John L Smith: How Much Did Politics Influence The Governor's Decision To Reopen?


(AP Photo/John Locher)

Plastic sheets separate customers at A Cut Above the Rest barbershop, Saturday, May 9, 2020, in Las Vegas. Saturday was the first day restaurants, salons and other nonessential businesses were allowed to start reopening after restrictions were imposed seven weeks earlier to help stop the spread of the new coronavirus.

Governor Steve Sisolak allowed Phase 1 of the reopening process to begin on Saturday, allowing restaurants, salons and other non-essential businesses to open.

Was that decision influenced by medical advice or politics?

Contributor John L. Smith believes Gov. Sisolak was influenced by a game plan laid out by the medical experts rather than concerns over political fallout.

He said Sisolak has been concerned about flattening the curve of COVID-19 cases and following best practices, while watching the state's economy crumble.

“You’re trying to juggle two chainsaws at the same time and it is, clearly, a very difficult thing to do,” he said.

But every state is in the same boat, they're all hoping for help from the federal government to get back on their feet.

"...How do you get up off the canvas without resparking troubles and creating hotspots for the virus and it’s a real challenge,” Smith said.

A recent Las Vegas Review-Journal poll showed that a majority of Nevadans supported Gov. Sisolak and his decision to lock down the state to stop the spread of the virus. 

Smith noted the poll showed that the loudest voices don't always represent the majority of people. In addition, Sisolak was not outside the norm when it came to shutting down the economy almost every other governor had a stay-at-home order of some kind, which Smith said "staved off disaster" in many places.

Support comes from

There is one area of the state's response to the crisis that Smith believes deserves criticism and that is the unemployment office. The Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation has been heavily criticized for not churning out unemployment checks fast enough. 

Smith notes that Nevada is not alone. Unemployment offices across the country have been caught flat-footed.

“I think all governors could see that coming. As soon as there is something happening, you gotta go lights and sirens to fix the unemployment office,” he said.


“I definitely think that Culinary has a point,” Smith said.

He said the workers represented by the union are like "canary in the coal mine" in this pandemic and they have substantial concerns. 

Smith explained that in many resorts the back of the house is not as clean and as spacious as it could be to keep the virus at bay. 

“I think there is a point that can be made by the union by raising these issues," he said, "They’re clearly far more vocal in the last few weeks, it’s clear that they’re feeling left out.”

Plus, with 60,000 workers in the union out of work, the members are likely pressuring the leaders to speak up. 

Smith said casinos are working on plans to return to business with multi-prong approaches on how to throw a party while social distancing. 

He said the economists he has talked to are smiling about the reopening, but "smiling with trepidation." People are just not sure if the ideas they have to reopen will work.

“The best-case scenario is we’re going to be talking about this and dealing with this for a very long time,” he said.


“Siegfried and Roy had this amazing staying power. They were entertainers who entertained an international audience. That act, that illusion act, did not need English subtitles. It did not Chinese subtitles. It was an international success because of that,” Smith said.

Roy died last week from complications of COVID-19. He was 75. 

Smith said Siegfried and Roy were "a money machine" that brought cash and visitors to the casinos. He said many people in this city got money in their pockets because the duo filled seats.

“We see the casinos. We know that tourists show up but they show up for reasons. And for a whole generation, Siegfried and Roy were a large reason for that.”


John L. Smith, KNPR contributor

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