Sandoval's 2018 calendar shows role in energy ballot question fight, UNLV president departure
2018 marks the final year of Gov. Brian Sandoval’s eight-year term in office, and a look at the governor’s calendar over the first nine months of the year shows the popular Republican playing a key role in major state events both publicly and behind-the-scenes.
Much of the governor’s calendar this year is dominated by the three international trade missions he’s taken through 2018, and in various trips and work with the National Governor’s Association. But he also scheduled meetings and phone calls on major energy announcements, the ouster of UNLV President Len Jessup, a controversial federal designation in Storey County and attended at least four events for a Nevada Supreme Court justice.
The details were taken from a copy of the governor’s calendar between Jan. 1 and Sept. 8, obtained via a public records request submitted in early September by The Nevada Independent.
Sandoval’s office said in a statement that scheduled meetings weren’t an indicator that the scheduled meetings and calls took place.
“In reviewing the calendar, it is important to understand that the Governor’s Outlook calendar is a tool; it is not a definitive record of his activities,” Sandoval’s general counsel Kathryn Reynolds said in an email. “On any given day, meetings or interactions may occur that were not previously placed on the calendar. Similarly, events that appear on the calendar may have been cancelled due to the circumstances of that day.”
Still, the calendar provides a helpful glimpse into the governor’s daily activities and scheduled meetings with staff, business leaders and other politicians.
On May 31, NV Energy made a huge announcement.
At an event attended by Sandoval, two gubernatorial candidates, a congressman and multiple top lawmakers, the electric utility announced that it would seek to add 1,001 megawatts of new solar and battery projects to its portfolio, doubling renewable energy production by 2023 and nearly doubling the state’s capacity for renewably-powered electricity.
But the announcement came with a big asterisk — the projects would only move forward if voters rejected the Energy Choice Initiative, a proposed constitutional amendment on the 2018 ballot that would likely require the dismantling and selling off of NV Energy’s generation assets.
The event also marked a change in position for Sandoval — the Republican governor backtracked from earlier support for the initiative to saying he hadn’t made up his mind on whether or not he would vote for the initiative.
A closer look at Sandoval’s calendar reveals a little more context around the utility’s announcement and the governor’s change in position. On May 22, his calendar shows a meeting with utility CEO Paul Caudill, vice president Doug Cannon and “PE" — a likely reference to utility lobbyist and Sandoval advisor Pete Ernaut.
An NV Energy spokeswoman confirmed that the meeting happened but without Cannon’s attendance. Ernaut declined to comment on the meeting in a text message.
After sitting out of the fight over the ballot initiative in 2016, where it won with 72 percent of the vote, the utility fully committed to opposing it in 2018, raising an unprecedented $63 million dollars to oppose it. It's also used the announced solar projects (and their potential to not go forward if the ballot measure passes) prominently in ads opposing the ballot measure.
The day after the announcement, Sandoval’s calendar shows a scheduled call with another interested party in the debate over the ballot question — Switch CEO Rob Roy. Roy has been an evangelist for opening up the state’s electric market, and along with the Las Vegas Sands has been the main contributor for the ballot initiative.
Sandoval also had a scheduled phone call with Roy on March 7, a month after the company announced plans to construct a massive solar project in Nevada designed to eventually generate a full gigawatt of solar electricity — enough to power one million homes.
The same day, Sandoval also scheduled a meeting with NextEra Energy’s President and CEO Armando Pimentel. The company is set to build two of the six large-scale solar plants announced by NV Energy in May, with a combined capacity of 300 megawatts of photovoltaic solar and 75 megawatts of battery storage.
Although Sandoval has shied away from backing Laxalt, he has had no qualms about endorsing another candidate on the 2018 ballot — state Supreme Court Justice Lidia Stiglich.
Stiglich and Sandoval have a lengthy history — the governor appointed her as a Washoe County District Court judge in 2012, and after she was re-elected in 2014 was appointed by Sandoval to the state’s highest court in November 2016. Her long-time partner, Michon Martin, is Sandoval’s former chief counsel.
In addition to a prominent endorsement and a $10,000 contribution from his gubernatorial campaign — the only one since 2015 — Sandoval’s calendar includes four separate events for Stiglich in both Reno and Las Vegas, held on March 1, March 8, April 16 and Aug. 15.
Stiglich, who replaced Judge Nancy Siatta on the court, is running against Family Court Judge Mathew Harter. He’s raised a little more than $13,000 for the seat, while Stiglich has brought in more than $777,000 since the start of the year.
