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September 23, 2017

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Hey, California press! It’s Sandoval’s usual practice not to say much


Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval speaks to the Las Vegas Sun editorial board Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012.

Sun coverage

Gov. Brian Sandoval may have wanted to keep quiet, stay out of trouble and coast to re-election in 2014.

But an eager press corps from California’s Capitol has ratcheted up the pressure over the past few weeks, even crashing Sandoval’s press conference announcing a new state slogan.

Now Nevada’s Democratic Party has cracked its rhetorical whips, heaping on more criticism after the Republican governor initially declined to comment on ongoing investigations into malpractice at the state’s mental health division.

"It is shameful that it took weeks of damaging press coverage for the governor to come close to admitting that his administration's busing policy is reckless and irresponsible,” a Democratic spokesman said in a press release.

The attacks focus on investigations surrounding the state health department’s admission that it inappropriately sent discharged psychiatric patients unescorted on long Greyhound bus trips out of state, a practice critics call “patient dumping.”

For more than a month, the governor kept cloistered in the Capitol, issuing statements via a spokeswoman that he’s taking the issue “very seriously” and he’s “been briefed throughout the investigation.” He declined several interview requests with a media outlet before eventually releasing a statement on the matter.

But the governor’s reticence to give public comment extends far beyond this most recent uproar.

When asked about policy positions, the governor’s staff has either declined to delineate a position or repeatedly pointed to the transcript of Sandoval’s 2013 speech to the Legislature as the tome with the answers.

The public is left to pore over the Gospel of Sandoval and quietly contemplate how the January speech applies to today’s changing world.

When asked about some of the myriad measures under consideration at the state Legislature, the governor’s office asserts its openness. Come one, come all.

The most common trope issued from his office, however, is that “we generally will not take positions on individual legislation because a bill could be amended before it reaches the governor’s desk.”

For some real-life examples of this in practice:

Q: Does the governor approve of a bill to add crimes against transgendered people to the state’s hate crimes statute?

A: “We will review the bill when we receive it.”

Q: What’s the governor’s position about bills to change the state’s K-12 education Nevada Plan funding system?

A: “Should the Legislature produce a plan to reform the Nevada Plan, the governor would review it.”

The governor also meets with state lawmakers of both parties. He reviews. He listens. He’s quick to smile. (It’s not for nothing that Nevada politicos call him Gov. Sunny.)

Governing Magazine dubbed him the “helmsman” last year for his steady-as-she-goes approach that has kept him popular with Nevadans.

But he’s avoided making detailed statements throughout this busy legislative session, instead favoring the line that he’ll sit back, review bills and listen to concerns. What he doesn’t say can’t hurt him.

What he does say generally polls reasonably well: He believes marriage is between a man and a woman; he opposes the legalization of marijuana for recreational use; he opposes a tax on businesses that will be on the 2014 ballot; he “strongly supports” Second Amendment rights; he supports extending tax increases for another two years and expanding the state’s Medicaid program; he supports “school choice” bills in the Legislature.

The governor only occasionally brings the full political weight of his office to bear on issues in Carson City.

He took urgent action only once this year when he cranked an online poker bill through the Legislature in just a day. It was a key piece of legislation for the Nevada Resort Association, the organization representing the state’s large casino and gambling companies.

He’s also taken up the mantle for NV Energy and has waded into issues surrounding the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency — both issues that are heavily lobbied at the Legislature.

Beyond those measures, he’s floated down the middle of the river, careful not to run aground. Steady as she goes.

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