By Mark Waite
Pete Goicoechea would seem to have a lot of advantages in the race for the new state Senate district: A Republican in a district with a Republican majority, a good campaign fund and years of experience in both state and local government.
But name recognition didn’t appear to be one of his assets, at least in Pahrump.
Attendees at his campaign kickoff events this past weekend were learning how to spell and pronounce his Basque name, which is pronounced like “Go-ka-chee-uh.”
Pahrump is at the southern end of the new state Senate 19 district, which includes almost all of eastern Nevada, including Ely and Elko.
Goicoechea made the rounds over the weekend, appearing at Nye County Republican Party Central Committee headquarters Friday, then on Saturday at a morning coffee klatch with state assembly candidate James Oscarson, followed by a meet and greet at Mountain Falls, a business leaders’ round table at Wulfy’s Restaurant and an evening reception at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No.10054.
The third generation Eureka County rancher said he came to Pahrump to meet local voters.
“That’s what we’re here doing. I don’t care whether they spell it right, if they just remember I’m the only Pete” on the ballot, Goicoechea said.
He certainly has less name recognition locally than his Pahrump opponent, Democrat Harley Kulkin, who defeated Laurayne Murray by 16 votes to win Nye County in the 2006 Democratic primary race for state assembly, but lost district wide. Murray eventually lost in the 2006 general election to Republican Ed Goedhart; she is now the Nye County Democratic Party chairman.
Registered Republicans outnumber Democrats in the new district 28,706 to 18,465. But Pahrump’s population of 36,441 is 28 percent of the district’s total of 128,606, according to the 2010 census. The new state Senate district is by far the largest in area in Nevada at 60,493 square miles, all the way from Primm to the Idaho border. It is the least densely populated with an average of 2.1 residents per square mile.
Goicoechea also has an opponent in the northern part of the district, Independent American Party candidate Janine Hansen, from Elko, who was a citizen advocate at the state Legislature. For the last two years Hansen’s expenses have been paid by conservative activist Chuck Muth, who once derided Goicoechea as “tax my meat Pete,” for proposing a tax on food to raise revenue in the last session.
For years, Pahrump has been represented in the state Senate by Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, from a Churchill County community 342 miles away. McGinness is term limited and can’t run for re-election. Eureka is still 330 miles away. Goicoechea doesn’t think that distance will be a problem winning the Pahrump vote.
“Probably the big, basic difference between Harley and I is 10 years experience in the Legislature. I am the Republican minority leader on the floor. I’m sure Harley can go back and do five sessions and maybe be able to represent you in the same level I can today. It’s clearly about experience, seniority. I know my way around the capitol. I am hoping we do have a Republican majority in the Senate, I would love to be a committee chair to make sure we can get some of this legislation out of the drawer and passed. That’s the big difference. It takes time. I paid my dues and I think I would probably be the better representative today,” Goicoechea said.
Nye County commissioners last week said Goicoechea agreed to sponsor a bill in the 2013 legislative session to transfer the historic Belmont courthouse from the Nevada Division of State Parks to the county. That allows Nye County to use its one bill draft request to push for more oil royalties from Railroad Valley.
Goicoechea said he would work in tandem with Oscarson, who faces a little known Democratic opponent in November for the state assembly district 36 seat.
“Probably the biggest difference between Harley and I, I’m going to be very dependent on James Oscarson to bring me the issues out of Pahrump. He lives here. He understands it. He will be the assemblyman. It’s my job as a representative to help him get that legislation in, passed and out and I think that’s something that’s really been kind of lacking in the state Senate. These guys get elected to the Senate and they forget where they came from. I truly believe I have ties in the assembly for the next couple sessions that will help me get legislation out of assembly and it truly wouldn’t hurt to be the majority party in the Senate and I think we can make a lot of stuff happen,” Goicoechea said.
An assemblyman from district 35 since 2002 and a 16-year Eureka County commissioner before that, Goicoechea raised $57,239.92 in campaign contributions by the June 7 reporting period Kulkin didn’t report raising any funds. Goicoechea’s biggest contribution was a $10,000 donation from the Senate Leadership Conference, based in Fallon.