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Thoughts on the First NV-Gov Debate

Tonight, Nevadans finally had the opportunity to hear directly from two of the candidates running for Governor… With no narrator, no slick graphics, and no escape hatch when the reporters asked the tough questions. Tonight the Democrats kicked off debate season, and I have some thoughts about how they answered those questions.

Round One: Gun Violence

Thus far, Chris Giunchigliani and her allies have been accusing Steve Sisolak of “taking NRA money”. But at tonight’s KLAS 8 News Now Debate, Sisolak had the chance to explain how a $2,500 donation from a gun range owner was not what Giunchigliani claims it is.

Photo by Andrew Davey

Sisolak then got into specifics when asked what he’d do to prevent another 1 October or Santa Fe High School: “We need to ban assault rifles. We need to ban bump stocks. We need to make sure more of these actions don’t happen.” And yes, he also stated he’d fight to get the 2016 background checks initiative enforced.

Strangely, Giunchigliani didn’t get too specific about what she’d do. Those of us who have been paying close attention to the campaign know she’s been quite vocal about gun safety, yet she didn’t display her policy chops on the debate stage. It was a major missed opportunity.

Round Two: Taxes, Taxes, Taxes!

I’ve got to hand it to 8 News Now’s Steve Sebelius and Denise Valdez. Not only did they do their homework, but they also pushed both Democrats to explain to voters how they’d actually raise the revenue needed to fulfill their promises to invest more in public schools.

Neither would provide any specifics on how and where they’d raise taxes. Sisolak, though, made clear he’s willing to look at the entire system to see where he can find new revenue. “Everything is on the table. If we need to pass more revenue, we’ll do it.”

Funny enough, despite outgoing Governor Brian Sandoval identifying as a Republican, it was the Democrats who stridently defended his signature tax reform package and the commerce tax that anchors it. (Remember, Adam Laxalt actually wants to repeal it.) Still, Chris Giunchigliani wants to make tweaks to both this tax and the marijuana tax to ensure more state funds actually go to classrooms in need.

Round Three: Where Should Those Tax Dollars Go?
Photo by Andrew Davey

This was former school teacher Chris Giunchigliani’s time to shine, and shine she did. When discussing schools, she delivered this memorable line: “We have kids without books. Shame on us!”

When asked about ESA school vouchers, Giunchigliani not only explained why they don’t work, but also offered her solution for ensuring more of our tax dollars go to public schools in need: “We need to invest in our schools now. It’s time to say enough is enough. We need to fix the funding formula. This is about our kids.”

She also had this to say about one of Sisolak’s key accomplishments on the Clark County Commission they both serve on: “Why are we giving money to the Raiders, when we should be giving it to teachers, police, and firefighters instead?” As Nevadans continue to debate the controversial Raiders stadium subsidy deal, Giunchigliani reminded voters of perhaps the biggest difference between of the two of them on an issue that’s nearly guaranteed to continue defining how the State of Nevada does business.

Round Four: Fair Play

As the tax talk continued, Steve Sebelius asked about the ongoing debate over whether Southern Nevada is shortchanged. Sisolak said it’s real, and he wants to act to fix it: “There is a disparity. […] We need to come up with a plan so that new revenue can correct these deficiencies.”

Giunchigliani, however, tried to sidestep the whole matter. As she said, “We are one state. We are one people,” I couldn’t help but think she was trying to assure Northern Nevada voters that she doesn’t hate the north like other Vegas politicians have been accused of.

Round Five: Justice

After both Sisolak and Giunchigliani were pounded by the 8 News Now moderators on Clark County Child Protective Services’ apparent failure to protect enough of Southern Nevada’s vulnerable children, then Sisolak was peppered with questions about the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth, then Giunchigliani was asked about the business practices of late husband Gary Gray, both candidates were put on defense.

But then, both candidates expressed some poignant righteous indignation when Denise Valdez asked them about the #MeToo scandal that’s hit home thanks to the likes of Steve Wynn, Ruben Kihuen, and Mark Manendo. Giunchigliani recounted how her own mother was threatened by a boss who demanded she have sex with him, and Sisolak spoke of caring for his own daughters in stating why the state must do more to end sexual harassment.

Sisolak declared, “It’s OK to stand up, to speak up, to say this is what’s happening to me. […] No one should have to tolerate this in the workplace.” He called for a more thorough audit of state government and its practices, while Giunchigliani said the Nevada Legislature can and must do better in policing its own: “They need to go further… To make sure they have good [protection] in there.”

Closing Thoughts

We know this Gubernatorial election may end up being quite consequential in determining this state’s future. We got to see the two leading Democrats’ competing visions of that future tonight. Sisolak generally seemed to suggest he wants to build upon what Sandoval has done, while Giunchigliani hinted higher aspirations when she declared during closing comments, “I want to work for everyone, not just the well connected.”

That was a solid close by Giunchigliani, but I can’t help but wonder why she didn’t open as solidly as she closed. When the underdog seeks to overcome the frontrunner, the underdog must make up lost ground and prevent the frontrunner from reaching the finish line first. Giunchigliani had some strong moments tonight, but I’m not sure she did enough tonight to stop Sisolak from reaching 50% soon…

And by soon, I mean early voting starts this Saturday and time is quickly running out. So I guess Sisolak thereby wins this debate. But with the The Nevada Independent and KTNV/Action News 13 doing the next Democratic debate this Thursday, Giunchigliani may have one more chance to turn this all around. And Tuesday next week, 8 News Now will host the Republicans… And I can’t wait to see how that will unfold.

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