A Civil—and Not So Civil—Republican War

Gov. Brian Sandoval

Gov. Brian Sandoval

The Nevada Republican party has questions, and Governor Brian Sandoval and other party leaders aren’t in the mood to give answers. Recently, the state GOP announced that it will issue a questionnaire to candidates so its central committee can decide who to endorse. Sandoval, however, has said he won’t respond to the quiz—along with State Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson and Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey.

The divisions within the state party mirror a national Republican party that is in disarray, divided between the right and the far right—from Arizona Republicans condemning the record of Senator John McCain to South Carolina’s Tea Partiers challenging Senator Lindsay Graham’s reelection bid.

Sandoval clearly believes that Nevada needs a strong Republican party, revitalized much in the way that Senator Harry Reid rebuilt the state Democratic party a few years ago. He has pushed for viable candidates and supported veteran political operative Robert Uithoven for state party chair. The results have been a challenge from the right to his hand-picked candidate for lieutenant governor and Uithoven’s defeat by Michael McDonald, the former Las Vegas city councilman. Or as the Arizona Democrat Mo Udall said upon losing a presidential bid, “The people have spoken. Damn ‘em.”

Well, the people spoke in electing Sandoval four years ago, and he has a record to run on. He says, understandably, that that should address any questions. Roberson feels incumbents can say the same.

But Sandoval ran on a platform of no new taxes, never, ever, nope, no way. Upon becoming governor, he kept that pledge until a 2011 state Supreme Court decision eliminated some of the funds he hoped to take from the Clark County Clean Water Coalition. Then he supported the continuation of taxes that were supposed to sunset at that time. Meanwhile, Roberson made clear that he wouldn’t go to the mat against mining taxes. While neither is a tax-and-spend liberal, Sandoval and Roberson thus antagonized Republicans who oppose government so strenuously that they won’t use public schools, public roads—well, you get the point.

At the same time, McDonald is trying to boost the state party as an organization. He made clear that he supports Sandoval’s reelection, but the questionnaire and what it says are up to the party.

The state GOP apparatus will embarrass itself if it endorses another Republican candidate for governor when Sandoval obviously is going to be the party’s choice, even if the base turns out in the large numbers it usually does in a primary. But the state party and the base could swing other elections, such as the lieutenant governor’s race, in which Sandoval’s pick Mark Hutchison faces a candidate backed by those to his right, Sue Lowden.

Sandoval isn’t the first governor to meet resistance within his own party, whether for ideological reasons or because he chooses his own people to reward and promote. But he’s faced it after enjoying an unusually easy road in the past, having been The Chosen One for governor and glided into his previous jobs. He’s getting an education in the kneecapping that insider politics involves—the kind of insider politics with which McDonald has long experience. In the meantime, if you have questions for Sandoval, don’t be surprised if he doesn’t answer.