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September 30, 2014

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The governor:

Sandoval’s popularity won’t get budget passed

Legislative alliances no guarantee of support for cuts-only stand

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Governor Brian Sandoval greets Senators Shirley Breeden, Sheila Leslie and Dean Rhodes as they make their ceremonial announcement that the Senate is in order and ready for business during the first day of the 2011 legislative session Monday, February 7, 2011 in Carson City.

To hear some tell it, Gov. Brian Sandoval has almost Jedi-like powers of persuasion — a simple “you will support my budget” accompanied by a smooth pass of the hand and legislative Republicans fall in line.

Republican lawmakers who make public comments revealing a willingness to raise taxes are quickly invited to his office so Sandoval can address any concerns with his cuts-only budget. In at least two cases — Assemblyman Ira Hansen, R-Sparks, and Sen. Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora — those lawmakers have emerged voicing resolve to support the governor’s agenda.

His charm offensive has extended to Democrats. He has spent the past three weeks meeting with every legislator, extracting from Democrats — and Republicans — a list of priorities to use as leverage as the budget battle heats up.

Although his popularity has taken on outsize dimensions inside the Legislature — Republicans seem to revere him and Democrats seem sometimes cowed by him — that doesn’t mean he’ll win.

For all his prowess and popularity, Sandoval confronts a number of fault lines that could open a divide between the governor and the Republican lawmakers he needs to get his budget past the Democratic majority.

“He’s charming, I’ll give him that,” Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, said. “But charm doesn’t get you everything.”

Consider the Jedi’s potential vulnerabilities:

Recently released poll numbers show that although Sandoval remains popular with voters, he doesn’t have the ironclad popularity many lawmakers and political observers appear to attribute to him. A poll released by the Retail Association of Nevada shows voters are in more of a wait-and-see mode as Sandoval wades into his second month as governor, according to pollster Glen Bolger.

“He is not as bulletproof as some people assume he is,” Bolger said. “It’s not to say he is weak. He’s off to a good start, but a long way to go. And there are a lot voters for whom the jury is still out.”

Democrats will test this vulnerability as they and their constituency groups attack his budget. (In a sign of their regard for Sandoval’s popularity, the attacks will focus on the budget not the man.) They hope voters will be turned off by its steep cuts in education and that they’ll find his adamant refusal to discuss a tax increase an unreasonable and rigid position.

“Everything needs to be on the table,” said Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas. “You can’t maintain an ideological position that keeps you from tackling the real problems of the state in ways that are courageous.”

The other vulnerability: Some legislative Republicans have indicated they would part ways with the governor if Democrats agree to a host of reforms on their top priorities: public employee pay and benefits, collective bargaining rights, construction defect litigation.

Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, routinely prefaces his caucus’ support of Sandoval’s budget with: “at this point.”

Republicans’ unified support is crucial for Sandoval. Democrats would need to pick off five to get the two-thirds vote to pass a tax increase and override Sandoval’s promised veto.

“If there is some serious give from Democrats on some of those significant areas, that would evoke some serious discussion on our side about whether to enter into a true give and take (on taxes),” said Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno.

Another issue on which some Republicans might part ways with Sandoval is the sunset on the tax increase passed in 2009. Sandoval has vowed to veto any bill lifting the sunset.

But not all Republicans agree that lifting the sunset amounts to a tax increase.

“Keep everybody’s taxes exactly the same in exchange for reform? That would be very hard to say no to,” one Republican lawmaker said.

Still, even when they entertain scenarios that run counter to the governor’s positions, Republicans are reluctant to state it in those terms.

“I can’t imagine a time where he would not sit down to discuss it if there is enough reasonable give and take,” Hickey said. “Brian is not a political ideologue. He has a pragmatic sensibility.”

Yet Sandoval maintains he would not negotiate his position on taxes, even if Democrats give on the priorities in the Republican caucus, or even to get his own education reform package passed.

“I am not going to support any tax increases under any circumstances,” Sandoval said.

Such discussions won’t get serious for weeks. So for now Sandoval is focused on his “constituency of 63” — the members of the Legislature who will be considering changes to and ultimately voting on his budget plan.

He hands out his cell phone number to lawmakers. Those who go to bat for him get a friendly phone call from him thanking them for their work.

“It’s important for me to know what their priorities are and get to know them better,” Sandoval said. “It’s important to have a personal relationship with each legislator.”

The effort has won him that glowing reputation with Republicans in the Legislature.

“He has the character, the strength, the stamina and the staying power to lead,” state Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City. “He’s a unique politician.”

Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, chimed in along the same lines, noting both Sandoval’s political pedigree and talent. “I’m kind of jealous,” McGinness joked.

But it’s still the easy season. What the governor — for all his perceived popularity — and lawmakers think of one another as the 120-day session draws to a close will be the test.

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  1. Governor Sandoval is living in his own mind! We have enough votes to overide a veto. Taxes will go up.

  2. Free Mansion, free medical insurance, free car, etc. all courtesy of the taxpayers...no wonder he's happy.

    What about all these jobs you promised? Did you call these "secret companies" that were going to move to the low tax, low education state?

    Sandoval should be stripped of his government medical insurance by ballot referendum.

  3. ...STAND WITH THE GOVERNOR !!

    ...THE NEXT ELECTION IS AROUND THE CORNER !!

  4. For years talk radio hater Sean Hannity belched out Heritage Foundation talking points of "Irish Miracle" "Ireland lowered taxes and now their economy is thriving..." Well of course not anymore, $106 billion in debt caused by 3 major Banks defaulting.

    Also, Ireland had no "Community Reinvestment Act" that racists like Hannity blame for the USA financial collapse.

    Now let's bring this all home. How did low taxes benefit Ireland? How have they benefited Nevada?
    (4th lowest business taxes according to taxfoundation.org)

    Time for Sandoval to resign.

  5. No lawmaker who has to make the tough choices and decisions in times like these remains popular for long because many citizens, and especially public service union members, think they should be exempt from belt-tightening. "Let my neighbor tighten HIS belt". Oh yeah, we know THAT mind set, right conservatives? All across the nation the "gimmee crowd" is all twitterpated because they have to give a little for the good of all. See what's happening in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, New York, etc. for examples. And it's at our doorstep here in Nevada, too. And it's good to see men of courage and integrity such as Governor Sandoval and the governor of Wisconsin standing up to the special interest groups.

  6. To mred: Why do you think businesses are leaving the high tax eastern and midwestern states for destinations in the lower tax states?---because they really dig moving? You may not be old enough to remember when President Kennedy, a Democrat, championed lower taxes to spur the economy. Why don't you higher tax proponents send weekly checks to the Nevada Treasury and leave the rest of us the hell alone?

  7. Nevada consistenty ranks 47-49 in objective ratings of low tax states... and it has for years. The "no new taxes" crowd keeps bloviating that this brings new business and new jobs... but where are they? Why does Nevada -- one of the lowest tax states of all -- now have the highest unemployment in the country?

  8. To Douglas Unger: Answer to your question; Nevada is a tourism state. The carnage the liberals in DC have been wreaking upon our economy has devastated tourism and the effects thereof are really hurting Nevada and other tourism-dependent states. Blame your neighbor who keeps voting for the liberals (you don't, right?) Oh, and one more thing; it didn't help when Obama twice told the nation not to come to Las Vegas.

  9. The guy still reminds me of Alfred E. Newman -- "what, me worry?"

    Mr. Hopkins, it was Wall Street and the banks that brought the economy down. Please quit listening to Glen Beck, you may regain some semblance of mental health.