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On the Record: The policy stances of lieutenant governor candidate Michael Roberson

Michelle Rindels
Michelle Rindels
Election 2018

It happens like clockwork.

Candidates announce their bids for office. Then the attack ads follow in short order, unabashedly targeting their voting records and more.

We're here to help. The Nevada Independent already produces fact-checks for political advertisements and off-the-cuff remarks, but we also want to get ahead of the campaign game. When politicians announce their candidacy for public office, we'll roll out "On the Record" — our look at their voting history and stances on a broad array of subjects.

First up: state Sen. Michael Roberson, who announced his candidacy for lieutenant governor on Monday.

  • Taxes: Roberson had signed a no-new-taxes pledge in 2010 at a Tea Party rally, writing that “I will stand with you as a consistently clear voice for smaller government, lower taxes and more freedom.” He remained on the Americans for Tax Reform list until at least 2014, but later earned the ire of pledge-enforcer Grover Norquist, who accused Roberson of voting 29 times in 2015 to raise taxes. Those votes included support for Sandoval’s $1.1 billion package of tax extensions and increases, such as a new levy on businesses making $4 million or more a year called the Commerce Tax. Norquist later threw his endorsement behind Roberson’s primary opponent Danny Tarkanian.

At the Nevada Republican Men’s Club luncheon in August 2017, Roberson defended his decision to support the Commerce Tax in 2015. Roberson cited a need to invest more money in public education and broaden the tax base to create a “level of parity” between capital- and payroll-intensive companies. During his congressional campaign, he argued that even Ronald Reagan, while California’s governor, had agreed to what was then the largest tax increase in state history.

  • Immigration: Roberson went on the attack against Democrats over the concept of “sanctuary cities” throughout the 2017 session, and the majority party ultimately buried a bill that initially tried to limit state and local law enforcement’s work with federal immigration authorities. While there is no uniform legal definition of sanctuary cities and the Trump Administration recently declared that Clark County wasn’t operating as a sanctuary jurisdiction, the idea of impunity for immigrants in the country illegally is thought to be a potent campaign theme and one that Democrats have struggled to respond to. He’s chairing a political action committee that’s behind a ballot initiative that would amend the state constitution to ban sanctuary cities in Nevada. But in 2013, he co-sponsored a symbolic resolution urging Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform and co-sponsored a bill to allow driver authorization cards for people who may not be legally present in the country.
  • Guns: In 2015, Roberson sponsored SB175, a measure that expanded the definition of justifiable homicide to include people defending themselves in a motor vehicle or who reasonably believe an attacker was planning to commit an act of violence. It also adds more protections for victims of domestic violence, preventing people from owning a gun if they’ve been convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence or from buying a gun if they’re subjected to an extended protection order. The bill navigated two extremes, neither granting campus carry provisions from the right nor barring guns for certain offenders as much as lawmakers on the left wanted.

Roberson has received consistent “A” grades from the Nevada Rifle Association, and his 2016 congressional campaign attacked Tarkanian for less-than-stellar grades in past election cycles.

  • Collective bargaining: Roberson sponsored a bill in 2015 that prevented school administrators who make more than $120,000 a year from collective bargaining. It also addressed “evergreen clauses,” barring local governments from allowing pay raises to take effect in the absence of a new contract. It passed with labor union support. He also fought efforts to reverse those provisions in 2017, when Democrats took control, and Sandoval ultimately vetoed the bill.
  • Public Employees Retirement System (PERS): Roberson sponsored a bill in 2015 that reduces benefits for PERS recipients who become members of the system after mid-2015 and prevents people from collecting benefits if they’ve been convicted of certain work-related felonies, such as bribery or embezzlement. The bill was touted as a way to save the state $1 billion every 10 years. It garnered the support of the Nevada State Education Association and other labor groups, which called it a reasonable proposal in light of another PERS bill floating around at the time that was nicknamed “Union Armageddon.” That bill, sponsored by Republican Assemblyman Randy Kirner, would have turned the existing defined benefit program of PERS into a hybrid that functioned more like a 401(k) plan.
  • Construction Defect Lawsuits: Roberson voted in favor of AB125 in 2015, which made broad changes to construction defect law and passed on party lines. In signing the bill, Gov. Brian Sandoval said it would discourage frivolous litigation and strengthen Nevada’s housing market. The measure redefined “construction defect” so it no longer included violations of building codes and ordinances, but did include work that presents an unreasonable risk of injury to a person or property.
  • Tort reform: Roberson led a charge in 2015 for tort reform, which seeks to curb excessive awards in lawsuits. It was a major priority for business groups such as the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce, which argued that states allowing for too many lawsuits are at a competitive disadvantage and stifle innovation.
  • Prevailing wage: Republicans reduced prevailing wage requirements for school construction projects in 2015, saying it would help taxpayer dollars go further. Prevailing wage is a sort of minimum wage for public works programs. Democrats tried to reverse the law in 2017 for schools in the Achievement School District — made up of public schools that are converted to charter schools in hopes of improving their performance — but the bill was vetoed by the governor.
  • Abortion: Roberson answered a candidate questionnaire from anti-abortion group Nevada Right to Life in 2010 indicating that he supported overturning Roe v. Wade and making abortion illegal even in cases of rape and incest. In a 2016 interview with journalist Steve Sebelius, he appeared to have a softer position, stressing that abortion had been legal for more than 40 years and the focus should be on limiting late-term abortions.
  • Republican nominee in 2016: Roberson initially endorsed Marco Rubio for president before the Florida senator dropped out. After remaining coy about his support for Trump, Roberson told the Reno Gazette-Journal in May 2016 that he would vote for the billionaire businessman.

Jackie Valley contributed to this report.


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