Back in the winter of 1998, I ran into Brian Sandoval in our Southwest Reno neighborhood. We knew each other in the casual, old Reno way, through friendly interactions at various community events and organizations, well enough to exchange pleasantries about the weather, our families, and jobs but not much more.
I told him I was considering a run for the Assembly District 27 seat then held by first-termer Pat Hickey. Sandoval responded positively to the idea, saying the Legislature needed more people who would advocate for children and families, but quickly noted he couldn’t openly support me as a member of the other party.
I appreciated his candor and kind words, and it factored into my decision. After I announced my intent to file for the office, Assemblyman Hickey decided to forgo the race, citing the need to pay more attention to his family business, although he did run successfully more than a decade later in Assembly District 25.
I recalled this interaction with the governor after his State of the State address as I watched him transform back to the Sandoval of 1998, a man who deeply cared about children and families and wasn’t afraid to say so. And I thought about why I had become so disillusioned with the governor since his 2010 campaign.
I found his anointment by the big business lobbying corps offensive as they “rescued” us from a second term of Gov. Jim Gibbons, someone they were responsible for electing in the first place. The lobbyists couldn’t take a chance on the voters sorting it out, so they recruited Sandoval from a lifetime appointment as a federal judge and sent him out to campaign to the right of Gibbons to make sure he would trounce him in the primary.
Throughout the campaign, it was annoying to hear Sandoval declare himself to be against all tax increases despite the recession-starved budget. But like many others, I expected him to swing back to the moderate middle after the primary.
Instead he continued to campaign on far-right, anti-tax positions, refusing to consider extending the “sunset” taxes or the creation of any other funding mechanism to pull Nevada out of last place in education. Despite a huge expected deficit, Sandoval told voters he would veto any budget that increased taxes.
Thankfully, once he was in office and was more enlightened about the consequences of cutting an additional $600 million from the budget, he extended the sunset taxes, but not much more was done to alleviate starved education and human services budgets.
I also lost respect for Sandoval when he supported the harsh Arizona immigration law, telling a Univision reporter he wasn’t worried about his own children being stopped and asked for their papers since they didn’t “look” Hispanic. His vetoes of voting rights bills, including ward voting, further cemented my disappointment.
But now, in 2015, Sandoval is proposing the largest tax increase in the state’s history, more than $1.15 billion, by making the sunset taxes permanent ($600 million) and imposing a graduated business license fee based on gross receipts ($438 million). And he seems willing to stand up to the anti-tax Republicans and the businesses whose mantra for decades has been “just say no” to any tax.
Sandoval acknowledges what’s at stake. He told the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s editorial board that he’s “disgusted with our graduation rates being 49th or 50th” and the Legislature’s failure to pass his tax plan would be “devastating” to K-12 and higher education through expected budget cuts of 20 percent.
“I have to embrace the moment,” he said. “I did make up my mind that I’m not going to move backwards anymore. … I’m the governor. I have to lead and I will lead.”
Welcome back, governor. I’ve missed you.