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STEVE SEBELIUS: Brand new Republican John Lee wants to be governor

It wasn’t a big surprise when North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee announced last week that he was running for governor as a Republican.

His political ambitions were much-discussed when he switched from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party last month.

It was a little surprising when later that day, the 65-year-old cancer survivor announced he’d tested positive for COVID-19, and that he hadn’t “yet” gotten his coronavirus vaccine. That’s what they call in politics “not ideal.”

But Lee was undaunted, releasing an ad the next day that showed him biking through the open desert and up a mountain trail while discussing his life story, from plumber to state senator to mayor.

I’m no political consultant, but I think that may be the wrong approach. America is a nation of expansive waistlines, and when many Americans see a healthy, fit guy biking along the hardscrabble desert, they don’t think “governor.” They think, “I’ve got to get back to the gym.”

Seriously, have you seen the ads for obesity-related drugs that air constantly on cable TV?

Speaking as a confirmed member of the Hefto-American community, if you want to reach the growing middle of America (and their growing middles), cut an ad showing the candidate eating a hot dog or a Krispy Kreme.

Lee’s rollout had a couple of other noteworthy moments.

First, there was his interview with the Review-Journal’s Rory Appleton. “I like these guys,” Lee said of his potential opponents. “I think they’re nice people, but they don’t have the experience needed to fix something that has fallen apart so badly. I know — I believe I will be a better governor than any of those people.”

That’s a bold statement, considering that other candidates interested in the job include longtime state senator and current U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei. Who has more experience in things that have badly fallen apart than a sitting member of Congress?

Then there’s ex-Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison, another former state senator who was elected statewide as the No. 2 to popular former Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval. As I recall, things did not fall apart — badly or otherwise — during the Sandoval/Hutchison years.

And Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo has been elected — twice — by voters in Clark County, the most populous area of the state. Lee has earned the backing of voters in a city within that county.

Second, we’ve got to get back to a place where we can all agree on common definitions of words. Lee, in his interview, said Sisolak was pursuing a “radical, liberal” agenda.

I bet there’s a whole bunch of radical liberals in Nevada who would be more than happy to cut an ad on behalf of the governor saying, “Like hell he is!”

If Sisolak were really a radical liberal, would he not loudly endorse Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro’s public-option health care bill? Would not the first Democratic governor in 20 years presiding over a Democrat-controlled Legislature be signing a bill to outlaw the death penalty in Nevada? Wouldn’t the guy who promised to ban assault weapons after Las Vegas saw the worst mass shooting in U.S. history have, you know, brought a bill to ban assault weapons?

Sisolak’s big push this session was for a law that would allow a private tech company to create its own county. That’s radical, yes, but hardly liberal.

Lee once again credited his departure from the Democratic Party to its embrace of “socialism.” And while it’s true that a slate of people affiliated with the Democratic Socialists of America organized and took over the state party, they’ve yet to call for the government to seize the means of production and distribution, which is the actual definition of socialism.

It’s certainly not fair to single out Lee for misusing the word “socialist,” though. Plenty of people in his new political party employ a private definition of the word to denounce Democrats whenever they go off talking about feeding hungry kids, rebuilding bridges or helping sick people be able to afford to go to the doctor, as is their wont.

Still, it’s a good idea to warn folks every now and then of what socialism really means, so they’re not surprised if they ever meet an actual socialist.

When Lee was a Democrat, he sometimes aggravated his colleagues with his conservatism. But now that he’s a Republican, he’s doing it to the other side. Republicans worked hard behind the scenes to avoid a gubernatorial primary. But Lee’s message is clear: I’m here, I’m Republican and I’m a candidate, so get used to it.

Contact Steve Sebelius at SSebelius@reviewjournal.com

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