Culinary-backed nurse challenges Democratic incumbent in State Senate District 3

By: - May 1, 2024 6:59 am

Geoconda “Geo” Hughes (left) is challenging state Sen. Rochelle Nguyen in Nevada State Senate District 3 (Photos courtesy of Hughes, Nguyen campaigns)

The Culinary union is flexing its political muscle this election cycle, backing the daughter of their former secretary-treasurer in a primary challenge against Democratic state Sen. Rochelle Nguyen because she supported a bill the union vehemently opposed.

But Geoconda “Geo” Hughes says she wants to be the candidate for all labor, not just the powerhouse union she grew up around. Hughes is an intensive care nurse practitioner who worked through the pandemic.

The winner of the State Senate District 3 Democratic primary will almost certainly prevail during the general election in November, given the district’s heavy blue registration advantage and voting history.

Nguyen was appointed to the Nevada State Assembly by the Clark County Commission in 2018. She retained her seat in the 2020 and 2022 elections, winning the district by 27-point and 16-point margins, respectively. Then, in December 2022, she was appointed to the State Senate.

Nguyen says she welcomes this year’s challenge: “Everyone has the right to run. I stand on my accomplishments.”

Nguyen handily defeated a Democratic primary challenger in 2020, but that candidate did not have the backing Hughes has.

Hughes is the daughter of Geoconda Argüello-Kline, who led Culinary for a decade before retiring in 2022. Hughes’s candidacy was announced mid-March at a Culinary endorsement event.

Union leaders said they were targeting Nguyen because of her involvement with 2023’s Senate Bill 441, which repealed daily room cleaning provisions established in 2020 as a response to the covid pandemic. That bill, which passed the Legislature and was signed by the governor, was supported by every Republican and 19 Democrats across the state Assembly and Senate, but Nguyen presented the bill during its original committee hearing and has been pegged as one of two Democratic leaders on the effort.

(The other, Democratic state Sen. Marilyn Dondero Loop, who actually sponsored the bill, is not up for reelection until 2026.)

Culinary ultiimately incorporated some of the repealed provisions into their contract negotiations.

But Hughes said thousands of Culinary workers, who are predominantly women of color, could have been moved from full-time to part-time, or lost their job entirely.

“That was the potential that legislation had,” she added.

Nguyen defends her support of the bill, saying the provisions needed to be repealed because they were always designed to sunset but wouldn’t because the trigger for that sunset relied on covid data that public health officials have since stopped collecting.

“It was the right thing to do,” she added. “It didn’t undo anything that was in place prior to covid.”

Hughes said Nguyen has sponsored other non-labor friendly bills, pointing to 2023’s Senate Bill 108, which revised laws around the sale of craft brews. (That bill received one contentious Senate committee hearing, then languished and died.)

“I am the pro-labor candidate,” said Hughes.

Hughes has been endorsed by Nevada State Education Association, UFCW Local 711, Bartenders Local 165 and Teamsters Local 631, 14, and 968.

Nguyen has been endorsed by Clark County Education Association, IBEW 357, SEIU 1107 and LiUNA 872. She also has endorsements from Planned Parenthood Votes Nevada and EMILYs List.

Nguyen, when asked what legislation she is proudest of, pointed to her efforts last session to, through the state’s Medicaid reimbursement rates, increase the minimum pay for home health care workers, many of whom were making $11 per hour. SEIU, which represents the majority of home care workers in the state, heavily lobbied for that legislation.

“When it went into effect, you had thousands of home care workers go from making $11.50 to making $16, sometimes $17 an hour. That is something real. That is something you feel in your paycheck,” said Nguyen.

When asked what legislation she would like to sponsor or work on if elected, Hughes pointed to specific labor issues, like the allowed ratio of nurses to patients.

“There is so much we can do in this community. We need a health care and labor voice, who looks across legislation through the lens of how this will affect the average Nevadan, the workers? That person. That’s the person I represent. That’s who I am.”

Hughes also said she wants to support proposed legislation supported by the United Food and Commercial Workers union that would provide protections for grocery store workers after companies are bought or sold. That legislation is considered a priority for the union because of the proposed merger between Kroger and Albertsons, which could impact thousands of Nevadana across the state.

“That’s a no-brainer for me,” she added.

Nguyen says if given another term she wants to continue efforts to strengthen reproductive rights, lower costs to prescription drugs, and expand graduate medical education programs to help address health care professional shortages. She also plans to continue her work on legislation related to psilocybin, the chemical component of psychedelic mushrooms, which emerging research suggests has mental health benefits.

“We’re talking about veterans suffering from PTSD who are seeking treatment outside the country for mental health,” she said, emphasizing that the conversation is not about recreational use. “That’s heartbreaking. It’s heartbreaking we haven’t looked ahead to what that looks like for our country.”

Nguyen had raised nearly $78,000 for her campaign, according to her financial disclosure reports filed April 15. She is currently running a six-figure digital ad buy highlighting her support of reproductive rights, according to the Nevada Senate Democratic Caucus.

Hughes had raised just $6,879, according to her campaign finance report, but that number reflects less than a month of fundraising.

Hughes is one of two candidates being pushed by the Culinary this primary cycle. Linda Hunt, 45-year member of the union who works as a food server at a downtown casino, is the other. Hunt is running in the Democratic primary in Assembly District 17 against Mishon Montgomery, an Air Force veteran being backed by the Nevada Assembly Democratic Caucus. That race is an open seat.

Nevada’s primary election is Tuesday, June 11, with in-person early voting running from May 25 to June 7. Mail ballots will be delivered to all active registered voters sometime in May.

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April Corbin Girnus
April Corbin Girnus

April Corbin Girnus is an award-winning journalist and deputy editor of Nevada Current. A stickler about municipal boundary lines, April enjoys teaching people about unincorporated Clark County. She grew up in Sunrise Manor and currently resides in Paradise with her husband, three children and one mutt.

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