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Catherine Cortez Masto
Senator since 2017
Challenged by Adam Laxalt
“I have a record in support of a woman’s right to choose. And my opponent, Adam Laxalt, opposes it, and will take it away.”
Catherine Cortez Masto made headlines well before she was shortlisted for Vice President by Joe Biden. In 2016, she was the first woman to represent Nevada in the Senate as well as the first Latina to serve in that same upper chamber. “It’s not lost on me,” she says when she’s asked about her identity. Cortez Masto is the descendant of immigrants, reminded of her family’s struggle and ascension every time she walks into the Capitol.
Cortez Masto’s paternal grandfather crossed the Rio Grande as a young man, longing for a life outside of his home in Chihuahua, Mexico. Her maternal great-grandfather left his own Italian village, propelled by a similar vision. Both men worked hard to settle and raise a family in the United States. Cortez Masto’s father, Manny Cortez, would eventually do the same for his young daughters and accept a job valeting at the Dunes Hotel. The Dunes was a funny joint located at the end of a strip of businesses in what was then a small Nevada town called Las Vegas. Manny Cortez would make this town famous by the phrase, “What happens here, stays here.” He’d also help make the town a city and serve as President of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, promoting the strip’s robust tourist offerings.
At the center of this story is the ideological pillar from which Cortez Masto conducts most of her politics. It is the belief that you honor your predecessors by working to open doors for others.
Before her senatorial career, Cortez Masto focused on serving communities overlooked by the law. In her capacity as Nevada’s Attorney General, she reformed guardianship rules often used to exploit the elderly for financial gain. She lobbied to create a task force that would identify women and children subjected to sex trafficking. Most notably, Cortez Masto sued the big banks, winning a major settlement for Nevadans since impoverished by the 2008 housing crash.
Cortez Masto’s senatorial career reinforces her commitment to solving problems facing voters most underserved. She currently sits on five congressional committees, Finance, Banking, Housing and Urban Development, Energy and Natural Resources, Rules and Administration, as well as Indian Affairs. From these positions, she advocates for Nevadans and helps to shape their most pressing issues like interstate commerce, urban growth, and alternative energy.
Cortez Masto spent much of the pandemic applying for federal grants on behalf of Nevadans. This swift work-around delivered additional financial aid and health assistance, even when Congress continued its stalemate on a federal relief bill. These solutions are not ideal; however, Cortez Masto’s efforts demonstrate her deep understanding of Nevadans and the dire realities many face.
When asked about Joe Biden’s win, Cortez Masto said her plan was to stay with Nevada, and that there is much she looks forward to tackling: “Right now, we’ve got a pandemic we have to deal with, an economy that’s really destabilized…and the fight is to bring resources to stem the spread of this virus, get our people back to work, and to open our businesses again.”
Jacy Bryla is an editor and writer from California and Florida. She resides in Los Angeles… for the time being. In 2018, she graduated from The New School with an MFA in Fiction. She’s managing editor for the prose column for LIT Magazine and was a contributing editor for Issue 33. Her interests and work span myriad disciplines, from the likes of audio journalism and oral history to hybrid fiction and critical essay.
Generally speaking, Cortez Masto falls in line with her Democratic counterparts. When there is the occasional divergent vote, it often looks one of two ways. The first crops up around judicial appointments, which have often provided a platform for Cortez Masto to express her disapproval of any Department of Justice business conducted under the Trump Administration.
The second might appear around bills that include managerial items on nuclear waste, renewable energy, land use, or defense planning. These items disproportionately impact Nevada and are heavily scrutinized by voters, which is why Cortez Masto’s record bears out in favor of her constituency over the party.
This exact dynamic played out during Rita Baranwal’s confirmation to lead the Office of Nuclear Energy. Although Baranwal was ultimately confirmed by a supermajority, Masto opposed her appointment because of Baranwal’s willingness to revive the Yucca Mountain project — a controversial nuclear waste repository program proposed in 1987.
Nuclear energy might be the stickiest subject in Nevada’s relationship with the federal government, already complicated by joint management of Nevada’s rural lands. On the one hand, the lingering controversy has eroded constituents’ trust of the federal government; on the other, the federal government grows increasingly frustrated over the project’s delay, which was recently implicated in its willingness to cooperate with Nevada on other business.
There always existed legitimate financial and ecological questions around Yucca Mountain. Now, Nevadans worry most about the project’s untold impact on public health. Moreover, developing scientific evidence suggests the site may no longer be geologically sound. According to Cortez Masto and her congressional colleagues, what matters most is that Nevadans flatly rejected the project back in 1987.
Last year, Cortez Masto called on the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to investigate alternative uses for the Yucca site. She believes an OMB report will finally prove to the federal government that rezoning the site presents greater financial opportunities for everyone involved.
One out of every five Nevadans are of immigrant status, and it’s reported that Nevada contains the highest ratio of undocumented persons to documented persons in the country. Discrimination experienced throughout the application process often impedes Nevadans of non-legal status from ever attaining formal documentation. Despite this, many of these Nevadans contribute to their communities and live as if they were naturalized. That’s why improving the quality of life for all Nevadans, documented or not, has been central to Cortez Masto’s political career. She wants to resolve the prevalent disparities according to legal status via her proposal of the Fairness for Immigrants Families Act. The landmark bill, introduced in late 2020, seeks to eradicate immigration laws that unnecessarily separate or persecute undocumented persons and mixed-status families. Cortez Masto hopes the legislation will guide the Biden-Harris Administration’s handling of immigration reform as well. The proposal comes at the heels of news about human rights violations committed by federal agents against families seeking asylum at the southern border. Those accounts substantiate the public’s desire of legislators overhauling the current immigration system. While the bill sits in the congressional queue, Cortez Masto has advocated to improve access to social programs that undocumented persons and their loved ones are often deprived of, such as prenatal health care, food assistance, reliable transit, and public education. Her office recently renewed its commitment to protecting the DREAM ACT, and in 2019 Cortez Masto announced her co-sponsorship of the legislation.
