By Ryan Tarinelli
CARSON CITY — Nevada Senate Democrats named new leadership postings Wednesday while trying to recover from a political bombshell in which its former majority leader resigned after admitting he took campaign funds for personal use.
In a sudden downfall, former Sen. Kelvin Atkinson on Tuesday announced his resignation on the Senate floor and said he will plead guilty when the time comes. He did not specify how he used the campaign funds for personal use and declined to comment further.
The GOP has seized on Atkinson’s sudden resignation to call for a full corruption probe and the Nevada Republican Party on Wednesday announced the launch of a digital advertisement campaign demanding Democrats return any campaign donations they received from Atkinson.
New Senate Majority Leader Sen. Nicole Cannizzaro began the floor session Wednesday as the first woman to serve in the leadership role. She declined to comment as she entered the chamber floor, but later said she learned of Atkinson’s resignation on Monday night.
Some Democrats declined to comment on the situation.
A Las Vegas native, Cannizzaro was elected to the Nevada Senate in 2016 and is a chief deputy district attorney in Clark County. Fellow lawmakers lauded her as a fair-handed legislator, pointing to the way she handled a day-long hearing that saw a wave of speakers opposing a bill to expand gun background checks to private gun sales and transfers.
“Sen. Cannizzaro is a revered member of the Nevada State Senate and our caucus is united behind her,” said Sen. Joyce Woodhouse during the floor session. “There is no one better to lead us following Senator (Atkinson’s) departure.”
Senate Democrats named Sen. Julia Ratti as assistant majority leader. They also announced that Democratic Sen. Yvanna Cancela will take over Ratti’s position as co-majority whip.
Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson described Cannizzaro as smart and conscientious, saying she listens to both sides and is not an overzealous prosecutor.
“I think being a prosecutor has been excellent, excellent training,” he said, acknowledging the new leadership role will be a lot to take on for a relatively new legislator like Cannizzaro.
He also likened Cannizzaro’s position to the TV show Designated Survivor, in which a lower-level presidential cabinet member played by Kiefer Sutherland is quickly appointed U.S. President following a disastrous attack on the State of the Union address.
Similar to Sutherland’s character, Wolfson said he does not think Cannizzaro had any idea she would be in the leadership role.
Republican Sen. Ira Hansen says Cannizzaro strikes him as more of a moderate.
“I’m actually quite happy that they selected her to be the majority leader,” he said.