(Vernon Robison | Moapa Valley Progress) – Voters of Moapa and Logandale may have a key role in the upcoming Primary elections next month; especially in one important state legislative race.
The Republican primary for Assembly District 36 has been one of the most hotly contested races in the state this year. It pits incumbent James Oscarson against challenger Dennis Hof; and it has been one dirty, bitter battle.
The race is actually a rematch of a tough 2016 general election bout. In that case, Hof ran against Oscarson in the general election as a Libertarian candidate. As such, he was able to snatch 39 percent of the vote due to heavy support for him in Nye County.
It was the votes in Moapa Valley, Lincoln County, and a small segment of Las Vegas that provided the counterweight Oscarson needed to win the 2016 race. Oscarson ended up winning 82 percent of the Logandale and Moapa votes in that contest, and winning the election with 61 percent of the overall vote.
This time, the field is quite different. Hof has since joined the ranks of the Republican party. He has become the favorite of many in the Nye Republican Party establishment. So the two are running in a closed, Republicans-only primary; an election that traditionally sees much lower voter turnout. To make a long story short, the results may be anyone’s guess at this point.
“The Trump of Pahrump”
Dennis Hof is a flamboyant personality. He has lived in Nevada for more than 40 years and describes himself foremost as a small business owner. His various enterprises have included auto repair shops, truck stops, gas stations, restaurants and nightclubs. But he is most famous for being the owner/operator of several legal brothels in Nye County.
Hof insists he offers much more than his brothel ownership to his candidacy. He proudly relates that the famous ultra-conservative national political consultant Roger Stone has called him “the Trump of Pahrump.”
“It’s because we have so much in common,” Hof said in an interview with the Progress. “We are both reality TV stars, producers, astute businessmen, outspoken, and we are both rich. I think that the people of District 36 are ready for a real businessman to represent them in Carson City.”
The main focus of Hof’s campaign is to roll back the Commerce Tax passed in the 2015 State Legislature. The tax came out of a Republican-led legislature and was championed by a Republican: Governor Brian Sandoval.
“My main thing is more than just the tax,” Hof said. “It is Republicans that lie and say that they are conservatives when they are really just RINO tax-hikers in disguise. I just think that they should tell the truth about who they are. And the truth is that James (Oscarson) let us all down.”
Hof faults Oscarson with telling the people of Nye County that he would not raise taxes. “Then he went straight up there and did it anyway,” Hof said. “He is a two-story candidate. He talks like a conservative. Then he gets up to the legislature and votes like a Democrat.”
Hof believes that no increase in taxes is ever a good increase. To increase state funding, one should either work to grow the economy or cut existing spending, he said.
“Before you raise taxes, you should do everything that you can to cut expenses,” Hof said. “Before I would vote to increase taxes I would reach out to constituents and ask them what their answers are to the tough questions. But I can promise right now that I am not raising taxes.”
Rather than raising taxes to fund public education, Hof said he would first look at the state’s education system like a businessman. “We have put a lot of money into education and haven’t seen any improvements,” he said. “I’d be demanding a return on those investments. I’d be looking for where the weak points are and get rid of people or programs that are behind the problems.”
Hof admitted being somewhat less clear on the specifics of what is needed to improve education. “I don’t know what the answer is at this point,” he said. “I’m not in the seat yet. But I do know that I can look at it from a business perspective and solve the problems.”
Hof said that another area of focus would be economic development. He observed statistics that state that Nye County had actually fallen in population by 2 percent.
“And that is while the state of Nevada is booming!” he said. “What have they been doing to get business going again? I can tell you I’d be rattling people’s cages to bring industry into the state. We need growth, especially in the rural areas.”
Again, specific strategies or plans for improvement were not entirely developed as yet for Hof. “It is hard for me to say what I can do right now,” he said. “I haven’t taken the reigns yet. But I will do something when I get in there. You’ll see when I am elected that things will start to change. I will upset the status quo and disturb the establishment.”
The Moderate Republican
James Oscarson has served as Assemblyman in District 36 since 2013. He has lived the past 11 years in Pahrump. But before that he resided in Logandale where he raised his family. Oscarson comes from a career background in health care administration.
In an interview last week, Oscarson said that he has always run on a platform of being a moderate Republican. He believes in keeping taxes low and keeping government control at the local level.
Oscarson’s performance was recently rated at 82 percent by the American Conservative Union. “I think that is pretty darned good in an arena where I am being accused of not being a conservative,” he said.
Oscarson admits that he never did sign the famous No Tax pledge. That’s because he didn’t want to be tied down in his options at the legislature, he said.
“You really have to understand the process,” Oscarson said. “The best bills that come through the legislature, 90 percent of them go through a bipartisan process to get passed. They are examples where the majority works with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to make things better for everyone.”
Oscarson cites statistics showing that Nevada is recognized as the 5th best state to do business and is the number one state in job growth. “That says a lot about the business and tax climate here, even after the Commerce Tax,” Oscarson said.
His support of the tax was to entice more diverse industry and bring jobs to Nevada through improving the state’s education system, Oscarson said. And he cites specific measures where the state’s education system has shown improvement since the 2013 legislature and the Commerce Tax funding.
He points to the fact that graduation rates have risen by 10 percent. In addition the state has seen the benefits of the Read by Three program and full day kindergarten programs; especially in the rural areas where those programs would never have been available, he said. More social workers in the schools have also been funded which addresses troubled youth and attempts to prevent some of the tragedies seen in other areas of the country, Oscarson said.
“Of course, all of this has not come without costs,” Oscarson added. “We needed added funding to get them.”
But Oscarson is quick to point out that the legislature didn’t just throw money at the problems. “We heard from our constituents that there needed to be accountability for every penny of additional education funding,” he said. “And we built that into the bill. It has worked and I am convinced that we will see even more good results in the next few years.”
On the subject of economic development, Oscarson said that he has worked hard to bring opportunity throughout his district. But he said that these efforts have looked different in each of the many communities that he represents.
In Moapa Valley, Oscarson said that he has been acutely aware of the economic impacts of the closing of Reid Gardner Power Plant in Moapa.
“I had hoped that the promised project at Apex would be a huge driver for the Moapa Valley community by now,” Oscarson said. “But the funding that we approved for infrastructure in the Apex area is continuing to roll forward and that area will develop. There is still a lot of interest in those areas.”
Oscarson said that he has put a lot of work into fulfilling the unique needs of the many communities of his district.
In Moapa Valley that has meant a focus on providing access to health care in an area that is limited in services. He has worked with regional partners to bring health fairs and clinics to the local communities.
Oscarson has also focused on local people in need and on providing their access to services. He points out that he has worked with various agencies and groups to establish a monthly mobile food bank to serve the area.
Oscarson said that he has had to keep similar involvement and engagement in many different areas of his sprawling district. That has taken a lot of time and a lot of listening to community members and groups, he said.
“There is no one size that fits all, that is for certain,” Oscarson said. “But it has been my pleasure to have such a diverse district with lots of unique needs, and to work to fill all of those needs. I feel like it is that record that I bring to the table.”