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Clark County Sheriff Lombardo announces run for governor as Republican; says he’ll veto new taxes, take ‘law and order’ tack

Sean Golonka
Sean Golonka
Riley Snyder
Riley Snyder
Michelle Rindels
Michelle Rindels
Zachary Bright
Zachary Bright
Election 2022
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Citing his law enforcement credentials and a need to end one-party rule in state government, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo on Monday officially launched his gubernatorial campaign with promises to veto tax increases and roll back many of the policies instituted under Gov. Steve Sisolak and legislative Democrats.

Lombardo, 58, officially announced his campaign for governor at a speech at Rancho High School in Las Vegas — where he graduated from in 1980 — and promised that if elected governor, he would serve as a check on legislative Democrats on issues from taxes to elections and education.

“I have been elected twice as a conservative in our state's bluest county. I have never compromised on principles to get elected, and won’t do so now,” said Lombardo, whose previous sheriff campaigns were in nonpartisan races. “Today, I'm standing here to announce my candidacy for governor, because if we don't put an end to the single-party rule eroding our state of the values, laws and opportunities to make Nevada great, we won't have a lot left to fight for.”

Much of Lombardo’s speech on Monday previewed his coming campaign messaging — including calling Sisolak the “most partisan governor in Nevada history” and saying Sisolak has copied the “worst policies of some of the most liberal governors in the country.” Lombardo also promised to block any effort to teach critical race theory in public schools, to back efforts requiring identification to vote and rolling back several Democrat-backed election changes including ballot collection and expanded mail voting.

Lombardo, who plans to embark on a statewide campaign launch tour this week, joins what may become a crowded Republican primary to take on incumbent Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak in the 2022 midterms. 

Other announced candidates include North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee, a recent convert to the Republican Party, and Reno attorney Joey Gilbert, who argues that Trump actually won the last election. Rep. Mark Amodei and former U.S. Sen. Dean Heller are also weighing potential bids. Former Lieutenant Governor Mark Hutchison, once considered a potential candidate, has endorsed Lombardo.

Lombardo, who is in his second term as Clark County sheriff, hinted that one of his major campaign themes will be his law enforcement experience. He said that “police reform is needed” but that legislators were moving too fast and creating an “environment where the police are handcuffed.”

“What we currently have is ... a sense up in Carson City that we're more concerned with felons’ rights, lessening penalties associated with crime and handcuffing the police,” he told reporters after the event. “That's a paradigm, or that's a program that just doesn't breed success into the future. We have to change that.”

After his Las Vegas kickoff, Lombardo headed to a Reno wine bar in the evening, holding a meet-and-greet at the Napa-Sonoma restaurant. He pitched his candidacy to the roughly 40 people in attendance, mirroring his rhetoric in Las Vegas, and took questions from attendees on elections, guns, education and more.

Former educator Sandy Horning, 77, said she appreciated Lombardo’s background in law enforcement and had a strong grasp on improving schooling across the state. 

“He knows what’s going on in the streets … he’s very impressive with education,” the Reno resident said. “I think he hit all the high spots.”

Carson City high schooler Jessica Gonzalez, 16, said she liked Lombardo’s speech but sought more detail on what his campaign hopes to achieve. 

“I wanted him to go more in depth on how he’s going to defend our rights and how he’s going to explain to the younger people how he is going to reach them,” she said.

A cadre of Democrat-aligned groups including the Democratic Governors Association and Nevada Democratic Victory issued statements on Monday panning Lombardo’s announcement. DGA Executive Director Noam Lee accused him of walking “every partisan ideological line as he’s pretended to represent the constituents he promised to serve and protect while trying to avoid estranging the Republican base he needs for his pending political career.”

Asked by reporters on Monday if he would seek the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, Lombardo said “seek” is an “arbitrary word” but would accept the former president’s endorsement if offered.

“If I receive it, I'll embrace it. Sure,” he said. “You know, anybody that's willing to endorse me and what I believe in, and the direction I want to go in, I'm not going to turn them away.”

Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo announces his candidacy to run for Nevada governor during a news conference in Las Vegas on Monday, June 28, 2021. Jeff Scheid/Nevada Independent)

Taxes

In addition to pledging to veto any new taxes, Lombardo said he would oppose any efforts to introduce a state income tax, raise property taxes or any other efforts to “advance public policy that would make Bernie Sanders blush.”

