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June 1, 2015

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POLITICS:

Brian Sandoval all talk and no facts for now

Governor-elect displays winning style, but is that what Nevada needs to get out of hole it’s been in for a while?

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Leila Navidi

Governor-elect Brian Sandoval speaks during a press conference at Jones Vargas law firm in Las Vegas Wednesday, December 29, 2010.

Brian Sandoval News Conference

Governor-elect Brian Sandoval speaks during a press conference at Jones Vargas law firm in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2010. Launch slideshow »

Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval showed some of the political skills that helped him get elected during a wide-ranging news conference Wednesday in Las Vegas. Suit and hair, as always, fantastic. His manner warm and approachable. He talked much, but revealed almost nothing.

Nevadans will probably come to appreciate the differences between Sandoval and his outgoing predecessor, Gov. Jim Gibbons, who at times has seemed to resent the job and even the citizens he was charged with governing.

Sandoval played the part, instead, of chief cheerleader and salesman.

“The most important message to send,” Sandoval said, “is that Nevada is open for business,” a slogan, if adopted, we would share with the Missoula, Mont., airport.

Sandoval, who, like Gibbons, is a Republican, said he has a list of companies in his briefcase. He’s calling executives to woo them here from the high taxes and onerous regulations of California and Oregon.

Again, Nevadans will probably find this a welcome change from Gibbons, whose idea of getting business here was to propose a coal gasification plant even though Nevada has no coal.

The problem for Sandoval, however, is that it’s not clear he has much to sell. He may look like the tough-guy Alec Baldwin character in the classic tale of salesmen and sadness, “Glengarry Glen Ross,” but the reality is that he may be stuck in the pathetic Jack Lemmon character in that film: “The leads are weak.”

With wages cut all across the valley and unemployment above 14 percent — closer to 20 percent if you add part-time workers or those who have quit looking — businesses here don’t have much of a customer base.

Nevada has plenty of unskilled labor, but companies that require some college of their workers might hesitate. The Silver State has never been a bastion of education. Sandoval’s refusal to raise taxes — he’ll even veto the tax increases that passed in 2009 but are set to sunset unless the Legislature tries to revive them — will mean more cuts.

The state is 46th nationwide in higher education funding per capita; 45th in residents with a bachelor’s degree; and 41st in the number of 18- to 24-year-olds who enroll in state universities.

Nonsense, Sandoval said Wednesday.

“I think this is a great state to come to,” he said. “I think if I’m a CEO from a company, I see a governor and a state that recognizes that we must do better, that there’s a lot of momentum to systemically improve the way we deliver education in this state, that the universities understand they have to do better.”

Sandoval said he plans to expand school choice, charter schools and merit pay. There’s no relationship between money spent and education delivered, he said.

Furthermore, he said, our unemployment rate means we have lots of willing workers, and our high foreclosure rate translates into cheap housing.

“I think these CEOs will want to come here. There will be a favorable business atmosphere,” he said.

(The venue for the news conference, the law firm Jones Vargas, illustrated the pro-business attitude. The firm, where Sandoval has been an attorney since leaving the federal bench in 2009, represents the state’s most powerful business interests in gaming, utilities, banking, health care and insurance. See related story.)

Sandoval’s optimism raises the questions: If Nevada is so great for business, why is our economy so moribund? What went wrong?

Complex questions, he averred, and laid the blame on the depression in the construction industry, which is employing half as many Las Vegans as it was at the peak.

Unemployed construction workers must be retrained for the new businesses that will be coming here, he said.

Who will do the retraining? And who will pay for it? He did not say.

The important message relayed is that Sandoval is bullish on Nevada: “If Nevada is a stock, I’d buy now, because we’re going up.”

Nevadans surely hope he’s right, that we’re Apple with the return of Steve Jobs, and not Enron on the way down.

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