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How Are Nevada's Elected Officials Handling The Pandemic?

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak announced during a news conference in Carson City, Nev., Thursday, May 7, 2020, that Nevada will begin allowing restaurants, salons and other non-essential businesses to reopen starting Saturday.
(AP Photo/Scott Sonner)

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak announced during a news conference in Carson City, Nev., Thursday, May 7, 2020, that Nevada will begin allowing restaurants, salons and other non-essential businesses to reopen starting Saturday.

It’s been nearly two months since Governor Steve Sisolak closed non-essential businesses to prevent further spread of the coronavirus. 

The results? Hospitals that aren't overwhelmed and high approval ratings for the governor. But he still has many critics, including Mayor Carolyn Goodman, who come out strong against the closure of businesses and casinos. 

But her own poll numbers are much lower, largely due to her offering up Nevadans as “test subjects” during a CNN interview.

Steve Sebelius covers politics and the government for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He told KNPR's State of Nevada that the governor's office did make a few minor mistakes at the outset, namely technical difficulties during his news conferences. However, those glitches can be overlooked because no one in the office was prepared for the kind of quick changes they would have to make.

For the larger decisions, Sebelius praised the governor's efforts.

"I don't think he's made many mistakes," he said. "Although I think his initial suggestion that non-essential businesses close down, later modified into an order, I think could have come as an order more quickly. But again, we're quibbling over the details over how he is doing something that no one in the state of Nevada ever contemplated would have to be done."

Sebelius noted there is no playbook for dealing with a global pandemic.

Warren Hardy is a former Republican state senator and a lobbyist. He also supports the governor's efforts but he is concerned that an effort that started out as a way to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed with patients has turned into something more.

“But there’s been sort of a mission creep to now talk about eradicating the virus and using this quarantine and shutdown to eradicate the virus. I think that’s where a lot of that frustration is coming from," he said.

Hardy thinks those protesting against the governor's stay-at-home order are scared. He said people had jobs and the economy was doing fine until seemingly overnight everything changed.

“I see these protests as driven largely out of fear - the fear of uncertainty. People just don’t know," he said.

Sebelius does see the frustration and fear in the protests, but he also sees politics. 

"This is the first shot fired in the 2022 campaign against Gov. Sisolak," he said. "This is a reaction to a Democratic governor that conservatives do not like and it's an opportunity. They see an opportunity to attack a Democratic governor and trying to get him weakened politically as he's going forward."

Sebelius pointed out that in past crises, like 9/11 or World War II, people rallied around their leaders and came together to meet the challenge, but he's afraid in our partisan age that we've lost some of that.

Hugh Jackson is the editor of the Nevada Current. He suspects politics were a consideration for Sisolak when reopening the state when he did, but he also noted that the governor is really following the same path as other governors around the country. 

However, as far as the shutdown was concerned, Jackson said the private sector had already decided to close its doors.

"The largest casino-resort industry companies in the state had already announced they were shutting down before Sisolak shut everything down," he said.

In addition, every state in the country had some kind of lockdown order in place - regardless of the political affiliation of the state's governor.

Now that things are starting to reopen, Jackson believes Sisolak has a much more difficult job ahead of him.

"I think throughout this crisis, so far, Sisolak has enjoyed what you might call the luxury of clarity," Jackson said. "He has had one primary thing on his mind ... that's stopping the spread of the virus ... and he's been focused on that like a laser beam, as he should be ... but weird as it may sound, for him politically and procedurally, that might have been the easy part."   

Jackson said in the months ahead, the governor will have to tackle a major shortfall in the state budget. 

Sebelius agreed that finding a way out of the budget crisis will not be easy, noting there are very few options and none of them are good. 

Raising taxes would be difficult during the best of times, but with a requirement of a two-thirds majority to pass tax increases in the state, getting support for a tax hike will be virtually impossible.

But no one wants to see a cut in services or money for education.

"The cuts are disastrous but what is your option?" Hardy said. "Even if you could get the two-thirds vote to raise taxes, who are you going to tax? Gaming is decimated, retail is decimated, car sales are decimated."  

With that grim fight on the horizon, Hardy did say that he believes state lawmakers will be looking to work across the aisle to find solutions. 

"If we go into [the legislative] session to deal with the fiscal crisis, I think you're going to find broad support and a spirit of bipartisanship across the board, based on the conversations I've had with Republicans," he said.

Steve Sebelius, politics and government editor, Las Vegas Review-Journal;  Warren Hardy, lobbyist, former state senator;  Hugh Jackson, editor, Nevada Current


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Mike has been a producer for State of Nevada since 2019. He produces — and occasionally hosts — segments covering entertainment, gaming & tourism, sports, health, Nevada’s marijuana industry, and other areas of Nevada life.