Tuesday, June 12, 2018 | 2 a.m.
For Democratic voters, the decision between Steve Sisolak and Chris Giunchigliani for Nevada governor isn’t just a matter of who’s more experienced and qualified, or whose vision would be better for the state.
A huge factor is which candidate has the best chance of defeating the presumptive Republican candidate, Adam Laxalt, in November.
And that being the case, the clear choice is Sisolak.
Sisolak boasts the statewide name recognition and fundraising power to keep Laxalt out of the governor’s office. And while Laxalt is at the far-right fringe of American politics, Sisolak’s record and political leanings give him appeal to Nevadans across a broad swath of the political spectrum.
In a purple state that voted for Hillary Clinton and approved the ballot question for expanded background checks on gun sales in 2016, Sisolak would be the strongest candidate in November.
So the stakes in the primary are exceptionally high.
With Democrats a lock to control both chambers of the Legislature in 2019, a win for Sisolak in November would help keep the state from regressing on immigration policy, gun safety, gender and LBGTQ equality, funding for public education, and many other issues.
Laxalt, on the other hand, is a National Rifle Association puppet who campaigned against the ballot question — going so far as to appear in a number of TV commercials to express his opposition — and has barely lifted a finger in getting the measure implemented. He signed Nevada into lawsuits challenging the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and defending a restrictive Texas abortion law, both without consulting with Sandoval.
For moderate Republicans, Sisolak offers a viable alternative to this kind of cultural warfare and hate-driven politics.
He’s been strong on economic development, including by supporting the Raiders stadium project and an increase in the hotel room tax to fund expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center. As a governor working with a Democrat-controlled Legislature, he would continue the strides that the state has made under Sandoval in attracting new employers to Nevada and diversifying the state’s economy.
That said, Sisolak has established a moderate record on tax issues, having opposed the 2014 margins tax and other increases. It’s also important to note that he would be more selective than Sandoval in providing tax incentives to corporations in order to lure them to the state.
Sisolak’s 10 years of experience on the Nevada Board of Regents also makes him a strong candidate, especially for Southern Nevadans. He understands the importance of supporting the state’s postsecondary institutions, and he’s also familiar with the ugly north-south political dynamics that have shorted UNLV to the advantage of UNR. Sisolak was the only board member to vote against restructuring the Nevada System of Higher Education in 2005 to give the chancellor the de facto power to fire university presidents — a change that has been crippling for UNLV. Since 2006, UNLV has gone through a parade of presidents who have been forced out of their positions, while UNR has experienced stability in leadership even though the university has underperformed in key respects.
Giunchigliani also brings a high level of experience and qualifications to the campaign, having served 15 years in the Legislature before becoming a Clark County commissioner. But most Nevadans would consider her too left-leaning — especially those in rural areas — and it’s likely she would struggle against Laxalt.
Keep in mind that Laxalt will be extremely well-supported financially by right-leaning political organizations both inside and outside the state, including the NRA. Unlike Sisolak and Giunchigliani, who have fought a bruising and expensive duel in the primary, Laxalt has had to spend almost nothing on the Republican side. He’ll go into the general election campaign with a fat cache of donations.
That means Democrats, for the good of the state, will need every advantage they can get. Sisolak is the candidate who can provide the edge.
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For Clark County district attorney, another key primary race, Steve Wolfson is the clear favorite. He’s earned another term after being appointed to the office in 2012 and being elected to it in 2014.
The DA’s office has come under fire under Wolfson, most notably when it was discovered that accountability measures for victim-witness payments were lacking, but Wolfson met the issues head-on and has worked responsibly toward resolving them.
Meanwhile, Wolfson and his team have done a commendable job of carrying out their duties to help maintain law and order. There’s no need for a change in leadership.