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November 15, 2018

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Partisanship and power at play as the governor’s race nears

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David Becker/Las Vegas News Bureau

Nev. Gov. Brian Sandoval, right, takes a selfie with Margaret George during Caesars Entertainment Community Review reception at the Rio All-Suites Hotel & Casino Monday, March 5, 2018, in Las Vegas.

Save the date

Nevada’s primary election is June 12.

Gov. Brian Sandoval will hand his successor an office that is more powerful than when he first arrived in 2011, according to experts.

Almost every governor in history has wanted to expand the power of the office, says UNR political science chair Eric Herzik. Sandoval, who has reached his two-term limit, was able to do that by moving the budget director under the department of administration into his office.

“That’s actually a structural change that matters, because the budget is one of the most important things the governor does,” Herzik said. “Yes, the governor always had control over the department of administration, but now it’s moved into the governor’s direct office, so it’s just down the hall. It was a way to concentrate the executive budget power.”

The state’s first governor took office in 1864, when the country generally did not want or expect a strong executive, said Michael Green, UNLV associate history professor. The creation of boards and commissions during the progressive era gave governors the ability to appoint people to powerful positions in gaming and public utilities, among others.

“Today we take for granted that the governor is going to appoint gaming commissioners and tourism commissioners and so on,” Green said.

Herzik said Sandoval’s budget move is an example of his emphasis on economic development. While not explicitly stated as part of his authority, Sandoval did have a strong hand in dealings with Tesla and the Raiders, which are both receiving incentives to build in the state.

The lieutenant governor typically plays a large role in directing commissions on economic development and tourism. Herzik said Sandoval has been taking the more active role in this area.

A major reorganization also occurred in the 1990s under the administration of Bob Miller, Nevada’s longest-serving governor and the last Democrat to fill the seat. In his 10 years before leaving office in 1999, Miller led the state through at least two rounds of budget cuts and a hiring freeze.

“For the most part, I would say yes, every governor wants to enhance the power of the office,” Herzik said. “Miller made changes, (former Gov. Kenny) Guinn made changes, Sandoval made changes that are administrative. So they give the particular governor more direct control over how decisions are made within the executive branch.”

Female political leaders

Nationwide, 28 states have elected female governors, according to Rutgers’ Center for Women in Politics.

“It is good to have different voices at the table and to have various constituencies represented,” said Frankie Sue Del Papa via email.

She was the state’s first female attorney general and announced but did not file to run for governor in 1998. Financial backing for a statewide campaign was the challenge then.

“I have known a significant number of governors who happen to be women, and am very proud of their accomplishments,” Del Papa said. “Nevada is overdue. Experience and energy is not limited to males or females.”

Groups such as Emily’s List, which supports pro-choice female candidates for office, have reported a sharp increase in female candidates since 2016, when Hillary Clinton lost her bid for the presidency to Donald Trump. The rise in female candidacy also coincides with the #MeToo movement of women coming forward to report sexual misconduct.

There are two women in Nevada’s gubernatorial race: Republican Stephanie Carlisle, a self-described political outsider, and Democrat Chris Giunchigliani, a Democrat on the Clark County Commission.

“At this moment, women stepping up in this number for executive leadership is so important,” said Lucinda Guinn, vice president of campaigns for Emily’s List. “It’s important that little girls all over the country see women not just as legislators but in these mayoral positions and gubernatorial positions where the women are the executive leaders and can set that example for young women all over the country.”

Carlisle is competing for her party’s nomination against Attorney General Adam Laxalt, an established Republican with support from major GOP donors. Giunchigliani, meanwhile, faces a tough primary against fellow Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak, who is considered to be a more moderate Democrat. Herzik said Laxalt is a very conservative candidate, even more so than former Gov. Jim Gibbons, who lost his bid for re-election to Sandoval in 2010, after a term marked by an economic crisis, his opposition to hiking taxes and his hands-off approach to the Legislature.

The state of the two-party system

Sandoval is largely considered a moderate Republican, but the Trump presidency could be the factor that polarizes this year’s election.

To this point, “we’ve had very pragmatic governors and very pragmatic legislative leaders,” Herzik said.

The state and its part-time Legislature that meets every two years do not have time to get into town and pass a budget — and every other piece of necessary legislation — amid deep partisanship.

Nevada is considered a conservative-leaning swing state, but Democrats actually dominated the office from the ’30s to the ’90s. Sandoval, the third Republican in a row to win occupy the Governor’s Mansion since then, was also the first Latino elected to the office.

While it’s unclear whether the most recent resurgence of the women’s equality movement will make an impact on Nevada’s gubernatorial race, Herzik said partisanship could end up tipping the scales for voters.

“Could it become more partisan? Easily it could get there,” Herzik said. “Adam Laxalt’s very conservative … (Giunchigliani) would be the most liberal governor we’ve probably ever had. Is that potential out there? Yes.”

This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.