By LAURA MYERS
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL
One Nevada gubernatorial candidate wants to create jobs by luring an Indian carmaker to Nevada to build a factory that would produce tiny, high-mileage $3,000 vehicles.
Another hopeful, a strict constitutionalist, calls immigrants from Mexico who are in the country illegally refugees and suggests if the country can’t fix its problems, the United States should take over its border region and put refugees there.
A third candidate, a college professor, said he’d reduce the state sales tax to 4 percent, repeal a payroll tax and cut a top-heavy university administration to save millions of dollars.
A fourth man, an assistant casino slot manager, said he got tired of yelling at the TV and decided to do something by running for the most powerful job — managing the state.
“I’d like to start from the top because there’s a lot to do,” said Chris Hyepock, a Democrat who took a job demotion and started working the graveyard shift so he could campaign during the day.
The four long shots running to replace GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval have one thing in common: belief that a common-man candidate has a chance to defeat a popular incumbent, who is far better known, better funded and better organized.
“People say that Brian Sandoval is unbeatable,” said David Lory VanDerBeek, of the Independent American Party. “I don’t think that’s true at all.”
Candidate filing opens March 3 and closes March 14, so more gubernatorial hopefuls may join those opposing Sandoval, the state’s first Hispanic governor.
Also, the Nevada Democratic Party has yet to field an anointed contender who might get more financial and organizational help than those already in the race can command.
Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak is considering a bid. And state Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, said he might carry the Democratic flag if Sisolak doesn’t.
For now, Sandoval’s do-it-yourself opponents are trying to organize a gubernatorial debate — which the governor is expected to skip — to gain more attention for their campaigns.
Who are the men who aspire to lead Nevada by surprising Sandoval at the ballot box?
Here’s a look at the candidates and their views:
EDDIE HAMILTON, 71, Republican of Henderson and a businessman. He’s married with two adult children.
Hamilton pins his hopes on a recent Nevada Republican Party decision to endorse candidates during the primary season. He’s a member of the state GOP Central Committee that ultimately will decide endorsements. A Tea Party member, he calls himself the “conservative grassroots” alternative to Sandoval, who has been criticized from the right for twice extending more than $600 million in taxes to balance the budget.
“I have it on good authority that Sandoval is scared to death that he won’t get the endorsement and that he’ll be embarrassed,” Hamilton said, smiling at the prospect of beating the governor at the party level.
Relations between Sandoval and the state party are strained, but it’s unclear how the endorsement will turn out.
Hamilton, an engineer who built Chrysler auto plants, said he already has a job creation program: He hopes to persuade India’s Tata Motors Limited to build a plant and produce small vehicles in Northern Nevada. He said it would involve a transfer of 400 acres of federal land for the plant, which could employ as many as 6,000 workers.
For now, it’s just a dream. Hamilton hasn’t been in touch with Tata.
“We would probably give them the land for free,” Hamilton said.
“Sandoval has no idea how to create jobs — he’s only good for the law library,” Hamilton said of the former judge.
The Sandoval administration, in its most prominent deal, did give Apple $89 million in tax breaks for a data facility in the Reno area. The deal is expected to bring $1 billion in investment over the next decade.
In Southern Nevada, Hamilton said he would expand tourism by persuading the Nevada Legislature to lower the age from 21 to 18 for casino gambling and alcohol use. He said tribal casinos in California allow gambling by 18-year-olds.
“We could add 5 million more tourists ages 18, 19 and 20,” Hamilton said.
Like Sandoval, Hamilton is against the proposed 2 percent margin tax on business being pushed by educators.
Hamilton said he disagrees with Sandoval’s decision to implement President Barack Obama’s health care insurance reforms by starting a state exchange and expanding Medicaid. He said he would have let the federal government run the system.
Unlike Sandoval, Hamilton said homosexual couples should be given legal recognition in Nevada. He said the term “marriage,” however, should be reserved for mixed-gender couples.
“I just don’t like to call it marriage,” he said. “I wish they would come up with some other term.”
On immigration, Hamilton said he favors legalization, although he would stop short of offering U.S. citizenship to the 11 million adults now living in the country without legal documentation.
