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Democrats hoping to unseat Hardy hold debate

LAS VEGAS – Three Democratic candidates running for the 4th Congressional District seat made their pitch on Monday, answering questions in a televised debate about issues like racial inequality and education.

On stage were three of the four Democrats hoping for a chance to unseat U.S. Rep. Cresent Hardy, R-Nevada — Ruben Kihuen, a Nevada state senator; John Oceguera, a retired North Las Vegas firefighter and former speaker of the Nevada Assembly; and Susie Lee, a philanthropist. Lucy Flores, a former assemblywoman, didn’t participate because of a scheduling conflict.

The winner of the Democratic primary will face Hardy, a first-term Republican in a district dominated by Democats, in the 2016 general election.

About 150 attended the event at Las Vegas City Hall, which was hosted by the Clark County Black Caucus, the Las Vegas Chapter of the NAACP and The Minister’s Alliance of Southern Nevada. Las Vegas City Councilman Ricki Barlow moderated the event.

The candidates seldom took jabs at each other, and often agreed on key points. Asked about the disproportionate expulsion rates for black students, the candidates said education must be a priority.

Kihuen said the high dropout rates need to be addressed and students need more opportunities to attend college.

Oceguera noted related problems, such as high incarceration rates.

“We’ve got to solve a lot of problems, not just the education problem,” he said.

Lee said poverty needs to be addressed, as well as eliminating the achievement gap that prevents students from reading at grade level.

Candidates were asked if the system should be changed so that juveniles younger than 16 aren’t tried as adult offenders.

Oceguera said that should be on a case-by-case basis and he can’t commit to a specific age.

Kihuen said he believes in second chances and that the key is to “invest in education and not incarceration.”

Lee echoed that, adding that investing in mental health services is crucial.

Asked about the impact of traffic fines for minor violations that keep people jailed if they can’t afford to pay, Lee said social justice reform needs to be a priority.

Kihuen and Oceguera highlighted incarceration of people caught with a small amount of marijuana, calling it a problem.

The district includes the northern reaches of Clark County, North Las Vegas, and all or parts of six rural counties.

The filing period for candidates to get on the ballot in Nevada isn’t until next March, but the candidates have all filed with the Federal Election Commission and started raising money.

The primaries are on June 14 and the general election is Nov. 8. The debate was televised on KCLV Channel 2 and will be rebroadcast.

Contact Ben Botkin at bbotkin@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2904. On Twitter: @BenBotkin1

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