Commentary

The likely unremarkable Lombardo administration

November 13, 2022 7:00 am
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Chances that the main policies Joe Lombardo vaguely proposed during his campaign for governor will be enacted into state statute are twofold: fat, and slim. (Getty Images)

Robert Redford starred in a movie in the 1970s called The Candidate, in which he portrayed a candidate running on a dumbed down message crafted by his campaign handlers. He ultimately wins, and the movie famously ends with Redford’s character asking his campaign advisor, “What do we do now?

It’s easy to imagine Joe Lombardo asking that same question after results showed he was elected Nevada’s governor Friday night.

In The Candidate, the star was Redford. In Lombardo’s campaign, the star was his sheriff’s uniform. The most prominent specific policy Lombardo proposed as a candidate involved his signature issue – crime – and called for repealing productive albeit mild criminal justice reforms enacted by Democratic legislators and Gov. Steve Sisolak (even though, contrary to Lombardo’s assertions, there is no credible evidence correlating those reforms with increased crime).

The heart of Lombardo’s education agenda is establishing a voucher program to spend public money on private schools.

His housing policy, as expressed during his debate with Sisolak, is for local governments to give land to the development industry for free.

His economic policy, as outlined during the campaign, is trickle-downism and muttering about being “for” economic development.

Apart from repealing a good but somewhat minor piece of legislation enacted under his predecessor, if there is one unifying theme underlying all of Lombardo’s policy agenda, it is a profound lack of specifics.

Chances that the main policies he vaguely proposed during the campaign will be enacted into state statute are twofold: fat, and slim.

When Lombardo is inaugurated, Democrats will control both houses of the state Legislature. Barring anything bizarre, they will continue to control both houses after the 2024 election. Which is to say Democrats will control the Legislature throughout the entirety of the next four years of a Lombardo administration.

Granted, history suggests the capacity for Nevada Democrats to make bad deals with a Republican governor should never be underestimated, especially if powerful special interests are weighing in on the governor’s side. After the 2022 election, some people will be tempted to mull whether Nevada is a red state or a blue state or a purple state. Meanwhile, Nevada has always been a transactional state.

But perhaps Democrats will convince Lombardo to make some good deals with them. After George Floyd was killed, Lombardo spoke eloquently on the virtue of redirecting funding from law enforcement to social service programs, and lamented that police are the mental health first responders in the U.S. Perhaps Democrats can tap into that Lombardo, and find resources to improve mental health services in Nevada. As an example.

The more likely scenario, it seems, is that a divided state government means Lombardo’s administration will be characterized by small-ball budget fights and, at best, meeting the state’s most urgent priorities will result in little more than treading water.

Which is actually better than the alternative in the form of Republicans controlling the Legislature and teaming up with a Republican governor to hurl the state backwards.

As for the nuts and bolts of administering the state, thank goodness Democrats defeated the trio of Republican curiosities who were running for treasurer, attorney general and secretary of state. Lombardo must be so relieved knowing he won’t have to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to coax sane behavior out of Michele Fiore, Sigal Chattah and Jim Marchant.

But especially in a state that foolishly insists on a part-time legislature as if it was some Dakota or other, a governor has a lot of authority to shape policy directly. For instance, do you think Nevada’s environmental regulatory apparatus and procedures are business-friendly now? Wait until the development and extraction industries start bending Lombardo’s ear in earnest. And of course implementing the directives of the resort industry is something Lombardo is already familiar with, the job of Clark County sheriff being an upper-middle management position in that industry.

As Sisolak’s harshest critics noted with respect to the pandemic, sometimes fairly (clunky administration of unemployment benefits) and sometimes not (erring on the side of saving lives), governors can do a lot of things on their own.

And that raises the specter of a wild card: The national political climate seems calmer this week than it did last week, after the Republicans laughably failed to clobber Democrats as promised. But while some Republicans are purportedly doing a rethink right now – the “fever has broken” is the operative media cliche – the pattern of the last few years is that invariably and inevitably their tails will return to the default position – between their legs – and they’ll whimper back to Trump. And if we learned anything about Lombardo during the campaign, it is that he is incapable of sustained resistance to Trump and Trumpism.

But hopefully we won’t have to worry about any of that, and Lombardo’s administration won’t be creepy or pernicious, but instead will merely be what right now seems the likeliest scenario: unremarkable.

This column originally appeared in the Daily Current newsletter, which you can subscribe to here.

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Hugh Jackson
Hugh Jackson

Hugh Jackson was editor of the Las Vegas Business Press, senior editor at the Las Vegas CityLife weekly newspaper, daily political commentator on the Las Vegas NBC affiliate, and author of the Las Vegas Gleaner political blog. Prior to moving to Las Vegas, he was a reporter and editor at the Casper (Wyoming) Star-Tribune.

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