LAS VEGAS — Two people who were appointed to the Nevada Legislature on Friday will play a significant role in whether a nearly $2 billion NFL stadium — and potentially the Raiders — come to Las Vegas.
But the Clark County commissioners who nominated the candidates to fill two vacant seats said they were more concerned about whether their appointees would properly vet a plan to put $750 million in public money toward the 65,000-seat venue. Critics worry that in case of a downturn, taxpayers could be left holding the bag for the project that’s partially funded by billionaire casino owner and Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson.
Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick said she and her recommended candidate, Democratic former Assemblywoman Stephanie Smith, “didn’t really have to talk about” Smith’s opinion of the stadium.
“That really wasn’t my concern as much as could she ask the hard questions, did she understand government,” said Kirkpatrick, who previously held the Assembly seat that Smith was named to on Friday. “I think she will ask the hard questions that I would.”
The commission’s move, which fills the final two seats out of five that were vacant, clears the way for Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval to call Nevada’s 63-member Legislature into a special session. At least two-thirds of a full Legislature would need to be on board to pass a proposed hotel tax hike, which would pay for the stadium, a convention center expansion and more police.
Critics don’t want to give public funds to a project backed by Adelson, one of the richest men in the world, rather than to education in a state with one of the country’s worst-performing school systems. They also point to experts who say stadium deals rarely yield the economic benefits they promise.
Commissioner Susan Brager, who nominated Republican Kyle Stephens to fill the second vacancy, said she asked him whether he’d simply go along with party leadership or whether he’d be an independent voice on the deal. She said she got the right answers from Stephens, who’s a longtime account representative for a janitorial supply company and has worked on Republican political campaigns.
“I wasn’t looking for a ‘yes person,’ ” Brager said. “I’m hoping this person would stand up for what is right.”
While she voted for the candidates, Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said she felt they were only being asked to do so to ensure there were enough votes for the stadium deal. When there were vacancies ahead of two recent special legislative sessions for less hotly debated economic development deals, those spots were left empty.
“This is politics at its worst,” she said.
Sandoval said in an interview Friday that he sought replacements this time in part because of the sheer number of vacancies — five this time, compared with one each in 2014 and 2015 special sessions. It’s “more about making sure those districts are represented and having a full complement of legislators,” he said.