Tuesday, April 13, 2010

NV-LtGov: The Nevada Progressive Jessica Sferrazza Interview


A couple days after I spoke with Paul Murad on why he wants to be Nevada's next Lieutenant Governor, I had a chance to chat with another of the Democrats running, Jessica Sferrazza. Jessica currently serves on the Reno City Council... And in fact, she's the only Democrat on the council. However, that hasn't stopped her from making some major accomplishments up north, and we were able to talk about this and why she thinks this experience has prepared her best for the job of Lieutenant Governor.

Here are the questions I asked:

Moi: You like to talk about how your experience makes you the best qualified candidate... So how exactly have your career and life experience prepared you for the job of Lieutenant Governor?

Sferrazza: "I have a record of accomplishments, and I'm the only candidate who has brought major conventions to the state." We then discussed her work at the National League of Cities, and in bringing their convention recently to Reno.

"I have a track record of building renewable energy projects and job creation." Later on in the interview, we'd get into more detail on what Sferrazza has worked on in Reno.

I also asked her specifically about her experience in local government, since she's the only candidate running who currently holds elected office. But first, she wanted to let me know that two of her opponents aren't the only ones with private business experience.

"I understand the process. I'm the board member of a corporation that has a $500 million budget and 1,400 employees."

And then, Sferrazza turned back to Reno, discussing her work on economic development and housing issues on the city council and on the Reno housing board. She mentioned that she was able to work with Harry Reid to deliver $22 million in foreclosure relief funding (something that Clark County and the City of Las Vegas failed to achieve earlier this year due to misuse, and in some cases no use, of housing funds released in 2009).

"I have the experience to do the job."

She mentioned how the Lt. Governor oversees bond issues, and how she's already dealt with this in Reno.

Moi: We hear plenty from candidates all the time about renewable energy... But all too often, it's "all talk and no action". How will you actually use the position of Lieutenant Governor to recruit more clean energy companies to Nevada?

Sferrazza: She started out the gate in letting me know that the Reno City Council (again, she's the only Democrat) has already done this for the last three years. "We're not just talking about it. We're doing it."

She then let me know about Reno recently hosting a geothermal convention, a casino taking on a geothermal project, and the largest geothermal company in world calling Reno its home. Sferrazza then told me about how the city practices what it preaches by putting solar panels on top of City Hall and wind turbines by other municipal buildings.

She also talked about working with manufacturing companies to bring wind turbine and solar panel manufacturing plants to Reno. After all, "We need to get Building Trades back to work. We've got to get them new careers." And with the real estate boom now bust for some time, we need to look at more sustainable options (environmentally and economically) to put our workers back to work.

Moi: We've been hearing plenty of talk lately about economic diversification... But again, not enough action. What will you actually do as Lt. Governor to recruit more companies in more sectors so that Nevada is no longer so overdependent on the casinos?

Sferrazza started by pointing out that most economic developmebnt projects go through local government first, and that she understands this especially as someone who's worked in local government. She said that the state "needs to be ambassador" and connect businesses to local governments across the state.

We then discussed the importance of drawing more cultural events to state to improve the quality of life, and attract more industries. She said that The Smith Center (Las Vegas' new performing arts venue set to open in 2012) is a good start, and that Southern Nevada should continue building more arts and culture, like what Reno has done with Artown. She also mentioned Las Vegas' burgeoning medical research boom, and that we need to capitalize more on The Cleveland Clinic bringing The Lou Ruvo Brain Center to Vegas.

Moi: As someone from Northern Nevada, how do you relate to the many challenges we face in Southern Nevada?

Sferrazza: She started off by saying that as President of the Nevada League of Cities, "My job is to represent all the cities, including all the cities in Southern Nevada." She said that she's been working on economic diversification with local Southern Nevada leaders for some time.

"I understand the issues Nevadans are facing all across the state."

She went on to say that Reno and the rest of Northern Nevada is also facing economic challenges such as home foreclosures and unemployment, so it's not like she hasn't dealt with the problems plaguing Las Vegas today.

"You've got to look at this state as one Nevada."

Moi: With the Travel Promotion Act now law, as many as 1.6 million more international tourists will be coming to America each year... So how will you take advantage of this and bring these tourists to Nevada?

Sferrazza: She started by thanking Senator Harry Reid for the Travel Promotion Act, then went on to describe how she'd like Nevada to take advantage of it. She said there's a need for public/private partnership to promote Nevada and market Nevada as the premier destination resort.

Moi: And what will you be doing to bring more domestic tourists back to Nevada? With so many states now legalizing some sort of gambling, how do we maintain a competitive edge?

Sferrazza: "We need to embrace gaming in this state," while also working to diversify our gaming sector. Since non-gaming revenue now exceeds gaming revenue at most casinos, we now have to create new special events and do more to bring visitors to play at our casinos while also realizing there's far more to do here today. She mentioned what Reno has already done with the River Festival in bringing more outdoor explorers to visit Reno, and Artown in bringing a plethora of arts and culture (along with many thousands of visitors!) to Reno in July. Sferrazza said there's much more work to be done in "marking our quality entertainment".

Moi: Now that we're on the topic of taxes, do you think we need to rethink our tax structure? Does mining pay its fair share? Do casinos? Is our tax structure inherently regressive?

Sferrazza: "It's wrong to go after just one industry to rely for tax revenue," referring to the state's current (over)dependence on gaming to save the day and balance the budget. She also said that "industry specific taxes simply don't work", (Was this referring to gaming? Mining? Both?) and that she awaits the results of the study that the Nevada Legislature has commissioned on the state's tax structure which should be ready by the 2011 session.

Moi: You've talked about being a "lifelong Democrat"... And I guess this means the other candidates aren't? Seriously, why have you been a lifelong Democrat and what Democratic values will you bring to the office of Lt. Governor?

Sferrazza: "I'm a lifelong Democrat because we care about people. We care about equal rights. We care about seniors. We care about the working people of this state."

She then elaborated on her support for unions and workers' right to organize, and for senior citizens and making sure we can take care of them with Medicare & Social Security.

"I'm a Democrat because we care about people, and we care about all people. I didnt switch from Independent American to Democrat [Murad]. I didn't switch from Republican to Democrat [Randazzo?]."

Moi: And finally, we saw major progress in the fight for LGBTQ equality with the passage of SB 283... But even with this and especially its provision that leaves it optional public and private employers to provide health insurance benefits and other workplace benefits to workers and their domestic partners, our work seems incomplete. Would you support amending SB 283 to ensure that all Nevada workers and their domestic partners receive the same equal benefits at work?

Sferrazza: She said she absolutely would, and that she's already been successful in getting both the Reno City Council and the Reno Housing Authority to provide domestic partner benefits.

"It's an issue of equality. Period. It's an issue of fairness and equality."

So what did I think coming out of this?

Obviously, Jessica Sferrazza has a different perspective coming from Northern Nevada and being someone who's worked in local government. She was quick to her feet on every state law, every old and new Reno policy, and even every big development coming from Vegas. Now I can see why Sferrazza was the youngest city council member ever elected in Reno.

If Paul Murad is the "fresh newcomer" with "fresh ideas", then Sferrazza looks ready to show she has her own interesting ideas and (she would argue) great benefits that come with experience in the public sector.

So where does Robert Randazzo fit in? Stay tuned as I soon try to find out. :-)

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