This is a recurring series highlighting openly nonreligious elected officials across the nation. Prior to the 2016 election, there were only 5 public nontheist state legislators, however, because of the efforts of the Center for Freethought Equality, the political and advocacy arm of the American Humanist Association, we have now identified over 60 state and federal legislators today.
It is critical that our community connect and engage with the elected officials who represent our community and our values—you can see a list of these elected officials here.
State Rep. Howard Watts
Representing Nevada’s District 15 in Clark County
“I listen to and respect the beliefs of my constituents, and the vast majority of them provide me the same courtesy in return.”
Assemblyman Howard Watts is an entrepreneur and community activist born and raised in Las Vegas, where he now serves as an elected representative of District 15, Clark County. A son of Culinary Union members and a graduate of the Clark County School District and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Howard won election to the Nevada Assembly in 2018. He also owns and operates a small public relations business.
In the Nevada Assembly, Watts currently serves as Chair of the Natural Resources Committee, Vice Chair of the Growth and Infrastructure Committee, and also serves as a Member of the Ways and Means Committee. In the 80th Session of the Nevada Legislature, Assemblyman Watts introduced and passed laws to improve water conservation, support electric vehicles, improve Native American access to the ballot box, and assist mobile home owners. He also joined his colleagues in supporting measures that increased the minimum wage, guaranteed paid leave, advanced sweeping criminal justice and voting rights reforms, and made health care more affordable.
Prior to serving in the Nevada legislature, Watts was widely recognized for his work serving his community. He was recognized as a “Local Hero” by CityLife Magazine, “Activist of the Year” by Vegas Seven, and received the 2012 Mario Savio Young Activist Award.
Sarah Levin: What motivated you to run for office?
State Rep. Howard Watts: I was born and raised in Las Vegas and, since high school, I’ve had a passion for community service and advocating for causes I believe in. After more than a decade working with nonprofits to do that, I had seen the ability to make change but also ran into frustrations where I felt like certain things weren’t being discussed or moving fast enough. I decided that running for office could give me the ability to lead the push for policy change on issues I care about and provide new ways for me to help others.
Levin: What are your policy priorities and how does your nonreligious worldview impact your policy platform?
Watts: One of my top priorities is environmental conservation. Nevada gets the least precipitation of any state in the nation, climate change is worsening extreme heat and wildfires, and we have large expanses of public land with competing interests and impacts. I really try to make these decisions based on science and the understanding that we have the ability to deplete and destroy this landscape, or preserve and protect it for future generations of humans, animals, and plants. Issues of racial equity are another passion and, to me, it’s about treating everybody with dignity and respect and providing equal access and opportunity. I try to practice the “golden rule,” which I’ve learned is a unifying principle across faiths and value systems.
Levin: Why was it important for you to be open about your nonreligious identity?
Watts: Being biracial, I’ve spent time trying to navigate and find comfort in a complex identity. As a result, I’m proud of who I am and have no interest in or energy for hiding that. I grew up in a nonreligious household, so it’s something that is very consistent for me. And more people are identifying as nonreligious, which provides me with a sense of support as well as a responsibility to be open, so that like-minded people can see they are represented in our government. I believe that representative democracy works best when those representatives reflect the diverse identities and experiences of the population at large.
Levin: How did voters respond (if at all) to your openness about your nonreligious identity?
Watts: Honestly, it’s never come up. It’s not something I dwell on or go out of my way to lift up, and my focus is on policy issues that affect everybody and figuring out how I and the state government can be of assistance to my neighbors. I think voters, above all, want candidates to listen, to be honest, to be responsive, and to be respectful, and that’s how I try to campaign and govern. I listen to and respect the beliefs of my constituents, and the vast majority of them provide me the same courtesy in return.