LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Carson City might be a sleepy small town next to the glitz and bustle of Las Vegas, but plenty has changed leading up to this year’s Nevada Legislature, which convenes Monday, Feb. 6.

The “old normal” of Nevada politics went out with the pandemic, but as the “new normal” fades in our memories, the capital city has seen changes that aren’t limited to just politics.

Las Vegas Democrat Steve Yeager, who will be leading the Nevada Assembly, said, “I am looking forward to once again having a more normal legislative session. A fully open building makes for better legislation.”

Here are some of the most interesting changes ahead for politicians, lobbyists and observers at this year’s session:

CUTTING DEALS

What happens in view of the public is sometimes only a sliver of the story. Political dealmaking often happens in backrooms or in restaurants and bars after hours.

Adele’s was that place as the Legislature opened in 2019, a popular gathering spot for kingmakers and lawmakers. But a fire damaged the business midway through the session, and there’s still not a clear replacement where deals will go down. Among the candidates:

  • The Bank Saloon. A new arrival in an old location at Carson Street and W. 5th Street — the site of the infamous Jack’s Bar, a long-shuttered hangout for power brokers. The Bank Saloon is a new venture by Richard Brugiel, who owns another restaurant adjacent to the State Capitol — Mangia Tutto, at Musser Street and Stewart Street. The location alone makes The Bank Saloon a possible place to duck out of the public eye long enough for a handshake deal. Word is that the food will come from Mangia Tutto, so it’s hard to say how that will play out.
  • The Fox. A rebranding of the Firkin Fox, directly across the street from the Nevada Legislature. Owner Jim Phalan welcomes the opportunity that could come with serving the state’s power elite. A recent remodeling and the hiring of Adele’s Charlie Abowd is expected to elevate the menu. “The Fox would make a perfect fit, specifically in our back bar called The Fox’s Den,” Phalan said Thursday. “We are also located at The McFadden Plaza, where we are flanked by our plaza neighbor Piazza, offering an elevated wine menu and food menu. Really, if anyone needs to broker a deal, they need only to come to the Plaza!”
  • Others: Opportunities for existing restaurants to step into the role of Adele’s really never happened because of tight health and safety restrictions that arrived just as Adele’s went out. Mangia Tutto’s location gives it a good chance. Italian mainstay Garibaldi’s and Thai Basil are nearby on Carson Street, right next to a cigar bar. It might just depend on the tastes of new leaders. Or maybe the dealing will stay in the public eye. (Not a chance.)

Yeager mentioned The Fox move to bring on Abowd as welcome news, and added that The Bank Saloon is already a popular place to meet for a drink and discussion.

“They know how to make cocktails and their proximity to the building is a big plus,” he said.

WHO’S IN CHARGE?

There’s a new sheriff in town — ahem, governor. After four years under Democrat Steve Sisolak, leadership shifts to Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo. He has already said he intends to be active with legislation to toughen criminal laws. His budget backs more spending on education, and he says he doesn’t intend to make deals that push decisions down the road.

In the Nevada Legislature, Steve Yeager will lead the Assembly and Las Vegas Democrat Nicole Cannizzaro is at the helm in the Senate. They lead a Legislature that is female majority for the second-straight session after becoming the first-ever such legislature two years ago. Since then, Colorado has elected a female-majority legislature.

The Governor’s Mansion in Carson City, a few blocks west of the State Capitol, has a new resident this year after Joe Lombardo’s election victory over Steve Sisolak. (Greg Haas / 8NewsNow)

With a Republican governor and a Democratic supermajority in the Assembly, there could be a lot of push and pull. Lombardo’s veto won’t carry as much weight. Hot debates over private school funding might be ahead, but Yeager has said public money should be for public schools. Five first-term lawmakers — four Democrats and one Republican — bring backgrounds in education, which could mean a louder voice for schools and teachers this year.

Democrats hold a 13-8 advantage in the Senate, and a 28-14 edge in the Assembly.

The first-term members in each house:

Senate:
District 2: Edgar Flores (D)
District 12: Julie Pazina (D)
District 13: Skip Daly (D)
District 16: Lisa Krasner (R)
District 17: Robin Titus (R)
District 20: Jeff Stone (R)

Assembly:
District 8: Duy Nguyen (D)
District 13: Bryan Hibbetts (R)
District 14: Erica Mosca (D)
District 19: Thaddeus Yurek (R)
District 23: Danielle Gallant (R)
District 25: Selena La Rue Hatch (D)
District 26: Rich DeLong (R)
District 27: Angie Taylor (D)
District 28: Reuben D’Silva (D)
District 33: Bert Gurr (R)
District 37: Shea Backus (D)
District 38: Gregory Koenig (R)
District 39: Ken Gray (R)

In addition to potential Lombardo/Democrat clashes ahead, the governor has a Democrat as his Attorney General. Aaron D. Ford won re-election to that seat, and it might be interesting to see how their relationship plays out.

