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Pardons-board vote sparks Nevada political dust-up

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Sisolak that he was “disappointed” in GOP gubernatorial candidate Adam Laxalt for his recent vote on the Nevada Board of Pardons and Laxalt’s opposition to the city of Reno’s proposed lawsuit against opioid drug manufacturers.

Laxalt, Nevada’s attorney general, cast the lone no vote on the pardons board last week in a case involving a man who had been wrongly imprisoned for 21 years for a murder he did not commit.

Gov. Brian Sandoval and all seven state Supreme Court justices voted for an unconditional pardon for 54-year-old Fred Steese.

“I’m disappointed that he would vote no,” Sisolak, the current chairman of the Clark County Commission, said of Laxalt. “The evidence I read was overwhelming.”

“This is a man who clearly, from everything I’ve read, was incarcerated unfairly and incorrectly,” Sisolak said recently on Nevada Newsmakers. “Everybody else saw it that way and whatever was the reason, Adam’s got to answer that for himself. But I was very disappointed to see that vote.”

Laxalt’s pardons board vote made Sisolak question if Laxalt is fit to be governor.

“I think it says a lot about his thought process and I don’t understand it,” Sisolak said. “I don’t understand how he could come up with such a different conclusion from everyone else that was there or what his reasoning might have been.”

Sisolak also questioned if Laxalt had prepared himself for the pardons board meeting.

“If you had done your homework, I don’t know how he could come up with the vote he came up with,” Sisolak said.

Response given

Laxalt’s spokesman, Andy Matthews, said Laxalt sided with the Clark County DA on the matter.

“This is a blatant political attack that is filled with falsehoods,” said Matthews. “Adam Laxalt relied on the Clark County district attorney and his extremely experienced staff of career prosecutors who felt so strongly that this pardon was a mistake they called it an ‘absurdity.’

“The offender was a career seven-time felon prior to his murder conviction for slashing the victim’s throat from one end to the other. Additionally, he had a long history of incidents while in prison for this murder. Adam does not believe he was an appropriate candidate for a pardon and prioritized public safety, as he has always done in these cases. He will always do what is in the best interest of Nevadans and their safety, even when he knows it could invite ridiculous political attacks like these.”

Sisolak was also uncomfortable that Laxalt, at first, tried to abstain from the pardons board’s vote.

“First, that he wanted to abstain from the vote was shocking to me,” Sisolak said. “I’ve been in elected office and had 10,000 votes or more, probably. And you just don’t abstain. You’re elected. You have a responsibility to vote, based on the merits of the issue.”

Opioid epidemic

Sisolak was also critical of Laxalt’s response to a proposed Reno lawsuit against pain-pill manufacturers to collect damages to offset the drain on municipal resources because of the opioid epidemic.

Laxalt expressed concern that the Reno lawsuit could “unintentionally undermine” Nevada’s role in a 41-state ongoing investigation into the conduct of opioid manufacturers and distributors, according to the Associated Press.

Sisolak said Clark County is also considering a lawsuit like the city of Reno’s.

“I don’t know what his reasoning for that is,” Sisolak said. “Here again, I’m reading, doing this from news accounts. He thinks it is going to be different and mess up his lawsuit. And I applaud Reno for doing that and it is something that Clark County, we’re looking at as well.”

Matthews said Laxalt has been fighting against opioid addiction since Laxalt was first elected Nevada AG in 2014.

“Adam has been one of the strongest leaders in the state and the country in taking on the opioid crisis,” Matthews said in a statement. “He has been fighting the crisis since Day One as attorney general and continues to work with a broad, bi-partisan coalition of state attorneys general to bring legal accountability to the drug manufacturers and distributors that have willfully contributed to this crisis.

“He also recently announced his office’s ‘Prescription for Addiction’ initiative, a broad, multi-pronged effort to address this problem head-on and to promote prevention right here in Nevada. He will continue to prioritize efforts to combat this crisis that has affected so many people in our state and across the country.”

Possible ‘18 matchup

Sisolak would meet Laxalt in the 2018 gubernatorial general election if both pass primary election tests.

Laxalt will face Nevada Treasurer Dan Schwartz in the GOP primary. Sisolak will face fellow Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani.

Sisolak said on Nevada Newsmakers that he hoped the Democratic primary would be “civil.”

“It’s been civil down here,” Sisolak said. “I hope it continues that way.

“But politics is politics. And everybody says ‘Let’s keep it positive,’ and not have a negative campaign,” Sisolak said. “Then the consultants are saying, ‘That’s not negative. That’s just the truth.’ So it is not negative. So it can get testy. Unfortunately, that is the way politics are, sadly.”

Ray Hagar is a journalist for “Nevada Newsmakers.” More information on the public affairs broadcast program, podcast and website is available nevadanewsmakers.com

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