A likely Republican candidate for governor next year, Attorney General Adam Laxalt finally faced questions about why he tried to get gaming officials to intervene in a lawsuit involving the Sands Corporation last year.
Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson was one of Laxalt's biggest donors in 2014 when he won the race for attorney general.
Jon Ralston is founder and publisher of the Nevada Independent, which broke the story of Laxalt's attempt to get Gaming Control Board Chairman A.G. Burnett to intervene in a civil lawsuit on behalf of Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson. Wednesday, Laxalt spoke publically for the first time during a legislative hearing Wednesday about the incident which was recorded by Burnett in 2016.
“Laxalt has tried to downplay this and his team is essentially running a political campaign now, but his case during the hearing, he read a very lengthy prepared statement, that essentially reduces this entire thing to a dispute over the confidentiality of documents. He does assert on the tape that this might hurt the Sands, there is no evidence of that.
Clearly, Burnett thought his attorney – the attorney general – was advocating not on his behalf but on behalf of a private party – that is someone licensed by the Gaming Control Board – Sheldon Adelson, which is why he taped the conversation. Laxalt’s pitch was this was just routine, ‘I wanted to make sure these documents are kept confidential.’ It is very important for the Gaming Control Board to assert confidentiality.”
The heart of the hearing was public testimony from Laxalt, but it was called to discuss a bill that would create a separate attorney for the Gaming Control Board because the board has lost confidence in the ability of the attorney general to represent it.
"The bill doesn’t have a fiscal note yet – they don’t know how much it is going to cost. So, they just discussed it. The discussion came down along partisan lines. Democrats wanting to do it. Republicans seeming more skeptical. Although, there were some Republicans such as the thoughtful minority leader Paul Anderson who said he really needs to think about this before deciding what do to. They haven’t taken action on the bill."
Ralston said that while an ethics complaint has been filed against Laxalt, and the Nevada State Bar could look into the possibility that Laxalt was not acting on behalf of his client, the Gaming Control Board, he said it's unclear if what impact it will have on the 2018 fall election for governor.
"It will certainly be an issue in the campaign next year, assuming Laxalt runs. How damaging will it be? They are obviously worried about it or they wouldn’t have sent out four or five blast emails from his campaign during the last few days, had a bunch of rural folks in the Washoe County Sheriff write a letter to lawmakers yesterday saying what a great guy Adam Laxalt is. They clearly see this as a political campaign that they have to overcome this issue."
Laxalt isn't the only high-profile Republican Ralston has his eye on. He's also watching Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Henderson. Two years ago, Roberson led Republicans arm-in-arm with Governor Brian Sandoval and ushered in some big changes to state funding for schools.
Now that Roberson is out of power -- Democrats hold the majority in the Senate this year -- Ralston said Roberson is hoping for a second act in 2018. Ralston believes Roberson wants to run on the ticket in 2018 with Laxalt, so he's leaning far more conservatively than he did two years ago.
"Roberson was a real force in 2015. He was the governor’s point man in the Legislature. He helped pass the tax increase, which probably ended up costing him the primary against Danny Tarkanian for Congress.
He came back this session as the minority leader and essentially just been a bomb thrower, sending out press releases, running as far to the right as he can to re-establish his conservative credentials for a presumed run for lieutenant governor. He has been vicious at times and hyper-partisan almost always. During the Laxalt-Burnett thing, he’s essentially become a character assassin. He’s become a caricature of a partisan hack.
I don’t think it’s that interesting of a story except to show that a guy who once had a lot of potential has now totally marginalized himself and is clinging to Adam Laxalt’s coattails in the hope that it will make him lieutenant governor."
Jon Ralston, founder/publisher, Nevada Independent
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