Another new face on the Carson City scene: Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar, a Democrat who takes over for Republican Barbara Cegavske — who wasn’t the most popular voice among Republican leaders during the Trump administration. Aguilar narrowly defeated Republican opponent Jim Marchant, and the GOP is likely to keep Aguilar under the microscope for the duration of the job.

Lombardo has allies in Republican Lt. Gov. Stavros Anthony and Republican Andy Matthews, who won election as State Controller.

GETTING THERE BY AIR OR EV

After the recent problems with Southwest Airlines flight cancellations and delays, it’s good to know there are choices — just a few — for people traveling to Northern Nevada.

Southwest used to be the only game in town, but three other major airlines are offering flights to Reno. Although the flights are extremely limited compared to Southwest’s schedule, discount carriers Frontier and Spirit are far below Southwest’s fares, and even Allegiant has fares for about 60% of a Southwest ticket.

“I am certainly worried about the cost of flying Southwest Airlines and the lack of other options that fly on a regular basis,” Yeager said this week.

We checked prices across all four airlines on Thursday, and although there are only a few seats left on each carrier for travel Saturday or Sunday, here’s what we found:

  • Allegiant Airlines: one way on Sunday, $126
  • Frontier Airlines: one way on Saturday, $46 (first two weekends in Feb. only)
  • Spirit Airlines: one way on Sunday, $89
  • Southwest Airlines: one way on Sunday, $213

Of all the airlines, Southwest is the only one flying every day to Reno-Tahoe International Airport. A look at Southwest’s full schedule through February shows one-way fares varying from $79 to $213, depending on the day of the week you are traveling.

Too late to book a flight? Then you’ve got a seven-hour drive up U.S. 95 to Carson City, about 420 miles with an obligatory stop in Beatty at the Death Valley Candy and Nut Company.

Don’t worry about charging your electric vehicle along the way. There ain’t much to see on the highway, but you will find EV charging stations in Beatty, Tonopah, Hawthorne and Yerington. Tesla charging stations are in Beatty and Tonopah; Chargepoint is available in all four towns along the way.

Tonopah is about the halfway point. If you need to charge, go just past the Mizpah Hotel and take a left on Oddie Avenue to Pocket Park to find a Tesla Supercharger.

Did we mention that there’s still gas available along the way, too?

CARSON CITY DOINGS

Assuming you don’t just go straight to Lake Tahoe for a weekend at the ski slopes amid this year’s record snowfall, you might just fall in love with Carson City. It’s a friendly town that knows the importance of the temporary invasion every two years.

The city of about 60,000 is getting bigger all the time, filling up the valley about 35 miles south of Reno. On the west, the snowcapped Sierra Nevada range and Lake Tahoe. To the east, sparsely covered hills that were swarming with miners 170 years ago as the Comstock Lode brought hordes to Virginia City.

There are enough residents to attract businesses you expect — places like Costco, Target, a full complement of auto dealerships and plenty of casinos. But plenty can change, too. The hulking Ormsby House hotel sitting empty just southwest of the State Capitol Building is a reminder that sometimes big dreams don’t work out when it’s two years between busy times.

Probably due to the pandemic, there are fewer changes to the business landscape. Established businesses rode out the slow times, but few new places have appeared. Notably, Chick-Fil-A and Panera Bread set up shop along Carson Street a short drive south from the capitol complex.

Another fixture on Carson Street, Comma Coffee, is expected to reopen its doors by the time lawmakers return. The coffee shop has been cleared for opening by the health department, according to a sign in the window. The details made headlines in Carson City over the past two weeks.

Comma Coffee was shut down on Jan. 18 for repeated violations and an inspection that found mouse droppings near food prep areas. Seems the resident cat was a little behind on its duties. Proprietor June Joplin has been working on fixing pipes that froze during the shutdown, city officials told 8 News Now.

Comma Coffee, shown with the Ormsby House in the background and Firkin & Fox — now just The Fox — on the right in this Feb. 2, 2015, photo. (Greg Haas / 8NewsNow)

During the 2021 session, Carson Street and Curry Street were torn up. Now, the streets have new landscaping, pedestrian and bicycle paths and additional parking access. A roundabout at Carson and Stewart streets will be the future home of an art installation, according to Carson City officials.

“During session, we will be completing construction projects on Colorado and Roop Streets,” according to information provided by the city. “We are also excited about the coming improvements to East William Street, Carson City’s third Complete Streets Project following the successful downtown and South Carson corridor transformations.”

The East William Street project will not be finished before the Legislature adjourns, officials said.

For outdoors enthusiasts, the Kings Canyon Trailhead and Prison Hill OHV Area improvement projects are finished. Six miles of new trails are open. Tennis and pickleball courts are also available at Mills Park — including an indoor pickleball court.

More events during the Legislature:

  • The Carson City Downtown Business Association will host a Wine Walk in the downtown corridor on the first Saturday of every month starting in March.
  • The city is also prepping for something new: the inaugural Mark Twain Days Festival in downtown Carson City, April 21-23.
  • On May 20, Fuji Park will host Stetina’s Paydirt Gravel Grinder race, an exciting gravel/mountain bike race.