Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Meet Brian Sandoval

Brian Sandoval, governor of Nevada (photo: governor's office)

Name: Brian Sandoval

Position: Governor of Nevada

Age: 49

Party: Republican

Career arc:

a. Graduated from University of Nevada with bachelor's in English and economics.

b. Law school at Ohio State University

c. Worked at law firms in Nevada

d. Opened his own law firm.

e. Elected to state Assembly (1994).

f. Resigned to become member of Nevada Gaming Commission.

f. Elected, Nevada Attorney General (2002).

g. Appointed by George W. Bush as Judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada (2004).

h. Elected governor of Nevada (2010).

Life Story:

Of Mexican ancestry, Sandoval was born in 1963 in Redding, California (which I've been to many times, and which is a fundamentally depressing city with a beautiful view of Mt. Shasta).

Sandoval didn't stay there long, though, and his family made its way to New Mexico, Los Angeles, and Salt Lake City before landing in northern Nevada.

He got his start in politics when he became student body president at his Catholic high schoolwhile also playing for the football and basketball teams (Susana Martinez, btw, was also a student body president).

After high school and his undoubtedly BMOC reign of impressiveness there, he scooted on over to the University of Nevada where he showed impressive left-brain/right-brain synergy and picked up degrees in both English and Economics. He then traveled East to get his law degree at Ohio State University, and finally came back to Nevada to practice law.

He spent time in private practice, then ran for state Assembly, won, and later resigned to become the youngest person in history to serve on the Nevada Gaming Commission, which I would think, is probably quite unlike other gaming commissions.

In 2002, he ran for Attorney General and thrashed Democratic opponent, John Hunt, by 25%.

While AG, he was involved in a controversial dispute on taxes that could come up if he were to run for president.

The Las Vegas Review Journal explains the convoluted circumstances that led to the accusation, but I'm going to give you the cheat sheet.

a. In 2003, via constitutional requirements, the Nevada State Legislature had to approve a proposed tax hike by a two-thirds majority to fund part of the education budget.

b. The Legislature couldn't find enough votes, though, which meant either the budget wouldn't be balanced or education would be unfunded.

c. Nevada's governor ordered Sandoval to file a lawsuit, arguing that the Legislature was obligated to increase taxes to comply with the budget it had passed.

Sandoval represented the case, but when the issue popped up in the 2010 gubernatorial race, strenuously argued that he hadn't argued for a tax increase; instead, he'd merely represented the state constitution's demand.

Now here's the funny thing about the brouhaha. When Sandoval decided to run for governor in 2010, the Democratic Governor's Association used this episode to run ads against Sandoval in the GOP primary, accusing him of being mushy on taxes.

Thus, that put the DGA in the rare position of hitting a candidate for raising taxes to fund more education!

The goal, of course, was to defeat Sandoval in the primary, so Democrats didn't have to face him in the general election.

Regardless, the question is whether Sandoval's potential, presidential rivals in 2016 will call it a tax increase and attack him for it. I'm not sure, but there's plenty more tax ammo for potential rivals (I'll get to that in a few).

In 2004, George W. Bush appointed him to become federal district judge, which came with a lifetime guarantee of membership.

Sandoval took the position, but resigned it four years later to run for governor.

In the 2010 race, he ousted the ethically-challenged GOP incumbent governor in the primary (one Jim Gibbons), and then spanked Harry Reid's son, Rory, in the general election by 12% (Doesn't Harry Reid's son look way too old to be Harry Reid's son?).

One interesting factoid: Harry Reid courted him to become the federal district judge, even though Sandoval was Republican. Surprising show of bipartisanship from Reid? Possibly. But skeptics note that Reid might have been sweating a potential challenge from Sandoval for his Senate seat.

Another interesting, little factoid: He endorsed Rick Perry for president in 2012. Both share western roots, but Sandoval has governed more as a Romney-Republican than a Perry one.


So far, he's been successful moving his agenda through the legislature, highlighted by the 2011 session, in which he -- according to the state's legendary reporter, Jon Ralston -- "established himself as one of the singularly politically skillful pols in Nevada history."

