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September 30, 2014

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Brian Sandoval fits right in at Jones Vargas law firm

Brian Sandoval News Conference

Governor-elect Brian Sandoval speaks during a press conference at Jones Vargas law firm in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2010. Launch slideshow »

A few odds and ends from the last week of 2010 we’ll ever have to endure:

THE MAN WITH THE EMPTY QUOTES: “Ahh, you can smell the anointment,” I murmured as I entered the offices of Jones Vargas, the law and lobbying firm, for a media gathering called last week by Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval.

From its client list — an elephant parade of big-moneyed gaming, mining, insurance and health care interests — to the very architecture of the building, a gleaming cube of antiseptic corporate modernism, Jones Vargas exudes the prerogatives of power and access. It’s a player in the tight establishment of Nevada political and business elites that recruited Sandoval to run for the office he assumed easily in November.

He took a job with the firm when he stepped down from the federal bench last year, and, as he sat down before the media last week, he was still on the payroll (as reported by my Sun colleague J. Patrick Coolican).

Sandoval was as smooth and polished as the building, and at ease in front of the cameras. He didn’t say much, of course, despite speaking many words; technically, he wasn’t even governor yet (today’s his first day). His budget hasn’t been finalized.

So he spoke mostly in deflective platitudes that masked a nagging lack of specifics: “Shared sacrifice,” he said again and again; “we’re having those conversations,” he said repeatedly; “worst time to raise taxes,” he said several times.

What if there are businesses barely clinging to their “Open” sign — an ill-considered tax could force them to lay off workers or close entirely, he pointed out. That’s why it’s the worst time to raise taxes. Commerce needs to be nurtured.

“The most important message to send,” he said, “is that Nevada is open for business.”

Finally. After all those years of hostility toward it.

There may be clear conflict-of-interest reasons to wonder about Sandoval earning a Jones Vargas paycheck at the same time he’s appointing staff, drawing up policies and preparing a fiscal plan that will surely affect some of the firm’s clients.

But with all his talk of opening Nevada for business, and sharing the sacrifice — remember, we’re talking in part about schoolchildren here — it’s clear he’s already so much a part of the establishment that I wonder if the question is moot.

•••

NOT BLUFFING: Shortly before the election, at the hot apex of the Reid-Angle campaign, I exchanged e-mail with a Texan improbably named Bonzer Wolf. Subject: Harry Reid.

Wolf, who identified himself as a frequent Las Vegas visitor (turns out he’s serious about poker), said he’d rethink his visiting habits if we Nevadans re-elected Reid instead of Sharron Angle. It’s the sort of thing people said then, given the high stakes and apocalyptic passions that race aroused.

But Bonzer Wolf is a man of his word: “Upon further review of the election,” he responded when I followed up with him last week, “I decided to cut my trips to twice a year. I had been coming at least four and many times six times a year.” Reason: Harry Reid.

And when he does come here, he won’t flash his roll at properties owned by Caesars Entertainment or MGM Resorts. “I am absolutely boycotting and cutting down my trips to Vegas because those properties, SEIU and other unions elected Reid. There are Vegas-style poker rooms all over the country, including in Arizona, Oklahoma. I’d much rather support those states than Nevada now.”

Strong words from a guy whose state gave us the Bushes, the Cowboys and Enron, and which wants to give us school textbooks that take creationism seriously. And I’m certainly pleased that, in turning away Angle, Nevada did its small part to minimize the effect of the dingbat vanguard in the next Congress. And Wolf is, after all, a sample group of one.

At the same time, I’m sorry to see him curtail his visits, and I wonder how many other red-staters will follow suit.

•••

HOW ABOUT JUST MONEY? From Newt Gingrich’s advance man, quoted in a recent Sun story: “Should he announce that he’s interested (in running for president), Nevada would be one of the most important states on his list, where he will not only spend time but money.”

A campaign-crazed Newt on the loose in Vegas — one more reason to look forward to the rest of 2011.

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  1. Scott...
    Your bit about B.S. over at Jones, Vargas makes me want to puke.
    It's like he's receiving "Orientation" for his new gig, straight from the various horse's... mouths.
    "NO new taxes for all my great new friends! They suffer enough already under SUCH a heavy burden! I just LOVE my new "special" friends! Oh, boy, I can't WAIT to get the ball ROLLING!"
    We are SO screwed.

  2. Wow, skerlahdee, no one's made a joke about my name as clever as yours since I was in second grade. I'll bet you were the class clown.

    Regarding Sandoval, he should have at least held the press conference somewhere besides the Jones Vargas conference room. One of his slick advisors should have advised him more slickly on that score.

    As a generally sweet-natured soul, I want to give Sandoval the benefit of the doubt, to hold out hope that he'll see it's a false "debate" if he keeps one of the main potential revenue sources off the table. "Who's going to pay $2 billion in taxes," he asked. But, of course, that's a trick question: None but the most rabid tax-and-spender thinks taxes alone should cover the *entire* shortfall. However, isn't it possible that some sensible combination of targeted cuts and new taxes could make the nut with a more equitable distribution of the pain? Maybe! Who knows?! Not us, because Sandoval is keeping any talk of taxes, however theoretical, out of the game. So all we'll get is cuts.