Sandoval’s calendar also included an appointment to record a video for Las Vegas Metropolitan Sheriff Joe Lombardo on March 8 (which may have been used in a campaign ad months later), and a scheduled phone call with Washoe County Sheriff candidate Darren Balaam on April 9. He also met with then-Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Giunchigliani on January 25.
Outside of a coffee meeting with longtime gaming executive Phil Satre and two other meetings, few events on the governor’s calendar indicate any political involvement during the state’s June 12 primary election. But just three days later, the governor’s calendar shows a call scheduled with someone who undoubtedly paid close attention to the election results — former Sen. Harry Reid.
And as he did in 2017, the governor’s calendar shows several scheduled calls with the governors of a wide array of other states, including back-to-back calls with Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland and Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon on January 19.
He also arranged a call with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on May 16, which was the last day Ducey could sign bills approved by the Legislature.
His calendar also shows a call with fellow moderate Republican, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, on June 4. Baker, Sandoval, Brown and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock sent a joint letter to congressional leaders asking for federal help on the nationwide opioid crisis on June 7.
After likely tense meetings and phone calls with Raiders officials in 2017 after a possible collapse of the funding deal for construction of the team’s $1.9 billion stadium, Sandoval’s 2018 calendar shows a more relaxed relationship with the state’s future professional football team.
On Feb. 8, Sandoval’s calendar shows a scheduled tour with team president Marc Badain at the team’s “stadium preview center” at Town Square Mall in Las Vegas. And during a National Governors Association meeting in mid-April held in San Jose, Sandoval’s calendar shows a scheduled tour of the team’s current headquarters in Alameda.
The governor also toured the Las Vegas Golden Knights’ practice facility on May 7.
Nestled between a scheduled trade mission briefing and recording a tribute video for longtime Reno attorney Herb Santos, Sandoval’s calendar shows a scheduled call with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin on May 8.
Although what was said on the call is unknown, the conversation happened on the same day Sandoval sent a letter to Mnuchin withdrawing the nomination of Dayton as an Opportunity Zone and adding Storey County, according to the Washington Post,
The federal tax overhaul approved in late 2017 created the “Opportunity Zones” as a way to spur federal dollars toward low-income census tracts. Governors nominate the tracts, which are approved by the Treasury.
According to the Post story, Sandoval and Republican Sen. Dean Heller pressured Mnuchin to change their metrics for the designation, after a request by Storey County Commissioner and brothel owner Lance Gilman.
Sandoval also arranged for two phone calls with Energy Secretary Rick Perry on Feb. 6 and Feb. 9, days after Time magazine reported that the Trump administration shortened the schedule for a short-notice nuclear weapons test in the Nevada desert from two to three years to six months. The calls also came a few days before the administration released a budget that included a $120 million allocation to restart the delayed long-term nuclear waste storage site at Yucca Mountain.
Sandoval also accompanied former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on a visit to the Anaconda Copper Mine to announce a deferral agreement related to cleanup of the mine. Sandoval also scheduled a phone call with Navy Secretary Richard Spencer on April 30, a few days before the Bureau of Land Management began taking in public input on plans to triple the Navy’s training range near Fallon.
Students, faculty and anyone with a passing interest in Nevada’s higher education system watched with rapt attention the power struggle and eventual departure of UNLV President Len Jessup, who announced his departure from the school in April, weeks after disagreements between him and the Board of Regents were initially published.
In the midst of the storm — that included a major donor pulling $14 million from the school and spats with regents — Sandoval reported meeting with two key players: Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Thom Reilly and Board of Regents Chairman Kevin Page on March 21.
Sandoval’s calendar also shows meetings with Reilly on May 21 and Regent Rick Trachok on May 22, just days before Reilly announced his recommendation for Honors College Dean Marta Meana to serve as the school’s acting president.
Sandoval said in a statement that he had “great respect” for Jessup following his announcement to leave the university.
“I have enjoyed our working relationship and appreciate everything he has done for UNLV and Southern Nevada,” he said. “I wish him well in his future endeavors and will do anything I can to support him.”
Sandoval also reported meeting with Trachok in February and in August, in addition to their meeting in May. The governor appointed Trachok to the board in 2011.
Disclosure: Many Indy donors are mentioned in this story. You can view a full list of our donors here.
Correction: Updated at 8:22 a.m. to reflect that Michon Martin is the long-time partner of Justice Lidia Stiglich, not her wife.