Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, the Republican nominee for governor, builds his challenge to Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak around a trio of issues – the economy, crime and education.
Sisolak’s draconian statewide lockdown orders in March 2020 devastated Nevada’s economy. In April 2020, Nevada set the highest unemployment rate for a state ever recorded – 30.5%.
Southern Nevada’s hotel and casino industry was particularly hard hit. Casinos closed in March 20 remained closed until June 2020. Sisolak’s arbitrary capacity orders wildly fluctuated from 50% to 25% back to 50%.
More than 95,000 Nevada small businesses shuttered their doors for good during the pandemic.
That high employment rate persists. Nevada ranked next to worst in the nation (49th) for unemployment, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (July 2022).
In April, the most comprehensive study of COVID responses was done by the National Bureau of Economic Research. It graded Nevada 44th among the states based on three variables: the economy, education and mortality.
An earlier “State Pandemic Scorecard” compiled by Politico put Nevada 48th (tied with Mississippi) in ranking state COVID responses.
On crime, Lombardo has a clear advantage. With 34 years as a Las Vegas Metro police officer, he’s more experienced to deal with nationally surging violent crime. Nevada now ranks 12th highest among the 50 states, according to the FBI’s 2020 Uniform Crime Report.
It’s on education issues where Lombardo is now putting his campaign emphasis. He’s following the playbook of Virginia Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin.
Last November, Youngkin won election in a blue state by channeling voter frustrations over school closings and advocating for “parent’s rights.”
“I want to be considered the education governor,” Lombardo said at a September campaign event with Youngkin focused on education.
Lombardo thrashes Sisolak on education issues, including his pandemic school closures, the increase in public school violence and his deep cuts to critical K-12 programs including the Read by Grade 3 for elementary school literacy.
Las Vegas area schools have been ranked worst in the nation for quality and Nevada is ranked 49th in education.
In a recent report, CNBC gave Nevada an “F” ranking for its education system and rated it worst in the nation.
A Reno Gazette Journal analysis of K-12 proficiency exams and state financial reports found Nevada’s students are doing worse on most tests than they did in 2000, when the state spent 79% less on each pupil.
A Sisolak directive closed Nevada schools for classroom learning on March 15, 2020. What started as a two-week closure morphed into a permanent shift to distance learning and a year-long schools shutdown.
The year away from school led to devastating outcomes as graduation, math and reading proficiency rates dropped. In Nevada, 31.2% of students are chronically absent.
After schools reopened, another Sisolak directive put Nevada among only 10 states mandating masks in schools for even the youngest kindergartners. With parental backlash and pressure from school superintendents in all Nevada counties, Sisolak retreated, allowing 15 rural counties flexibility on masking rules.
In 2019, Sisolak signed A.B. 168, a so-called “restorative justice” bill that makes it extremely difficult to suspend or expel violent students from school. It’s resulted in a 46% increase in school violence – harassment, threats and sexual assaults.
Nevada schools can’t find teachers. On the first day of school in August, there were 3,000 teacher vacancies statewide.
Lombardo pledges to reverse Sisolak’s dangerous school safety policies, including repeal of A.B. 168 and to restore funding for Read by Grade 3, a crucial program to ensure students read at grade level by the end of third grade.
He supports vocational training and workforce development and “parent’s rights” in schools.
Education reforms first implemented in 2015 under Gov. Brian Sandoval, targeting investments in low-income, low-performing schools, and schools with a higher share of English language learners, have borne fruit and should be continued.
E-mail Jim Hartman at email@example.com.