Primary contenders want to become the first Democrat ever to represent the region in Congress
Democratic candidates are hoping Nevada’s 2nd Congressional District has grown tired of President Donald Trump.
This year, as in 2018, a deep field of seven contenders will vie for the seat long held by Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei, and each is working hard to tether Amodei to Trump’s most deeply divisive policy proposals.
The latest batch of Democratic challengers suspects support for Trump was softened by the “blue wave” of progressive enthusiasm that swept Nevada Republicans out of office in 2018, opening up new ways to beat Amodei in a district that’s never sent a Democrat to Washington D.C.
They often have very different ideas about what those paths to victory look like.
Others, among them Rick Shepherd and Ian Luetkehans, are pushing an unapologetically progressive agenda modeled on Nevada caucus-winner Bernie Sanders’ “political revolution.”
Still others, namely Clint Koble, Patricia Ackerman and Reynaldo Hernandez, have struck a careful balance between the two camps —putting forward platforms that neither court nor condemn Republicans in Northern Nevada’s lone congressional district.
Ballots are already out for June’s all-mail primary election. Before voters make up their minds, here’s a look at where the candidates stand on five marquee federal policy issues, based on their statements from the campaign trail and interviews with the Reno Gazette Journal.
District 2’s Democratic hopefuls are near-unanimous in their support for universal gun background checks and heightened restrictions on assault weapons.
Koble, an Obama-era appointee to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, further endorsed red flag laws that allow judges to confiscate weapons from those deemed a danger to themselves or others.
Ackerman, a businesswoman and former actress who lost a 2018 bid to unseat then-Assembly Minority Leader Jim Wheeler, favors beefed-up vetting of gun purchases, as well as “restricted” access to assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
Cohen, a Reno-based marketing director and former journalist, supports expanded background checks, an assault weapons ban and gun buy-back programs, but otherwise would prefer to “leave responsible gun owners, including often conservation-minded hunters, alone.”
Shepherd — a tech company founder and self-described “Berniecrat” — suggested mandatory firearms training and a 72-hour waiting period for handguns.
Luetkehans, a former Republican who switched parties ahead of his latest congressional bid, would like to see more training for gun owners. He suspects many other popular gun control proposals would be “extremely unenforceable.”
Schiffman, a Las Vegas lawyer and perennial congressional candidate, supports expanded background checks and closing the gun show loophole. He added he would carve out an exception for informal, person-to-person gun transfers.
Hernandez, a single father and political activist from Reno, put a greater emphasis on boosting mental health outreach. He too supports red flag laws and an assault weapons ban.
Taxes and income inequality
Efforts to bridge the ever-expanding gap between America’s rich and poor have become one of the thorniest topics in Democratic politics in recent years. That’s no less true in rural Nevada congressional campaigns.
Apart from broad support for a $15 federal minimum wage, the seven challengers hoping to unseat Amodei share relatively little common ground on economic policy issues.
Ackerman said America already has socialism for big businesses that have been repeatedly bailed out by taxpayers in recent years. She recommends patching the social safety net by strengthening unions, offering guaranteed paid family leave and boosting child care tax credits.
Cohen, who has cast himself as the race’s flag-bearer for middle-of-the-road policy solutions, supports raising taxes on the nation’s richest residents, but opposes calling it an outright wealth tax.
“Democrats are bad at framing issues like this,” the first-time candidate said during a May 4 town hall with the South Washoe Democrats. “Wealth should never be treated like a crime. Many people deserve every penny they’ve earned, and many billionaires are exemplary philanthropists.”
Hernandez encouraged even more giving from those in the nation’s top tax bracket.
Koble feels income inequality is nothing less than a threat to democracy. He’s adopted an Elizabeth Warren-esque position on bolstering antitrust laws that would give federal authorities more power to break up big banks and large tech companies regularly accused of non-competitive business practices. Koble also supports boosting tax incentives for small businesses that employ the bulk of the country’s labor force.
Luetkehans would look to impose a new tax on any corporation with employees who rely on food stamps, Medicaid and other forms of federal aid. He says the federal minimum wage should be pegged to inflation, or productivity, instead of at an “arbitrary” point picked by lawmakers.