The product of the legislative session was a budget deal that included -- to the satisfaction of Dems -- the extension of some taxes that were set to expire, as well as -- to the satisfaction of Republicans -- a reduction in government spending.

In breaking down Sandoval's tenure, Ralston gives him kudos for his efforts on economic development and education reform, but deconstructs the idea that Sandoval was a bipartisan wonder in budget negotiations.

Still, Nevada's unemployment rate has fallen from its insanely high peak of 14% in 2010 to a less insane, but still high 10.2%.

And so far, voters seem happy with Sandoval.

According to a November Public Policy Polling survey, the governor's approval rating stood at 58%/28% for +30% in the mildly blue state, and he led a generic Democrat for his 2014 reelection run, 55%/32%.

He has, though, incurred quite a few infractions against conservative orthodoxy, which I'll get to in the electability section.

SPOUSE: Kathleen Teipner

The Sandovals
He met Kathleen at the University of Nevada, and they were married in 1970. She currently works as a program director for a social service agency in Reno, but has also worked as a speech pathologist.

Kathleen picked up a degree in speech pathology from Cal State Long Beach, and then a master's degree from the University of Nevada -- also in speech pathology.

She's spoken nationwide and would be an effective voice on the trail for Sandoval (reportedly, it was either Kathleen or her mom who first floated the idea of a gubernatorial run during a Sunday dinner. As for Sandoval's own parents, his dad wasn't happy about Sandoval's decision to leave his cushy perch as a lifetime federal judge).

Can he win?

No, he's pro-choice.

Not only would he lose a GOP primary, he'd also lose the general election, thanks to the certain exodus of social conservatives.

And about that... supposedly, the GOP's refusal to tolerate a pro-choice presidential nominee is a sign of a rigid, ideological party.

But would a pro-life Democrat ever have anything resembling a prayer in a Democratic presidential primary?

The fact is that both parties' activists tend to be equally as rigid on abortion -- as they should be!

If you truly believe abortion is taking an innocent life, that's something to be rigid about. If you truly believe it's a fundamental civil right, that's something to be rigid about.

Getting back to the point, though, no, the GOP won't nominate Sandoval for president any sooner than the Democratic party would nominate an anti-abortion candidate.

But there's more heterodoxy from Sandoval than abortion.

Even though, he personally opposed ObamaCare, he's embraced two key aspects of it.

He became the first GOP governor to announce that he'd help implement ObamaCare's Medicaid expansion, telling the Associated Press that "all in all, it makes the best sense for the state to opt in" (can you imagine that attack ad in the GOP primary?).

Harry Reid even called Sandoval's decision "wonderful for the people of Nevada" (can you imagine that attack ad in a GOP presidential primary? I'm practically writing it here).

Sandoval was also one of the first GOP governors to announce he'd implement a state-based ObamaCare insurance exchange -- something that other, potential '16ers like Bobby Jindal and Chris Christie have opposed.

Then there are taxes.

In 2011, he extended $620 million in taxes that were set to sunset, and last year, he reached a deal with Amazon to collect sales tax on purchases from Nevadans, despite having campaigned on a no-new-taxes pledge in 2010.

So.... where does he go from here?

Well, he'll most likely be reelected in 2014, and as a successful Hispanic governor, he'll have a permanent place in Republican politics.

If a Republican were to win the presidency in 2016, you could easily see Sandoval joining the cabinet. If a Republican were to win in 2020, you could easily see Sandoval joining the cabinet. If a Republican were to win in 2024, you could easily see Sandoval joining the cabinet.

In other words, if a Republican wins the presidency within the next thirty years, expect to see Sandoval in the cabinet.

Another possibility is a bit more remote.

Sandoval could be a strong, potential Supreme Court nominee, but he's caught in a rough ideological position for that -- he's too conservative for a Democratic president to pick, and as a pro-choice Republican, he's too liberal for a Republican president to pick.

Then there's the chance that Sandoval could make a run for the U.S. Senate sometime in the future, which would seem a pretty good fit.

So, yes, he'll continue to be an important figure in the party, but as a pro-choice Republican -- not to mention his other significant departures from conservative orthodoxy -- he doesn't have a shot at the presidential nomination.