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Looking Back, Looking Forward: First Thoughts on Reid, Sandoval, and “The New Nevada” They’re Leaving Behind

Tomorrow the 116th Congress will be sworn in, including Nevada’s new Senator and two new Representatives. And this weekend, we’ll have a new Governor.

And yet, I can’t help but think of the past, what we’re leaving behind, and who might soon be leaving us. Thanks to a New York Times article on what may be former U.S. Senator Harry Reid’s (D) last days on this earth, it’s time to look back one more time before we look forward.

Farewell, Senator Reid
Photo by Andrew Davey

First, we have to talk about Mark Leibovich’s interview with Reid at his Henderson house. If you haven’t read it yet, please do so. Reid opened up one more time on the life he left behind in Washington,  including life in Congress with Donald Trump as President. On Trump, Reid noted, “He is not immoral, but is amoral. Amoral is when you shoot someone in the head, it doesn’t make a difference. No conscience.”

Reid continued his rant on Trump, noting, “He’ll lie. He’ll cheat. You can’t reason with him.” And while Reid didn’t directly criticize his successor’s approach to Trump, he did seem to echo the frustration of progressive activists who have criticized Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) for being too accommodating of Trump.

Funny enough, I remember the day when many progressives had similar concerns about Reid himself. But when Reid moved swiftly and with great force to help President Barack Obama accomplish several progressive goals, from the passage of the Affordable Care Act and financial regulatory reform to the expansion of LGBT civil rights protections and action on climate change, he gradually managed to prove himself to a number of progressives both locally and nationally as a trustworthy ally. He may not have always been on the same page with advocacy groups and grassroots activists, but he managed to show a commitment to a real set of values while building and maintaining relationships across the aisle to get stuff done.

Hello, shutdown, our old foe
Photo by Andrew Davey

In the New York Times piece, Reid seemed to miss being at the center of it all when fielding questions on the current shutdown shitshow. After all, this is exactly the kind of fiasco Reid constantly maneuvered to avoid… And once expertly maneuvered to end when some Congressional Republicans forced a government shutdown on the nation in 2013.

And yet, here we are again. But this time, it’s on Schumer and House Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi (D-California) to figure out how to reopen the (parts of the) government that Trump shut down last month. Trump continues to insist on $5 billion or more in border wall funding, even as (now former) White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and other administration officials directly contradict Trump on what exactly he’s willing to accept.

As the White House is increasingly being consumed by its own chaos, other Republicans are trying to fill the void and restore some kind of sanity to their party. Yet in the wake of back-to-back Washington Post op-ed’s by Senator-elect Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) gently chiding Trump for subjecting the entire nation to his destructive brand of chaos, Congressional Republican leaders’ hesitance to end Trump’s shutdown leaves open the question of whether Romney, Alexander, and other Republicans who occasionally express concern over Trump’s actions will finally match their words with their own actions to rein Trump in. If they need any example of how to make their words a reality, they need not look further than our own State of Nevada.

Brian Sandoval: Face of “The New Nevada”, or emblem of the Republican Party of the past? (Or maybe both?)
Photo by Andrew Davey

Once upon a time, Governor Brian Sandoval (R) was seen as someone who held the key to a brighter future for the Republican Party. He’s had high approval ratings, a glittering record of real accomplishments, and the ability to build a broad coalition of support beyond the demographic dividing lines that define American politics in 2019. So why did soon-to-be-former Senator Dean Heller (R) wait until the final days of the 2018 campaign to release an ad touting Sandoval’s endorsement, and why did Heller otherwise run against so much of what Sandoval stands for?

Keep in mind what’s made Sandoval so popular among the overall electorate: He’s gradually grown comfortable with bucking far-right ideological orthodoxy, from championing revenue-raising tax reform to better fund public education to supporting civil rights for diverse communities. He worked with the very Harry Reid who was vilified by other Republicans to accomplish his goals, and he’s developed the same habit when it comes to Democrats in the Legislature.

In a fascinatingly ironic twist, Sandoval’s legacy here in Nevada will be safe and sound… Thanks to Steve Sisolak (D) taking over as Governor this weekend. And thanks to Senator-elect Jacky Rosen’s (D) victory over Heller, Sandoval’s vision of a “New Nevada” of inclusion and innovation continues to triumph over the xenophobic smallness of Trumpism.

Photo by Andrew Davey

And as Sandoval prepares to depart the Governor’s Mansion, Reid and his family have begun preparing for a different kind of departure. Last May Reid was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and this came on the heels of multiple other health problems that have plagued him and his wife Landra. In light of this news, I figured now is a good time to take one last good look at Reid’s and Sandoval’s respective legacies. Their time in power may now be in the rearview mirror, yet their work in this state and for this state serve as a reminder that even in this age of Trumpism, we don’t have to let one small man define the entirety of American civic life.

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