Shepherd took that a few steps further, wholeheartedly endorsing a $15 minimum wage and a universal basic income program that would give all Americans a monthly or yearly cash stipend.
Schiffman argued for pegging minimum wage levels to regional cost-of-living. He said investing in education would be a much better way to close the wealth gap.
“I really don’t think it’s an issue, income inequality,” he told the Reno Gazette Journal. “I focus on opportunity. … Taxation doesn’t really solve the problem.”
Federal plans to fix the nation’s employer-provided health insurance system proved another prickly issue among the candidates.
Luetkehans, Hernandez and Shepherd enthusiastically endorsed a rapid move to Medicare For All or some other form of single-payer health insurance. The later candidate said “capitalism has failed as a health care solution,” and that switching to a government-run system might prove the only salvation for millions of Americans who remain uninsuredor underinsured.
Cohen outlined a more cautious approach that would build on Obamacare and provide a public option to compete with private insurers. He also supports lowering the age requirement for Medicare eligibility to 55 from 65.
Koble touted a similar framework that would work toward universal health care and, eventually, Medicare for All.
Ackerman agreed it was time to provide a public health care option, but stressed that it should offer protections for union-negotiated insurance plans. She said Congress should boost funding for rural health clinics, and telemedicine services, as well as provide additional student loan assistance for rural health care workers.
Schiffman wants to expand Medicare coverage and let the federal government directly negotiate with pharmaceutical companies to lower prescription drug prices for those on Medicare.
He wants to “explore” allowing 55-year-old’s to become eligible for Medicare.
Immigration and criminal justice reform
If elected, Ackerman said she would support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and seek an end to so-called 287(g) agreements that allow local police to collaborate with federal immigration authorities.
The first-time congressional contender said she would work to end cash bail, civil asset forfeiture and the war on drugs — positions long supported by progressive activists around the country.
Koble has endorsed “comprehensive and compassionate” immigration reform, alongside the decriminalization of some drug offenses.
Cohen said it was time to halt construction of Trump’s “ridiculous” border wall. He would like to see expanded protections for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children and a “systematic and measured process” to create a legal path to citizenship for other new arrivals.
Hernandez said he would try to relax restrictions on work visas, but said all immigrants should be subject to background checks.
Shepherd called for the outright abolition of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and full citizenship for residents spared from deportation under the Obama-era policy of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. He said he would push to eliminate cash bail and halt prison sentences for most non-violent offenses.
Schiffman expressed approval for extra safeguards for young immigrants and a three-year work visa for DACA recipients.
Luetkehans produced perhaps the group’s most inventive approach: Citizenship in exchange for military service. He said only those who receive an honorable discharge would be eligible for legal citizenship status.
Shepherd offered by far the most radical proposals to combat climate change, rattling off a wide array of futuristic fixes such as carbon capture and thorium power — a type of alternative nuclear fuel. The three-time congressional hopeful also cited desalination as a solution to Nevada’s worsening water woes.
The rest suggested more familiar solutions.
Ackerman and Koble both backed renewed investments in renewables such as wind and solar power, and a lot more federal help for farmers and ranchers hurt by increasingly unreliable weather patterns.
The pair agreed Northern Nevada’s next congressional representative should encourage high-speed and light rail projects in the region, which they trumpeted as a way to ease traffic congestion in Reno and Sparks.
Cohen called climate change “the issue of our time,” and said he supported the framework for last year’s controversial, climate activist-endorsed Green New Deal. The campaign newcomer later called for carbon taxes and a return to the Paris Climate Accord signed by Obama and later abandoned by Trump.
Hernandez also highlighted Nevada’s position as a potential leader in providing solar energy and said he would look to expand cash rebates for those with rooftop solar panels.
Luetkehans endorsed raising the federal investment in renewable energy sources, but offered few other specifics on his preferred solutions to climate change.
Schiffman bemoaned the politicization of climate change issues and pledged to support additional federal funding for the creation of clean energy jobs in the Silver State.
Nevada’s vote-by-mail primary is scheduled for June 9 and is open only to registered voters from both major political parties.
James DeHaven is the politics reporter for the Reno Gazette Journal. He covers campaigns, the Nevada Legislature and everything in between. Support his work by subscribing to RGJ.com right here.
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