Clark County commissioners surprised many observers Friday when they rejected Democratic Assemblywoman Dina Neal to fill the vacant state Senate seat left by Kelvin Atkinson, who resigned from the Legislature March 5.
Instead, commissioners unanimously voted for Marcia Washington, who was backed by the Senate Democratic Caucus and the Culinary Union.
“I know there are politics that moved around this issue,” Neal said prior to the commission’s decision. “Whatever the vote is today and regardless of whether or not you choose me, I’m going to run for that seat. I’m going to place my name, I’m going to pay that $100 and I’m going to seek that seat in 2020, and no one will shift me from that.”
Many thought Neal was a natural fit for the seat, which was once held by her father state Sen. Joe Neal, the first African American state senator in Nevada — Joe Neal attended Friday’s commission meeting and to speak in support of his daughter.
“I put in my application to be appointed for Senate District 4 not because I feel I am entitled to have the seat, but because I have a great love for this district,” Dina Neal said. “I’m currently already serving 67,000 members of that district. I have worked on policy and move the needle forward for constituents in that district.”
However, at least two county commissioners acknowledged politics played a different role.
Commissioner Lawrence Weekly, who initially made a motion to select Neal, said he remembered when she was first interested in running for the seat.
“I remember the politics that went into it and she was talked out of running,” Weekly said. He added that there was always the promise that “one day she would run for that seat.”
Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick, who said she would normally defer to the caucus recommendation, also didn’t agree with their choice for a similar reason.
“I understand where the caucus is coming from but at some point we have to quit telling people to step aside and wait their turn,” she said. “That doesn’t work anymore.”
The motion to select Neal failed 4-2 with Weekly and Kirkpatrick in favor of Neal, and Commissioners Larry Brown, Richard “Tick” Segerblom, Justin Jones and Michael Naft voting against her. Commissioner Jim Gibson wasn’t at the meeting.
“I think at this critical juncture in the legislative session, we can’t afford to lose a chairwoman of such a powerful committee,” Naft said. Neal chairs the Assembly Taxation Committee.
Washington is currently retired and has lived in Las Vegas 52 years. Her career includes working for Clark County School District and the Clark County Fire Department.
“As a veteran of the Clark County School District and the Clark County Fire Department, Marcia brings a wealth of valuable experience to the Nevada Senate,” said Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro in a statement. “With just 80 days remaining in the Session, I have no doubt that Marcia is ready to get to work on the issues that matter most to her community. I want to thank the County Commission for appointing her to serve for the remainder of the 2019 Legislative Session.”
Washington said she had “no plans” to run for the seat in 2020, and only wanted to serve in the interim.
The vacancy opened after Atkinson, the former Senate Majority Leader, pleaded guilty to misappropriating $250,000 in campaign funds for personal use and resigned from the Legislature.
Correction: The original version of this story misquoted Commissioner Michael Naft. The quote has been corrected.