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Scott Dickensheets talks to Steve Sebelius about Gov. Brian Sandoval

<p>Gov. Brian Sandoval (Mark Damon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)</p>

Gov. Brian Sandoval (Mark Damon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Scott: How much help to Romney do you think Brian Sandoval is going to be? How much does he really care about helping Romney?

Steve: You’ve got to remember that Romney was Brian Sandoval’s second choice — at best! He first endorsed Texas Gov. Rick Perry, mostly out of friendship and loyalty. After that misadventure, Sandoval stayed silent until Romney had won the nomination, and then endorsed him.

Also, Sandoval and Romney are at odds on at least two important things. First, Romney is going around the country reminding us how awful everything has been under President Obama: The economy is bad, unemployment is high and growth is slow. But Sandoval is telling everybody in Nevada that things are getting better, the Nevada economy is producing more tax revenue, people are getting hired and companies are moving to the state. So they’re really at odds on a fundamental part of Romney’s campaign. It’s been reported that the Romney campaign asked Florida Gov. Rick Scott to stop saying such sunny things about that state’s recovery.

Second, Sandoval quickly distanced himself from Romney’s comments in regard to the 47 percent. “I don’t agree with it,” the governor told the Sun, adding that that hard-hit Nevadans need government services because of the recession. It’s interesting that when Republicans know from their personal experience that government services help in a crisis and don’t hurt, they find Romney’s comments objectionable. It’s only those who haven’t had personal experience with needing those services — or serving constituents who do — that people find themselves in agreement with Romney.

Finally, some have suggested that Romney could benefit from Sandoval’s endorsement in Nevada because of Sandoval’s Latino heritage. It’s helpful to remember that Sandoval in 2010 got just 33 percent of the Latino vote, according to the Pew Research Center. Rory Reid — who speaks Spanish fluently and is a Democrat — did much better among Latinos.

Sandoval bobbled his initial presidential endorsement. On top of that, if it turns out he is unable to deliver swing-state Nevada for Romney, and, on top of that, isn’t able to turn Nevada’s fortunes around dramatically — do those things, combined, impact Sandoval’s chances for, say, the vice presidency in 2016 or 2020?

I think most people realize Sandoval did what he did with Perry out of loyalty, and will forgive him that endorsement. On the other hand, I have written that loyalty only goes so far; Sandoval had to be aware of some of the really stupid, really objectionable things that Perry has said and done in his career when he offered that endorsement. Basically, Sandoval was telling his fellow citizens that this was the best person to be president of the United States? That does tend to put Sandoval’s judgment in question. But by 2016, that will be forgotten. And, as that Public Opinion Strategies poll shows, Sandoval has not suffered from it (62 percent approve of the job he’s doing). He still remains a favorite for re-election.

In addition, I think Republicans will understand the good reasons why Sandoval may not have been able to swing the state for Romney. The state party here is a house divided; supporters of Ron Paul are in charge, so much so that the establishment Republicans had to essentially create a shadow party to carry out some of the basic functions of the state party, i.e. identifying, registering and getting voters to the polls. Sandoval got elected on his own merits, with the strength of his campaign team. The state party didn’t play a big role, and consequently, there is no “Sandoval machine” to speak of, not like the Democratic Party machine run by Harry Reid loyalists. I think all those factors are taken into account.

Sandoval’s real trouble comes when you ask why he’d be chosen to be vice-president. You pick a vice president to lock up a state’s vote, for geographic balance or for ideological balance. Nevada is a swing state, to be sure, but one with only six electoral votes. The governors of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, South Carolina or Florida all bring more votes to the table. Sandoval is a westerner, so if the Republican nominee in 2016 is from the East, that helps. (I’m assuming there that Romney will not win the presidency in November.) As far as ideology, Sandoval talks conservatively, but has proven himself to be a pragmatic politician when the times call for it. That’s helpful in governing, but hurtful in campaigning in a GOP primary. Finally, Sandoval is pro-choice, which really hurts him among the religious right in terms of being chosen for a national ticket.

In his inauguration speech, Sandoval used the word “optimism” a bunch of times. And “optimistic” certainly seems to describe what we’ve heard of his approach to the next budget. He’s talking about not raising taxes and funding education at the same level and possibly restoring some cuts in state government. Are you optimistic that he can pull this off?

Yes, it’s possible. The reason for that is the increase in revenue in various state taxes that we’re seeing with the recovery. Sales and gambling taxes are coming in over projections, which helps. But don’t forget that Sandoval has also said he will extend the so-called sunset taxes, which were passed in 2009 and extended (by the governor) in 2011. So while he will not raise new taxes, he will certainly keep old taxes. That will enable him to keep a status quo budget and maybe even add a few things back.

The tax stance was a brilliant move, because it perfectly positioned him on the budget. Democrats immediately said the sunsets may not be enough, which put them in the position of demanding more taxes from a resolute chief executive saying no. But embracing the sunsets also obviated the need for discussion of various new taxes, since Sandoval can claim to have compromised already. (Remember, he broke his no-tax pledge when he extended the sunsets, since he’d already said extending an expiring tax was akin to a tax increase. That was a foolish thing for him to say, in retrospect, but he said it.)

The wild card here may be the Nevada State Education Association/AFL-CIO 2 percent business-tax initiative. If that survives legal challenges and gets the required signatures, it will go before the Legislature, which automatically means there will be a tax debate in Carson City. Most lawmakers — including Sandoval — say they hate taxation by initiative, and that the legislative process is better. They are correct, but they also know its easy to kill a tax idea in the Nevada Legislature, so that statement should also be read to be a fairly cynical one. If the Legislature doesn’t immediately pass the 2 percent tax — and its almost certain they will not have the required two-thirds vote to do so — then this tax goes on the ballot in 2014. Coincidentally, that’s when the governor is up for re-election.