CARSON CITY, Nev. — Gov. Brian Sandoval has cut a lower, less-partisan profile than many Republican chiefs executive.
But as a Hispanic Republican and the relatively popular leader of a Western swing state that sided with President Barack Obama last November, Sandoval might be uniquely qualified to offer his party political advice as it seeks to recover in the wake of the disappointing 2012 elections.
In part two of our discussion pulled from my wide-ranging interview conducted earlier this week in the governor’s private office in Nevada’s historic Capitol, Sandoval sounded off on how efforts to change U.S. immigration law might affect the GOP nationally, and what he really thought when 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney talked about “self deportation” as an immigration policy.
The governor revealed some of his thinking about the political landscape at home ahead of the 2014 and 2016 elections and discussed how the actions of the Congress and the White House, or lack thereof, have affected his ability to help Nevada recover from an economic downturn that was felt more acutely in the Silver State than perhaps any other state in the nation.
And we closed the interview with a short segment on Sandoval’s choice of footwear — and discovered a Capitol Hill connection.
Q. Over time, will the Senate immigration reform proposal help the image of the GOP with different ethnic demographics?
A. I do think it will help — I’m very confident it will help. Particularly in the Hispanic community, they wanted to see something happen for a very long time and I think that this proposal by Sen. [Marco] Rubio [R-Fla.] has been very well received.
Q. How will this help the image of the Republican Party?
A. It will allow for more focus on some of these other issues that are extremely important like education — like the economy — instead of this focus on the immigration policy.
Q. Did Romney’s “self deportation” comment hurt?
Q. What did you think when you heard it?
A. I was disappointed because I think it was important to have the type of reform that we’re talking about today. I knew that members of the Hispanic community would not react well. That discussion first came up in Nevada at the debate in Las Vegas where I was present, and I know that there was a very strong, negative reaction within the Hispanic community because of that. It was hard to recover from.
Q. You’re Hispanic and come from a modest upbringing, and the Republican Party has had trouble attracting the votes of people like you. What has been the national party’s problem?
A. Probably [in failing to] connect and be a part of that community. For me, it’s extremely important to be out in what I call the real world and visiting with people of the different nationalities. The Hispanic community — that’s very easy for me to be out there and work with them. … There’s been a gap. There needs to be more aggressive outreach and better messaging in terms of, we’re all in this together, getting people back to work, improving the delivery of education, improving delivery of health care, to return us to where we need to be, which is people feeling like this is the land of opportunity.
Q. What was it about the Republican Party that appealed to you?
A. I registered as a Republican when I turned 18 because of Ronald Reagan — he was the president at the time; I admired what he stood for, I respected him. When I was in college, I had the opportunity to work as an intern with [then-Sen.] Paul Laxalt [R-Nev.] in Washington and that was transformative for me, followed his career very closely. When I was in the legislature here, for my two terms I had an opportunity to work with Bill Raggio, the longest-serving state senator in the history of Nevada. When I was the [state] attorney general across the street, I had the opportunity to work with Kenny Guinn, who was the [GOP] governor here and somebody that I truly respected. … They really helped form how I approach problems. I want to be a problem solver and they were problem solvers as well.
Q. What is the state of the GOP nationally?
A. It’s always cyclical because you can point back to both parties that have had strong times and weak times. I think [Republican National Committee Chairman Reince] Priebus is doing a great job. He’s working extremely hard, he’s making the phone calls, he’s traveling nationally, he’s spent a lot of time here in Nevada. So, I have complete confidence in the party, and there will be plenty of time to do the necessary outreach … to ensure that we’re very competitive in 2016.
Q. How has Obama’s leadership impacted your ability to help Nevada’s economy recover?
A. I have a job to do as governor, separate obviously, than that which happens in Washington. I have been systematically working with my Cabinet to ensure that we have a business-friendly environment, that we are responsive to the businesses that come here; we’re going to provide a quality education; we’re going to keep taxes low and continue to move on in that direction.
Q. Have you mitigated what’s going on in Washington, or does it matter what happens there?
A. Well, of course it matters. … What’s happening in Washington provides uncertainty on a national level, which, if you own a company, you may have to think whether you’re going to relocate, because you don’t know what the consequences are going to be [because of] what they’re doing in Washington.
Q. If you could be king for a day, what would you do in Washington vis-à-vis taxes and spending?
A. Perhaps modeling what we’re doing here in Nevada, which is less spending, less taxes, focus on a business-friendly environment, less regulations, the ability to reach out and work with business.
Q. What kind of state is Nevada, politically, and what does 2014 look like?
A. Well, in terms of [Rep.] Joe Heck [R-Nev.], I think he’s a great congressman, and I think he’ll be a great candidate. He works extremely hard; he’s active in the military, in the reserve, I think he’s done a wonderful job as a congressman, so they’re going to have to come up with a pretty good candidate to challenge Joe.
In terms of this state, it’s a difficult time [for Republicans]. The voter registration is hard; that’s something that I’m going to be focused on, in trying to close that gap in terms of the difference between registered Republicans and registered Democrats. But I still believe that this is a state that is going to look at each of the candidates individually and determine who is the best.
Q. Is the Nevada Republican Party in better shape than it was last cycle?
A. I think the state party had its problems. … But I think they recognize that we need to all work together in order to get our candidates elected. I’ve been speaking with the state chairman often, and I think he understands that as well. So, going forward, I think you’re going to see a very different party.
Q. Was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Obama getting re-elected in 2010 and 2012, respectively, more about their machines or the candidates?
A. It’s a little bit of everything. You have to give credit where credit is due. Sen. Reid’s and the president’s organizations were very well organized, they had a lot of resources, they had a lot of money, they had a lot of people on the ground they were extremely effective. And that I think is good because that is going to push the Republican Party in the next two election cycles to equal the playing field in that regard.
Q. How is your relationship with Leader Reid?
A. A governor and a U.S. senator should work together. Our politics are different, there’s no doubt about that, but if there are issues that we can work together for a solution, then we do that. I talk to him — I don’t know if I’d call it often — but we do speak every now and then.
Q. I notice you’re wearing cowboy boots. Are you always a boots guy?
A. Let me tell you where this comes from. I mentioned Sen. Laxalt earlier. Sen. Laxalt was very famous for wearing his cowboy boots on the United States Senate floor and this is my way of honoring him, is wearing cowboy boots.