Interview: Nev. AG Adam Laxalt's Bid To Be Governor

Apr 13, 2018

Nevadans will soon head to the polls to determine who will become the Republican and Democratic nominees for governor. Among the candidates most likely to get the nod is the state's current attorney general, Adam Laxalt.

KUNR's Paul Boger sat down with the AG to learn more about his candidacy.

Mr. Laxalt, thank you so much for joining me. 

Thanks, Paul. Thanks for having me.  

I know we don't have a lot of time, so let's jump right in. Why are you running for governor?  

I love Nevada. I think Nevada has provided some incredible opportunities for generations and I want to fight to keep it that way.

Sir, you don’t have a long history here in the state. As an elected official, you're still in your first term as AG. What do you see as your qualifications for the position?

I’m certainly not a career politician. What I bring to the office [is that] I'm the only person in this race that actually represents every community in the state of Nevada now. We've done an incredible job of being able to reach those communities and be effective at the Attorney General's office.

We’ve had some landmark efforts that have never been done out of this office, like we've been able to tackle the rape kit backlog. It was a 30-year-in-the-making issue for the state of Nevada, with over 8,000 untested sexual assault kits. That's something we took on the first months of office and were able to find funding to eliminate the entire rape kit backlog--8,000 kits--and to continue to work on that problem so that we could make sure we're able to prosecute these sexual assaulters and get them off our streets for good. 

That's just one example, but we've been able to work with local law enforcement across the state and forge relationships that never existed before as the top law enforcement officer to make sure we're working alongside them, and I think that's been one of my trademarks is that I get things done. I'm not a career politician.

I want to dive a little deeper into your positions on some of the issues affecting the state. Most recently you released your education plan and that includes continuing to expand school choice. I'm going to make a wild assumption and assume that means funding ESAs and maybe expanding charter schools, correct?  

I think choice is an important tool for our education system. Our education system is obviously at the bottom and that's unacceptable. That’s something I'm committed to improving. I commend Governor Sandoval for the reforms that he's put through in the last few sessions. I think they're important and are working their way towards improving our schools. I want to support those and continue those, but choice is a big, big area where we can give our parents and our students individual, unique opportunities to be able to tailor their education to their kids, so I support an expansion of public charter schools. There's waiting lists all across our state for them, and they've proven to be incredibly successful.

I support doubling the opportunity scholarship which was passed last session, or I should say that the dollar figure was raised considerably last session.  That's a great avenue for us as a state to be able to give underprivileged kids more access to opportunities and different educational styles. I also support funding of ESAs. It’s something that we fought for in the attorney general's office, to defend the state law, and it was declared constitutional — as your listeners may know — and now we need to try to find some money for it.  

You are on the record as saying you want to repeal the commerce tax. The commerce tax was passed as a way to bolster education funding here in the state. How do those two ideas mesh, and can you continue to fund education at the current levels and expand some forms of education funding at the same as repealing that tax?

Absolutely. I'm committed to keeping our education funding levels consistent. Hopefully, we can increase them in certain areas. It's important to know the commerce tax is 2.3 percent of our general fund budget. That’s less than 1 percent of our overall spending. What we saw in 2017 was a lot of economic growth, which meant more revenues to the state. There’s also the marijuana tax, which is new. And I have found efficiencies in my 400-person agency to be able to do more with less, and we've returned money to our state every single time, every budget I've had. 

I think that we can find more efficiency across state government, so the combination of those three things, I'm very confident we can make up the gap of the commerce tax, but we are also going to be able to fund some of my education priorities.

You've been firm in your opposition to any plan that would make Nevada a sanctuary state. What are your concerns and are you concerned about possibly alienating the state's growing Latino population?

My job as the top law enforcement officer is to think of public safety first, and when I make those decisions, I'm not looking at voting blocks or whether or not it's going to help me gain or lose votes. It is crystal clear to me that our local law enforcement needs to work with federal authorities to get dangerous repeat felons off our street and make sure that there not able to come out and hurt our communities, so, you know, yes. It's been made a politically charged issue. I don't think it's a very complicated issue. It doesn't make us safer, and I'm opposed to it.

You recently had discussions with the state's law enforcement officers and sheriffs to talk about school safety. It's been a growing concern as of late. What were some of the recommendations of that meeting?

