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Nevada attorney general candidate stops in Pahrump

Wes Duncan, a Nevada attorney general candidate, stopped in Pahrump where he answered questions from the Pahrump Valley Times.

Duncan is a former assistant attorney to Nevada attorney general and now Nevada gubernatorial candidate Adam Laxalt. Duncan’s stop in Pahrump on Nov. 9 also came a day after his former boss wrapped up his statewide tour at Nye County Republican Headquarters in Pahrump.

Duncan left the Nevada attorney general’s office last summer for a job at Hutchison and Steffen, a Las Vegas law firm, as he was gearing up for his political bid.

“I’m running for Nevada attorney general because I want to make Nevada the safest place to raise a family,” said Duncan, who has two children, ages 4 and 3.

“I tell people, I want them to be able to look back at their lives and say that their dad did everything that he could to try to make our communities and our state safer,” Duncan said.

Arrival in Nevada

Duncan, a native of California, came to Nevada in 2007 because he was stationed at Nellis Air Force Base as an active duty judge advocate general. At the end of 2008, he deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

As with his former boss, Laxalt, Duncan worked as a judge advocate general with the Iraqi court system to assist in prosecuting al-Qaida and other extremist groups in Baghdad.

“That experience in Iraq really shaped the way that I look at safety and security, and the rule of law,” Duncan said. “I really realize that if you don’t have safety and security in your community, nothing else matters,” Duncan said.

He also served as a Republican assemblyman from District 37. He won election to the Assembly in 2012 and was re-elected for another two years in November 2014 prior to joining the Laxalt office.

The campaign

Duncan launched his campaign a day after Laxalt announced that he is going to seek the governor’s seat. Unlike Laxalt, Duncan didn’t kick off an official campaign tour. Instead, he has been traveling to various locations across the state where he has been meeting with constituents.

“That’s for me one of the most exciting parts of the race is being able to make personal connections with people and tell them why I’m passionate about running for attorney general,” Duncan said.

In the Republican primary, Duncan will face Las Vegas attorney Craig Mueller, who announced his bid for the state’s top law enforcement office earlier this month.

On the Democratic side, Nevada Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford was first to announce his bid for the attorney general’s seat in September, setting up a competitive race. Ford recently received an endorsement from Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson.

Laxalt recently endorsed Duncan in the race. Duncan’s campaign also announced receiving endorsements from 15 of the state’s 17 sheriffs last week. Another endorsement came from 13 former and current Nevada’s district attorneys, including Nye County District Attorney Angela Bello.

Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo also released a statement signaling support for Duncan.

“Wes Duncan is a man of the utmost integrity.As a former Air Force Judge Advocate General and criminal prosecutor, he brings the right experience to public service,” Lombardo said in a statement.

On the issues

Duncan lists mental health, safety and reaching out to victims of human trafficking as his top priorities.

He said his message to law enforcement is always going to be “that I have their back and that I’ll do everything that I can to give them the support and encouragement they need to be successful to keep us safe.”

“One of the huge priorities for me is going to be trying to work collaboratively with all of our sheriffs, our chiefs and our district attorneys to try to bring down violent crime in our communities, and really have the attorney general’s office work very closely with our law enforcement and give them the resources that they need, give them the type of training that they need,” Duncan said.

“I tell people that I’m going to wake up every day as the attorney general and I’m going to focus on how can I make our communities and our state safer,” Duncan said.

Duncan said that one of his priorities at Adam Laxalt’s office was reduction of the backlog of untested sexual assault kits, some of which dated back to the mid-1980’s. The Nevada attorney general’s office was able to use non-taxpayer funds to test the sexual assault kits.

Duncan said he is also proud of the Office of Military and Legal Assistance, an attorney general office-led program where private lawyers work pro bono on cases of active duty members and reservists.

Sage grouse, Yucca

Duncan said another role of the attorney general’s office is to push back against the federal government. He praised Laxalt on fighting the sage grouse issue in Nevada.

“The sage grouse plan really eliminated the rural way of life, whether it was livestock or mining or ranching or farming. It really would have limited that because of the Sage Grouse designation, and the land plan that the federal government wanted to put in,” Laxalt said.

Echoing Laxalt, Duncan said that he supports the continuing litigation against Yucca Mountain. The efforts to stuff the nation’s nuclear waste into the Nye County mountain were renewed earlier this year after the Trump administration proposed $120 million for licensing of the nuclear waste dump in its blueprint budget.

“The Nevada attorney general’s office has continued to fight against that and continues to litigate that issue,” Duncan said.

He said it remains to be seen what the federal government’s steps are going to on the issue before the state can craft its legal strategy accordingly.

“The state has hired consultants and outside counsel to help with that, but really, the litigation would be shaped by what is being proposed at the federal level,” Duncan said.

Gun sales

Duncan said that the attorney general’s office doesn’t have a role in enforcing Nevada’s federal background check law for gun sales between private buyers, which narrowly passed in November 2016. The measure hit a roadblock later as state and federal officials disagreed on the issue.

In December 2015, the FBI sent a letter to the Nevada Department of Public Safety saying that it would not conduct these checks.

Laxalt later released a statement that Nevada residents can’t be prosecuted for their inability to comply with the act until the FBI agrees to conduct the background checks.

“The AG’s office doesn’t have a role in terms of doing something about it,” Duncan said. “The role goes back to either the Legislature or the executive branch. We are what’s called a point of contact state, which means we do a very comprehensive background check for anybody who is trying to purchase a gun.”

Duncan said the issue is going to remain in limbo until the federal officials take action.

“Until the state changes its point of contact status or the FBI decides that they can do these types of checks, … the state of that question I think will remain the same,” Duncan said.

Duncan demurred on education funding and the commerce tax, saying that those types of policy questions are left to the legislators and governor.

“Obviously, we want to have an education system that works,” he said. “I’m a proponent of school choice, using charter schools, having school choice to allow parents to be able to send their kids to the school that they need to.”

Contact reporter Daria Sokolova at dsokolova@pvtimes.com. On Twitter: @dariasokolova77

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