Nevada gains seat in House

Las Vegas Review-Journal (NV) - Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Author: Laura Myers


Democrats will have the edge in drawing a new congressional district in Nevada, political insiders said, after the U.S. Census Bureau announced Tuesday that the state had earned a fourth House seat. 

The long-awaited report showed that Nevada had the fastest rate of growth in the nation for the fifth decade in a row, reaching a 2010 population of 2,700,551. 

Nevadans celebrated gaining another seat, to be filled in 2012 and likely built around the population center of Las Vegas. They said it would give Nevada more clout in Congress and presidential politics and greater access to $400 billion in federal funds and programs for states. 

"I'm excited that we got that new seat," said Rep. Dina Titus, a Democrat who lost re-election in 2010 to a Republican and stands to get a fresh shot as she considers another House run. "It's good for the people of Nevada to have another voice. And it's good for me. I'm keeping all options open." 

Addition of the new seat for Nevada begins months of partisan deal-making as the Democrat-led Legislature in 2011 redraws all four congressional districts with incoming Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval ready to veto any reapportionment plan he sees as unfair. 

"It is my hope the process will proceed in an orderly manner on behalf of the voters and not politics," Sandoval said in a statement, signaling he would play an active role. "I plan to work with both the Assembly and the Senate to ensure the process is fair and balanced." 

In Nevada, an equal population distribution would put more than 675,000 people in each of the four districts, giving most of the political power in the state to Clark County and its 2 million residents. 

Now, Nevada has one safe GOP seat covering Northern and rural Nevada and a bit of Clark County, one safe Democrat seat largely in Las Vegas, and one swing district stretching to Henderson, which Titus barely lost to Republican Joe Heck despite a slim Democratic voter registration edge. 

Most insiders expect Rep. Dean Heller's GOP seat up north to remain safely Republican . And they predict Heck will ask lawmakers to shrink his 1 million-voter district by about one-third by cutting out such swing areas as those inside the Las Vegas Beltway. Crafting a GOP-leaning district, he would seek to keep areas such as Boulder Valley, Sandy Valley, Anthem and Southern Highlands. 

That would leave lawmakers to carve out two other districts in Clark County favoring Democrats, including the new one and the stronghold of Rep. Shelley Berkley, said political observers. 

"The big question is how much and what part of Heck's district is he willing to give up, and Berkley for that matter as well," said Dave Damore, political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "The real wild card in all of this is how aggressive Sandoval's going to be." 

Another factor in drawing the districts is what role the newly empowered Hispanics will play as Latinos make up about 26 percent of Nevada's population and lean heavily Democratic. 

"I think there would be enough Hispanics in central Las Vegas to make up our own district, but it depends on how they cut it up," said Fernando Romero of Hispanics in Politics. "We're going to be keeping a close eye on what happens and hopefully have a strong voice in reapportionment." 

Tick Segerblom, a Democratic assemblyman from Las Vegas who chairs the state's redistricting committee, predicted that a compromise would likely include three redrawn districts around Clark County, including one swinging toward the GOP as Heck wishes and the other two favoring Democrats. 

"Ideally, it ought to be four evenly divided districts, all up for grabs," Segerblom said. "But the problem is, outside of Clark County, it's too Republican and the rurals have a desire to go their own separate ways. It's difficult to create four swing districts. People in them would love to have solid seats." 

State Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, said there has been talk of creating four skinny districts that would run the length of the state, north to south, but that has been dismissed. 

"I think that would disenfranchise rural Nevada," McGinness said. "We'll probably have three seats down South and Heller's district up north. I would like to see some sort of fair redistricting, with maybe two of them swing districts" and two more solidly favoring each political party. 

Such an outcome would maintain Nevada's status as a swing state, both on a local and a national level. The state has a healthy mix of political leaders, including one Democrat and one Republican in the U.S. Senate, and a divided government at the state level as well. 

At the White House level, Nevada voted for Democrat Barack Obama in 2008 but for Republican George W. Bush in his two successful runs. Nevada also backed Bill Clinton, a Democrat, twice, and Republican George H.W. Bush before that. 

