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Heartened by poll, Treasurer Dan Schwartz seriously considering governor bid, says he doesn't fear Laxalt

Michelle Rindels
Michelle Rindels
Election 2018Government

Nevada’s maverick Republican state Treasurer Dan Schwartz — known for his aggressive push for Education Savings Accounts, his ominous warnings about the state’s economic development ventures and his frequent scoldings from lawmakers of both parties — isn’t making any commitment about running for governor yet.

But he says he’s very seriously considering a run to replace termed-out Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval and didn’t hold back about his potential competition in an interview with The Nevada Independent this week. Schwartz said he’s most concerned about his ability to beat fellow former businessman and current Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak, and isn’t afraid of a primary against rising star Republican Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who’s thought to be the favorite in the race even though he hasn’t announced.

“He’s a good guy but I have some issues with his philosophy. He’s young. He doesn’t have any economic or financial experience, and I think that’s what the state needs,” said Schwartz, who said a new poll he commissioned showed him four points behind Laxalt. “He wants to be alt right. He’s sort of throwing red meat to that wing of the party.”

The poll, conducted by Democratic campaign consultant Doug Schoen, sampled 600 Nevadans statewide in telephone interviews between June 7 and 20. It found 34 percent of respondents favored Laxalt, 30 percent favored Schwartz and 35 percent were undecided.

Laxalt’s campaign consultant, Robert Uithoven, declined to comment on Schwartz’s volleys.

Laxalt’s recent fundraising efforts have included a personal pitch from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, whom he supported before throwing his weight behind Trump. A fierce foe of a now-stalled ballot measure that would have expanded background checks to more Nevada gun sales and transfers, Laxalt spoke at a National Rifle Association convention that also featured President Donald Trump and has been vocal against efforts to create “sanctuary cities.”

Schwartz said those activities form a clear distinction between him and Laxalt.

“I don’t know what Adam’s message is. Adam’s message is ‘I’m a conservative.’ Well so am I. But can you govern? I just haven’t seen that,” the treasurer said. “Adam has really devoted himself to federal issues and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I’m really focused on what’s happening in Nevada.”

Schwartz said Laxalt’s coordination with Republican Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, which is thought to presage a Roberson run for lieutenant governor, would be “a millstone” around the attorney general’s neck. Roberson shepherded Sandoval’s $1.1 billion tax package through the Legislature in 2015 before losing a congressional primary and then assuming more starkly conservative positions when his party landed in the minority this session.

“You’ve heard of the man without a country,” Schwartz said of Roberson, who has been a fierce critic of the treasurer and railed against him during legislative hearings in the past. “He’s the man without principles.”

A product of the 2014 conservative red wave that swept Republicans into power across the board in Nevada, Schwartz touts his work to revamp a college savings program, reorganize the state’s debt and speed up claims processing. He’s also been out front trying to implement the stalled Education Savings Accounts program, which allows parents to claim a portion of their child’s per-pupil state education funding for private school tuition and falls under the purview of the treasurer’s office.

But his efforts to step out beyond the bounds of the treasurer’s office have generally not been well received. He was berated by Roberson and others when he presented a three-page alternative budget to state lawmakers in 2015 as a response to Sandoval’s proposed tax package, and he has alienated fellow Republicans for opposing tax incentive deals including one to attract electric car startup Faraday Future to Southern Nevada; the company so far has little to show for itself.

In public hearings, lawmakers have called him out for taking action on college savings programs without getting their prior approval, and a Democrat-controlled panel most recently turned down a relatively minor technology upgrade his office requested — something that his Chief of Staff Grant Hewitt chalks up to lawmakers’ “truly unhealthy obsession” with Schwartz.

The treasurer rattled off a list of goals he’d have if he wins the governor’s seat in 2018, including promoting drones, solar energy and an admittedly “pie in the sky” plan to install high-speed rail between Reno and Las Vegas. He’s critical of Democrats for passing on his proposal to rein in payday lenders, and he’s critical of Sandoval for not cutting a deal with Democratic lawmakers this session that would revive the ESA program.

“I’m not going to sign any bill until we get ESAs. And that’s a promise,” he said.

On health care, he demurred about whether Nevada’s Medicaid expansion was a good idea and said he hadn’t read the Senate’s Obamacare replacement bill.

“I kind of want to wait to see where things end up in Washington,” he said. “I think there’s no question that with health care, the costs just have to be contained. There have to be ways to do it that don’t disenfranchise a third of the population.”

Schwartz, who made much of his money in finance and Asia-based businesses, reported net wealth of between $6 million and $16 million ahead of his unsuccessful 2012 bid for Congress. He said he’d be able to put up half a million toward his gubernatorial campaign if he chooses to pursue it, but would also need to do fundraising.

In a matchup with Sisolak, who had stake in telemarketing firms before ascending to the high-powered commission that oversees the Las Vegas Strip, Schwartz said he would play up his opposition to the Las Vegas NFL stadium Sisolak has championed. The treasurer faults the proprietors of the project, which relies on $750 million in hotel tax revenue, for lack of transparency on the finances.

For now, he’s planning to form an exploratory committee to test the waters on a governor bid and is taking comfort in his internal poll findings.

“Adam, for all his Sturm und Drang and the letters from Ted Cruz, is only four points ahead of me,” he said. “So it’s not like this is a lock.”

Feature photo: Republican Treasurer Dan Schwartz at the State of the State address on Jan. 17, 2017. Photo by David Calvert.


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