  3. If anyone tells you that the State of Nevada or any other state for that matter can eliminate a budget deficit of $1 billion without increasing taxes and, at the same time continuing to fund the current level of services, particularly in the education arena that the electorate demands, that person is lying or is hoplessly naive.

    Note to Scott Dickensheets: As one who has had my name mispronounced and generally made fun of since I entered first grade, I can sympathize with you.

  4. Hey, Scott. Maybe you can temper your liberal leanings and try to report objectively? That would be refreshing for the Sun. The guy's not even in office and you're tearing him a new one.

  5. Thank you, Mr. Dickensheets, for just telling it like it is. I've heard it's been said, "Facts have a liberal bias." How can any of us look the other way and ignore who put Brian Sandoval into office? Hasn't Nevada done more than enough looking the other way and ignoring reality already?

    When will our state work for all the rest of us? When will we be able to go to have the kind of state we can be proud of leaving to future generations? The craven back room deals of the past may have been convenient "quick fixes", but they haven't solved the long-term problems now plaguing us with a vengeance.

  6. No Andrew, facts are facts. You put your spin on them. The fact is that we have double-digit unemployment in Nevada. The fact is that our taxpayers have been footing the bill for quarter million dollar a year hoseholders that want to smoke pot and fondle underage girls. The fact is that we're weary of public employees being elected to public office for the specific purpose of enhancing their wage and benefit packages at the expense of the private sector. We're tired of politicians telling us we need to spend more money on education because "other states are spending more" when the District of Columbia spends over 30,000 dollars per student (about three times what we spend) and has no better graduation rate. Now you can apply your spin if you want Andrew, but those are the facts. As for Mr. Dickensheets and his disdain for those that drive the economic engine of Nevada....we'll let Karma do its job.

  7. And Andrew let's just eliminate the approximate $700 million dollars in benefits we pay to illegal aliens each year too. Let's see, that will take care of about a third of our budget deficit.

  8. @bbt - I'll accept your position that tough decisions need to be made if you'll accept the fact that Sandoval has already lied through his teeth about what he'd do if he become governor. So much for integrity and accountability and honesty and transparency.

    Rory Reid described Sandoval perfectly - Jim Gibbons in a nicer suit. I'll give this much to Sandoval - I think he at least cares about Nevada more than Gibbons does. Still, time will tell which one of us is right.

  9. I really thought that Sandoval's "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" was just a clever political ploy to be elected.

    Never would I have suspected that it was going to SOP.

    That's "standard operating procedure" for civilians.

    Who know? Maybe doing nothing is better, than doing something.

    We'll see...soon probably.

  10. I find it interesting how people who don't live or vote here want to criticize those who do for voting for Harry Reid. It seems 30,000 people took Harry over Sharron Angle. The majority realized that we could not afford to lose the majority leader. I don't think these people are no more then a spit in the ocean as far as having any effect on the casinos bottom line. Go to the Indian casino's they need the business too. They will definitely take your money, but you won't get much in return.
    As far as Sandoval is concerned he talked the talk, now we will see if he can walk the walk. I intend to give him the benefit of the doubt and hope he will do the job. We can hope for no less.

  11. Hofalls: If it's "ad hominem" to point out that Sandoval spoke much and said little of substance; if it's "ad hominem" to suggest that when he talks about "shared sacrifice" and Nevada being "open for business" he's speaking for the values of the money/power/access establishment that anointed him, and not average Nevadans ... then okay, call it ad hominem if you like. In my mind, I was just pointing out the obvious. I wasn't gunning for him for personal reasons. I mean, if you're going to give Sandoval credit for being sincere in his beliefs, well, same here.

    I know, I know, he wasn't governor yet when he held the press conference I wrote about. But he'd made certain positions clear and public, which opened them up to commentary.

    Here's the thing: Nevada's been "open for business" for years; we've aggressively courted other industries, touting our low taxes and biz-friendly environment. And still, here we are, pretty much screwed and lagging the nation in recovery. Our economy remains undiversified; businesses seem perfectly willing to locate elsewhere; experts tell us that one of the biggest hurdles to wooing those industries is our long-undernourished school system -- the 21st century needs a more educated workforce.

    Does that mean we must raise taxes to improve schools (and thus our future) and avoid dismantling one of the already-leanest state governments in the land? Maybe. Maybe not. That should and will be debated. But I *do* believe it's counterproductive for the governor to sweep that option entirely off the table.

    Note to Dave202 -- I was hired as a columnist, not a reporter, which requires of me the very opposite of being "objective." However, I like to think I'm fair, too. If Sandoval does manage to save the state without overstressing education, cutting useful services and otherwise ruining civilization as we know it, I will admit in my column that he rose above my skepticism. I mean, if you think I'm rooting for the guy to fail, you're wrong, brother. I'm raising a family in this state. I've got a stake in this, too.