Victor Joecks: Adam Laxalt is running for Nevada Gov. Sandoval’s third term

Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Laxalt may be a strong conservative, but he’s positioning himself as a defender of GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval’s moderate policies.

Sandoval is popular, but his policy legacy has always been precarious. That’s because Democrats loathe his incremental reforms to the prevailing wage and labor laws. Republicans generally oppose his tax increases and decision to expand Medicaid. They liked his labor reforms but wished he had done more to fix issues such as collective bargaining.

Sandoval defended his legacy in 2017 by issuing a record number of vetoes that the Legislature didn’t overturn. Term limits will prevent Sandoval from doing that in 2019. Lucky for him, Laxalt sounds like Sandoval 2.0 on many policies.

Look at education reform. Sandoval didn’t fix collective bargaining in 2015, instead walling off money for “categorical” programs such as Victory/Zoom schools and Read by 3.

Most Democrats and their union allies don’t like this arrangement. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Giunchigliani has already said she favors rolling categorical money into unrestricted funding. If that happens, say goodbye to Sandoval’s education programs. Unions will use that money for raises, and those carefully crafted programs — Sandoval’s legacy — will become nothing more than a historical footnote.

Laxalt may want to fix collective bargaining, but he’s focusing his attention on defending Victory and Zoom schools. He also praised Sandoval’s education efforts.

Laxalt also sounds like Sandoval on Education Savings Accounts, a school choice program that both Giunchigliani and her primary opponent Steve Sisolak oppose. Laxalt’s long-shot primary opponent, state Treasurer Dan Schwartz, has said he will veto every bill until he gets ESA funding. Sandoval says he supports ESAs but refused to use his veto pen to ensure they got funded in 2017. Laxalt is now singing the same tune.

“I’m not willing to commit to anything in the budget process as far as an absolute,” said Laxalt. “I’m going to have two Democrat houses, potentially. If I win, we need to make sure we have our comprehensive plan and get as much of it through as we can.”

Laxalt also says he won’t try to roll back Sandoval’s decision to expand Medicaid to healthy adults under Obamacare, although he said he wouldn’t have made the same choice. That’s a clear contrast with Democrats who already tried to roll back labor reforms they voted for in 2015. Sandoval vetoed those bills. A Democratic governor won’t.

One area of disagreement is on the commerce tax, which Sandoval sees as the crown jewel of the $1.5 billion tax hike he pushed through in 2015. Laxalt isn’t itching for a fight.

“I work with the governor every day,” said Laxalt. “I’m not going to agree with him on everything. We don’t agree on the commerce tax. It’s the bottom line. That’s OK. I’m not going to battle him on it.”

Laxalt sounds like a candidate who’s already focused on the general election. It makes sense given his large lead in the primary. It also reflects political reality. Barring a miracle, Democrats are going to control at least the Assembly next year. Laxalt may want to implement far-reaching conservative reforms, but he won’t have the votes. Laxalt looks unwilling to promise things he knows he can’t deliver, even if those promises would excite his base.

Electing Laxalt to defend Sandoval’s legacy isn’t as exciting as thinking about Scott Walker-style reforms. But it’s much better than a Democratic governor turning Nevada into California.

Victor Joecks is a columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

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