In a letter highlighting the party’s recent difficulties with female voters, a group of Republican women has accused the state Senate’s Republican leader of sidelining the caucus’s only woman.
In the letter to Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson dated Tuesday, the group of Republican women complained that Sen. Barbara Cegavske, the longest serving state senator, lost her plum seat on the Senate Finance Committee and did not receive a position in caucus leadership.
The Republican Party “has a gender gap problem,” said the letter, signed by 12 leaders of GOP women’s groups and Sue Lowden, a former state senator and candidate for U.S. Senate.
“For some odd reason the Nevada Republican Senate Caucus does not realize this; and, in fact, seems to want to relegate women to the sidelines of politics,” the letter said.
The letter was first reported by conservative activist Chuck Muth, who has been a vocal critic of Roberson.
The letter said the Senate GOP caucus “seems to have turned their back on Republican women.”
Of the 10 Republicans in the state Senate, Cegavske is the only woman.
There are just two Assembly Republican women out of 15.
The letter also serves as a reminder that Republicans in the Nevada Legislature are a homogenous group: All are white.
Cegavske said she asked some of the women, a number of whom did not return calls for comment, not to send the letter.
“I have nothing to do with it,” Cegavske said. “I asked everyone not to send the letter. I can handle my own situation.”
But, she added, “It is unfortunate you don’t have any woman in a leadership position. You need to have a mix, both north and south, female and male.”
Cegavske was a member of the Senate Finance Committee last session and was assistant minority leader. She said she did request to be on the Senate Finance Committee again, though leadership positions were elected by members of the caucus.
Cegavske, who lost a primary to Danny Tarkanian to run for a congressional seat, has been a more conservative member of the Republican Senate caucus, which has taken a more moderate tack in the past year. She said she hasn’t committed to extending taxes set to expire this year, as Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval and Roberson have done.
“I still think we have a spending problem that needs to be corrected,” she said.
Roberson said he only had three spots on the Senate Finance Committee. He felt one should be from Northern Nevada, one from a rural county and one from Southern Nevada.
He said as leader, he appointed himself to the Senate Finance Committee, which approves and reviews state spending, so he’d have a better understanding of the budget.
“If there had been four spots, I’d love to have had Barbara,” he said. “I have a great deal of respect for Barbara Cegavske. She’s an important part of our caucus and will continue to be.”
Roberson said he recognizes that the Republican caucus needs to become more diverse. He tried to recruit women to run in four open competitive Senate seats. The one candidate who ran, Mari Nakashima St. Martin, lost a close race to Democrat Justin Jones.
“We have the same goal: to recruit more women, more minorities,” he said. “I do not want our party to be the party of old white men. It has been a priority of mine and will continue to be a priority.”
Assembly Republicans also have no women in leadership positions. Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey, R-Reno, said he recognizes the lack of diversity but noted that female and Hispanic candidates lost their elections.
“We are actively trying to identify women and minorities,” he said.
Democratic membership in the Assembly and Senate, meanwhile, is very diverse. Five of the 11 Senate Democrats are nonwhite, including Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, the state’s first Hispanic leader of a house. Three of the members are women.
"We think diversity is important, and our caucus leadership is reflective of the people of Nevada,” Denis said in a statement.
He said members are “male, female, Hispanic, African-American and openly gay, which I think shows a commitment to inclusiveness by our caucus and the Democratic Party.”
Assembly Democrats are led by Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-Las Vegas, who is in line to be the state’s second female speaker when the Legislature begins Feb. 4.