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The first week of November, Nevada voters will decide on who will be our next governor.
Clark County Commissioner and Democrat Steve Sisolak is facing off with Attorney General and Republican Adam Laxalt.
Sisolak joined KNPR’s State of Nevada to talk about some of the issues facing the state.
Why do you want to be governor?
“I've been very fortunate in the state of Nevada. This is my home. I know Nevada values. I have been here for over 40 years. And I think there are some things we can bring to Carson City to improve the state from north to south and the rurals. I want to focus on those issues and I think I can make a positive contribution.”
What makes you think you could do the job? What are your qualifications?
“I came out of the private sector. I put myself through college. I'm a single dad had two daughters… learned what it's like to raise a family and they graduated from Durango High School so I'm familiar with the education system. I've had small businesses. I spent 10 years on the Board of Regents and now 10 years on the Clark County Commission and six of them as chair. I know the issues that the county and local jurisdictions face in how we interact with the state. The biggest skill I feel I've learned is consensus building and problem solving. You know we find a way to get to ‘yes.’”
Sisolak said he doesn’t believe compromise is a bad word. He believes in working with all sides to solve a problem.
Before we get into some more of the issues, I want to talk about something that has come up in advertisements by the Laxalt campaign targeting you. You sued Clark County about 20 years ago in connection with three pieces of land you owned that back then were desert, but McCarran International Airport inched closer as the airport grew. Why did you sue Clark County?
“That was an eminent domain case that the county took the land of several dozen landowners around McCarran International Airport. I was one of several dozen landowners that had property in the area. What had happened is McCarran had expanded and reduced the value and the use of the properties that we had. These people all sued individually or as a group. The airport either lost those cases or settled with the property owner. No different than if they come to take over your property for a road or freeway or a building.”
Initially, you won a verdict of about $6.5 million but the jury also awarded an additional $8 million in interest, $2 million in legal fees and then the county appealed. What happened after that?
The county continued to appeal. It was a district court decision. They appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court. They lost at the District Court. They lost at the Supreme Court. They appealed to the United States Supreme Court.”
Sisolak said the lawsuit was delayed and dragged out and eventually it ended up costing the county about $23 million.
I wonder how that makes you feel about the power of government especially during a time when rural Nevadans and one of your opponents Ryan Bundy is railing against federal ownership of state land.
“I'm a believer in property rights. People own their homes. They own a piece of property if they invest in it. The government should not be able to take over that property without giving you compensation for that. I'm a firm believer in that. That was the principle behind dozens of folks who sued the airport and who the airport settled with. Ryan Bundy and Cliven Bundy are a little different in terms of grazing rights with the federal government. I'm a firm believer in individual property rights.”
Two years ago, Nevada voters said they want background checks on private gun sales. Attorney General Adam Laxalt had said his hands were tied because the FBI would not have the ability to do those background checks. If you were governor, what would you have done?
“I would have worked with the FBI to implement common-sense background checks which is what people voted for. Attorney General Laxalt chose to go a different way and not enforce the checks that the citizenry asked for and wanted.
He's coming up with a reason why he didn't do that. A dozen other states approximately have similar laws to ours and did have the federal government help with the background checks.”
Sisolak said Laxalt is doing the bidding of the National Rifle Association not what the citizens of Nevada wanted and voted for.
Do you think there's anything as governor that could be enacted to prevent something like the 1 October shooting in the future?
“I don't know if anything will prevent a situation like that from happening. But there are certain things we can do. We can certainly ban bump stocks and expanded cartridges which Laxalt opposes doing. We could certainly implement background checks which he opposed doing. We could certainly fund mental health more than we're funding mental health, which he opposes doing. He and I are on opposite sides of this issue right down the line.”
As Attorney General Adam Laxalt has signed his name onto a lawsuit in Texas that defended a law banning the most common form of abortion in the second trimester. Do you support restrictions on abortion?
“I do not. I believe that is a decision that women make with their doctors or their families. And I would never interfere with a woman's right to choose and that's a decision that is very personal. No one should be judgmental about what other people choose to do and that's a decision she makes with her doctor.”