Asked whether he would seek to repeal or lower any existing state taxes, Lombardo said that would be a “matter of evaluation as we move forward” and promised to evaluate all existing tax sources. He said the state needed to develop a “tax environment” to attract other industries outside the casino industry to help to diversify the state’s economy.

“You have to be living in a cave not to see that the casino, the mother milk of our economy, will not continue to support us in perpetuity into the future,” he said.

Elections

In his remarks, Lombardo pledged to “undo the reckless partisan policies out of Carson City, and replace them with election law that is transparent, honest and fair.” 

He promised to support requiring some form of identification to vote, eliminate ballot collection or “ballot harvesting” where non-familial individuals are allowed to turn in mail ballots, and to repeal the “new practice of mailing ballots to people who did not request them.”

That’s a reference to AB321, a bill permanently expanding and enshrining expanded mail voting used in the 2020 election that passed on party lines in the 2021 legislative session. The bill was signed into law by Sisolak earlier this month, making Nevada the sixth state to adopt a largely all-mail voting system.

Lombardo also said he would support a bipartisan “election integrity commission” to oversee elections and “guarantee fairness,” and the creation of a non-partisan or bipartisan redistricting commission to draw new boundary lines for congressional and legislative districts.

Asked by reporters if he believed that the 2020 election in Nevada was accurate, Lombardo said he wasn’t “privy” to the data but believed the current electoral system “makes it easy for people to commit fraud.”

“Your question is, ‘Do I think there was fraud in everything?’ I'm not even going to give you an answer on that,” he said. “My concern is moving forward and how we can better make it easier to vote and harder to cheat.”

The Trump campaign and Nevada Republican Party filed lawsuits and repeatedly made claims of fraud in the weeks and months following the state’s 2020 election. All of the lawsuits failed to make headway in state and federal courts, and Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske’s office released two reports finding no evidence of “wide-spread fraud” in the 2020 election.

Immigration 

Among the challenges Lombardo will face in a Republican primary is defending himself over his 2019 decision to withdraw from the 287(g) collaboration with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. His decision came after a lawsuit from the ACLU and a subsequent court ruling in California that determined “detainers” — holding people in local custody for extra time to allow ICE to detain them — constituted a new arrest and violated the Fourth Amendment’s protection against warrantless arrests.

Immigrant advocates, who argue that local police should stay out of immigration enforcement so immigrants can report crime to police without fear of detainment or deportation during the interaction, have said that Metro continues less-formal collaborations with ICE absent the title. Lombardo said that after withdrawing from the program, Metro “dedicated more internal resources to … identifying and deporting violent criminals.” 

“There's been a lot of rhetoric out there that I have created a sanctuary jurisdiction. That is absolutely not true,” Lombardo said. “What we did is adjust, moved resources and addressed the problem to move forward, versus backing up and say, ‘We raised our hands and gave up.’” 

Guns

Lombardo has also struck a more moderate tone on firearm issues, telling the Nevada Firearms Coalition during a question-and-answer panel last week that he supports universal background checks on firearm purchases, opposed “constitutional carry” and tepid support for limits on high capacity magazines.

“I'm a strong supporter of the Second Amendment,” he said. “This isn't rhetoric. I've carried a gun every day for more than 30 years in the Army as a cop and as your sheriff. I will always support the rights of law-abiding citizens to responsibly own and carry guns.”

Policing and criminal justice reforms

Lombardo took aim at Democratic state leaders for being “more concerned with felons rights, lessening penalties associated with crime and handcuffing the police,” and said he would distinguish himself from his Republican primary opponents by taking the “law and order lane.”

“Yes, police reform is needed ... I appreciate that and we have looked at that, but it's adapting too fast,” he said. “We have created an environment where the police are handcuffed and have an inability to do their job.”

Lawmakers in 2019 passed a comprehensive bill aimed at reducing penalties for certain crimes and ultimately reducing the prison population. The goal is to use the hundreds of millions of dollars in anticipated savings for “reinvestment” activities, such as better preparing inmates for reentering the community.

In 2021, lawmakers passed a bill to decriminalize low-level traffic offenses on near-unanimous votes and decriminalized jaywalking unanimously, making it a civil infraction without the possibility of arrest. On policing, they passed a bill requiring ample warning to protesters before deploying tear gas, calling for data collection on the demographics of people stopped for traffic violations and requiring police maintain an “early warning system” for “bias indicators or other problematic behavior” among officers. 

