By Vernon Robison
Moapa Valley Progress
The race is on for the newly formed State Assembly District 36 seat. And it promises to be a complex and interesting campaign for the four Republicans running against each other in the primary election.
District 36 poses some unique challenges. The sprawling district takes in a huge part of the sparsely populated south center of the state. In the Moapa Valley area, it includes Moapa; as well as Logandale only as far south as the Lou Jean Ave. alignment. It also reaches a up into Lincoln County to include the little towns of Alamo and Hiko as well as a small portion of Caliente. From there it swings north and west to include much of the vast expanse of Nye County; going as far north as tiny Duckwater. It then wraps around west of Las Vegas and includes Pahrump, Sandy Valley, Jean and Primm.
According to the Nevada Secretary of State website, District 36 has a total of 30,321 registered voters; 45% Republican, and 32% Democrat with 15% as non-partisan independents. Obviously this gives the Republicans a distinct advantage in the rural district. It also is expected to make the June 12 primary election the big show for district 36 in the 2012 election season. After that, the general election is expected to be a mere formality.
Vying for the District 36 seat are four Republicans. Two of them: James Oscarson and Walt Grudzinski; are from Pahrump. One candidate: Nate Schlumpf; is from the Las Vegas valley. Schlumpf was unavailable for an interview for this article. And the fourth candidate is from Logandale: Delmar Leatham.
Delmar Leatham admits that he has his work cut out for him in this election. His home turf, the Logandale and Moapa precincts bring only around 1500 Republican voters to bear in the election. That means that he has some campaigning to do in the distant, and more densely populated, Pahrump. Leatham says that he is counting on the traditionally high voter turnout in his home turf of eastern Clark County, and a split vote in Pahrump, to get him through the primary.
Leatham has lived in Moapa Valley for 50 years. His family moved here when he was in grade school. His father worked at the Nevada Test Site. Leatham attended grade school here and graduated from Moapa Valley High School.
Leatham has played an active part in community leadership; both in Moapa Valley and in the region. He currently serves on the Clark County Fair Board. He has also served on the Moapa Valley Town Advisory Board and on the Board of Directors for the Moapa Valley Water District.
Since 2005, Leatham has worked as the General Manager/CEO of the Overton Power District (OPD) which services power needs of both Moapa Valley and Virgin Valley. No stranger to the halls of the Carson City statehouse, Leatham has been a tireless lobbyist for 20 years on behalf of the OPD. He now wants a chance to be a champion for these rural areas in the state legislature itself.
One of Leatham’s top priorities is the troubled Nevada economy. If elected, he said that he would look for ways to broaden Nevada’s tax base and its revenue stream without raising taxes.
One way to do this would be through diversification of the state’s economy, he said. In order to do that, Leatham said that the state and local governments have to take on a role of encouraging businesses to start up and to flourish here in Nevada. Given the amount of regulation and government red tape in Nevada, this has become a problem, Leatham said.
“The tax and regulatory burdens on small business in Nevada is to the point that it is almost prohibitive to do business at all here,” Leatham said. “We’ve got to find a way to loosen those bindings on business.”
Leatham is determined that new taxes are not the answer to help the state’s budget woes. Rather he believes that the legislature should use current state revenues more wisely and soundly to cover the necessities of government.
“What is the basic function of government?” Leatham said. “It is really there to ensure three things: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
Under ‘Life’ Leatham includes police and fire protection. “Some people would also include health care and preventative medicine in that,” Leatham said.
Under ‘Liberty’ he includes being able to go where you want and do what you want. “That would include being able to start a business without having unreasonable government regulation in the way,” he said.
Leatham explains ‘Pursuit of Happiness’ as keeping a level playing field and providing equal opportunities. That touches onto the important realm of education, Leatham said.
Education is a high priority to Leatham. He points out that education is one of the biggest components of the state budget; and so education expenditures need to be looked at very closely.
“I’d like to see more innovation in education,” Leatham said.
In that, he means stepping outside of the box from the brick and mortar mindset of education.
“A hundred years ago, classrooms used a slate and chalk,” Leatham said. “When I was in school we used a typewriter. Today the computer and the internet could be bringing a sea change to education.”
But Leatham says he hasn’t yet seen that change. He believes that if the computer and the internet were more fully incorporated into education it would bring opportunities for education funding to be used more efficiently.
“Not every student can stay home and learn at a computer,” Leatham said. “But many can and in many subjects they would be just as effective.”
Leatham supports home schooling and the idea of a voucher system to pay for home schooled or private education; though he admits that instituting such a system would be loaded with political perils.
Energy is another important topic of focus for Leatham. He sees opportunities in renewable energy, especially for Nevada; but he also says that you have to take a realistic view of renewable energy.
“I love the idea of solar energy, for example,” he said. “It perfectly matches the loads and requirements of Nevada. But it is still too expensive. And the answer is not to subsidize it with government funding. It has to be able to stand alone on its own value before it can be seen as a valid alternative.”
Still, Leatham sees great opportunity for Nevada in the area of energy.
“The answer to many of these problems is that America needs the development of nuclear energy,” Leatham said.
