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Laxalt joins 4 gubernatorial candidates in vying to replace Sandoval

Attorney General Adam Laxalt

Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt announces his candidacy for governor at an event in Henderson on Nov. 1, 2017.

Updated Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017 | 5 p.m.

AG Adam Laxalt campaign for Governor

Attorney General Adam Laxalt announced his candidacy for Governor at an event in Henderson, Nev. on November 1, 2017. Launch slideshow »

The race to replace Nevada’s term-limited governor gained another challenger with Wednesday’s official launch of Republican Attorney General Adam Laxalt’s campaign.

Laxalt will compete against Treasurer Dan Schwartz and political newcomer Jared Fisher for the nod from GOP voters. Clark County Commissioners Chris Giunchigliani and Steve Sisolak are facing off in the Democratic primary.

Gov. Brian Sandoval’s final term ends in January 2019, and he has not endorsed any candidates so far in the race to elect his replacement. He was not at Laxalt’s campaign announcement.

Laxalt says he has never supported the commerce tax that was passed by the 2015 Legislature, which steers money toward education. It’s unclear how he would fill the budget hole that eliminating the tax would cause.

“I support Gov. Sandoval’s desire to improve education,” Laxalt said in front of reporters after his speech. “I have the same desire … I’m confident we can make up the difference if the voters choose to repeal it.”

Sandoval has said K-12 and higher education would face cuts if the tax is repealed. He said any candidate who wants to cut that budget should explain to parents and teachers where the cuts are going to come from.

“It’s a slap in the face to parents, to kids, to students, to teachers, to the school system,” he said. “That’s almost a $400 million hole that that’s going to be made in the budget. How do you make that up?”

Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison, who is not seeking re-election in 2018 and is serving as the campaign chair for Republican Sen. Dean Heller, introduced Laxalt and said “we don’t need another rudderless politician as the next governor of Nevada. What we need is an authentic, genuine, principled conservative like Adam Laxalt.”

After the speech, Laxalt told two reporters who asked about whether he’d continue Sandoval’s support for Medicaid expansion that he is going to wait to see what happens in D.C. Sandoval was the first Republican governor to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and has been vocal in his opposition to reforms that would harm the expansion or reduce the number of people with health insurance.

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., who is endorsing Laxalt in the race, was signed onto a failed GOP proposal to replace ACA funding with block grants. Sandoval joined a bipartisan group of governors in sending a letter to GOP leaders in Congress asking that they not consider the Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson amendment. They urged a bipartisan approach.

Wednesday’s announcement was made in Las Vegas at Brady Industries, a company that donated $5,000 to Laxalt in 2015. Outside the event, supporters of Nevada’s unenforced gun background check law gathered on sidewalks and chanted statements like “we voted for background checks” and held signs criticising Laxalt.

“We are here to put pressure on Adam Laxalt,” said Elizabeth Becker, a volunteer and former chapter leader of Everytown for Gun Safety affiliate Moms Demand Action for Gunsense in America. “If he wants to be the governor, then we need to him him say, ‘I will enforce the law as governor and I will work with the FBI as other states have done to get background checks enforced.’”

Laxalt’s office has said the law is unenforceable without FBI cooperation, though advocates say other states have implemented systems where some background checks run through the state and others through the FBI. The unenforced law has prompted a lawsuit in which Mark A. Ferrario, counsel for Nevadans for Background Checks, lists Gov. Brian Sandoval and Laxalt as defendants.

Laxalt campaign spokesman Andy Matthews did not answer whether he thought gun background checks will be a major factor in this election.

“People are entitled to their point of view,” Matthews said before Laxalt announced his candidacy. “We anticipate that there are going to be some people who may show up and want to express a different point of view, and that’s fine.”

During the event, Laxalt spoke about his path to sobriety before he signed up for the armed services while he was in law school.

He cited his support for requiring testing to eliminate a backlog of about 8,000 sexual assault kits. Laxalt requested Assembly Bill 55 this past legislative session to solve the issue, but the bill died in committee and Democrats advanced their own measure instead.

Laxalt also pointed to his fight against sanctuary cities. This year, Laxalt was among attorneys general from 10 states to argue in a friend-of-the-court brief that a case against President Donald Trump’s executive order on sanctuary cities should be dismissed. The order said these communities could lose federal grants.

Prevent Sanctuary Cities PAC is pursuing a ballot measure for the 2018 election that would ban sanctuary policies in Nevada. The Legislature failed to advance a bill this year that would have allowed communities to enact “sanctuary” policies. State Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, who had been a proponent of the commerce tax in 2015, was in the audience for Laxalt’s announcement and is chairing the anti-sanctuary state PAC.

“The likely Democratic nominee for Governor, Chris Giunchigliani, has recently confirmed she would sign sanctuary state legislation,” Roberson said in an Oct. 30 statement. “Without safeguards and protections in place, we are one election away from Nevada becoming a sanctuary state.”

If elected governor, Laxalt said he would continue to stand against the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump. Funding has been requested to revive the controversial project, and an Illinois Republican is pushing nuclear waste policy reforms related to Yucca Mountain.

Laxalt left Las Vegas on Wednesday for Reno, the second stop in a statewide tour that ends Nov. 7.