Hamilton said he didn’t have a problem with Sandoval’s signing a bill that allows immigrants in the country illegally to get driving permits so they can purchase insurance and drive legally. But he said the state should impose a fee of $500 or $750 to raise money for the state.
“There are a lot of costs to that program,” Hamilton said. “They should pay for it.”
Hamilton is no stranger to political campaigns. He has run for the U.S. Senate three times — twice as a Republican and once as a Democrat against U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., in 2010.
“Not only do you have a right to vote, you have a right to run for political office,” said Hamilton, who has lived in Nevada for a decade. “Otherwise, you give way to the elite political class.”
CHRIS HYEPOCK, 35, Democrat of North Las Vegas and assistant slot manager at J.W. Marriott Las Vegas Resort. He’s married with two young children.
Hyepock said he started thinking about running for governor two or three years ago. Before launching his campaign, he did “man on the street” interviews to hear what voters wanted. Then he took the leap.
“We keep electing the same type of people who don’t do their jobs,” Hyepock said, explaining most politicians are more focused on getting re-elected. “I figured I can yell at the TV or I can get involved and fix it.”
In June, he took a demotion and started working overnights so he could campaign by day. He has traveled to Northern Nevada and plans to return in February or March.
He marched in the recent Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in Las Vegas, handing out bags of popcorn tagged with information about him and election dates. Thus, he has become known as “the popcorn guy” on the campaign trail.
Hyepock has taken the lead in trying to organize a debate so voters can compare the candidates.
“I feel we as Nevadans deserve much more than what we’ve been handed over the years,” said Hyepock, who criticized leaders for not planning for hard economic times during the boom years. “It’s years of bad management.”
A Texas transplant, Hyepock has lived in Nevada for more than 14 years. Raised in a Republican household, he was registered with the GOP until four years ago.
Hyepock’s focus is on improving education, including providing preschool for children. Only about 30 percent of Nevada children now go to preschool, he said.
He said the cost could be covered by tapping the $800 million expected to be raised if a proposed 2 percent margins tax on businesses wins voter approval in November. He supports the margins tax because of the state’s needs, he said.
“Money’s not the answer to fixing everything, but developing children before they go to school would help,” Hyepock said.
He said he also would encourage church groups and others to volunteer their time once or twice a month to help teach students to improve Nevada’s education system. It’s part of his “pay it forward” philosophy in life, he said.
Nevada also has to do more to attract new business, as have Texas, Wyoming and Utah, which are doing a better job, he said. Spending money more wisely and building up a budget surplus would help, he said.
“If they (businesses) don’t feel confident in our government they’re not going to bring their jobs here,” Hyepock said. “We have to make good decisions with our tax dollars.”
Hyepock proposed raising the minimum wage from $8.25 in Nevada to $10 an hour to make the state more attractive for workers and to raise Nevadans out of poverty. President Barack Obama has suggested a minimum wage of $10.10 an hour.
Hyepock said he hopes to attract crossover voters, and he takes time to speak to independents and Republicans, including members of the Tea Party movement who favor smaller government. This is his first run at political office.
“They always thank me for talking to them,” he said. “One Tea Party guy donated $25 to me after we talked. I get my pride by talking to people on the street. These groups I go to make me feel like, ‘Hey, you have a chance.’ ”
DAVID LORY VANDERBEEK, 38, Independent American Party of Pahrump. A marriage and family therapist, he’s married with five young children. He ran for the U.S. Senate in 2012 and for the Assembly in 2010.
VanDerBeek is a sixth-generation Nevadan whose family settled Lincoln County, he said. His view of government rises from the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, which gives Americans the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” he said.
He said he believes strongly in the Second Amendment right to bear arms and is opposed to universal background checks for gun buyers. He said he doesn’t like taxes, which “create an adversarial relationship between government and people.”
Instead, VanDerBeek said government should be funded by state investment and Nevada should have a state bank that makes loans to people who want to build businesses and create more jobs.
“Governments invest vast amounts of money,” VanDerBeek said. “You can take in more money through investments than through taxation.”
