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Photo: Brian Sandoval is the 29th Nevada Governor.
Extended Online Version
If you talk to Brian Sandoval long enough you realize that his politician persona belies a man whose core is as Nevadan as they come. He graduated from University of Nevada, Reno and is for all intents and purposes a lifelong Nevada resident. He has made cutting down a Christmas tree in rural Nevada an annual family tradition. He fishes and hikes in the mountains of Northern Nevada. He’s a husband and a family man, and his campaign that won him the Nevada Governorship was on the strength of listening to state business leaders and educators on a personal level.
On January 3, Sandoval officially takes over as Governor of Nevada, after serving as Nevada’s attorney general and as a federal judge in Reno. He spoke with Nevada Magazine Editor Matthew B. Brown in early December.
Q You’re taking office during a pivotal time in the state’s history. Unemployment is high, housing prices have plummeted, and we face a budget deficit in the billions, among other challenges. How do you plan to tackle these economic problems?
A First, I understand that our state is facing some extreme challenges that we haven’t confronted in the history of our state. My number-one priority for my administration is to bring jobs to the State of Nevada and protect the jobs that we have. So I think it’s extremely important that the Governor be very aggressive in terms of attracting business to the State of Nevada in that regard, and I’ve already begun calling the CEOs of companies that are considering relocating their businesses to our state. I think the time has come for the Governor of Nevada to be personally involved in that effort and act as the number-one recruiter for bringing new businesses. That would be my first approach.
My second is that I think it’s important that Nevada have a stable tax policy. It’s rated the No. 4 state in the country in terms of business environment because we do have a very positive tax environment for businesses. That’s why I’ve been very consistent with the fact that I think it’s important that we keep taxes on Nevada citizens and businesses low.
I’ve also been working with K-12 schools and universities in ensuring that we have a curriculum that allows for children and students to have a career path as well as a path to college so that we meet the needs of the new businesses that we’re trying to bring to Nevada in terms of renewable energy, technology, light manufacturing, and all the other skills that are necessary for those companies to come here.
Q You’ve said that economic development is your number-one priority. Please elaborate.
A There are a couple things I’d like to expand upon. First, I think it’s important that the director of the Commission on Economic Development for the State of Nevada become a cabinet-level position. This is an individual that I’ll want to report to me on a weekly basis in terms of what’s happening and what the state is doing to attract new business. I’m also going to work very closely with the Lieutenant Governor, Brian Krolicki, who’s been chairman of the Nevada Commission on Economic Development. He understands that it’s an extremely important role for the next four years, so we’re going to work very closely with one another.
As part of my transition team, I’ve already asked—and he’s accepted—[Steve] Hill to be the chairman and take the lead for creating an economic development team, starting right away before I’ve even taken office, to communicate with the respective economic development authorities across the state—EDAWN, Northern Nevada Development Authority, as well as Northern Nevada Business Connections. Those are some of the most prominent business recruiters in the state. I’ve already met with the heads of each of those organizations to let them know that I’m the Governor who’s going to assist them in any way that I can. A couple of them have already provided me with call lists so that I can call into some of these companies.
As part of my campaign, I also visited 100 businesses across the State of Nevada. As I visited those businesses, I talked to those employers to see the situation that they’re in, let them know it’s important that we take care of them, and ensure that we have a positive business environment so that none of them look to go to another state. Also, recently I attended a conference with several Governors across the country. I’m working extremely hard with them to determine what the best practices are and what they’re doing to maintain business in their states.
Q Education is another area you’d like to improve upon. How do you plan to do so?
A Like I visited those 100 businesses, I also visited 100 schools throughout the State of Nevada. I visited schools in rural areas, Las Vegas, Northern Nevada; grade schools, elementary schools, high schools, middle schools, charter schools, private schools, because I felt it was important to listen to the teachers, parents, students, as well as the principals and superintendents of all the schools across the State of Nevada to assess what the situation is. Just last week I met with the U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to talk about education reform and things that we can do in our state to improve the delivery of education. It’s unacceptable to me that we’re ranked last in the country in graduation rates.
So, during the course of the campaign, I put forth a very aggressive education plan, which would hold schools accountable for the performance of their students that would allow for the provision of merit pay for teachers who are performing extremely well. That would start a principal training institute so that we can provide principals with the tools that they need. They would also provide choice in education so that parents would have the ability to choose where their kids attend school, and that would include a voucher system for parents.
And finally, the implementation of teacher tenure reform. I think the good teachers should be rewarded, the teachers who need help should get the help they need, and the teachers who aren’t performing well should perhaps start looking for a different career. In any event, it’s a very comprehensive plan, one that I’ve worked very closely on with education experts across the country, including Jeb Bush, former Governor of Florida who implemented a very similar education plan in Florida, which has resulted in fabulous results for students there. It is my dream and my goal to improve the delivery of education so that all kids in our state have an opportunity to have a career path—either college or some type of trade that will allow them to be successful.
I have two kids in the public school system in Washoe County—my six-year-old attends first grade, and my eighth-grader attends middle school. So that’s why public education is extremely important to me. And, also, as I traveled to those schools, I want to compliment so many dedicated teachers who are working so hard for our kids.
Q You recently posted on your Twitter page, “Send your suggestions for how to improve state government and get Nevada working again.” What are the people saying in that respect?
A Here are some of the things people have suggested through the transition website [sandovaltransition.com]: One is to offer consumers a sales tax-free week or month to provide Nevada consumers an incentive to buy. One says to lay out guidelines of energy audits for homes; reach out to businesses to California to incentivize them to move to Nevada; retrain and educate workers for new businesses and emerging technologies; develop a statewide office of the inspector general for a daily review of state agencies—this person would be independent, nonpartisan and appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the legislature; put kiosks in grocery stores and shopping malls where individuals can purchase hunting and fishing licenses; implement a casino internship program for 16-year-olds to learn about the business firsthand; adopt a commission to review the foreclosure crisis in Nevada; establish a state lottery and only sell tickets in casinos.
