Commentary - February 9, 2017 - by Ray Hagar
By Ray Hagar
The 2018 race for governor seemed to be set last month when news broke that Republican Attorney General Adam Laxalt already has raised a $1.5 million campaign war chest and Democratic Clark County Commish Chair Steve Sisolak has $3.8 million.
But hold on. There's somebody else.
State treasurer Dan Schwartz, who drew the ire of Gov. Sandoval's office this week by referring his budget as, "St. Brian and His Bag of Goodies", said he is considering a run for governor.
That, of course, would mean a GOP primary battle with Laxalt.
"I want to get through the (legislative) session," Schwartz said when asked about running for governor. "I want to do some polling.
"I want to get a sense of whether I have the votes," Schwartz said. "Then I can worry about the money. But yeah, I'd be interested. I have an economic agenda. I want to do certain things in the state. I really want to improve education and I want to build the infrastructure."
He poked some fun at Laxalt, questioning his strength as a solid front-running Republican.
"He raised a lot of money, then found out no one knew who he was," Schwartz said. "So that is an issue."
The state treasurer was referring to a recent "Nevada Independent" poll that showed 51 percent of those polled had no opinion on Laxalt. It suggests Laxalt, a young man in a hurry, is not a household name.
Twenty-three percent of those polled had a positive opinion of Laxalt in the "Nevada Independent" poll and 26 percent had a negative one.
Schwartz sounded as if the poll results entice him as he considers getting into the race.
"There was a poll. Half didn't know who he was," Schwartz said of Laxalt. "In the other half, half didn't like him and the other half liked him."
State Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, thinks Laxalt is untouchable in a GOP primary because Laxalt has performed well as AG and is strong within the base of the Nevada Republican Party.
"It would be a fool's errand for a Republican to take him on at this point," Kieckhefer said.
Buy a Ford in 2018?
When Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, gave his Opening Day speech Monday at the Legislature, Kieckhefer said it sounded like Ford was planning to run for statewide office in 2018.
"I was struck by a couple of things," Kieckhefer said about Ford's speech. "First, he's really taken up the mantle of the Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders branch of the Democratic Party. And he is going to use that voice in this legislative session as a launching pad for a statewide race '18.
"I think the writing is on the wall and it is very clear," Kieckhefer said.
Former state Sen. Ernie Adler, a regular pundit on Nevada Newsmakers, said it didn't sound to him like Ford was running for office in his opening speech.
Indeed, it was described by the RGJ's Seth Richardson as a speech that, "cut short the niceties and laid out a decidedly progressive agenda."
"I don't think that would particularity help you to run statewide, to have a partisan speech and lay down markers," Adler said. "It would probably have been more beneficial speech, with a tone toward, 'Everybody working together for the common good of the state.'"
Ford was courted by Democrats to run for Congress in Nevada's U.S. House District 3 for 2016. He declined in order to return to this Legislature, where he now controls the Upper House.
The most logical landing spot in 2018 for Ford would be the race for Nevada Attorney General, if he ran for statewide office. He is a lawyer by trade.
Early speculation sees Ford matching up against Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei, who represents much of Northern Nevada, in the 2018 attorney general's race. Amodei, a lawyer who grew up in Carson City, has publicly expressed an interest in running for AG if Laxalt runs for governor.
Both candidates would have to improve their statewide appeal, said Bryan Wachter, a regular pundit on Newsmakers and senior vice president for the Nevada Retail Association.
"Majority Leader Ford is going to have to reach out to Northern Nevadans and start becoming a statewide name," Wachter said. "But Congressman Amodei is going to have to spend some time in Las Vegas, making inroads outside of his congressional district."
A Ford vs. Amodei AG's race would give Nevada voters two quality candidates to consider.
Ford, however, is in a sweet spot now as majority leader. He most likely would hold the same position in the 2019 Legislature, too. Senate seats up in the 2018 election bode badly for GOP hopes of regaining the majority.
Call it the Faraday Flop. In late 2015, the Nevada Legislature held a special session to grant up to $335 million in tax incentives to electric car start up Faraday Future.
It was hailed as the Tesla Deal for Southern Nevada. But work has stopped on the $1 billion plant, a one-time godsend for sputtering North Las Vegas.
Assembly Minority Floor Leader Paul Anderson, R-Las Vegas, is optimistic that the plant could open again, although with a smaller footprint.
"Faraday has got a great vehicle," he said. "They got thousands of employees down in their L.A. design center. They have some significant technologies they have developed and they are an up-and-coming company.
"But they are a start up," Anderson said. "Certainly there are risks there ... they've got the ability to scale down and do this on a different level, so we are hopeful for them."
Treasurer Schwartz, whose office had dealt with Faraday in the past, is less optimistic.
"There's one basic problem -- the funding source behind Faraday doesn't have any money," Schwartz said. "He (Chinese entrepreneur Jia Yueting) borrowed against his own stock. And his stock... well, talk about going south...he can't fund it (North Las Vegas plant)."
Schwartz is leery about a downsized Faraday plant in North Las Vegas.
"Show us the money," Schwartz said. "Our office has set up a bimonthly call with Faraday and North Las Vegas ... silence.
"Show us the money," he said again. "Show us the financing plan. We are ready to move ahead ... and neither (came through)."