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Assembly pick will be in hands of counties if Dennis Hof wins election

Updated October 17, 2018 - 7:41 pm

The notices posted at the polling places where Dennis Hof’s name will appear on the ballot — despite his death on Tuesday — will unlikely deter Republican voters from casting ballots in his favor on Nov. 6.

“I would venture to guess that there’s a pretty good chance that he’ll be elected,” said John Koenig, Nye County Commission Chairman. “I think the Republicans in this town will still vote for him because they want a Republican in the chair. But I wouldn’t bet money either way.”

Hof, who owned five brothels, including the Love Ranch Vegas in Crystal, was found dead Tuesday morning at the Love Ranch. He was 72. The Nye County Sheriff’s Office is investigating Hof’s death and has found no sign of foul play, spokesman Lt. David Boruchowitz said.

The Clark County coroner’s office performed Hof’s autopsy Wednesday, Boruchowitz said. It may take between six and eight weeks before a cause and manner are released as investigators await toxicology results.

If Hof does defeat Democrat Lesia Romanov, a vacancy would be created in Assembly District 36. That will prompt a process where three commissions of each county included in the district must come together to find a Republican replacement a few months before the start of the 2019 legislative session.

“We’ve seen local vacancies, but never where it’s crossed county lines, which obviously makes it more difficult,” Koenig said.

The district covers all of Nye County and parts of Clark and Lincoln counties, so the three boards of commissioners would have to nominate one candidate to fill the vacancy, then hold a joint meeting to discuss the nominees and choose a replacement, according to Rick Combs, the director of Nevada’s Legislative Council Bureau.

Filling a vacancy

The last time a multi-county legislative vacancy happened was 1981, when it occurred in both the Assembly and state Senate. It’s more common for a death to create a vacancy than it is for a vacancy to span multiple counties, Combs said.

Because Nye County controls a majority of the population in Assembly District 36, that commission will have control over the process, and in determining who the winner is, “to some extent,” Combs said.

Eric Roberts, executive director of the Assembly Republican Caucus, speculated that the candidate preferred by Nye County will be chosen, and said that there would be “some communication” among the county commissions before the formal meeting occurs.

Koenig said he won’t allow for names to be discussed behind “closed doors.”

“We will probably put an advertisement in the newspaper, and solicit names for a short period of time,” Koenig said. “And then we’ll have an open public meeting where we’ll sit down and debate, and decide what name we’ll pick.”

He said he has names in his mind, but would not divulge who they are. James Oscarson was elected to the seat in 2012 and held it for three terms, but in June was defeated by Hof in the Republican primary. Oscarson said Tuesday that it is too soon to speculate on who might be chosen if a replacement is needed.

“I think it’s very premature to even think or talk about that,” Oscarson said. “People need to have a chance to grieve and mourn.”

A spokesman for Steve Sisolak, the chairman of the Clark County Commission and the Democratic candidate for governor, would not comment. Paul Donohue, chairman of the Lincoln County Commission, was unaware of the news of Hof’s death when contacted by a Review-Journal reporter on Wednesday afternoon.

“I did not know that this had happened,” Donohue said. “I gotta digest this. This is amazing.”

Oscarson lost the primary to Hof in Nye County, but won in Lincoln and Clark counties.

“Maybe Clark and Lincoln would want to push him as their choice, since he won in their areas,” Roberts said.

‘Time is of the essence’

There is no set time limit on when the commission meetings must occur, but Combs said that “time is of the essence.”

“They’ll be encouraged to do it as quickly as they can,” Combs said.

Koenig agreed, adding that it would be “unacceptable” for the seat to be vacant when the session begins in February.

“I will be instructing staff for the eventuality that he does win,” Koenig said. “We’re not going to wait until the seventh (of November) or the night of the sixth. We’ll get everything lined up.”

But Koenig said he’s not counting out Romanov.

“At least with her, you know what you’re going to get,” Koenig said. “If you vote with him, you don’t know who you’re going to get. Be careful what you wish for.”

Keeping the seat Republican, Roberts said, could be crucial for Assembly GOP members as they head into the 2019 session with a Democrat majority in Assembly.

If they can get to or surpass 15 Republican members, or one-third of the Assembly, they can prevent new taxes from passing.

“It depends on where we’re sitting at the end of the night on Nov. 6,” he said.

Contact Natalie Bruzda at nbruzda@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3897. Follow @NatalieBruzda on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writer Mike Shoro contributed to this report.

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