LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Nevada’s Republican candidates for governor took plenty of shots at each other during Wednesday night’s KLAS-TV debate as the June 14 primary election nears.
Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, the leader in the polls, was a lightning rod on topics ranging from immigration to crime to rent control. Several times, his opponents criticized Lombardo, a clear indication they need to put a dent in his candidacy.
Joey Gilbert, a businessman and attorney who is second in polling, was quick to point out Lombardo’s record on immigration and called him “Sanctuary Joe” as other candidates nodded their approval.
Candidates agreed on one point: Education can be improved by breaking up the Clark County School District.
Gilbert scored points for specific responses to the questions from moderators, including an emphasis on the state’s needs to address mental health issues as they relate to crime. Lombardo also performed well in the debate, offering direct, specific answers and taking advantage of extra time allotted because of attacks by other candidates.
Former U.S. Sen. Dean Heller frequently added to Lombardo’s speaking time by blasting him during his remarks — and debate rules gave Lombardo the opportunity to respond each time. But Heller also made an impression with his experience in government and his willingness to challenge statements.
In his closing comments, Lombardo took advantage of having the last word, laying claim to a primary victory because of his performance thus far in the campaign and on the strength of former President Donald Trump’s endorsement.
“Let’s be honest with each other. For all practical purposes, this primary is over,” Lombardo said. “There’s nothing more to argue about. I’ve weathered 12 months of attacks from Steve Sisolak and his PACs, and from most of the individuals standing here next to me. And … why? Why have I been able to weather them? They’re all bogus. They’re not working. And the reason they’re not working is because I’m leading in all the polls, I have the most money associated with a successful campaign. I have the endorsement of Donald Trump, and I have the endorsement of 16 of 17 sheriffs. So we need to come together and we need to go after Sisolak. Sisolak is the problem. He has ruined our economy, he has ruined our schools, he has ruined our safety and I’m the only one that has the leadership and experience that Nevadans can trust.”
North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee and venture capitalist Guy Nohra were not as effective as Gilbert, Lombardo and Heller in the debate format. Lee did make several points about school safety and his experience producing results in North Las Vegas.
Here are the questions asked during the debate and highlights from the candidates’ answers:
What would you do to protect students and staff in schools from mass shootings?
The debate led off with a question about school safety after Tuesday’s shooting in Uvalde, Texas. Gilbert said the mental health question must be addressed, and he would pay for programs by privatizing education. He said 35% of the school budget can be saved through privatization: “The money’s there. It’s just being wasted.”
Lee said there needs to be more attention to school entrances, and schools need help with that. Nohra suggested the creation of “Battle Born Marshals” — a new law enforcement unit that would report directly to the Nevada Department of Public Safety.
When asked if restrictions on firearms should be part of the solution, the answer was a resounding “no.” Lee suggested it should be easier to get a concealed-carry license.
What would your plan be to curb inflation in our state?
Candidates blamed the situation on the federal government and said inflation had to be solved at the national level, but Gilbert and Heller both identified the fuel tax as one way to help consumers. Both said the tax should be suspended.
Can Nevada afford continued growth given our dwindling water supply?
Lombardo offered one of his strongest answers: “Yes, if we don’t expand the economy, diversify the economy, we’ll die … We have to grow.” He also pointed out that the issue is not the same statewide, because the drought is affecting the north and the south differently. Rural counties need to be more water efficient, northern counties need to “catch” water and Southern Nevada needs to support our congressional delegation and the recycling coming out of Southern California.
Gilbert said, “We can’t grow without water,” and identified flood irrigation and water-wasting crops as practices that need to stop. He also promoted the idea of cloud-seeding to produce rain in the region. Nohra and Heller both mentioned desalination, and Nohra mused that floods on the Mississippi River might someday be a source of excess water. Lee emphasized conservation and pointed to progress in North Las Vegas.
Several candidates said it’s time to redo the Colorado River Pact, which came into existence before there was a significant population in Southern Nevada.
Would you activate and send Nevada National Guard Troops to the southern border?
See our separate story on this question. Lombardo was mocked for his answer and Gilbert and Heller called him out.
Nohra brought a different perspective to the discussion, talking about his family and pointing out that his mother and father were legal immigrants. He is outraged that the federal government doesn’t enforce its own laws.
Would you support adding parental notification laws, waiting periods before ending a pregnancy or restrictions on Plan B pills?
Heller attacked what he saw as inconsistent answers from Lombardo and Gilbert. While all candidates claimed anti-abortion beliefs, Heller said Lombardo and Gilbert sounded more pro-abortion right because of their replies. Later in the debate, Heller was asked about his beliefs again after apparent flip-flopping on the issue. He said he admitted to misspeaking in one case, and that his “pro-life” stance isn’t something voters should question. He said he has an “A+” rating with Nevada Right to Life.
What are your specific plans to fix the CCSD school system?
All the candidates see breaking up CCSD as part of the solution.
Gilbert cited specifics, saying “We need to remove restorative justice, credit recovery, the absenteeism and the drug use.” He said teachers unions need to support teachers or be decertified. “We’re in a full crisis here in Nevada. Something must be done because our children are not being educated, and they’re in far more danger than they’ve ever been before.” Nohra said past failures are a clear signal that CCSD needs an outsider to come in and fix things. And Lee cited success of charter schools, private schools and parochial schools in North Las Vegas. Lee said North Las Vegas has a better chance of competing for teachers that the “conglomerate” school district.
One section of the debate posed a question for each candidate. Some of their responses are provided below.
Joe Lombardo was asked to explain his support for Kevin McMahill to succeed him as Clark County Sheriff, and Lombardo wasn’t happy about answering the question, saying it had nothing to do with his candidacy for governor. 8 News Now I-Team reporter Vanessa Murphy has reported that McMahill failed a polygraph in a 1995 misconduct investigation that cost his partner his job. Lombardo didn’t waver in his support for McMahill, despite 8 News Now’s report.
Joey Gilbert was asked about his allegations that Lombardo didn’t properly handle the investigation into the 1 October shooting in 2017. Gilbert’s campaign has alleged that $30 million was “embezzled” by Gov. Steve Sisolak and Lombardo, and that there wasn’t enough transparency in the investigation. Gilbert repeated the allegations and said that Nevadans deserved better from Lombardo. Debate rules allowed Lombardo to respond, to which he said money was set aside for victims, and the entire investigation has been posted on the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department’s website.
John Lee was asked to explain why he is the only candidate who has not publicly condemned racist statements by a firearms instructor. Lee responded that it wasn’t his job to put the man out of business, and that he did have a conversation directly with the instructor in which he told him he shouldn’t have said the things he said. But he repeated that it wasn’t a matter that he wanted to address with a statement to the public.