Jim Hartman: It’s now Gov. Joe Lombardo

Jim Hartman

Jim Hartman

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In a quick Jan. 2 mini-ceremony, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo was sworn in as the 31st governor of Nevada.

State law required the governor to be sworn in on the first Monday of the new year – irrespective of it being a federal holiday.

On Tuesday, more than 700 attendees overcame treacherous weather conditions to celebrate his much larger formal swearing-in at the Carson City Community Center.

In November, Lombardo, a lifelong Republican, defeated Democratic incumbent Gov. Steve Sisolak by a slim 15,386 votes, a victory margin of 1.5% of the slightly more than 1 million votes cast for governor.

Lombardo became the rare statewide winner to lose the state’s two most populous counties, Washoe and Clark. His entire margin of victory came from Nevada’s 15 rural counties – winning them by a combined 56,807 votes.

In the 36 gubernatorial elections held last November, Lombardo had the distinction of being the only challenger to defeat an incumbent governor of either party in the entire United States.

Gov. Lombardo celebrated his 60th birthday on election day. He’s been a Nevada resident for 46 years.

Lombardo has a civil engineering degree and master’s degree in crisis management, both from UNLV. He’s a military veteran – serving in the U.S. Army, National Guard and Army Reserves.

Nevada’s new governor joined the Las Vegas Police Department at age 26 in 1988 after a positive “ride along” experience. He went up through the ranks and became Clark County assistant sheriff in 2011.

Lombardo was narrowly elected (51-49%) Clark County sheriff in 2014, a non-partisan office. He was re-elected sheriff in 2018 with an impressive 73% of the vote, defeating four challengers.

As sheriff for eight years, Lombardo was responsible for 5,700 Las Vegas Metro police personnel and administered an annual budget of $700 million.

Lombardo’s regular pay was $196,000 a year as Clark County sheriff. As governor, he’ll take a pay cut, with an expected annual salary of $163,000.

Ben Kieckhefer will be Lombardo’s chief of staff.

Kieckhefer, 45, served in the Nevada Senate from 2011 to 2021, representing the 16th district (Carson City/Reno). In October 2021, he took a seat on the Nevada Gaming Commission. Now, he resigns that seat to become the governor’s chief of staff.

As a leader in the Senate, Kieckhefer supported school choice and advocated for regulatory reform and spending controls on state government.

Lombardo appointments also include:

• Jim Wells as deputy chief of staff. A 50-year Carson City resident, Wells, 55, retired as state budget director in 2018 after a career in government finance.

• Michawn Rich as policy director. A Reno native, Rich was communications director for the U.S Department of Agriculture. She worked previously for former U.S. Sen. Dean Heller.

• Elizabeth Ray as communications director. Ray was communications director for Lombardo’s gubernatorial campaign.

• Chris Nielsen as general counsel. Nielsen served as general counsel to Gov. Jim Gibbons and currently serves as general counsel for the Public Employees’ Retirement System of Nevada.

Lombardo will be filling key vacancies announced after Sisolak’s defeat in November, including department directors for administration, wildlife, energy, employment and transportation.

The new Republican governor faces a Legislature firmly controlled by Democrats.

Resulting from their extreme partisan gerrymander in 2021, Democrats won a supermajority in the Assembly (28-14) in November, gaining two seats. Democrats also gained a Senate seat, falling one vote short of a supermajority (13-8).

A 2/3 supermajority is required to increase taxes or override a gubernatorial veto.

Lombardo’s election will provide partisan balance to one-party rule in Carson City. Expect him to use his veto pen.

Lombardo gives his inaugural State of the State address in the Nevada Assembly chambers on Jan. 23. His anticipated themes are education reforms, economic diversification, public safety – and no tax increases.

E-mail Jim Hartman at lawdocman1@aol.com.


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