Clark County Democratic Party chair Judith Whitmer says her opponent for state party chair, Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom, supported her candidacy before he decided to enter the race himself at the behest of U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, who then asked Whitmer to quit.
“Tick had already committed his support,” according to Whitmer, who says Cortez Masto has twice asked her to step aside.
“They don’t think I’m going to work for their re-elections,” Whitmer says of Nevada’s elected Democrats — primarily Cortez Masto and Gov. Steve Sisolak, both of whom face re-election in 2022. “I’m not conducting a purity test here.”
Segerblom, who served as state party chair in the early 90s before serving as a state assemblyman and senator, says Whitmer is incorrect. No one in the party establishment or elsewhere recruited him, he says.
“When I put feelers out, I was told I would be great,” Segerblom told the Current.
Sisolak and Cortez Masto did not respond to requests for comment.
Cortez Masto was elected in 2016 to the seat previously held by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who built the Nevada state party into a formidable organization.
“As I was part of the Democratic National Committee, we are looked to as the number one party in the nation,” says Roberta Lange, former chair of the state party who is serving her first term as a state senator. “We raised money, we elected candidates. In 2016, we were the only party to elect candidates up and down the ballot.”
Some in the progressive wing of the party say they are battling an ill-conceived perception that they want to destroy the party from the inside out, and that corporate donations will dry up if they are in charge.
“I am committed to getting them re-elected. That’s not the issue,” says Whitmer. “The issue is making this a party of the people — not having the legislative caucuses determine who the candidates are going to be.”
“The legislative caucus is an organization and can choose their people,” says Lange. “They endorse a candidate they believe is best, but it’s not a closed process because anybody can run for office.”
“Tick’s taken the lead on a lot of things for Nevada,” says Whitmer, a relative newcomer to the state. “We need to be accepting of our rich cultural heritages and our marginalized communities. We need to let people know we are listening.”
“If your first priority is because party leaders asked you to run (for chair) and it’s not the people, I personally feel you’re not progressive enough because my goal is to serve the people of Nevada,” says Whitmer.
“It’s a shame,” says Chris Roberts, a progressive who is also new to the state. “We don’t want to fight with an ally, but it’s best for the Democratic party and working class Nevadans. We need a people’s party in Nevada.”
“It’s ‘party first’ for Tick, so if anyone’s going to be going after the status quo, he’s not going to be on our side,” says Roberts, who says he’s heard Segerblom was chosen by the party establishment to “placate progressives. It’s very savvy, politically.”
“I might remind everyone that Tick Segerblom is a progressive,” says Lange.
Segerblom is the person singularly most responsible for the legalization of cannabis in Nevada.
“Look at my history,” says Segerblom, a Clark County Commissioner and former state lawmaker. “No one is more progressive than I am. And I have the scars to prove it.”
“I brought Bernie (Sanders) to Nevada in 2014. Where were they?” Segerblom asked rhetorically of his critics.
Segerblom was the first Nevada official to embrace Sanders’ presidential aspirations and served as co-chair of his Nevada campaigns. The move won Segerblom the endorsement of Our Revolution, a political action organization born of Sanders’ 2016 campaign.
“It’s a visible leadership position — pushing the party to the left,” he says of the state party chair job. ”Like Bernie, I energize the kids. 2022 is an important election. We don’t want to repeat 2014.”
Whitmer says it’s a conflict of interest for Segerblom, a fulltime elected official, to be party chair. She says she raised the concerns about current party chair William McCurdy, who held the position when he was in the state Assembly and now as Segerblom’s colleague on the county commission. McCurdy’s tenure as chair ends next month.
“And I know how much time and energy I put into being the county chair,” she says.
Lange says she held a full time job while serving as state chair.
“You have an executive director and a fundraiser,” she says. “I made appearances and speeches on behalf of the party. I did fundraising, too, when asked.”
“If you go back and look at history, there were a lot of elected officials who were party chairs,” says Lange, including former state lawmakers Tom Colllins and Terry Care, she notes. “I was the first non-elected official in awhile.”
Segerblom is running along with Hawah Ahmad for First Vice Chair; Alyssa Cortes for Second Vice Chair; Rebecca Pulido Goff for Secretary; and Lance Arberry for Treasurer.
Among the progressives wing’s priorities — switching Nevada from a presidential caucus to a primary state, which is the subject of Assembly Bill 126 , a bill before state lawmakers.
Whitmer is running with other progressive candidates — Jacob Allen for First Vice Chair; Dr. Zaffar Iqbal for Second Vice Chair; Ahmad Ade for Secretary; and Howard Beckerman for Treasurer.
The progressive wing of the party says it has a majority of the seats on the state central committee and anticipates a sweep of all five seats up for election on March 6.
“We’re a purple state. The Republicans are getting redder,” says Roberts, who was elected to the Nevada Democrats’ executive board last year. “The Democrats need to reply in kind.”
“I’m not on the state central committee, but if I were, Tick would be the person I’d support because our party is at a junction now,” says Lange. “He knows how it works. As he’s raised for his races, he can raise money for the party.”