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Spiegel, Matthews seek to parlay legislative experience into state controller job

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Two candidates with legislative experience are vying for what is likely the most under-the-radar executive branch office on the statewide ballot this year — the accounting-focused position of state controller.

After one-term Democratic incumbent Catherine Byrne decided not to pursue re-election, former five-term Democratic Assemblywoman Ellen Spiegel is likely to face the only Republican candidate, Assemblyman Andy Matthews, in the November election. Democrat Alex Costa and Libertarian Jed William Profeta have also jumped in the race, but neither candidate has a public profile or raised or spent any campaign money during the first quarter.

Last year, Spiegel announced her intent to run for secretary of state but later switched to seek the job of the controller in February, avoiding a potentially dicey Democratic primary with former Nevada Athletic Commission Chair Cisco Aguilar, who had garnered big-name support for the secretary of state role. Both Byrne and Gov. Steve Sisolak showed their support for Spiegel when she announced she would run for controller instead.

“When I heard that the current controller Catherine Byrne was not running for re-election, the governor called me and asked me to consider,” Spiegel said in an interview with VT. “And I realized that with my background, vision and business experience, I’m very well-suited for the position.”

The state controller is the chief fiscal officer of the state of Nevada and is responsible for administering the state’s accounting system, registering vendors, settling all claims against the state and collecting debts owed to the state. The controller also sits on the transportation board and on the executive branch audit committee.

Each controller is limited by the state constitution to two four-year terms and yearly compensation is around $100,000. The controller’s office publishes a 24-page Controller’s Annual Report, also known as the Popular Annual Financial Report, so citizens can access information about the state’s finances.

Ellen Spiegel

Raised in the small Long Island town of Jericho, New York, Spiegel has a degree in consumer economics from Cornell University and has 40 years of experience working with businesses such as American Express and The Weather Channel. She said her business background would be the perfect fit for the state controller position.

“I’ve always been a policy geek,” Spiegel said at a Las Vegas event hosted by the group Hispanics in Politics on May 4. “I’m always looking at people, always looking at doing things in a different way. I’m looking to take what’s there and reinvent it and do it in a way that makes sense from a financial perspective.”

Spiegel also developed one of the first online stores that let people purchase software and download it to their computers, and supported the development of internet privacy and email marketing guidelines that protect consumers. She owns a Nevada-based consulting firm with her husband Bill.

According to her campaign website, Spiegel sponsored two anti-gender discrimination bills that were signed into state law in 2017 and aimed to protect equal pay for equal work. She also authored a bill in 2019 that mandates health coverage for pre-existing conditions and gives consumers better access to specialists.

After spending a decade in the Assembly and narrowly losing a state Senate bid in 2020, Spiegel said it’s time for something new. Of Jewish faith, she said she believes in “tikkun olam,” a concept in Judaism that refers to repairing the world, and said she wants to contribute to her community.

“As I look at the challenges that are facing Nevada, we’ve got an awful lot of problems related to our financial state,” Spiegel said at the event. “Our taxes are low and we love living here, but it can be hard to have enough money to go around and fund the things that we want to, such as fixing our schools.”

Spiegel said she has a plan to tackle the state’s financial problems. She wants to introduce a Right Track program — one of the ideas from her secretary of state campaign — that can help disadvantaged entrepreneurs get a business license and mentoring for success.

“The thing is, our business license is kind of crazy,” Spiegel said. “And I agree that there should be pricing. But if you are struggling with business because you are unemployed or underemployed, you don’t have that kind of money to fork over to the state when you don’t even know if your business is going to be successful.”

Under the Right Track program, Spiegel said individuals would get to start their business with a provisional business license for free, provided they agree to mentoring. She added that the mentoring aspect will bring a greater likelihood of success and the “stable line of financial defense” would give people a leg up, benefiting the state by saving on social services.

“We need to have our fiscal house in order,” said Spiegel. “And people have been trying to address these problems for as long as I can remember, but I actually have ideas on how we can do it.”

So far, Spiegel has raised about $21,000 and has spent $26,000. She received $2,500 from a PAC affiliated with Clark County Commissioner Michael Naft and individual donations from Byrne, former Rep. Shelley Berkley and Assemblywoman Shea Backus.

She has close to $130,000 in cash on hand, which is about $30,000 less than her Republican opponent, Andy Matthews. Most of her expenses, about $18,000, were spent on payroll.

Republican Andy Matthews

A first-term assemblyman, Matthews previously headed the conservative advocacy group Nevada Policy Research Institute, which supports more schooling options, low tax solutions and increased transparency around public sector compensation.

He defeated Democratic incumbent Shea Backus in Las Vegas’ Assembly District 37 by 2 percentage points in 2020. Matthews did not respond to multiple interview requests from VT.

Matthews was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts. He graduated from Boston University’s College of Communication and began his career as a sports journalist at media outlets including Fox News and MLB.com. He worked on a New Jersey political race in 2005, then moved to Nevada to work as campaign manager for former state lawmaker Bob Beers’ ultimately unsuccessful gubernatorial run in 2006.

His website stated he was prompted to run when former Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, pushed a record-breaking package of new and extended taxes worth more than $1.1 billion in 2015. Matthews jumped in the 3rd Congressional District race as a Republican candidate in 2016 but was ultimately defeated by Danny Tarkanian in the primary.

Among the bills, Matthews sponsored as an Assembly member were measures that would have exempted smaller businesses from obtaining a business license, rolled back expanded mail voting, stiffened penalties for government agencies that violate public records laws and created a committee to recommend reductions in government spending. As with many Republican-sponsored bills, those measures did not survive in the Democrat-controlled Legislature.

On his campaign website, Matthews’ list of priorities includes making government more transparent and accountable, increasing public access to information about government spending and operations, opposing “destructive” tax hikes, reining in government spending and “restoring fiscal sanity in the state capital.”

He has been endorsed by a long list of conservatives such as former Attorney General Adam Laxalt, former Controller Ron Knecht and former Gov. Robert List. Matthews also leads the Morning in Nevada political action committee, an organization tied to Laxalt and conservative causes, as the executive director.

During the first quarter, Matthews raised a little more than $40,000 and spent about $20,000. He received $1,000 from the Las Vegas Gold and Silver Pawn Shop, owned by TV star and Republican donor Rick Harrison.

Matthews has $150,000 in cash on hand. He surpassed Spiegel in campaign fundraising but spent about $6,000 less, giving him a slight advantage going into the second quarter.


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