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A New Governor for a “New Nevada”: Notes on Sisolak’s Inauguration

It’s been 20 years since Nevada’s had a non-Republican Governor, and it’s been 30 years since the last time a new Democratic Governor was inaugurated. That dry spell for Team Blue ended today with the inauguration of Governor Steve Sisolak (D).

So what exactly does this mean, and how might Governor Sisolak take Brian Sandoval’s (R) “New Nevada” in a new direction? Fortunately for us, Sisolak may have given us some valuable clues in his inaugural speech.

Changing of the guard, or is it?
Photo by Andrew Davey

Last week, we took one last look at the past eight years of (now former) Governor Brian Sandoval (R) guiding the state into what he’s called “The New Nevada”. We won’t rehash all of that here, but rather point out some key defining moments of the Sandoval era: the 2015 tax reform package, major overhauls in education policy, and a bipartisan embrace of the new federal health care law at home that the vast majority of Sandoval’s federal Republicans were openly attacking and sabotaging elsewhere.

However, “The Sandoval Legacy” didn’t end there… And it wasn’t always perfectly sanguine. As widely respected “gleaner” Hugh Jackson recently noted, Sandoval also presided over the initial slashing of the social safety net in 2011 (that the 2015 tax package didn’t completely heal), an “economic recovery” that’s largely been driven by low wages, and a series of corporate tax subsidies that were sold as “economic development” but have yet to prove they develop more than just a few billionaires’ own bottom lines. (I’m looking at you, Apple… And Tesla… And Faraday… And especially you, Raiders!)

Against this more complicated backdrop of a “New Nevada” that still struggles with very “Old Nevada” problems like persistent economic inequality and instability, Sisolak takes over. Yet with Sisolak endorsing some of the same economic policies that sparked controversy during the Sandoval years (most notably, corporate tax subsidies), it remains to be seen how Sisolak will differentiate himself from Sandoval when it comes to overseeing the state’s economy.

Yes, it is… But this next legislative session will determine how much change we’ll see.

Still, even when taking into account Sandoval’s and Sisolak’s similar views on tax subsidies, there will be some key differences in how Sisolak will govern. While he thanked Sandoval for “putting people above partisanship”, Sisolak did hit hard on a theme of economic justice as he shared the story of a Nevada teacher he met at Costco who had just bought a large supply of breakfast bars for students in need: “No teacher should have to pay for supplies (out of one’s pocket), and no kid should have to come to class hungry. […] We’ve got to do better by our students, and that means we’ve got to do better by our educators.”

Sisolak later added, “Being Nevada proud is about more than our endurance and resilience. It’s about our compassion and common decency.” He then recounted the dark days following the 1 October Las Vegas Shooting, and noted the epic outpouring of compassion that followed the massacre as a prime example of Nevadans caring for each other and aspiring to build a better society.

While it’s been expected that Sisolak will change course from Sandoval when it comes to addressing gun violence, it will nonetheless be a landmark accomplishment if he and Democratic leaders in the Legislature can deliver change on policies like background checks, regulation of assault weapons, and improving school safety. On top of that, if Sisolak governs along the contours of his inaugural speech, it will mark a major change in tone and focus. If Sisolak manages to prove the critics wrong by focusing more on the needs and concerns of working-class Nevadans, perhaps he will see the value in looking beyond corporate tax subsidies and considering different policies that can result in economic development that benefits the larger population.

Today’s biggest takeaway: Another state is possible (?).
Photo by Andrew Davey

Though Sisolak didn’t address this directly today, he did say this: “Together, we will keep living up to Lincoln’s vision. No matter where you come from, how much money you make, your gender, race, religion, or who you love—we are One Nevada, with a common purpose and shared vision. It’s not a mirage. It’s our reality.”

That statement marks a sharp contrast from the painfully divisive atmosphere in Washington, D.C., where President Donald Trump seems more interested in starting more publicity stunts than ending the government shutdown he began, and where a disturbingly large amount of Congressional Republicans seem more interested in attacking a Democratic colleague than in actually governing (beginning with ending the government shutdown that Trump began).

While the federal government remains paralyzed by Trump and his xenophobic attacks on immigrant communities, Sisolak’s remarks today suggest that another state is possible here in Nevada. Might we finally become a “Silver State of Opportunity” that provides more and better opportunities to more of our people? Today’s pageantry offered some signs of hope, but with the 80th Session of the Nevada Legislature fast approaching, Sisolak and his team will very soon have the chance to translate hope into real action.

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