So they’ve been great. I’ve been very impressed with the number of people who provided suggestions on the website. It’s been overwhelming, the amount of people who have submitted their résumés who are seeking to work in state government and have some incredible backgrounds. So it’s been very worthwhile to go through all that information. Some of these we’re going to look very hard at.
Q As a division of the Nevada Commission on Tourism, Nevada Magazine has a vested interest in the industry. What do you see in Nevada’s tourism future?
A Nevada’s always been an incredible place to visit. I think our future’s very, very bright. People love to come here because of our incredible natural resources, to fish, to hunt, to attend special events, and obviously to visit Las Vegas, and the casinos, and the Strip, and to eat at the great restaurants, and to watch the wonderful shows. So I personally don’t believe there’s another state in the country that provides the diversity we do. Skiing is another one; I can think of so many things you can do in Nevada. There are not too many places like Northern Nevada, where you can snow ski in the mountains and then water ski in the afternoon. It’s just a really special state and a state that I’m proud of.
Q What’s your opinion on Nevada’s green-energy potential?
A That’s something that I’m going to pursue very aggressively. I just returned from Washington D.C., and one of the meetings I had was with Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. That was one of the points I emphasized with him, that Nevada is well situated and has incredible geothermal, solar, and wind resources. I’m going to work with the Department of the Interior to ensure the permitting process is expedited so that we can get more projects on the ground. Truly Nevada can be the leader in the country in terms of producing and being an exporter of renewable energy, which in turn will bring a lot of projects to our state as well as long-term jobs and create a niche for us at both UNLV and UNR.
Q You gave up your lifetime appointment as a federal judge in Reno to run for Governor. How will your experience as a judge help you going forward?
A It’s going to help me on several levels. As a judge, you’re trying to collect all the evidence before you make a decision, so that’s something I’ve done throughout my career, particularly as a judge. You listen to both sides to every argument, then you take the best information possible and make a decision. Similarly, as Governor that’s going to come up every day in terms of making difficult decisions. That’s another thing as a federal judge that you do on a daily basis—have to make extremely difficult decisions that affect people’s lives. That was good training for me in terms of what I’m going to have to confront in Nevada. There are going to be a lot of difficult decisions I’m going to have to make. It was also helpful to me in terms of temperament, to maintain an even demeanor in terms of dealing with parties that came before me. I think the next Governor has to be able to do the same. Also as federal judge I had to work extremely hard, very long days getting through all the information I needed to make informed decisions. Also, I previously served in the legislature, as the chairman of our Gaming Commission, and as the Attorney General. All those experiences will be helpful in my service as Governor.
Q Nevada has been a state for almost 150 years. What are your thoughts on its history and the role it’s played in our nation and the world?
A As a lifelong Nevadan—we moved to Fallon when I was five, and I grew up in Sparks—I’m so proud of our state. When it became a state, it was extremely important in 1864 with regard to our mining industry, which helped lead us into statehood. As Governor, I’m very cognizant of our history; I’m very humbled about the fact that I’ll be the Governor when we celebrate the sesquicentennial [in 2014]. We have such a long history and tradition. I think it’s important to look to the past to see what we’ve accomplished, but also to look to the future to see where we can expand. It’s important for me given where we are now that, when we do hit our 150th year, that we’ll have accomplished a lot in terms of turning this state around and provide a pathway for making it the greatest state in the country.
Q It says on your website that you like to travel with your family. Where do you like to travel in Nevada?
A We go all over the place. We have an annual trip with some friends of ours, and we’re going to be going there next weekend or the weekend after. We go to Ione to cut our Christmas tree. One of our traditions is we will travel and stop at the shoe tree between Fallon and Austin. We’ll throw some shoes up there, and then we turn before you go to Gabbs and go over the summit there before you drop down into Berlin, and that’s where we cut our tree because we like to get a Piñon Pine every year, a nice Nevada tree. We go visit Berlin, and then we go on into Ione. I recently visited Midas, which is a great historical community. We as a family went to Ely to the annual crab crack. That’s an event that we really enjoy. We like to visit the various state fairs. We recently went to Great Basin [National] Park and went into Lehman Caves, and that was extremely fun. We like to go to the mountains in Northern Nevada and go hiking. So we try to go to as many places as we can—Red Rock in Southern Nevada—and visit all respective state parks and go fishing whenever we have an opportunity. I guess there’s so many wonderful places to visit that I don’t know if there’s a favorite one for us.
Q Nevada Magazine is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2011. How do you view the publication’s place Nevada history?
A It’s extremely important. When you publish your magazine, people become aware of these wonderful opportunities and jewels that we have in the state like the living ghost towns, and it might inspire them to go visit them. We mentioned Ione, Belmont—there are so many different celebrations. You can go to Jim Butler Days in Tonopah; there are a lot of folks who are unaware of all the opportunities there are across the state. Your magazine is a gateway for the people of the state, as well as the other subscribers, to become aware of everything Nevada has to offer.
Most recently, some good friends of ours from Southern Nevada had never been to the Nevada Day Parade [in Carson City], although they were lifelong Nevadans. We enticed them to come, and they had a wonderful time. Everyone that I’ve talked to who has ever seen your magazine saw that there were things to do that they weren’t aware of and then wanted to make them an annual event—anywhere from Hot August Nights in Northern Nevada to the Basque Festival in Elko to the marathon in Las Vegas. So hopefully you guys have another 75 years.