CARSON CITY — On a cold day here in Nevada’s capital, Steve Sisolak gave a speech heavy on warm thoughts as he was sworn in as the state’s first Democratic governor in 20 years.
In what amounted to a touchdown celebration for Nevada Democrats after winning control of all but one statewide elected office and both chambers of the Legislature, Sisolak presented inauguration remarks that touched on progressive policy issues but focused largely on the power of bipartisanship, his praise for the strength of Nevadans’ character and his accounts of personal stories.
Here are five takeaways from the event.
1. The biggest cheers were for Nevada’s diversity. Sisolak got nice applause for his remarks on policy — improving public schools, creating jobs, lowering the cost of prescription drugs and so forth. But the crowd really lit up when he praised the state for having the first female-majority Legislature in state history and when he introduced Attorney General Aaron Ford as the first African American elected to a statewide office.
2. In “One Nevada,” Sisolak offered an antidote to polarization. Sisolak is hardly the first Nevada governor to pledge to work on bridging the state’s many divides — North vs. South, rural vs. urban, Republican vs. Democrat. But he put his money where his mouth was by offering effusive praise of Sandoval and vowing to continue Sandoval’s moderate approach. “I think that was very important,” said Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., who was on hand for the inauguration. “Nevada’s always been that way. You know, I spent 20 years in the Legislature, and we had our differences but we managed to work together. So it’s nice that he’s going to continue that tradition. I wish it were more like that in Washington.” But now comes the hard part. As revealed by the outcome of the election, which Sisolak won despite losing in every county but Clark and Washoe, the urban-rural divide in Nevada is as stark as ever. With Democrats in control of both chambers of the Legislature, and therefore in position to push far to the left on urban-rural fault line issues like gun safety and immigration, how far will Sisolak be willing to counter his party in the name of protecting the interests of rural Nevadans?
3. Those sniffles weren’t just because it was cold. Sisolak didn’t hold back his emotions, breaking up several times during his remarks. Among them were when he recognized his daughters (and jokingly referring to them as “hell-raisers of the highest order”) when recounting the story of a construction worker at the UNLV/Raiders Stadium who told him he’d been out of work for 18 months before going on the job at the construction site, and when describing a woman who brought cookies to survivors of the Oct. 1 shooting because that was all she had to give. “He has such compassion, and that’s what touches my heart and makes me think he’s going to be a great governor,” Titus said.
4. No “American carnage” here. Donald Trump’s name was never mentioned on Monday, but in many ways Sisolak’s inauguration was the polar opposite of Trump’s. Sisolak’s speech was hopeful and upbeat, focusing heavily on the kindness and resilience of Nevada residents.
5. Sorry, policy wonks, but this one wasn’t for you. Sisolak laid out a general agenda but didn’t get into details for the most part. How exactly will he propose paying for improvements in the K-12 system? What’s his game plan for economic development and job growth? You have to go back to the campaign for clues on both of those fronts, because Sisolak didn’t offer any concrete answers from the steps of the governor’s office. An exception was health care, where he pledged specifically to fight to maintain protections for pre-existing conditions, work to lower the cost of prescription drugs, protect access to women’s health care and defend women’s rights to make their own medical decisions.