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May 28, 2022

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Sandoval won’t draw line over collective bargaining like Wisconsin governor

Union Rally for Wisconsin

Steve Marcus

Hundreds of union members attend a rally at the Grant Sawyer Building Monday, February 21, 2011. Nevada union members held rallies in Las Vegas and Carson City to show their support for union workers in Wisconsin who are fighting to keep their collective bargaining rights.

Union Rally for Wisconsin

Hundreds of union members attend a rally at the Grant Sawyer Building Monday, February 21, 2011. Nevada union members held rallies in Las Vegas and Carson City to show their support for union workers in Wisconsin who are fighting to keep their collective bargaining rights. Launch slideshow »
Brian Sandoval

Brian Sandoval

Sun Coverage

Gov. Brian Sandoval is in lock step with most Republican governors across the nation.

No new taxes? Check.

Education reform? Check.

Reining in public employee salaries? Check.

But on collective bargaining rights for public employees — the issue in national focus as Wisconsin teachers and government workers protest a push to roll back their ability to collectively bargain — Sandoval parts ways with the national agenda pushed by the Republican CEOs who control 29 statehouses.

Sandoval’s position puts him at odds with some of his constituency, and with Republican minorities in the Legislature, many of whom think the biggest burdens on public budgets are the pay and benefits won by local government employees through collective bargaining.

In an interview with the Las Vegas Sun this week, Sandoval said he is focused on three priorities: economic development, education reform and balancing the budget without taxes.

He is loath, particularly in the early days of the legislative session, to throw his political capital behind other major initiatives.

“In regard to collective bargaining, there may be a bill,” Sandoval said. “I’ve not seen that bill. I’m watching the progress of such bills and waiting to see if they arrive here at the Capitol.”

Hardly the words of a Republican governor willing to join the fight legislative Republicans have been waging for years.

It underscores how Sandoval’s agenda differs from that of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, whom Sandoval describes as a friend and close ally. Walker has sparked massive demonstrations with his plan to virtually abolish collective bargaining rights for government employees in his state.

Sandoval said he and Walker have bonded as new governors who share a determination to toe the line on taxes and reform education policy. Sandoval said he called Walker to wish him well.

Walker bragged about Sandoval’s support in a phone call with someone impersonating David Koch, a billionaire active in Republican causes.

Sandoval denies he called Walker to offer support on the collective bargaining front.

“The words that were used was not to blink, ‘don’t blink when it comes to raising taxes or pursuing education reform,’ ” Sandoval said of the conversation. “We didn’t talk about collective bargaining.”

Sandoval checked off the reasons why Nevada isn’t as well-positioned as Wisconsin for such a fight: “The governor there has a Republican majority in both houses; the governor there walked into a budget surplus situation; the state employees there already have collective bargaining rights unlike ... Nevada.

“I think the constellation of events there are different from what Nevada has right now,” he said. (Walker actually faces a $3.6 billion deficit.)

Americans for Prosperity, which is pushing collective bargaining changes in Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana, has made a similar decision to forgo such a fight in Nevada, at least for now.

“Even though it’s (collective bargaining) the crux of any budget issue, everyone is focused on getting the budget passed without a tax increase as our No. 1 priority,” said Adam Stryker, Nevada state director for Americans for Prosperity. “Down the road, I still think it’s a fight that needs to come to Nevada.”

Some of Sandoval’s conservative allies agree with his decision not to take on the fight in a Legislature controlled by Democrats.

“He has a number of issues he’s trying to get through and they all collectively die if he picks a fight right now on collective bargaining,” one GOP lobbyist said.

Legislative Republicans have collective bargaining on their list of negotiating points when the time comes to hammer out a budget deal with Democrats. But Democrats have expressed little willingness to tinker with collective bargaining.

It doesn’t make sense to spend political capital on something that is sure to fail, Sandoval’s allies reason.

“He will decide if and when he decides to tackle it,” said Robert Uithoven, a Republican operative and lobbyist.

To be sure, Sandoval supports changes in collective bargaining, as he said in his State of the State address, to “ensure employee compensation does not hamper government performance.”

But despite his popularity, he has made a tactical decision not to carry the torch on the issue, leaving that to GOP legislators. To date, he’s only said he wants a more “balanced approach” to collective bargaining.

That position frustrates at least one Republican lawmaker, who asked not to be identified as criticizing the governor.

“He apparently has neither the energy nor the political capital to drive it forward,” the lawmaker said. “I’m concerned it’s not part of his agenda, but I understand his position.”

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