Well, since I've taken office, I've wanted to make sure that when there are big challenges in the state we try to find a way to step up and take them on. It’s important to know that the rape kit backlog, for example, isn't in the attorney general's office. We don't have any rape kits. These were local issues, but we took that on and got everyone to the table so that we can resolve it and we've done that in a lot of areas since I've been elected.

After this school shooting, obviously, it was incredibly concerning on all of our minds. I have three little children, and all of our parents want to make sure our schools are safe, so I was able to bring together and school officials from across the state--in a very quick time--and to do a very important summit so that we could spend many hours going over all the issues that we think are making our schools less safe. We're in the process of writing that report and I look forward to releasing it in the next two to three weeks. 

Many voters say there needs to be some kind of gun control reform. What is your take on that issue? 

A lot of the debate on gun control are, you know, vague solutions that, you know, wouldn't have prevented the Parkland shooting. It wouldn’t have prevented the Las Vegas shooting. I am a firm protector of second amendment rights and don't think that we should be going after law-abiding citizens and their right to bear arms. 

In the same vein, you've previously said that Question 1 — the background check amendment from the 2016 election — is unenforceable because it doesn't have the authority to carry out the checks. My question isn't why you came to that decision, but rather can the amendment be fixed and is there a version of it that you would support?

So, obviously, Question 1 and this background check initiative has already been used as a political battering ram. One of my opponents continues to say that I need to enforce Question 1, and she's been an elected official for three decades, and she knows that the attorney general doesn't enforce ballot initiative. That's just not what we do.

As far as being able to fix the ballot initiative, the only thing that they could do is try to do a brand new ballot initiative. You cannot change the language of a ballot initiative. You can't go to a legislature for three years, so you know, they wrote a bad bill. I know they're sore about that. They spend a lot of money on it, but it's not the state's fault that they didn't write the proper ballot initiative. And I want to say that, as I said with our marijuana ballot initiative, if they wrote this thing properly and it actually said the department of public safety was supposed to do these background checks, this would be going on today. There would never have been any issue.

The reason why this thing is been held up is because they specifically said the FBI has to do it. There's no way to move around a ballot initiative's specific language that designated the FBI, and only the FBI, to do the background checks. 

If it came back up for a vote, if the legislature could do it, would you support a background check bill?

I would have to see the specifics. It cannot go up for a bill in 2019 and so we're talking three or four years from now, and I'd be happy to see what that looks like in a few years.

Wrapping up, you're facing a primary challenge from state Treasure Dan Schwartz. How do you convince Republican voters that you're the man for the job?

You know, I'm proud to put my record up against anyone in this race for both the primary and the general election. We've been able to get incredible results with this office. I currently represent alive and in the flesh [sic] in local communities all across the state. We've rolled up our sleeves and we've been able to help communities and actually be responsive. I look forward to fighting for the votes of first Republican primary voters but then all Nevadans in the general election, and I'm very confident that our record will hold up well against anyone else in this race.

Mr. Schwartz has repeatedly called for a debate between the two of you. Do you think you'll take him up on that offer?

Absolutely. I'm looking forward to a debate--a primary debate as well as a general election debates.

At the end of the day, if you become governor, you're very likely going to have to work with a Democratic-led legislature. How do you accomplish the goals that you've outlined here and advance your agenda?

Well, I’ve got a record of being able to work across the aisle. A lot of people say that, but we actually have done unprecedented things with this office, all of which required getting bipartisan support. The rape kit issue that I spoke about, we had to go to the legislature and get bipartisan, unanimous support for both that funding and our program to try to eliminate the backlog.

Our new elder fraud unit was something that we had to get unanimous, bipartisan support for. We have the opioid prescription for addiction program, which is a great program that focuses on prevention, and also has--for the first time ever--the attorney general's office working with the FBI on investigating dirty doctors. All these things we had to get bipartisan support for, so I look forward to finding important solutions for Nevada and I believe the Democrats will support these things that will help our state.

Adam Laxalt is Nevada's 33rd attorney general and is a Republican candidate for governor. Mr. Laxalt, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us. 

Thank you, Paul. I really appreciate it.

For Reno Public Radio, I'm Paul Boger.

Editor's Note: KUNR's Paul Boger has previously spoken to Democratic candidates Steve Sisolak and Chris Giunchigliani. We've also reached out to Republican candidate and State Treasurer, Dan Schwartz. We're still waiting to hear back.