Meet our 2018 Labor Candidates: Shea Backus for Assembly District 37

Fast Facts:

★ Shea is a third-generation Nevadan, an attorney, and a small business owner
★ She provides pro-bono legal services for neglected and abused children 
★ She has a 15-year-old Silky Terrier named Vegas "who's a total diva, and gets more likes on Facebook than I do," she says.

If there's one common thread that runs through our labor-endorsed candidates, beyond their support of working people and the issues that are important to us, it's that these folks can WALK. And perhaps no one loves to walk, knock, and talk to her future constituents more than Assembly District 37 candidate Shea Backus. We tracked her down to chat about why she's running, what she hopes to achieve in office, and the values she shares with Nevada's working people.

Let's talk about the thing sparked your interest in politics. Why are you running for office, and why now? 

This goes back to last August. I was going out with the Nevada Dems, registering people to vote, and it was around that time I'd also been hearing a lot about businesses that wanted to come to Nevada—businesses that would bring good jobs—but that many of them ultimately didn't because of our poor education system. I was thinking: you know, that really stinks, and we need to do something about it. It reminded me of how I felt when I came across former Nevada first lady Bonnie Bryan's obituary. I was so inspired by everything she had accomplished, and I remember reading it and thinking, I want to do something about Nevada's education system. I want to do a lot of these things. It all kind of came together right then and I decided I really wanted to run. 

I applied to Emerge Nevada and got in, and went through the training in 2017. I thought thought this all through and had decided I was going to run in 2020. That was going to be the year! But people in my life had other ideas. They said no—2018 is the year. Right now. So here I am. 

I know you're a big fan of getting out there and knocking on doors and talking with your future constituents. What are you finding out there? What are Nevadans thinking about right now?

I'm such a geek, I love walking and knocking on doors and talking to people in my community. I had a very contested primary election, but I just knew I could outwork anyone. I knocked on more than 2,000 doors myself. In the end, I got 55% of the primary. And I think that owes a lot to the fact that I love the field work. I know that’s where it’s at.

District 37 is a swing district. We've got about an even number of Democrats and Republicans, and about 9,000 non-partisan. Right now I'm out there talking to the non-partisans, and new Democrats and new Republicans, people who haven’t always voted. Most people are excited when I come by, because most have never met someone who really wants to represent them. The union families are great to talk to, especially—because they recognize my name at the door.

My district has a huge retirement community, and seniors care so much about education. They see the bigger picture, they get the value of a good education. They're knowledgable and they're really listening out there, so I get to their doors and they challenge me.

In 2016, Sun City had Trump signs and Republican signs just all over the place. Now I don’t see Dean Heller signs like I thought I would. I’m seeing more “Vote out the GOP!" messages. And I don't see many Republicans at the doors right now. I've run across more No on 3 people than anyone! The mood has definitely changed.

I love it when I get teachers at the door, because they’re happy to talk about specific ways we can improve schools. They’re frustrated by the focus on standardized testing as the measure of performance. There need to be more ways to measure, more support programs in place, and more interventions for learners, and more workforce education. I want to see us finally recognize, as a state, that our workforce apprenticeship programs are the equivalent to an associates degree. I want to highlight these programs, even develop some crossover degree programs, and get Nevada recognized as a high-quality workforce training and education hub.

And the marijuana excise tax and its impact on education! That’s probably the most frequent conversation I have at the door. My constituents want to make sure it’s going to education like it’s supposed to, so we can provide the appropriate per-student spending for education, and decrease classroom sizes. 

It’s exciting to think about Nevada being the first state with a female majority in the legislature. What would a female-majority Nevada be like? Do you feel that it would fundamentally change Nevada politics? 

This makes me knock on more doors every night. So many men are telling me that they’re only voting for women in this election! It’s so funny. They’re saying “We made a mess, women need to fix it.” The guy I’m running against voted against ratifying the ERA. He was one of only two people in the Nevada legislature who voted against itThat was appalling to me, that anyone wouldn’t vote to ratify the equal rights amendment. So equality is still very much an issue, even right here in my district. But it just motivates me more. 

As far as how a female-majority legislature would look? I think women will be more compassionate about how bills would effect everybody. They’ll be more likely to consider people we may not have traditionally thought about when we’re enacting legislation. I think there's going to be a lot of in-depth discussions about policies, and how we’re going to work to benefit all Nevadans.

As a labor-endorsed candidate, our readers they know you support pro-worker issues like living wages, bringing in good jobs, education, and access to affordable healthcare. But what they’ll be wondering about is what’s behind the talking points. Why do you personally feel these are important issues for Nevada?

I’m married to a union worker. My husband is a pilot. I see the benefits of organized labor every day. And as a small business owner myself, it’s important to me to provide a livable wage, affordable health insurance, and other benefits for our employees. Not because those things are required by law—they aren’t, as the Nevada laws are written—but we do because those are our values.

In office, I want policies that look out for everyone. Our minimum wage absolutely has to increase and our current access to affordable healthcare needs to not only be protected, but be even more affordable. I also want policies in place that prevent employees from being penalized by having to take time off work to care for loved ones.

Anything else you’d like to let our readers know?

I want to stress how important it is to VOTE. I'm nervous that a lot of people might not come out to vote. My Republicans often come out stronger to vote than my Democrats, and I don't think that will happen in this election. I think it may be a more even showing, but I'm still concerned. Especially in Nevada, every single vote counts! 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. To learn more about Shea Backus, visit her campaign website at