Much like her dad, Cortez Masto’s got a knack for bringing together business and government. Famously, her father liaised between rushed developers, emphatic unionizers, and enterprising gaming executives, curating their rivalrous interests into one effort that would make Las Vegas’s tourist economy prosper. These days, Cortez Masto calls on an equally diverse group of actors, hoping that they too will work harmoniously in a push to bolster one of Nevada’s budding industries: renewable energy. Economists believe this sector is the state’s surest path forward in its decades-long pursuit to find new revenue streams and labor categories. While much less so than the era of Cortez Masto’s father, the state’s economy is still incredibly homogenous, which means it’s especially susceptible to stagnation and loss. The pandemic reconfirmed Nevada’s vulnerability to mass unemployment — the state currently suffers a rate worse than the national average — and reflects an anxiety about the future of the working class. Surely, confronting the task would pose a significant challenge to any community leader, not just Cortez Masto, and it’s probably why she unveiled the “Innovation State Initiative” early into her Senate term. The initiative represents an assemblage of prospective legislation designed to grow Nevada’s energy sector. On its face, the campaign broadly proposes that national, interstate, and commercial projects be greener, while also suggesting Nevada play a bigger role in managing the country’s energy infrastructure. For instance, one bill names Nevada as the main regulatory body to test privatized technologies, such as drones. Another boasts of incentives for localities if they would convert their public transportation grid to electric and contract the transition out to Nevada. At times, the specifics behind each bill can feel dizzying and make the whole of the initiative seem somewhat unrelated. But perhaps that’s the point. The genius of a campaign so sprawling is that it allows competing externalities to unwittingly commit to the same thing all at once. Cortez Masto put it another way, in a column she penned for the Las Vegas Sun, Cortez Masto insists “Nevada is the leader in innovation because we're approaching it from all angles.”
There’s a prevailing theory among the public that suggests the main difference between progressive Democrats and the rest is their belief that affordable health coverage for every American is only made possible by a single-payer, federally governed system. Now, this is just conjecture, of course, and pretty much all but a few Democrats would tell you the same. Which means the conversation about healthcare remains one that is first and foremost a conversation about the ACA. Cortez Masto’s formal position? Well, she fully supports the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and will do anything to defend it, which in itself is a largely uncontroversial stance for a Democratic Congressperson. To be critical of her is to acknowledge the absence of a long-term vision regarding the future of healthcare in America. Many Democratic voters — as well as some right-wing and independent voters as well — have rightly identified the naïveté of believing that a repaired ACA constitutes the end of a national discussion. To be fair, words spoken — or in this case words unspoken — do not always represent one’s intentions either. The GOP’s constant assault on the ACA has preoccupied Congressional Democrats, preventing them from brainstorming bigger or stating so. It appears Cortez Masto understands that the ACA is not the singular governmental framework to consider when creating affordable coverage. At many points during her term, she shared her concerns regarding the ACA’s blindspots; it can sometimes fail to solve for the worst of population-based disparities endemic to a privatized health system. Take for example her targeted health bills like the Healthy MOM Act and Protect Access to Birth Control Act.Both pieces of legislation improve upon programs that serve women in need of specialized and standardized reproductive care. While the ACA includes reproductive care, no base level of care exists among states, resulting in out-of-pocket costs and gaps in coverage for services like pre- and postnatal care. Then there are Cortez Masto’s cosponsored bills that address provider shortages in rural areas of Nevada. Individuals who reside in these areas tend to belong to other demographic categories already experiencing higher rates of disease and poor health outcomes. The ruralness of an area can stymie the delivery of quality healthcare — or any resource for that matter. Amazon promises two-day shipping, but what happens when there’s a snowstorm and you’re all the way up that mountain? Even in a federally-managed system, these obstacles still need to be accounted for. If voters view the sum of these bills in the spirit of Cortez Masto’s Innovation State Initiative, they might see a progressive blueprint underneath, something beyond the ACA, a vision that strikes at the core inequalities borne of American healthcare.
Democracy for America
Planned Parenthood Action Fund
Human Rights Campaign
The League of Conservation Voters
Latino Victory Project
NARAL Pro-Choice America
Nevada State AFL-CIO
Nevada State Education Association
National Education Association
“It is time for the diversity of our great country to be reflected in the halls of Congress, and all of us will benefit from having Catherine at the table where policies will be decided. I am proud to endorse Catherine Cortez Masto for the U.S. Senate, and I hope Nevadans take this rare opportunity to elect a strong leader and a trail blazer.”
“Cortez Masto would increase the range of Nevada viewpoints represented in the U.S. Senate. If elected, she would be Nevada’s first female senator and the nation’s first Latina senator... While Nevada’s attorney general, she prioritized the fight against sex trafficking, an issue that largely affects women and girls.”
“During her two terms as Nevada’s Attorney General, Catherine held big banks accountable and fought predatory lending, cracked down on sex trafficking and got tough on elderly, child, and domestic abusers. Catherine knows who she’s fighting for and I need her fighting alongside me in the Senate.”
Challenged by Adam Laxalt
Date: July 5th-20th, 2022
Pollster: Beacon Research and the Environmental Voter Project