The Clark County School District says more of the state’s tax revenue is generated in Clark County and therefore more should be going to the school district than it does currently. Do you agree with that?
“I agree that more money needs to go in education. That's plain and simple. I mean I have visited schools in Southern Nevada, in northern Nevada and in the rurals. I've been in more schools than you can imagine in the last year - year and a half - touring this state. And I can tell you emphatically that if we want to improve our education system, we have to begin by recruiting and retaining the best teachers and that's going to vote paying them more money.”
Teacher recruitment is tied to another problem Sisolak has observed in our education system: overcrowded classrooms. He said one of his daughter’s classes has 48 kids and 42 desks.
He said the state needs to fund education properly. He says the state has not done that in the past. He says he intends to make education his priority if elected.
What do you want Congress to do in relation to immigration?
“I am outraged and disheartened by children being ripped from the arms of their mothers and fathers… I can't imagine someone coming in taking a young child from you. That is simply not what my United States of America, our United States of America stands for. That has to stop. Kids who got here through no fault of their own are DREAMers, DACA, we have to protect those individuals and we have to find a path to citizenship for the folks that are here.”
Sisolak said the country can do more to secure the borders but that doesn’t solve the problem of the millions of people who are in the country now. He thinks the federal government needs to come to a solution.
Student loan debt in this country and in Nevada is at an all-time high. It is really more of a federal issue, but do you have any proposals to ease student loan debt?
You’ve got two issues there. One, you've got the students that have the outstanding debt. It’s handcuffing them to get on with their life. We need to do more to make college affordable. I fully understand at the same time higher education is not for everyone. I mean a lot of kids are pursuing apprenticeships and work skills and learning a skilled trade and they can support themselves that way. But what I was at the border regions, I dealt regularly with students throughout the state. I fully understand what they're dealing with and we need to do all we can at the federal level to reduce the interest rates and the time payment schedule on these things so the kids can pay them off at a reduced rate and get these two loans out from under them so that they can get on with their lives.”
The Affordable Care Act resulted in thousands in Nevada finally getting health insurance. The Trump administration though has rolled back a lot of the Affordable Care Act. Is there anything you can do as governor to provide more health insurance and at a relatively low cost to more Nevadans?
We need to continue to expand Medicaid in that way. And Gov. Sandoval did a very brave, courageous, and I believe, thoughtful intelligent thing when he expanded Medicaid in the state of Nevada. Here's another one where Attorney General Laxalt and I are on opposite pages. He said as always pieces of legislation ever. I think it would provide health care for hundreds of thousands of individuals. If you're stuck with a preexisting condition or your child has a pre-existing condition there's nowhere to go. You're uninsurable.
I mean the government has to step in and make a bigger pool so that those individuals - everybody - is able to get quality healthcare at a reasonable price that they can afford. Otherwise, health care doesn't mean anything. If it’s not affordable and accessible, it doesn't mean much to people.”
Sisolak said more needs to be done to negotiate better prices for health care services and prescriptions.
With marijuana still illegal at the federal level, what will you do as governor if elected to protect Nevada's legal marijuana system?
I'm a big believer in the marijuana system that we have in place in the state of Nevada. I think we set the gold standard for marijuana regulation…. There are several things I want to do on the regulation side. We have to solve the banking situation that comes with marijuana. You can't have this cash economy that you’re dealing with. They’re paying their property taxes, sales tax, their employees everybody is getting paid in cash. That's not a good thing to have out in the economy. When they’re walking around with backpacks and duffel bags full of $20 bills to pay their bills. We need to come up with a banking system that will work and also come out of the way where people can consume the product.”
Sisolak said that in a tourist economy like that of Southern Nevada people have to have a place to consume marijuana legally. He is confident that the Legislature will come with a plan to address that problem.
(Editor's Note: KNPR News has reached out several times to Adam Laxalt for an interview. He has not agreed.)
Steve Sisolak, Democratic candidate for Governor