This could involve the infamous Yucca Mountain and the Nevada Test Site, he said.
“While we may not want to store nuclear waste there, it is the perfect place for researching and developing viable nuclear energy,” Leatham said. “And not just nuclear energy but energy efficiencies of all kinds.”
Finally, in the area of natural resources, Leatham sees opportunities for Nevada in the privatization of public lands in Nevada to help the economy. He sees opportunities in the areas of agriculture, ranching, hunting and fishing as well as mining if public lands were opened to such activities.
“You see ranchers that have been out there for years and years,” Leatham said. “There is an opportunity there to privatize the land and allow for farm or ranch cabins to be built or hunting lodges for recreational use. There should be some kind of fair system for allowing these things to happen.”
James Oscarson has lived in southern Nevada for 30 years. He has spent the last 5 years living in Pahrump. Before that he lived in Logandale for four years and he still owns property here. During the time he lived in Moapa Valley he served as president of the Moapa Valley Rotary Club. All of this gives him a special affinity to the Moapa Valley community, he said.
“I still have a lot of good friends here,” Oscarson said. “Each time we come back to visit it feels like coming home.”
Oscarson comes from a health care background. He is the ombudsman and Director of Desert View Hospital in Pahrump.
He also served for a time as President of the State Board of Podiatry. In that position, he worked on state legislation to help bring more physicians to practice in Nevada.
“That is actually where I first got the taste for doing this,” Oscarson said. “Back then I had no intention of running for office, but it was a great experience in that area.”
Oscarson said that his first focus would be on the state’s economy. He is also adamant about the no new taxes pledge.
“I believe that we need to manage better with what we already have,” Oscarson said. “We need to make sure that the right funding is going to the right places to help the right people. We have to ask where is the best value going to come for our dollar.”
All that said, Oscarson said that the rural areas can’t be squeezed anymore in services and funding.
“The rurals often get overlooked,” he said. “But the fact is we can’t take any more away from rural residents. You can only stretch people so far.”
In the area of education, Oscarson said he would advocate putting the resources into the hands of people actually running the schools.
“I like the empowerment model and, from what I’ve heard, it seems to be working well at Moapa Valley High School,” he said. “I think that this model is a good direction to go. I think that school administrators know best what to do to improve their schools.”
In the area of healthcare, Oscarson says that he would be uniquely positioned to be an effective advocate for rural needs.
“I think that there needs to be some work for providing quality health care in the small rural parts of the state,” Oscarson said. “Fuel prices are high right now. It has become very tough for rural residents to travel to those services. There is a lot of difficulty, even in just going and getting a simple x-ray, if it is not available in your area.”
Oscarson said that he has a love of the Nevada rural areas and the rural lifestyle.
“I love living in a rural area,” he said. “I have to say that I have really enjoyed going out and talking to folks and listening to their concerns. There are a lot of concerns out there. I’d like to be in a position that I could be part of the solution.”
Walt Grudzinski has lived in Pahrump for about two years now.
He is retired from the Department of Defense after 43 years of service. He is a Vietnam veteran and he also served three tours of duty in Iraq. He spent the past couple of years training soldiers who were on their way to Afghanistan and Iraq.
Grudzinski said that he has been involved in politics for the past 22 years. Though his military career has hitherto required his involvement to remain non-partisan.
He served for a time on the City Council in Sierra Vista, Arizona. More recently he served on the Nye County Pahrump Regional Planning Commission; a position that he resigned from in order to run for the Assembly.
Grudzinski said that the rural areas of Nevada need a strong voice in Carson City.
“We are not Las Vegas and we are not Reno,” he said. “So we need a strong voice at the state house to look after our interests.”
Grudzinski said that his experience in the military gave him many opportunities to defend budgets on Capitol HIll in Washington.
“There were times when I had to speak up and not allow the importance of what we were doing to be forgotten,” he said. “That is what we have to do with the State of Nevada for the rural areas.”
Grudzinski is also adamant about there being no need for new taxes in the state.
“The government is huge and there is a lot of waste,” he said. “So we have to find the funding somewhere else than raising taxes.”
As one example, Grudzinski said that if he were king for a day he would stop every government entity from travelling.
“It happens in every entity of government,” he said. “Last week President Obama and his two daughters were here in Las Vegas at the expense of the U .S. government. Basically, they were having a vacation on the taxpayer. I think that if we would stop all of that, we’d be surprised how much money would be saved.”
Grudzinski said that he would also cut government red tape and regulations to encourage business to come to the state. He cites as an example, the mining industry in Nevada.
“This is one of the major industries in the state, but look at all the regulation that they face,” he said.
Grudzinski said that he had recently come across a ten page document that is filled with all of the government entities that a new mining operation would have to navigate in order to engage in one of the state’s leading industries.
“That is why it takes 7-10 years to get a mining operation off the ground in Nevada,” Grudzinski said. “And that is just too long. It’s crazy!”
“It wouldn’t be my job as a legislator to create jobs in the state,” Grudzinski concluded. “But it would be my job to make it easier for businesses to come here and operate. And that would be good for the state’s economy as a whole.”