First-time candidate goes up against high-visibility firebrand in GOP treasurer primary

By: - May 19, 2022 6:09 am

Republican candidates for Nevada treasurer Manny Kess and Michele Fiore.

In a way, the race for Nevada treasurer started with a viral campaign video of Las Vegas councilwoman Michele Fiore driving a Ford pickup truck into the desert with a handgun strapped on her hip.

At the time, Fiore had announced her intention to run for governor in a crowded Republican primary. 

But after months of marketing herself as a gubernatorial candidate and spending thousands of dollars in campaign funds on television ads, including a 60-second segment in Palm Beach, Florida, the home of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club, she never filed to run for governor.

On Twitter Fiore announced she would be running for Nevada State treasurer instead. In a less viral campaign ad rolled out alongside the announcement, Fiore explained the switch was at the behest of Trump’s team.

As a self-described “Lady Trump” Fiore took up the call to pivot and filed to run for another statewide office, that of Nevada’s chief financial officer.

Her campaign for treasurer has been notably less active than her months-long run for governor, and even less so since she suffered a concussion and several broken bones from a car crash in a BMW sport sedan earlier this month.

For voters who don’t have much interest in down-ballot races, here are a few things to consider:

The person in charge of Nevada’s treasury is responsible for maintaining and investing every tax dollar that comes into state coffers. Their choices impact the state’s ability to borrow money at favorable interest rates, and the overall cost of a public project.

The office manages a portfolio of about $7 billion in state money investments that affect everything from unemployment benefits to the state’s education fund. The treasurer is also in charge of managing the state’s multimillion dollar budget.

In other words, the state chief financial officer— who’s paid $112,462 annually — has a wide ranging and critical job. 

This year, Republican primary challengers—Fiore and entrepreneur Manny Kess—are vying for the chance to run against Democratic first-term incumbent Treasurer Zach Conine in the November general election.

‘Lady Trump’

Republican firebrand Fiore was elected as a councilwoman for the City of Las Vegas in 2017. Prior to her election, Fiore served in the Nevada Assembly for two terms before leaving to run for Congress, but did not make it past the primaries.

She also served as Las Vegas Mayor Pro Tem until she stepped down from the position after facing criticism for racist comments at the Clark County Republican Party convention in June.

In a text last week, Fiore said she is still recovering from the collision and was unavailable for an interview but was able to provide prepared statements to a list of questions

Fiore characterizes herself as something of a political outsider despite her long time involvement in state government. The self described “Lady Trump” said she would use her role as state treasurer if elected to “apply pressure from the outside” if fellow Republicans “stand in the way of me helping Nevadans.”

“I have a loyal base of supporters for a reason- I work for them and nobody else. No special interest. No party bosses. They know I’ll go to bat for them when they need me to,” Fiore said in an email.

In addition to Trump, Fiore has been endorsed by controversial Republican politicians and personalities including Sheriff Joe Arpaio, far right talk radio host Wayne Allyn Root, and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. She’s also been endorsed by the Nevada Republican Party and the Nevada Veterans Association, and several Republican county commissioners in Nevada.

Fiore’s history in Nevada politics also includes a number of financial controversies, including “ at least $91,000 in undisclosed tax liens” and a recent FBI investigation into her campaign finances, first reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal last year.

However, Fiore said her role as a businesswoman means she knows “what it is like to keep a budget, improve an operation, and expand to meet people’s needs,” qualities she said she would bring to the office if elected. Fiore said she believes the office of the treasurer lacks transparency and argues that she will do more to “keep a just, true and comprehensive account of all money received.” 

The treasurer’s office is “a fundamentally conservative position,” said Fiore and pointed to her record of voting against tax increases, regulations, and fees in the Nevada Assembly.

“I see the Treasurer’s office as a place where a conservative like me can really make a change for the better,” Fiore said in an email.

“I think only a conservative with respect for the taxpayer’s dollars can be successful as treasurer. That does not describe my opponents in either the primary or the general elections. It does describe me. They don’t call me Lady Trump for nothing.”

If elected, Fiore said her top priorities for the office would be improving the economy, job numbers, and education.  She advocated for state money to be rerouted to vocational training programs, similar to a grant program implemented in Tennessee. 

Transparency about how much money received by the state is another priority listed by Fiore, who vowed to keep Nevadans “up to date on social media and in our searchable state databases.”

Nevada is set to receive billions in federal relief money and the state treasury office will have a big role in shaping how and where money will be spent. That money is largely earmarked for specific uses, however, Fiore said she would prioritize getting funds “back to the hands of individual Nevadans” and businesses.

During the first fundraising quarter, Fiore reported receiving $142,097 in contributions and spending $262,946. Going into the second quarter,  Fiore reported $35,722 cash on hand.

‘Business friendly’

First-time candidate Manny Kess is the founder and president of The Kess Group, a Las Vegas- based hospitality company. He moved to Las Vegas from New York in 2011 after losing his family restaurant during the Great Recession and eventually filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy after years of financial issues including state tax liens. 

“I lost it all after the 2008 economic collapse and I fought hard to build myself up again to where now I’m very successful again,” Kess said. “Who better to lead us than someone who’s dealt with adversity and hardship.”

Nevada’s “business friendly” regulations, low-cost of living, and favorable tax environment allowed Kess to create a thriving business in the state, he said. In the years since moving to Las Vegas, Kess said Nevada has become a “fly-over state” for companies leaving California due to the high cost of business.

“We have to get back to the strengths of why people like myself move to Nevada,” Kess said. “It was because it was a state that offered opportunity and offered you the ability to work hard and make something of yourself.

Kess is also a co-owner of a sports bar in Hollywood, California called 3rd Base LA., and partial owner of several other businesses including a firearms manufacturer, an interior design firm, and a sports nutrition company. 

Kess said he believes his experience growing several companies in the state qualifies him for the position of state treasurer. If elected as state treasurer, Kess said his priority would be to make the office “the most transparent in the country.”

As part of his commitment to transparency, Kess said he would submit a bill draft request to create an “independent Office of the Inspector General with the power to audit Nevada’s public K-12 education system.”

If Democrats retain the governor’s seat, Kess said he would act as the “voice of reason” to provide political balance.

“Our current elected officials are not doing what’s best for the constituents,” Kess said. “They need to do better and we need to hold them accountable.”

Kess has been endorsed by Former Attorney General Adam Laxalt, Las Vegas City Councilwoman Victoria Seaman, Las Vegas City Councilman Stavros Anthony, and Douglas County Commissioner Danny Tarkanian.

During the first fundraising quarter, Kess reported receiving $125,543 in contributions and spending $46,027. Going into the second quarter, Kess reported $516,885 cash on hand, part of which is self-funded.

“My primary opponent is a career politician and I’m better suited because these career politicians constantly let us down and fail us and all they do is try to reinvent themselves so they can stay in power,” Kess said.

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Jeniffer Solis
Jeniffer Solis

Reporter | Jeniffer was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada where she attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas before graduating in 2017 with a B.A in Journalism and Media Studies. While at UNLV she was a senior staff writer for the student newspaper, the UNLV Scarlet and Gray Free Press, and a news reporter for KUNV 91.5 FM, covering everything from the Route 91 shooting to UNLV housing. She has also contributed to the UNLV News Center and worked as a production engineer for several KUNV broadcasts before joining the Nevada Current. She’s an Aries.

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