Undercurrent

GOP governor hopefuls have met the enemy and it is … Brian Sandoval

By: - February 9, 2022 5:30 am
hardened northerners

Screenshot of a 2018 Dean Heller campaign ad featuring Brian Sandoval.

In 2018, when he was seeking reelection, then-U.S. Sen. Dean Heller ran campaign ads featuring testimonials from then-popular Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval.

Tuesday, trying to gain traction in a crowded Republican primary for governor, Heller said Sandoval’s signature fiscal accomplishment, a tax on businesses with more than $4 million in gross revenue, is “the biggest embarrassment of the Republican Party” in Nevada.

“For the first time since 1985, we got the majority of both houses and the governorship,” Heller said, referring to Nevada state government following the red wave election of 2014. “And the first thing we do is raise the largest tax in Nevada history. Think about that,” Heller said during a Republican primary candidate forum.

“And this was a tax that was rejected on the ballot the cycle before,” Heller said, referring to the margin tax ballot initiative of 2014, which was somewhat similar to the business tax in form – and would have generated substantially more revenue – than the measure Sandoval proposed and legislators approved in 2015. 

Calling it “the biggest embarrassment of the Republican Party,” Heller said if he is elected the so-called commerce tax “won’t be appropriated,” evidently meaning it won’t be included in the state budget that a governor, whoever it is, must submit to the Legislature every two years. Instead Heller said he would put the tax back on the ballot and let voters kill it.

The logistical feasibility of that strategy aside, failing to appropriate commerce tax revenue would open up perhaps as much as a half-billion dollar budget hole over the biennium, setting up a conflict with legislators that would likely become the overwhelming issue, if not crisis, of the 2025 legislative session. If Heller wins the governorship.

If Las Vegas City Councilwoman Michele Fiore wins the governorship, the commerce tax would also likely be a centerpiece of substantive conflict, alongside the myriad other fights Fiore vowed to start with Democrats while addressing the friendly crowd Tuesday at what the Clark County Republican Party, host of the event, billed as a debate.

Fiore told the group that in 2015 she was removed from her position as Nevada Assembly Majority Leader and also lost her chairmanship of the Assembly Taxation Committee after “Brian Sandoval and I had a conversation about this business commerce tax.”

“I fought it,” Fiore said Tuesday. “And guess what happened, I got removed” from her legislative leadership positions, she claimed.

Then Assembly Speaker John Hambrick said at the time that Fiore had been removed from leadership due to her “Swiss cheese” explanation of more than a million dollars in federal tax liens filed against her multiple businesses.

“We have a gentleman sitting up here,” Fiore continued at Tuesday’s forum, “who called me a ‘nutjob’ because I was fighting the Sandoval tax.” The tax was “horrific,” Fiore added, “and I voted against it.”

“Let me take an opportunity to apologize to Michele Fiore,” fellow gubernatorial hopeful Joey Gilbert said a few minutes later when the mic was passed to him, confirming he was the individual who called her a “nutjob.”

“I was a Brian Sandoval fan,” Gilbert said. “And I was shocked when I finally was pulled aside by some of the business guys up in Reno and they said ‘Joey, it’s gross receipts,’ and then Michele didn’t seem so crazy anymore.”

The other candidates at Tuesday’s forum – North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee, Gardnerville physician Fred Simon, and businessman Guy Nohra – all expressed opposition to taxes.

During a question and answer format that did not allow for follow up questioning or exchanges between candidates, each of the candidates also blasted Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak’s pandemic policies, condemned “cancel culture,” and, in a staple of Republican political messaging nationwide, continued to advance the false and repeatedly disproven allegation that the 2020 presidential election won by Joe Biden was illegitimate.

A seventh candidate for governor, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Sheriff Joe Lombardo, is leading the pack in polling and campaign contributions and has been avoiding joint events with the other candidates.

The Clark County Republican Party which hosted Tuesday’s event is chaired by Jesse Law, one of the fake electors in seven states whose role in defeated President Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election, and the accompanying insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, is under investigation by a special House committee.

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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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