CARSON CITY, Nev. — A resolution urging Gov. Brian Sandoval to conduct a public process to fill Nevada's U.S. Senate seat being vacated by John Ensign was passed Monday by the Nevada Assembly and Senate along strict party-line voice votes.
Ensign last week announced he will resign effective May 3. There is wide speculation that Sandoval will appoint Republican Rep. Dean Heller to replace him. That move would set up the need for an historic special election in Nevada to fill Heller's seat in the House.
Assembly Concurrent Resolution 8 says, in part, that the governor "should propose a timeline of not less than one week for any qualified Nevadans to apply and formally submit their names for consideration for appointment as a temporary replacement ... " and that the public be given a week to comment before an appointment is made.
"The ramifications of this decision go beyond partisan politics," Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, said on the floor, just before the ACR8 passed on a voice vote. The Nevada Senate passed the resolution later in the day, also on a party-line vote.
"I have no doubt the Gov. Sandoval will do what governors both Republican and Democrat have done before him and select an individual to capably fill this seat," said Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, speaking against the measure on the floor.
Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to the Republican governor, said Sandoval appreciated the Legislature's input but added, "this is a decision of the governor's."
Sandoval last week said he would make his decision before May 3.
Erquiaga told reporters Sandoval has spoken with former governors Bob Miller, Bob List and Paul Laxalt, who also served in the U.S. Senate. An announcement on Ensign's replacement is expected this week.
The governor, Erquiaga said, would appoint someone who shared Ensign's political ideology.
Sig Rogich, a Republican consultant, said Sandoval should appoint "whoever has the best opportunity to be elected" in the 2012 election.
"When you have the opportunity to make an appointment like this, you have to look at the long view," he said. A candidate's fundraising abilities must also be considered, he said, "because it would be a waste to appoint someone who doesn't have the potential to be a longtime senator."
Heller already announced he would run for the Senate next year, and has raised $1.4 million for the campaign. Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., also announced her candidacy. Berkley has raised $1.5 million, according to Federal Election Commission disclosure reports.
Also on Monday, Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D- Sparks, said she will not be a candidate if a special election is held. Smith is speaker pro-tem and chairwoman of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.
In a statement, Smith said "education in Nevada, for which I have been a passionate advocate my entire adult life, is being threatened and I feel it is my responsibility to remain 100 percent focused on this budget and the fight for education funding."
Over the weekend, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported that Democrat Nancy Price, a former regent, said she would run in a special election. Price ran against Heller last fall and lost. She did not actively campaign.
Republicans who've said they will run include state Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno. Others include tea party favorite Sharron Angle and former Navy Cmdr. Kirk Lippold, who already announced their intent to run next fall.
State GOP chairman Mark Amodei and Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki also are considering entering the race.
But questions remain on the process and whether anyone interested in running during the special election could do so, or if state central committees can choose their party's candidate.
The secretary of state's office was still researching the issue Monday.