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The race for lieutenant governor typically is lackluster, but this year, the outcome could be a game changer for some of the state’s most powerful politicians.
The winner would replace Nevada’s sitting governor, Republican Brian Sandoval, if he opts to run for the U.S. Senate in 2016.
Sandoval would be challenging veteran Harry Reid, a Democrat who has been serving in the U.S. Senate since 1986. Reid is one of the most powerful Democrats in Congress, currently holding the post of Senate Majority Leaders.
Reid has stumped for rising star Lucy Flores, the Democratic state assemblywoman running for lieutenant governor.
Flores is plucky, easily speaking with candor about things many politicians would downplay.
She talks about an abortion she had in her teens, and the life on the wrong side of the law that she lived as a young adult.
During those darker years, Flores stole cars and belonged to gangs.
Her story is one of redemption, of reinventing yourself and hoping others can draw strength from it for themselves, she says.
She graduated from law school and went on to successfully run for the state legislature.
If she becomes lieutenant governor, she would be a heartbeat away from being the state’s chief executive if Sandoval cannot, or chooses not to, continue to serve.
If elected, Flores, 34, would be the first Latina to occupy the post.
“I feel nervous incrementally as we get closer [to the election],” Flores told Fox News Latino. “We’ve done a really awesome job, generally speaking. Everyone has done everything they possibly can do. I leave it up to fate.”
Characteristically, Flores envisions the office, which routinely has devoted its attention to tourism and transportation, among other things, having a broader and more substantive role.
Flores says she wants to give the state’s youth a shot at success, opportunities such as she had, even in the face of daunting odds.
She said the state has the lowest performing indicators out there, whether graduation rates, performance scores, in reading and math.”
“We’ve done poorly in terms of ensuring our students and teachers have the resources they need to deal – quite frankly – with many of the challenges our kids are experiencing these days, whether drugs, poverty-related issues, homelessness, kids showing up to school hungry.”
Her rival in the race, Republican State Sen. Mark Hutchison, also said he wants to focus on helping his constituents to attain the same “American dream” he was able to achieve through decades of hard work.
His mission is to give that same opportunity to his constituents.
“I think what Nevadans are really focused on is ‘What are you going to do in terms of governmental policies, laws, and ways in which we can make sure our families are having those same opportunities,’” Hutchinson said.
Though they have ideological differences on how to help people in the state succeed, both candidates seem to agree on one thing: Nevada’s education system—consistently ranked one of the worst in the country—needs an overhaul.
Flores and Hutchinson oppose a ballot measure to increase corporate taxes to fund education.
Hutchinson said he’d like to replace poorly performing teachers with quality educators and make it a priority to help all students learn English. Nearly half of the students in Nevada are Hispanic.
Flores wants to improve education by making changes to the state’s tax structure, which hasn’t been updated in decades.
On the economy, Hutchinson said he wants to return Nevada to its pre-recession days by bringing in new jobs and making the economy conducive to potential business owners.
“Continuing to see the economic comeback we’ve seen under Brian Sandoval is very important,” Hutchinson said.
Flores supports a hike in the minimum wage to help low and middle-income families. Hutchinson said the increase would hurt business owners who create jobs.
Flores says for too long Nevada was intoxicated by its own gilded trappings. People could make a lot of money, she said, without even having a high school diploma. They could work in the casinos or as valets, and sometimes command six figures, Flores said.
But when the economy tanked, so did many of the industries that lined many Nevadans’ pockets, and the strong education that the state lacked suddenly was crucial.
“Gaming and tourism took a huge loss,” she said, “those jobs became scarce. People began realizing that we need to focus on education. For many years we were unable to bring new businesses to Nevada. They looked at our education system and would take a pass.”
Now, Flores points to herself of what can a good education can lead to, what investing in young people can produce later.
“If it weren’t for my mentors, for the resources that came my way, I very well could have ended up on the same path I was on,” she said, referring to a life of crime.
To young people who may feel adrift, who may see a bleak future, she says this:
“Look at me, and many others [like me], and recognize that every single person has challenges in life,” she said. “There’s never going to be a time when there isn’t a challenge.”