Nevada gets another Electoral College vote with the added House seat, for a total of six. 

Both Berkley and Heller might not run for re-election, but instead are considering challenging U.S. Sen. John Ensign, a Republican who has been damaged by an extramarital affair. The two members of Congress are still expected to fight to ensure their districts stay in their own party's hands, however. 

Titus would have several options, depending on how the districts are redrawn and on whether Berkley runs for the Senate. Titus would likely seek the new seat or Berkley's if she moves up, although she could go up against Heck again if the GOP fails to protect his district. 

Ensign, who has said he plans to run for re-election, sounded a note of warning that seemed aimed at Democrats who have the upper hand and who might be tempted to push for the most political gain. 

"I hope that when the boundaries of this new district are drawn it is done in a way that best benefits Nevadans, not a political party," Ensign said in a statement. 

Politics and how it's shaping the nation, however, is always the backdrop to the Census release. 

The U.S. population grew to 308,745,538 people, or by 9.7 percent, the lowest rate since the Great Depression, as the South and West expanded at the expense of the Northeast and Midwest. 

As a result, GOP-leaning states gained at least half a dozen House seats, with Texas leading the way with an increase of four seats, along with Florida, which will get two more seats. Gaining one each were Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina, Utah, Washington and Nevada. 

Ohio and New York each will lose two House seats. Losing one House seat are Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. 

Although Nevada suffered a population loss of about 100,000 people since the recession struck in 2007, the state's explosive gaming and construction boom from earlier in the decade led to 35.1 percent growth since 2000, the fastest rate in the nation. 

In the past 100 years, Nevada has had double-digit growth every decade except for between 1910 and 1920, when a mining boom went bust, resulting in a 5.5 percent population loss to 77,407 people. Even during the Great Depression years between 1930 and 1940, Nevada grew by 21.1 percent. 

The census figures that come out at the beginning of each decade are used to measure the population of states and the country to figure out how to distribute federal money for everything from roads to schools, and to ensure equal representation of people to the 435-seat House. 

While the state's growth improves its eligibility for federal funding, aides to Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said it would be difficult to tell at this point if or how much more money may come to Nevada as a result of the latest census data. It isn't expected to affect federal highway funding, for example, because the population estimate already used by state officials is near the formal count. 

"Today's announcement that our congressional delegation will grow by one can only make Nevada stronger," Reid said. "As a small state, we need to fight to ensure Nevada receives its fair share of resources to create jobs, improve its struggling education system and keep families in their homes." 

Federal departments will update their population-based formulas starting next month, but they vary based on the types of grants. For some programs, raw population is just one of the variables taken into consideration. Officials also rely on another census product, the American Community Survey, to adjust formulas in the years between the decennial counts. 

According to the Government Accountability Office, the 10 largest federal assistance programs rely in part on census data to distribute funds, including Medicaid and children's health insurance programs, education grants, funding for people with disabilities, road construction and housing aid. 

Until 1980, Nevada had only one House representative. But it added seats after the 1980 census when its population totaled just over 800,000 and after the 2000 census when its population hit nearly 2 million . 

Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault contributed to this report. Contact reporter Laura Myers at or 702 387-2929. 

Nevada means growth 

Nevada was the nation's 

fastest growing state over the 

last decade, with a 35 percent 

population gain over 2000, 

according to figures released by 

U.S. Census Bureau on Tuesday.* 

Growth has been a part of the 

state's history since the 1910 

census, except for a 5.5 percent 

downturn between 1910 and 

1920 caused by a mining bust. 


Decade Population Change 

1900-10 81,875 93.4 

1910-20 77,407 -5.5 

1920-30 91,058 17.6 

1930-40 110,247 21.1 

1940-50 160,083 45.2 

1950-60 285,278 78.2 

1960-70 488,738 71.3 

1970-80 800,493 63.8 

1980-90 1,201,833 50.1 

1990-00 1,998,257 66.3 

2000-10 2,700,551 35.1