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Nevada GOP gubernatorial primary debate focuses on guns, inflation

Five men are standing on stage behind individual glass podiums with “8 News Now” signs on them. There are screens with blue-colored graphics behind them.
Courtesy of KLAS-TV
Five Republican candidates for Nevada governor spoke at a gubernatorial primary debate in Las Vegas on May 25, 2022.

Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, Reno lawyer and business owner Joey Gilbert, former U.S. Senator Dean Heller, North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee and venture capitalist Guy Nohra shared a debate stage Wednesday night. The five Republican candidates for governor are facing off in Nevada’s primary election, which will take place on June 14, 2022.

KUNR reporter Bert Johnson watched the event and sat down with News Director Michelle Billman to go over the details.

Michelle Billman: Right now, the topic of gun violence is at the top of everyone’s mind in the wake of two horrific mass shootings this month. Did any of the candidates share what they might do to protect Nevadans from this type of violence?

Bert Johnson: That was the first topic of the night. None of the candidates support more gun safety legislation. Guy Nohra, for instance, said instead of that, he would start an armed group called the Battle Born Marshals.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUY NOHRA FROM THE DEBATE): They’re going to go out to the 664 schools. And they’re going to be marshals the same way we have them on our airlines. And that’s how we’re gonna defend them from these lunatics that go in and prey on children.

Both Clark County and Washoe County school districts already have their own police departments. And in Uvalde, Texas, heavily armed police waited outside for an hour after the shooter barricaded himself in a classroom full of children. Joe Lombardo, Joey Gilbert and John Lee all focused on mental health as one of the causes of mass shootings, but that’s really complicated. People with severe mental illness are actually 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than anyone else. Research also shows most people with mental illness aren’t violent. Only about 3% to 5% of violent acts can be attributed to people living with a serious mental illness.

Billman: Last month, former President Donald Trump endorsed Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo. In recent primaries and other states. Trump’s chosen candidates have had mixed success, but his support still carries a lot of weight. How did this endorsement of Lombardo factor into the debate this week?

Johnson: The other candidates really went after Lombardo, and they challenged him on his conservative credentials. For example, John Lee, who says he signed a pledge he wouldn’t raise taxes if he were the next governor, singled Lombardo out.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN LEE FROM THE DEBATE): Joe, did you sign that yet? Have you signed the no-tax pledge yet?

(SOUNDBITE OF JOEY GILBERT FROM THE DEBATE): We refer to him among us as “Sanctuary Joe” for a reason.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEAN HELLER FROM THE DEBATE): Joe’s not telling the truth here. ... He made Southern Nevada a “sanctuary city.”

Johnson: We also heard from Joey Gilbert and Dean Heller there. Heller and Gilbert attacked Lombardo over Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department’s decision to end its immigration detainer agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). That’s basically an agreement where ICE asks a department to keep someone in jail for an extra 48 hours if they think that person might be an undocumented immigrant. That gives ICE time to take that person into federal custody. It’s a controversial policy, but Lombardo says his officers still collaborate with ICE, just in an unofficial way.

He brushed off his opponents’ attacks and basically said, for all practical purposes, the primary’s already over.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOE LOMBARDO FROM THE DEBATE): I’m leading in all the polls. I have the most money associated with a successful campaign. I have the endorsement of President Donald Trump.

Johnson: In a recent poll by The Nevada Independent and OH Predictive Insights, Lombardo had a 20% lead over Gilbert, who’s in second place. Heller came in fourth after unsure.

Billman: Since the pandemic started, Nevadans have faced a lot of economic uncertainty. Many have lost jobs and housing, and inflation is sky high. Did the candidates talk about their ideas to address all of these rising costs?

Johnson: Most of them sought to blame President Joe Biden and COVID relief funding for the high inflation, but aid packages were passed by Congress, not the president, and many of them were approved under Trump. In terms of solutions, all five candidates said they’d cut taxes one way or another. For example, Heller says he would cut sales tax at the same rate as inflation grows. Again, that’s something the legislature would have to approve, but others said they would cut gas tax to lower prices at the pump – although that revenue helps the state build and maintain roads.

In general, they all say Nevada needs less taxes and less regulation to attract more businesses; however, the state had already been seeing a lot of growth leading up to the pandemic, and the businesses that are already here now are struggling to hire enough people. So that situation could get worse if there were more competition for workers. And according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment rate has almost recovered to where it was in January 2020.

This interview aired on KUNR FM on Friday, May 27, 2022.

Bert is KUNR’s senior correspondent. He covers stories that resonate across Nevada and the region, with a focus on environment, political extremism and Indigenous communities.
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