It is not typical for a candidate to publish his personal cell phone on their campaign website, but Manny Kess, candidate for Nevada treasurer, is not your typical candidate. Having watched Kess for the past 17 months on the campaign trail, The Globe dialed the number on his website and Kess answered. When we asked to schedule an interview, he replied, “I’m in the RV. How about now? I have some time.” We also had some time, so our interview, although unscheduled, began immediately.
Kess was born and raised in New York and is known by friends, family, and his business associates to be a “straight shooter.” He has brought this no-nonsense, New Yorker style to his campaign for Nevada Treasurer—a campaign, he says, he never expected, but “had to do.”
Back in New York, Kess opened a successful gourmet deli, developed a small real estate portfolio, and “lost it all” in 2008 to 2010 in the economic collapse. He was faced with starting over in New York or going elsewhere. His friend had moved to Las Vegas and encouraged Kess to start over in Nevada.
Kess moved to Nevada in 2011 and started working for a nightlife hospitality company in Las Vegas After a year, he saw a “gap in their services” and started his own hospitality company, The Kess Group, in 2012. In the span of ten years, Kess claims his company has grown into one of the largest hospitality companies in Las Vegas and survived the pandemic.
The pandemic propelled Kess to run for office 17 months ago: “I was mad,” Kess said. “My company made the non-essential list during Covid. I was disgusted that casinos and dispensaries were essential, but small businesses and churches were deemed non-essential. To this day, I cannot understand how one individual can make that decision. That is what led me to get into campaigning for Treasurer and create change in the office and in politics.”
Kess admits that he is still “leery of politics.”
“It’s a very ugly and dirty business, but I am motivated. I can’t watch individuals and political rhetoric destroy our state. There are plenty of Democrats and Republicans who are elected officials who shouldn’t walk our dogs. There is an inherent problem with people running for a party to just represent a party. You should run to represent constituents and not just run to be a member of some party,” Kess said.
The Globe: Have you always been a Republican?
I have always been a conservative. The Republican Party has changed over the years, but my values have always aligned as a conservative.
What has your experience been on the trail for the last 17 months. Where do you think the Republican party has gone wrong or how has it changed?
People get into office for various reasons, and in the past 17 months I have met a ton of candidates. The problem that I see is that many of these candidates shouldn’t be running for office. They have no business acumen, no job, and no money. They are running because they are looking for a job. They have a right to run for office, but we are in a place right now that our country is divided. A campaign should not be for job security or a place for career politicians to keep their office by people reelecting them due to name ID. The best candidate normally doesn’t win. It is normally the candidate with name ID and the most money–and that is a problem. We need to do better as voters. What a candidate has done in his past can predict what he will do in the future, whether it is mistakes or a habit, or building a business. Before I got into politics, I fell into that trap. I never researched anyone. I voted for who I recognized. But that isn’t going to create the change we need. The best person for the job is what is needed and I believe I am the best candidate for Nevada Treasurer.
How are you establishing your Name ID in Nevada?
My primary opponent got into the race on the last day of filing. She has name ID. But, I have been touring the state for 17 months getting my name out there. In April, I spent about $250,000 on digital and TV ads. In May, I spent $150,000 in digital and marketing. My primary opponent and my Democratic opponent has not. I am in the street every day. I have raised more money than my opponents have and that has given me the ability to do state-wide campaigns. My friend was kind enough to lend me his RV. It has been a great marketing tool for the past month. I wrapped it and did a state tour last week and covered every county–over 1,200 miles in three days. It is important for people to know who I am, my background, where I come from, and what I have done. People want change and politicians, like my opponent who is a career politician, isn’t the change the people want and this state needs.
What were your gas costs for the state tour in the RV?
It was insane. The RV is obviously not gas efficient, but it cost me over $1200. It was not cheap, but I got in front of so many people. I received dozens of emails from people telling me they couldn’t make it because they were unemployed or couldn’t afford the gas, but I need to be a voice for them. These people matter and they should be heard. I had a great turn out in Ely because other state-wide candidates aren’t going there or to the other rural counties and these people need a voice.
