 9 thanks to the shift of some Summerlin precincts into AD 2, which means Assembly Member Heidi Kasama (R-Las Vegas) gets a roughly Trump +1% seat. By stretching AD 5 south a little more, Assembly Member Brittney Miller (D-Las Vegas) gets a Biden +10% district. And though the new map gives Assembly Member Richard McArthur a boost by bumping up the Northwest Las Vegas based AD 4 to about Trump +5%, this also results in flipping AD 37 into a Biden +3% seat that Democrats may be able to flip back in a non-GOP wave year. 

Nevada Legislature, tax, budget
Photo by Andrew Davey

Going north, Assembly Member Jill Dickman (R-Sparks) might finally get an easier reelection next year thanks to AD 31 jumping up to Trump +14% and becoming more of an exclusively suburban and exurban district. But now that Assembly Member Jill Tolles (R-Reno) has announced her surprise retirement from the Legislature, the new map moves AD 25 all the way to Biden +14%, which probably gives Democrats an easy pickup in all but the worst 2014-like GOP wave year. Basically, Tolles’ retirement and former Assembly Member Skip Daly’s (D-Sparks) 2020 loss to Dickman made it easier for Democrats to acknowledge the reality of global realignment, then adjust accordingly by trading in any chance of regaining the GOP-trending AD 31 in exchange for seizing the opportunity to win an AD 25 full of Democratic-trending college-educated suburbs.

All in all, the early Assembly prognosis goes like this: 22 Safe Democratic seats, nine Safe Republican seats, five Republican Leaning seats (2, 4, 13, 22, and 26), and six Democratic Leaning seats (9, 21, 29, 35, 37, and 41). Democrats are probably strongly favored to hold the majority in the Assembly in all but the absolute worst cycles, and they start out with at least near-even odds of regaining a ⅔ supermajority.

So where does the Nevada Legislature stand on redistricting? 

Despite the early and intense wave of opposition that rose over the weekend to Democratic leaders’ preferred congressional and legislative maps, SB 1 (which is the legislative vehicle for the Democratic maps) passed the Senate Select Redistricting Committee on a 4-3 party-line vote on Saturday, then passed the full Senate on a 12-9 party-line vote last night. In a nod to most legislators’ desire to finish this 33rd Special Session before the Thanksgiving holiday, Senate Redistricting Committee Chair James Ohrenschall (D-Las Vegas) stated, “[W]ith the special session and time being of the essence, I think it’s important that we keep this bill moving.”

Nonetheless, Frierson (whom President Joe Biden has nominated to become the new U.S. Attorney for Nevada) and Cannizzaro have signaled that the final maps will differ from the initial drafts. The big question is: How much change will we see? Though anything is theoretically possible, it appears that Democratic leaders prefer to merely make minor changes rather than pursue drastically different maps that could risk dragging this special session well past Thanksgiving.

Perhaps this time will be different. But come on, how many times have we had to write that? And with national Democratic Party leaders anxiously awaiting new maps in other states, Nevada Democratic leaders are facing pressure to deliver the kind of map that will help House Democrats save their majority. As we gear up for the upcoming week of redistricting drama, we should keep in mind Democrats’ end goal as we try to figure out their end game.

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