Sisolak stresses unity, bipartisanship in inaugural address

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Tom R. Smedes / AP

Steve Sisolak, right, with wife, Kathy, is sworn in as governor on the steps of the Nevada State Capitol in Carson City on Monday, Jan. 7, 2019.

Mon, Jan 7, 2019 (12:14 p.m.)

CARSON CITY — Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak opened his inaugural address today with a word of appreciation to his predecessor, Brian Sandoval, and a pledge to maintain Sandoval’s moderate approach to governing.

“Thank you for prioritizing our kids’ education and our families’ health, and for always putting people over partisanship,” Sisolak said to Sandoval, the popular two-term Republican who exhibited his bipartisanship through such actions as becoming an early adopter of Medicaid expansion and resisting the Trump administration’s immigration policies. “As governor, I pledge to follow the example you’ve set — to find common ground, reach consensus, make a difference in people’s lives, and keep moving the state forward.”

Speaking on the steps of the governor’s office, Sisolak again stressed his core issues from the campaign — improving the state’s public schools, maintaining Obamacare protections for Nevadans and supporting job growth.

Among those joining Sisolak on the stage were Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., former Govs. Bob List, Bob Miller and Richard Bryan, and Attorney General-elect Aaron Ford. Sandoval drew a warm round of applause as he took his seat.

Sisolak, a native of Wisconsin, interspersed personal stories throughout his remarks, including how his father suffered from being laid off from the General Motors plant that had provided the family’s main source of income.

“One day, he came home from the plant with a look of absolute anguish on his face,” he said. “Turned out he was working up the nerve to tell us he’d been laid off. He lost more than his paycheck that day. He lost his dignity. Our family lost too — our livelihood, our sense of security, our faith in the system. I don’t think my dad ever fully recovered.”

Sisolak’s address came on a cool, mostly cloudy day with temperatures in the 40s and snow speckling the grounds of the state government complex. An overnight storm dumped several inches of snow in the area, closing Interstate 80 west of Reno, but temperatures warmed enough that roads were mostly clear by midmorning.

Before Sisolak took his oath of office, other state elected leaders did the same, including Lt. Gov.-elect Kate Marshall, Attorney General-elect Aaron Ford, Treasurer-elect Zach Conine and Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske.

Sisolak, the former Clark County Commission chairman and member of the Nevada Board of Regents, comes to office at a time when the state is growing rapidly in population, putting increasing strains on infrastructure, resources, government services and public schools. The U.S. Census Bureau reported last month that Nevada grew by 2.1 percent between July 2017 and July of this year, tying with Idaho for the fastest rate in the nation.

But compared to Sandoval, who entered office in 2010 as the recession was ravaging Nevada, Sisolak came into his inauguration with the state in much better shape economically in several key respects. Unemployment is low — 4.4 percent in October, the most recent figures available — key industries are gaining jobs and home values are strong.

In his address, Sisolak said improving K-12 education was a top priority and a critical step toward keeping the economy moving forward.

“First things first: We’ve got to get our education system back on track — because we know that’s the bedrock of a thriving economy and the pathway to a better life for our families,” he said. “We have so much to offer out-of-state businesses. But we can’t expect talented workers to stay here if we can’t guarantee their kids a quality education.

“So we’ve got to do better by our students. And that means doing better by our educators. The future of Nevada is in their hands, and they should have the resources and respect they deserve.”

Sisolak offered no details on his map for school improvement, but he said during the campaign that he’d work to reduce class sizes and restore state funding for education to pre-recession levels. He was noncommittal about whether that would require a tax increase, but instead proposed an overhaul of the public education fund to ensure that revenue from the hotel tax and marijuana tax would flow into it. Sisolak said he would also remove bureaucratic barriers that hinder businesses and private individuals from providing funding directly to schools.

Unlike some Democrats, however, the new governor isn’t entering the legislative session calling for a weighted K-12 funding formula that would provide additional funding for students from low-income families, English language learners or those with other special needs.

On health care, Sisolak said he was “committed to cracking down on the rising cost of prescription drugs, blocking any effort to roll back protections for pre-existing conditions, protecting access to women’s health care and defending a woman’s right to make her own medical decisions.”

Health care isn’t political,” he said. “It’s personal. We have to do better. And I know that we can.”

Addressing employment and the economy, Sisolak said he would continue to support projects like the Raiders Stadium to bring jobs to Nevada. A strong a vocal supporter of state funding for the stadium as a county commissioner, Sisolak offered another personal recollection on the topic.

“A few months ago, I was touring the Raiders-UNLV stadium site,” he said. “A water truck pulled up beside me and this worker jumped out, with a smile splashed across his face. He walked over to shake my hand, thanking me for supporting the project. It was the first job he’d had in 18 months.

“My administration will continue that work — prioritizing jobs. Not just any jobs either — good-paying jobs. Jobs that can support a family.”

Sisolak didn’t address details of his jobs strategy in the speech, but on the campaign trail he identified economic development as one where he’d differ from Sandoval. Sisolak said that instead of using tax incentives to entice major out-of-state employers like Tesla to move to Nevada, he would focus on helping smaller businesses and current Nevada companies looking to expand. He also pledged to streamline state bureaucracy to help small businesses expand.

Although Sisolak is expected to push for tougher gun laws, he made no specific mention of gun safety regulations in his remarks today. He referenced the Oct. 1 shooting, but focused on how Nevadans demonstrated caring and resiliency afterward by offering aid to survivors and forming hours-long lines to donate blood.

As a candidate, Sisolak said he wanted to see the state prohibit assault weapons, silencers and bump stocks. Sisolak explored a county ban on bump stocks as a commissioner but discovered that a state law that was passed when Republicans controlled the Legislature in 2014 barred local governments from establishing gun laws more strict than the state’s.

He also has said he would work to implement the ballot measure that Nevada voters passed in 2016 to expand background checks on gun purchases.

Sisolak defeated Republican Adam Laxalt in November in an election that once again showed a sharp urban-rural political divide in the state, with Sisolak winning despite carrying only two counties — Clark and Washoe.

Today, he alluded to a remark by President Abraham Lincoln in calling for unity in the state.

“To paraphrase, ‘I like to see a person proud of the place he lives. I like to see a person live so that his place will be proud of him.’” Sisolak said. “A lot of Nevadans are living like that.”

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