Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo during his appearance on Nevada Newsmakers.
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Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, running for governor as a Republican in 2022, seized upon a recent and extensive report in a national publication to boost his criticism of Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak's handling of the COVID pandemic in Nevada.
Lombardo, in a Nevada Newsmakers interview this week, cited Politico's State Pandemic Scorecard that put Nevada tied for 48th – with Mississippi – in the overall average score in rating the state's COVID responses in the categories of health, economy, education and social well-being.
"We are ranked at the bottom," Lombardo told host Sam Shad. "Unfortunately, there tends to be a lot of Nevada positions at the bottom of rankings, particularly in response to COVID."
Lombardo added that combating Sisolak's COVID response is one of his main issues of his campaign.
"First and foremost is the response to COVID," Lombardo said. "And the handling of COVID and the lack of communication associated with COVID and the governor's directives associated with COVID."
Only Wyoming's average among the four categories ranked lower than Nevada in the report by Politico, an influential political news publication that is considered "left leaning" by the AllSides media-bias report.
Nevada placed 49th in the economy category with Hawaii coming in at 50. The report, however, noted states that rely heavily on tourism were deeply impacted.
"States heavily reliant on tourism suffered the worst," the Politico report read. "Hawaii and Nevada, which cite tourism as a key driver of state economic revenue, ranked at the bottom."
Indeed, Nevada's unemployment rate hit a nationwide high of 28 percent during the low-ebb of COVID in 2020, sending the state's unemployment insurance system into meltdown.
Nevada's unemployment has declined to 6.8 percent in the November U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report, yet it is still the second-highest state unemployment rate in the U.S.
Southern Nevada's hotel and casino industry, however, has been especially hard hit by unemployment as Nevada still battles the pandemic, state experts said.
David Schmidt, the state’s chief economist, told the Nevada Independent last month that the Clark County-area gaming industry is at 65 percent when compared to its peak employment before COVID. Yet the state's total for all industries is about 93 percent, Schmidt said.
Nevada ranked 12th nationwide in social well-being in the Politico report, based on metrics of food insecurity, households’ economic hardship and violent crime.
Nevada ranked 35th in health concerns, even though the report states that "states with better health outcomes tend to be run by Democratic or moderate Republican governors who imposed health restrictions and reopened slowly."
Fourteen of the top 15 states in health voted for President Joe Biden, with the exception of Alaska, according to the report.
Nevada also received low marks for education, at No. 41, with the score derived from changes in reading and math assessments from each state’s pre-pandemic baseline to the spring of 2021.
"Now with the data they are showing, moving forward, those states that decided to open up, those states that had a better response to the unemployment, those states that cut off the rent moratoriums sooner than later, states that didn't continue the unemployment benefits, those states that pushed back on the federal stimulus, they are all robust," Lombardo said. "Their budgets are in the black and we're still wondering what we are doing here in the state of Nevada."
Although Nevada has just recorded a record eight-straight months with the state's overall gaming win topping $1 billion, Lombardo warned Sisolak's COVID plan could dampen Las Vegas' New Year's Eve celebration later this week.
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority told Las Vegas' FOX5 there are no plans to alter "America's Party 2022," that will include fireworks being set off from eight Las Vegas Strip rooftops.
"I talked to a hotel general manager today, and I don't need to say the hotel but right now, their occupancy projection for New Year's Eve is 55 percent," Lombardo said. "Fifty-five percent and COVID has been around for a while now and ... that is unacceptable, to have 55 percent so close to New Year's Eve?"
The Sisolak administration will continue with its indoor mask mandate in Southern Nevada and other "high-risk" areas through early 2022, a spokesman for the state said earlier this month.
"I don't understand our response to that (mask mandate) and just recently, it got extended through the month of January," Lombardo said. "So that has a direct effect on the tourism economy."
Lombardo was asked – as the sheriff – about the lack of enforcement of the mask requirement in some Las Vegas casinos. He suggested it's an issue for the Gaming Control Board, adding it is difficult for gaming employees to enforce the mandate.
"So what's going on with Gaming Control?" he asked. After a quiet pause, he added:
"Exactly: They understand the nuances or noise associated with those mandates," Lombardo said. "It is very frustrating for an employee to deal with a customer, who may reside where there is no mandate. They come here to Las Vegas, not having an understanding of the situation and then are being forced to put on a mask. And they don't understand it and you are asking your employees to enforce it, to deal with the angst associated with the customer or a quarrel associated with a customer."
Sisolak may have overstepped the boundaries of his office with his ongoing state of emergency to deal with the pandemic, Lombardo said.
"The big controversy is whether it is constitutional or not," Lombardo said, echoing a consistent Nevada conservative talking point.
"I believe the governor should have the ability to provide some mandates under their authority and their perception of what they are dealing with, whatever crisis may be," Lombardo added. "But I think there should be some limitations on that. I don't think it is all encompassing and I can't understand why we would go past a 30-day timeline on those and constantly re-evaluate those.
"We have some (emergency directives) that are in perpetuity, six months, seven months, eight months in place and we don't understand when they are going to pull back from that," Lombardo said. "What is exactly the governor's authority within the state constitution and the ability to do that? I think that has to be evaluated."
If elected, Lombardo said, "I would be happy to discuss the ability to limit the governor's authority under those mandates."
RELATIONSHIP WITH YEAGER: Although it would be a hypothetical situation, Lombardo commented on a very possible scenario where current Speaker of the Assembly Jason Frierson, D-Las Vegas, becomes a U.S. Attorney.
Steven Yeager, D-Las Vegas and chairman of the Assembly Judiciary Committee, could then become the Speaker for the 2023 session.
It may lead to a Legislature vs. Executive-branch clash, if Lombardo is elected governor. When asked if he has a good relationship with Yeager, Lombardo said, "Yeah, I don't know."
Lombardo says he'll be a law-and-order governor. Yeager has pushed for criminal justice reforms as the Judiciary Committee chairman.
In discussing Yeager, Lombardo said, "there are a lot of flawed decisions coming out of the Legislature."
"He and I went back and forth in the last two sessions, dealing with criminal justice and reform measures and softening on crime, sentencing associated with particular crimes," Lombardo said. "And I would say it was productive but frustrating.
"And that is part and parcel of why I am running for governor, the law and order piece," Lombardo said. "And I believe there are a lot of flawed decisions coming out of the Legislature, when it is dealing with the criminal element and supporting victims, the police and their ability to do their job."
Lombardo called Yeager's landmark criminal justice reforms of 2021 "a little cumbersome."
"I think it was overwhelming and too much at one time," Lombardo said. "When you are talking about reform in the criminal justice system and talking about sentencing for particular crimes, it's a slow, methodical decision because a lot of times people don't understand the consequences of their decisions."
Lombardo, however, admires Yeager's accessibility and says he can work with him.
"Absolutely (I can work with him)," Lombardo said. "The one thing I appreciated about Mr. Yeager was that he was willing to take the phone call and willing to have the discussion. He didn't hide behind a wall or a closed door and just have his ideas come forward."