Las Vegas Sun

October 10, 2015

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Sandoval insists he’s working, even when he’s out of state


Sr. Airman Jeffrey Schultze / USAF

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval answers questions from Master Sgt. Christian Cantrill, 332nd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron Operations NCO in charge at Joint Base Balad, Iraq. Cantrill is deployed from Nellis Air Force Base. Sandoval, along with governors from Utah, Kentucky and Tennessee, traveled to U.S. Central Command for their first time to meet with their constituents.

Too much travel? Since June 6, the governor has traveled out of state for 30 days. Here’s a breakdown:

  • 12 days out of state with family or for personal reasons (including weekends).
  • 4 days in Aspen for Republican Governors Association.
  • 3 days in Florida for Seminole County GOP Reagan/Lincoln Day Dinner. (Also had lunch with executives from the restaurant chain that owns Capitol Grille and Olive Garden).
  • 2 days in Seattle for meeting with Starbucks and Amazon executives and touring the USS Nevada.
  • 4 days in Utah, meeting with Utah Gov. Ted McAleer and an economic development official.
  • 5 days in Middle East on Department of Defense trip.
Click to enlarge photo

Governors from Kentucky, Nevada, Tennessee and Utah pose for a photo with service members at Joint Base Balad, Iraq. The governors met with their deployed constituents and answered questions.

Sun Coverage

Following a grueling legislative session, Gov. Brian Sandoval has spent almost half the summer out of state.

For 30 days in June, July and early August, the governor was outside the state — for family trips, to deliver political speeches and on state business, according to records obtained by the Las Vegas Sun through a public records request.

He spent five days traveling to visit troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait and four in Utah discussing economic development and water issues with that state’s governor; but he also took a three-day trip to address a Florida county Republican group and spent two days in Seattle to meet with executives of Amazon and Starbucks. The governor also traveled to Oregon, Sacramento and Boise for trips to see his son play baseball and basketball.

Sandoval said despite his absence he is hard at work on the problems facing the state. Much of that time — 12 days — was spent with his family.

“I went to see my son play ball,” Sandoval said Wednesday in his office. “I’m the governor, but I’m also a father and husband. It’s important I show support for (first lady) Kathleen and the kids.”

Sandoval paid for the personal trips and did not claim per diem for meals or expenses, according to his office. The Defense Department paid for his trip overseas, and the Florida county GOP group paid his airfare and hotel for that trip.

His travel cost taxpayers a total of $1,500, including:

• $322.83 total for three nights in Salt Lake City. His airfare was paid for by Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards points.

• $246 total for three nights in the Seattle area. Airfare cost $352.

• $173 for a hotel in Virginia before his Mideast trip, and $406.40 from D.C. back to Reno.

Sandoval is both blessed and cursed as successor to Gov. Jim Gibbons.

Sandoval’s personable style and likability stood out all the more following Gibbons’ turbulent term. Sandoval met with all 63 lawmakers in 2011, and even at its most partisan, his Democratic opponents emphasized that they were not taking on the Republican governor personally.

But Gibbons’ term as governor also brought a greater focus on the work ethic of the state’s CEO. Gibbons’ whereabouts were often unknown, even to his most senior staff. In one remarkable stretch in 2008, while he was going through a public divorce, Gibbons was in his Carson City office just 12 days in nine weeks. That same summer, Gibbons was out of state 17 days out of 63.

Sandoval, during his campaign to defeat Gibbons in the Republican primary and since, promised to be the “hardest working governor in America.”

Indeed, during the final weeks of the 2011 Legislature, Sandoval showed he had better work ethic than Gibbons. He regularly arrived before 8 a.m. and was still working into the early morning hours. When he goes to staff briefings before Board of Examiners meetings, the monthly executive board that approves contracts, staff say his copy of the agenda and backup are heavily marked and annotated using Post-it notes.

Sandoval noted that during the session, he was not able to attend any of his children’s events.

The Sun requested Sandoval’s travel records because his political future has been the subject of much speculation and some of his recent trips have drawn media attention. In addition to his speech to the Florida GOP group, his Mideast trip could be viewed as politically smart.

Sandoval’s name comes up as a potential GOP vice-presidential pick. He has said he intends to serve his four-year term, which ends in 2014. But he has never dismissed the possibility of running for Senate or seeking a federal appointment after that. (He has served as an assemblyman, gaming regulator, attorney general and federal judge.)

According to the Nevada Constitution, “the powers and duties of the (governor) shall devolve upon the Lieutenant Governor” when the governor is out of state.

Sandoval insists he is working hard on Nevada’s problems. He said he gave the beginnings of his strategic plan to his cabinet members this week. He also pointed to the work agencies are doing eliminating regulations in the state.

But his office said the strategic plan is still preliminary, and could not be released. Sandoval said agencies would identify regulations that are “redundant, obsolete or not business friendly” by the end of the year, but declined to provide any specifics this week.

With the state struggling economically, any vacation by its CEO is going to be scrutinized.

Republicans, and even Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., have questioned President Barack Obama’s 10-day vacation to Martha’s Vineyard given the difficulties confronting the nation.

No state has a higher unemployment or foreclosure rate than Nevada. Meanwhile, a number of senior state positions, such as director of the Employment, Training and Rehabilitation Department, and a permanent head of the Taxation Department are vacant. Sandoval still has to make a number of appointments to new committees, such as one that will establish standards to evaluate teachers.

Sandoval said he is working on all those issues, as well as writing a handwritten note to every business that has come to Nevada or expanded.

Fred Lokken, a professor of political science at Truckee Meadows Community College, said the impression he has is that, “It is like he disappeared for the summer after the session ended.”

Sandoval remains well liked, he said, but he wonders what he’s advocating for.

“I’ve never seen such a bunch of hand-wringing politicians,” Lokken said. “We need someone who’s rolling up his sleeves, engaging the talent in Nevada.”

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