Progressives have characterized the policing reforms as largely just codifying Metro’s existing policies and not going far enough, while police agencies and certain police unions have framed them as demoralizing for officers and part of an anti-police narrative.

Lombardo also addressed interactions between police and protesters — an issue that came up in the summer of 2020 amid frequent racial justice demonstrations.

“While Portland, Seattle in Baltimore gave into rioters, looters and vandals, we instituted a zero tolerance policy for violence,” Lombardo said. “Let me be clear, I will always stand up for the rights of anyone to peacefully protest. But if you intend to bring harm to our people, our communities, or those visiting in our community, you will face the full force of the law.”

At least six people face charges for graffiti, breaking windows and other property damage to a federal courthouse at one of the protests in Las Vegas last summer. Las Vegas police say they handled 318 protests last year, and updated their police and protest response protocols that year, including only deploying pepper spray if approved by a supervisor.

Death penalty

Lombardo expressed support for the continued use of the death penalty as a way to curb crime, as the Clark County district attorney's office is currently pushing for the execution of Zane Floyd, who was convicted of killing four people inside a Las Vegas grocery store two decades ago. Floyd would be the first execution in the state since 2006.

“I believe that there's a need for it,” Lombardo said. “I believe that it's a natural deterrent in the mindset of a criminal, and it's a solution for individuals that have committed egregious crimes against society.”

Lawmakers made the most significant progress to date on an effort to repeal the death penalty during the 2021 session, as members of the Assembly voted 26-16 along party lines to pass a bill that would abolish the penalty. However, the measure was spiked by the governor and Democratic leaders in the Senate, after Sisolak said that the penalty was warranted in extreme circumstances.

Education

Lombardo criticized Sisolak on education policy, saying the Democratic governor has failed to provide a plan to reduce class size and opposes school choice, although the sheriff offered only broad-strokes statements about his own plans for K-12 and higher education.

On his website, Lombardo says he supports school choice and wants to expand Opportunity Scholarships, a tax credit-funded program that gives lower-income students scholarships to attend private K-12 schools. Democrats backed legislation in 2021 to preserve funding for the program as part of a compromise to raise taxes on the mining industry, after previously barring new entrants to the program.

Lombardo also nodded to building out workforce development programs.

“We must bring back and focus on trades so Nevada can attract good paying manufacturing jobs, and we must do a better job of keeping our best and brightest right here in Nevada,” Lombardo said.

He also invoked a topic that in recent months has exploded in popularity on conservative media outlets such as Fox News and has spurred states to limit how teachers approach issues such as racism and sexism — critical race theory. State officials have said the decades-old academic study area of critical race theory is not included in state academic standards, although concepts such as social justice and diversity are.

“As governor, I will block any time to force critical race theory on our public school children,” Lombardo said. “We can teach our children to respect each other, and treat everyone with dignity.”

Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo announces his candidacy to run for Nevada governor during a news conference in Las Vegas on Monday, June 28, 2021. Jeff Scheid/Nevada Independent)

Background

Lombardo, the son of an Air Force Veteran, was born in Japan before moving to Las Vegas in 1976 and graduating from Rancho High School in 1980. Hired by Metro in 1988 after serving in the Army and National Guard from 1980 to 1986, Lombardo steadily rose through the ranks of the state’s largest police force before being hired as assistant sheriff in 2011.

After nearly 30 years at Metro, Lombardo opted to run for Clark County sheriff in 2014. Described as a “policy wonk” by the Las Vegas Sun, Lombardo won endorsements from multiple former sheriffs including Doug Gillespie, Bill Young and Ralph Lamb, and ultimately won the nonpartisan race on a narrow 51 to 49 percent split over Retired Metro Captain Larry Burns — who was endorsed by the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, which represents rank-and-file Metro officers.

In his first term, Lombardo took steps to decentralize operations for detectives and to re-open shuttered substations closed because of budget cuts.

Lombardo also attracted international attention and notoriety as the face of law enforcement response to the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, which left 60 people dead and nearly 550 people injured. For weeks, Lombardo oversaw the investigation and provided information to the public and news media on details of the mass shooting, though his office fought efforts by the Las Vegas Review-Journal to release public records related to the event.

Lombardo won re-election to a second term in 2018, winning the nonpartisan race outright with more than 73 percent of the vote. His first campaign ad included appearances by former Gov. Brian Sandoval, and prominent state Democrats including former state Sen. Yvanna Cancela and Clark County Commission Chair Marilyn Kirkpatrick.

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