CARSON CITY — Barbara Cegavske knows her way around the statehouse in Carson City after spending 18 years in the Nevada Legislature. But her recent promotion to Secretary of State — Nevada’s third highest-ranking constitutional office — means an upgrade to prime State Capitol space and a new platform for advancing her priorities.
The 63-year-old Las Vegas Republican is making the office her own with a collection of watercolors of Nevada’s official state animals, but also with plans that include streamlining the online licensing process to make it easier for businesses to set up shop in the Silver State.
“We want to make Nevada the premier state to do business in, and I believe we can do that,” she told The Associated Press.
Less popular is her goal of requiring voters to show photo ID at the ballot box — something she said will ensure the integrity of elections, but that opponents say will disenfranchise voters, especially among groups that tend to vote Democratic.
Cegavske, who defeated Democratic former Treasurer Kate Marshall 50 percent to 46 percent in November, ran for the post after terming out of a state Senate seat she held for 12 years and coming in second place in 2012 during a crowded Republican primary for Congress. Prior to the Senate, she served three terms in the Nevada Assembly.
A Minnesota native, Cegavske came to Las Vegas and was managing apartments and working at a restaurant when she met her husband, Tim. She married in 1980, had two sons and has been involved in a range of community organizations including the Parent Teacher Association, Clark County School District study committees and Trinity United Methodist Church. For 13 years, the Cegavskes owned a 7-Eleven.
As secretary of state, she’s responsible for about 130 employees who supervise elections, oversee notaries, register trademarks and businesses and regulate securities. Her office could take even more of the spotlight if lawmakers approve Gov. Brian Sandoval’s plan to restructure the state’s flat, $200 annual business license fee as part of an effort to raise $1.1 billion in new revenue. He proposed a tiered structure that starts at $400 and scales up to $4 million depending on a company’s annual revenue and industry type.
Sandoval’s proposal could conflict with her strategy for bringing back some of the estimated 30,000 businesses that left the state during the recession. Before the governor unveiled his plan, Cegavske said she thought the $200 fee made Nevada uncompetitive with other states.
“I would rather have more businesses here and charge less,” she said.
As Secretary of State, Cegavske is pushing for a law that requires voters to show photo identification before they can cast a ballot. The current system requires voters to sign their names at the poll, and the look of the signature is cross checked with an image in the voter registration database.
Thirty-one states have stricter identification requirements than Nevada. Former Secretary of State Ross Miller’s plan to implement photo ID never took off in part because of the cost of taking pictures on-site for those without ID. But Cegavske thinks it should be revived, with changes to make it cheaper.
“This is one way that we can assure the public that elections are done properly,” she said.
The plan has drawn strident criticism from groups that say it will discourage voters who don’t have photo identification — elderly residents who no longer have a driver’s license, for example. They’ve also panned it as a solution in search of a problem, noting that only two voter fraud cases were prosecuted last year.
“They just make it harder to vote, and we don’t believe voting should be hard for eligible people,” said Sen. Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas.
But Cegavske argues that in an era when ID is required to get welfare, a job or Social Security, it shouldn’t be a problem.
“I’m very proud to be a Nevadan, and I’m very proud to be a citizen, and showing my identification when I vote has never been something that I think should be an issue,” she said.
CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM
During the campaign, Marshall criticized Cegavske for opposing ethics reform during her years on the legislative operations and elections committee, including voting against a major campaign finance bill proposed in 2013 by former Secretary of State Ross Miller.
“Transparency is critical. You need to follow the money,” said Marshall, who would like to see Nevada disclosures be at least as rigorous as federal ones. “I believe we could do much more.”
Critics say Nevada campaign finance disclosures are inadequate and withhold from the public the full picture of who’s influencing politicians. They want clearer rules on what kinds of gifts politicians can accept, more immediate disclosure of donations and reports of how much cash campaigns have in the bank.
Cegavske said she’s not opposed to transparency and supports reporting donations and expenditures as often as monthly, but argues that real-time disclosures could be onerous and expensive for candidates who pay accountants to file the paperwork.
“If the citizens really cared about that, it would be an issue,” she noted. “I’ve never had any constituent ask me anything about my financial disclosures. The only people that want it is reporters and your opponent.”
But Nevada Press Association Director Barry Smith said decision makers shouldn’t avoid beefing up rules just because they haven’t fielded requests from everyday people. The Associated Press is a member of the media group.
“Part of a reporter’s job is to be the eyes and ears of the public. Not everybody wants to sift through campaign reports to see what’s there,” Smith said. “Money does influence politics, and reporting on campaign finances helps people understand how and why.”