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Lee Leaves, Cegavske Is Censured - Do Political Parties Matter In Nevada?

A week ago, North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee announced he was switching parties. He is now a Republican, not a Democrat. Is that a setup for a run for governor? 

And this week, the Nevada Republican Party voted to censure Secretary of State, and fellow Republican, Barbara Cegavske. The party said Cegavske and her office didn't fully investigate allegations of fraud from the November elections. 


And the Nevada Assembly voted to ban the death penalty in the state, putting Gov. Steve Sisolak and at least two state senators in a tight spot. 

Jon Ralston, publisher of the Nevada Independent, and Steve Sebelius, politics and government editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, joined us to discuss those developments and more in Nevada politics.

Discussion Highlights:


North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee Switching Parties:

Steve Sebelius: "John Lee has not changed. He has been the same conservative person that he has always been. In the Legislature, he was approached... many times to switch parties. This is really no surprise to anybody who knows him or follows his career closely."

Sebelius also noted that the switch likely has mostly to do with Lee having a plan to possibly run for governor.

Jon Ralston: "I think there was no reason for John Lee to have switched parties, and done it in such a public way, unless he was thinking of running for governor. I think he will continue to test the waters and travel around the state and say, 'Hi, I'm John Lee. I'm one of you,' and see how that goes over."

With that said, Ralston noted that filing for the gubernatorial race is still a year away. In addition, he is not sure if Lee would do well in a Republican primary against anyone who has been in the party for a long time, which is likely to happen because of the number of Republicans that have already hinted at running for the office. 

Is Gov. Steve Sisolak that weak right now?

Ralston: "He's not that weak, but he is vulnerable. Most of the polling that I know of shows Sisolak with about the same positive and negative approval rating. He has suffered because of the pandemic. There are a lot of people who are upset... certainly, the unemployment mess has hurt him. Some people were upset about the shutdowns etc."

Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo Running for Governor?

Ralston: "He is certainly very seriously thinking about it. There is no question about that. I don't think he's afraid of John Lee. I don't think he's afraid of Steve Sisolak. They used to be friends. I don't think they're so friendly." 

Lee Making The Announcement on "Fox & Friends":

Sebelius: "I think the choice of that particular venue was mostly because they're not going to get really hard questions. Steve Ducey is not going to ask, 'John Lee you've been a conservative Democrat for many years. You've been asked to switch parties many times. Why do it now? Why do it one year before a governor's race?' He's not going to ask that particular question."

Sebelius also said that "Fox & Friends" isn't going to ask about the governor's race or about whether Lee is actually looking to run for Congressional District 4, which Sebelius believes would be an easier race for Lee to win. 

Doesn't the public want to hear responses to tough questions?

Sebelius: "I think so myself. This is my profession. I've done this for more than 30 years. I think they absolutely have an obligation to speak to their constituents, but more and more, you're seeing candidates who have this manufactured persona. This manufactured messaging that they get out there that they never really take any questions or put themselves in a situation where, in a moment of weakness, they might say something the wrong way that could come back to haunt them."

Nevada Republican party censure of Secretary of State Cegavske:

Ralston: "It doesn't really mean that much in the grand scheme of things, unless Barbara Cegavske should have been mentioned in all of those candidates who are going to run for governor and she decides to run for governor, which I think is relatively unlikely. She is the only statewide Republican officeholder. Barbara Cegvaske withstood pressure that none of us here can imagine from the Republicans during the challenge to the results here in Nevada."

Ralston said that the central committee of the party that created the censure is the far-right wing of the party. He said that original censure language included kicking her out of the party, which he noted - they can't do. It also denied her any Republican endorsements - which - again they can't do. 

Ralston: "That was taken out but still the censure repeated all kinds of falsehoods and nonsense that were rejected by common sense and courts and were never proven," 

He also said that when she was in the State Legislature she was not a moderate Republican. Instead, she was a reliable Republican vote. Ralston said to be calling Cegavske a "RINO" or Republican in Name Only is "laughable."

Ralston: "She deserves praise from everyone... for overseeing elections in a fair-minded way despite it being a partisan office, which by the way it shouldn't be."

Bills to Address the Affordable Housing Crisis Died in the Legislature:

Ralston: "These may have died but nothing is really dead in the Legislature until the final gavel comes down, but one thing I think people really don't realize is the strength of the realtor/development lobby up in Carson City. I'm proud of a series we've done in the Indy called 'Follow the Money,' in which our Jacob Solis has tracked a lot of these contributions, and the realtors have given the most of anybody and their allied industries. They've done that for a reason because they knew this was a very progressive, left-leaning Legislature, and they knew these bills would surface."

He believes a lot of lawmakers are going to have to answer to constituents about these bills if they're not passed because affordable housing is on the top of a lot of people's minds, especially because of the pandemic.

On the power of lobbyists and contributions in Carson City:

Ralston: "This goes to a greater systemic problem with the Legislature. You have people win their races, get up there, they've never been paid attention to in their lives and suddenly someone is calling them 'assemblyman' or 'assemblywoman' or 'state senator,' and suddenly, they think they're the greatest thing since sliced bread, and they want to stay there. They want to come back again in two years. It's an astonishing phenomenon. So, they're willing to either cater to or compromise to industries or interests they ordinarily might not."

He said there are many lawmakers who are committed and principled but overall the atmosphere can be "corrosive," especially this year because the building has been mostly closed to the public due to pandemic restrictions.  

Opponents of the affordable housing bills say market forces should decide:

Sebelius: "Let's be honest about the market and capitalism in general. It is a very useful tool to organize a free market economy, but it's not a religion. It wasn't handed down by Moses on stone tablets. The need to regulate a free market economy has always existed precisely because... the market will not adjust for this."

He said the affordable housing crisis in the state will only get worse when the eviction moratorium put into place during the pandemic is lifted. 

Sebelius: "If you want to address the homeless crisis, if you want to address the crisis of people that just can't afford shelter, affordable housing is a key part of this equation. That is why these bills were brought. It wasn't necessarily ideology. It's practicality. I think Republicans and Democrats can realize that something has got to give here."

Nevada Assembly Votes to Ban Death Penalty:

Ralston: "Steve Sisolak is against the death penalty. He changed his position. He was originally just against the death penalty, then it was only in 'extreme cases' What does that mean? 'Extreme cases?' There was an astonishing scene at his press conference yesterday in which he was asked about the death penalty. He first said, 'I'm not going to take any follow-ups on this and I'm going to read a prepared statement.'"

In the statement, the governor said he wasn't for a pure repeal of the death penalty, Ralston said, In addition to the governor's position, there are two prosectors from the Clark County District Attorney's Office serving in top positions in the State Senate, which is where the bill will go next. Their boss, DA Steve Wolfson, has said he's against the repeal.

Ralston: "Here's what I think will happen: Either the bill will get amended and some kind of extreme case language will [be added] or it will just die... but this is all suffused in politics now for a governor worried about his re-election and probably for two legislators worried about their day jobs."

Sebelius: "I will say that the governor's reading of a statement and not taking follow-up questions, and Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro statement that there is just so many bills coming over, and we'll just have to look and see if we'll have time to do that, is nothing short of feckless and constituents deserve better from both representatives as far as I'm concerned." 


Jon Ralston, publisher, the Nevada Independent; Steve Sebelius, politics and government editor, the Las Vegas Review-Journal

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.