'Reno gov' no more?


One of my politically savvy friends once told me his idea for a devastating ad that could be used against Gov. Brian Sandoval.

It had nothing to do with the patient-dumping scandal, in which mentally ill people were bused to other states, in some extreme cases to places where they knew no one or had no plan of care. Yes, that happened on Sandoval’s watch, but even U.S. Sen. Harry Reid has said the governor cannot be held solely responsible for it.

It has nothing to do with the governor’s tattered pledge to not raise taxes, or attempts by a Clark County Commission chairman — whether past or future — to run to the right against Sandoval on the tax issue.

And it was not an attack from the right on the governor’s decision to create a state-based health insurance exchange, or expand the state’s Medicare program under the Affordable Care Act.

It was this: Hit him as “the governor of Reno,” a politician primarily interested in the affairs of the north, painfully disconnected from the realities of Southern Nevada.

Picture this: There’s footage of Sandoval riding in the open back of a 1913 Pierce Arrow as he crosses over the then-brand-new I-580 freeway from Reno to Carson City, waving to assembled crowds, accompanied by Transportation Department vehicles. The governor alights from the classic car to officially open the new, $575 million stretch of road. “This project is not just a home run, it’s a grand slam,” says the smiling Sandoval.

Cut to footage of traffic in Las Vegas, cars ground to a halt on Interstate 15 and U.S. Highway 95 during the regular morning commute. The Rainbow Curve is a parking lot. The 95 approaching downtown: a long, snaking trail of brake lights and frustration. The Spaghetti Bowl: fouled by accidents and construction. And the high-impact tagline: “Somebody please tell the Governor of Reno that we’d settle for a base hit.”

Bazinga.

The ad plays into every Southern Nevadan’s resentment that road tax money generated by Clark County drivers goes to pave asphalt in far-flung places in rural Nevada, places most of us will never drive. It showcases the entirely unnecessary I-580 freeway — and its impressive 1,722-foot bridge spanning Galena Creek — and contrasts it with the sorry state of transportation infrastructure down here. Most everybody drives, and thus everybody can relate.

That’s probably why a savvy adviser to Sandoval realized it might be a good idea to insulate the governor from that attack. That started happening last week.

The Review-Journal’s Sean Whaley reported the amount of money Clark County gets from the state Transportation Department (headquarters: Carson City!) has jumped by 10 percent, to 66 percent of the pie in the current fiscal year. That’s still not as much as we’d get if we divided the dollars strictly based on population, but it’s better than the 56 percent we got in the past fiscal year.

“I think the facts speak for themselves about what this board has done,” Sandoval said at Monday’s transportation board meeting. “You’re going to see a record amount of capital deployed to completely revolutionize the transportation infrastructure in Southern Nevada.”

Grand slam, meet complete revolution!

Now, leave aside for a moment the fact that much of the new money is for long-planned improvements such as Project Neon and the Boulder City bypass. The fact is, more dollars are flowing south, and Sandoval was the governor who was there when it happened.

So yes, drivers from Carson City can zip along a brand-new freeway and save a few minutes on their commute to Reno. But help is coming to the Spaghetti Bowl, too.

And that’s just what the “governor of Reno” will say if anybody uses that line against him.

Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or ssebelius@reviewjournal.com.