Political Notebook: SF Democrats aid lesbian Nevada Senator Harris

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday July 2, 2024
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Nevada state Senator Dallas Harris speaks at an event. Photo: Courtesy the candidate's FB page
Nevada state Senator Dallas Harris speaks at an event. Photo: Courtesy the candidate's FB page

As she seeks reelection this year in a redrawn district, Nevada state Senator Dallas Harris is receiving a boost from her fellow Democrats in San Francisco. The lesbian married mom is one of several out-of-state candidates being aided by the local get-out-the-vote effort.

In addition to making phone calls and providing support on the ground this fall, the Bay Area party members have been hosting fundraisers for the various candidates running in the swing states of Nevada and Arizona. They are also aiding two Central California Democratic congressional candidates, Rudy Salas and Adam Gray, this cycle as they attempt to flip the seats blue and help Democrats retake control of the House.

Dallas, 38, who is the Democratic chief majority whip in her legislative chamber, told the Bay Area Reporter in a phone interview last month that she isn't concerned about facing political attacks due to having help from Bay Area Democrats.

"I am a gay Black woman. Support from San Francisco probably shouldn't throw off anyone who is willing to support me in the first place," said Harris. "I don't see that as an argument that is going to persuade folks away from me."

She was in San Francisco in mid-June for a fundraising swing during Pride Month co-hosted by a number of LGBTQ and Democratic groups. As she didn't draw an intraparty challenge, Dallas avoided a primary race on her state's June 11 ballot and advanced automatically to the November 5 contest.

She is fending off a challenge from attorney and married mom Lori Rogich, who won her Republican primary race in the state's 11th Senate District centered in Las Vegas. The state's Republican governor, Joe Lombardo, endorsed her, and her husband, Sig Rogich, has served as a consultant to a host of state and national Republicans and was named U.S. ambassador of Iceland, where he is from, by the late President George H.W. Bush.

Along with sections of the infamous Sin City, the district includes parts of Clark County, where Harris lives in an unincorporated area. It was redrawn to include more GOP voters and is a top pick-up target this year for Silver State Republicans.

"I went from having a (roughly) plus-17 to plus-7 in Democratic voter registration," said Harris, adding she expects a tough general election campaign. "I think they will come after me and give it their best shot."

In a likely boost for her electoral chances, this week it was reported that Nevada residents in November will vote on whether to protect the right to abortion in the state. Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade two years ago, ballot measures protecting the right to abortion in various states have been a winner for Democrats.

Both the Sister District Project San Francisco chapter and the Bay Area Coalition are aiming to see Harris win reelection to a second full term. Appointed to fill a vacancy in December 2018, Harris won a four-year term in 2020 with 58.6% of the vote.

"Dallas will need to introduce herself to new portions of this district and push back against the far-right attacks against her to win this purple district in November," the local Sister District Project noted in a backgrounder it put together about Harris and her race.

Martha Knutzen, a lesbian and longtime Democratic Party activist in San Francisco, has been helping to coordinate the weekly phone banking on behalf of Harris for the coalition that includes more than 40 grassroots groups based in the Bay Area. She was among the roughly 40 people who turned out for the June 22 fundraiser held for the candidate at an event space in the city's Marina district.

"Dallas Harris is a great candidate," Knutzen told the B.A.R., adding that she is also running "a good campaign" this year.

Through the phone calls local activists make between 1 and 3 p.m. every Wednesday, a list is compiled of the names of those voters in Harris' district who are undecided about the race. It is then passed along to Harris so she can reach out to them directly, explained Knutzen.

"A lot of times state races are won by one vote or 40 votes," she said. "We want to make sure we retain the Democratic majority in the Nevada Legislature."

Democrats currently control both chambers and have a two-thirds majority in the House. They would like to hold on to it as well as secure such a threshold in the state Senate in order to have the power to override vetoes by the governor.

"It would allow us to override the governor when he vetoes our legislation, which he is keen to do," said Harris.

Come November, Knutzen said she expects to see Harris be elected to another term.

"We pick winnable campaigns if we do this work," she noted. "I am just really proud we got to adopt her."

Dallas told the B.A.R. she is just as proud to have the support from San Franciscans and wasn't surprised to be paired with them by the Sister District Project.

"San Francisco has a very long history of political activism and caring about issues and people, and being willing to not just talk about it but be about it, so to speak," said Harris. "I am honored to have a little bit of that history working on my behalf as well."

It was the first fundraiser Harris has held in San Francisco, though she told the B.A.R. she has been to the city on previous trips. The Las Vegas native moved to Southern California after graduating from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in 2009 with a B.A. in computer science. (She had earned a B.A. in psychology from the school the year prior.)

She lived in the Inland Empire through 2012 while attending Claremont Graduate University where she earned a master's degree in public policy. From there she moved to Washington, D. C. and graduated in 2015 from the George Washington University Law School.

For two years Harris worked as a policy extern at Public Knowledge, a D.C.-based nonprofit that advocates for expanded broadband access and consumer protections. In mid-2019 she moved back to the Las Vegas area after being hired as an administrative attorney at the Public Utilities Commission.

Today, Harris is an attorney focused on energy law with the firm Davison Van Cleve. She and her wife, Summer Thomas-Harris, who is a social worker, have a daughter, Delaney Harris, 3, and a son, Lawrence Thomas, 12, whom her wife had from a previous marriage. The couple has been together since December 2017 and married in August 2019.

Harris serves part-time in her state's legislature, which is in session in odd years unless called back by the governor for an emergency session. She wants to continue serving in the Legislature because her work there isn't done, said Harris.

"I think there is just more to do," she said. "The role of state government, I don't think, has been more important in recent history given the fact that Congress is either unwilling or unable to grapple with some of the really large issues that affect Americans on a day-to-day level. A lot of that work is happening on the state level."

She pointed to her and her colleagues working to protect reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, and providing support to students who may be feeling suicidal or need assistance addressing other issues.

"I have really enjoyed doing that," said Harris. "I have a master's degree in public policy and a law degree, so my mind and background is somewhat suited to legislation and solving problems. So that is what I do."

Not only does she find serving in the Legislature to be "rewarding" and "fulfilling," Harris knows she serves as a role model by being a state senator.

"I think it is really important for other Nevadans to see people who look like them in these types of positions. If I am not there, they may not see that," she noted.

The number of out colleagues she has at the state Capitol is decreasing from five to perhaps three when the next legislative session begins in February, said Harris. One member is termed out this year, and a second opted against seeking another term this fall, plus an out candidate lost their primary race last month.

"Our numbers are getting smaller," said Harris.

She is allowed to serve 12 years in the state Senate (and could spend another 12 in the lower chamber). Asked about seeking higher office, Harris didn't rule it out in the future.

"I never thought I would be a state senator, and so, all of those additional opportunities are again something I never felt were within my grasp," Harris told the B.A.R. "If I get lucky and an opportunity presents itself and is right for me, I will take it. Just being able to serve the time I have in the state legislature has been a blessing."

To learn more about Harris and her candidacy, visit her campaign site at dallasharrisfornevada.com.

For more information about the work the Bay Area Coalition is doing to aid Harris and other candidates, visit its website at bayareacoalition.org.

Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check http://www.ebar.com Monday mornings for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reported on the July 2 recall vote of two Sunol school board members.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBTQ political news by following the Political Notebook on Threads @ https://www.threads.net/@matthewbajko

Got a tip on LGBTQ politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail [email protected]

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