What have you learned in the past 17 months?
I was running unopposed so I was easing into the race, but that didn’t work well. Because someone who was talking about running for mayor, and then ran for governor, and then dropped her race for governor…only to file last minute and run for Treasurer because she wasn’t doing well in the governor’s race has caused me to move and react swiftly. So now after March 19th, it has been full speed ahead. If I had started earlier and went against the common practice of spending money too early, I would have better name ID.
What I learned is that I should just treat a campaign like a business and not listen to campaign managers. Name ID normally wins races, so what my opponent’s campaign did was really smart. It wasn’t to help the state or the party, it was to help her. But, it also awakened the sleeping giant and I am now going everywhere, every single day and this has afforded me the opportunity to spend money on media, and now my face and voice is everywhere. Sure, it has been a learning curve, but I love the race and I love meeting people. The feedback has been incredible. Now that I have done all this hard work, people are starting to pay attention. My mundane treasurer’s race has become very important.
As Treasurer, what would be your first priorities and what change would you bring to the office?
There are a lot of changes, but first and foremost is to tackle education. That is what plagues our state. My first day on the job–my first bill draft request, will be to create an office within the Inspector General whose sole purpose is to audit the Clark County and Washoe County School Districts. That is my first day on the job, and the first thing I am doing. We have a shortage of teachers, doctors and no companies are moving here from other states. We are a fly-over state for companies. People are moving to Nevada, but not companies, so we need to start getting people excited to move here and start companies and we need to create a business environment that attracts companies. We want to create things in Nevada, but it won’t happen when we have the worst K-12 education in the nation.
The second is unclaimed property. Nevada has $900 Million dollars in unclaimed property. During the pandemic, it took people up to six months and more to get their unemployment checks. Why didn’t we get that money into people’s hands? The treasurer didn’t talk about that. No one did. It wasn’t a priority. We need to take care of Nevadans and as treasurer, I will make sure Nevadans are taken care of and that their money is spent wisely.
Lastly, we need to give people a reason to come here. We need to be pro-business and business friendly. We have billions of dollars in federal relief funds. There are millions of dollars just sitting there. Why are we waiting? Whatever the restriction is, put the money to work. We have to get our state on or feet. We need to eliminate things that don’t make sense.
I will do the best I can for my constituents. If there is money in the state coffers that can be used to get this state moving, then that is what we should do. No more pushing party agendas and rhetoric. I don’t wanna be known as a nice guy, I want to be known as the best treasurer in office who propels our state financially and known as the best treasurer who has ever held office.
If, as Nevada treasurer, you are faced with a majority Democratic legislature and executive branch, how will you work to bring about change?
I own and build businesses are they are all relationship based. They are built on working with people. I don’t work for the Republican party, I work for Nevadans. I will do whatever I can to help Nevadans. I will talk to people from both parties. We need strong values, a backbone and someone who will work hard for this state.
I have over 23 years of business experience and I lost everything. It made me learn how ineffective government can be in that government gets in the way not out of the way. But after the pandemic, I survived. I am financially stable, but many of my friends and many people didn’t. I want to be their voice.
Whatever comes our way—Monkeypox, Chickenpox, Covid 27—whatever is the new thing that is going to try and take us down, it is important that we have people in office that use common sense and do right for the people that they represent. I am a business owner who has been through the wringer and experienced 20 years of being successful, lost everything, learned and rebuilt a successful business.
I am well-rounded and I am eager to help. I am very blessed, because everything I had today is because this state welcomed me with open arms and afforded me the ability to make a dollar– and at the end of the day, keep some of it. I simply want to give back.
I don’t believe in scripts. This is how I feel. You called me unannounced and suddenly I am being interviewed. But this is who I am. If people want change, people can use me as a vehicle for change. If I don’t do my job in four years, then the people should fire me. Transparency and accountability is my slogan. As a tax payer, constituent and elected official, I am going to demand it.
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