He argued there’s evidence that when government lowers taxes, tax collections go up and when private people keep more of their money, they make more money. He notes that President John F. Kennedy lowered taxes and and revenues went up.
“If you have a state bank, the priority is to loan money to companies who will headquarter themselves in Nevada, hiring people in Nevada, keeping wealth in Nevada,” he said.
Nevada also should develop more of its natural resources, including oil deposits, he said. And the state needs to regain control of more of its land, VanDerBeek said. At present, 87 percent of it is owned by the federal government.
“Through the proper partnership between government and private enterprise, you can phase out taxation,” he argued. “We need to take back the land a piece at a time.”
He said he blames Sandoval for what he called the “theft” of money from the State Industrial Insurance System, or SIIS, money he said could be invested for profit.
Former Gov. Kenny Guinn on Jan. 1, 2000, turned over $800 million in SIIS trust funds to the private Employers Insurance Company of Nevada. The state was trying to rid itself of $2 billion in long-term liability from the system.
Several years later, conservative critics sued the state, contending the $800 million was state property and turning it over to a private company violated the constitution. Sandoval was attorney general at the time.
“He could have prosecuted that and recovered the money,” VanDerBeek said.
State officials, however, see Guinn’s decision as a good move to protect the state from growing financial liability.
VanDerBeek’s thinking on immigrants who are in the country illegally could create a stir, especially in Nevada where close to 30 percent of the population is Latino.
He said such immigrants are refugees, and if Mexico doesn’t deal with its drug wars and poverty the United States should consider taking over border lands to create a place for them to live.
“The bottom line is that if Mexico continues to implode into the U.S. then we will have to do what we did in the past,” he said, noting the U.S. has fought past wars with Mexico.
“… We have to force Mexico to change,” VanDerBeek said. “We seem to have no problem going to Iraq and forcing them to change. Why can’t we just do the same with Mexico?”
VanDerBeek is passionate in his views.
“Every day for me is an opportunity to kick the establishment in the neck,” he said.
FRED CONQUEST, 67, of Las Vegas and anthropology professor at the College of Southern Nevada. He is divorced and running as a nonpartisan candidate.
Conquest ran for governor as a Democrat in 2010 and lost to Rory Reid, who lost to Sandoval. He said running against the son of U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., caused him problems within the party. As an independent, he won’t have to deal with such issues, and he doesn’t have to worry about competing in a primary, he said.
Conquest said his top priorities would be “fixing the education system and restructuring the tax system.”
He said he would repeal the payroll tax, which was supposed to sunset already. He also would get rid of the extra vehicle registration fee, which also was set to expire.
“Why do employers have to pay a tax for hiring people?” he asked.
He opposes the 2 percent margins tax on business. Instead, he wants to lower the sales tax to 4 percent. Now, the statewide sales tax rate is 6.85 percent, and can be higher in various cities such as 8.1 percent in Las Vegas.
“This will put more money in everybody’s pocket,” he said. “It also will create more demand for goods and services because people will have more money to spend.”
Asked how he would replace lost revenue, Conquest didn’t offer specifics.
On education, Conquest said the Nevada System of Higher Education budget is around $110 million because of a top-heavy administration for nine colleges. In comparison, he said Arkansas spends $40 million to run 37 colleges.
“The only service they really do is human resources, send paychecks,” Conquest said.
Conquest’s campaign is off to a slow start. He said he skipped the recent Martin Luther King Jr. parade in Las Vegas because “it didn’t translate into votes” in 2010. He said he’s still updating his old website and Facebook pages.
Asked whether he thinks Sandoval is truly vulnerable to an independent candidate, Conquest said, “Looks can be deceiving.
“He looks like he’s going to be OK, but the Republicans are squabbling among themselves and the Democrats haven’t thrown up anybody to deal with him,” he said. “I think we have a reasonable chance of sorts simply because more people are registering as independents.”
Nevada had 209,185 registered nonpartisan voters at the end of 2013. That compares to 492,956 Democrats, 415,320 Republicans and 56,497 with the IAP.
Contact reporter Laura Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2919. Follow her on Twitter @lmyerslvrj
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