Sandoval refuses to take part in Nevada GOP’s endorsement process

GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval said Tuesday he will not participate in the Nevada Republican Party’s new endorsement process that it will use ahead of the June 10 primary to guide voters.

State Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, also said senators will boycott the endorsement procedure. And Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey, R-Reno, joined the effort to spurn the state party.

Sandoval said his decision not to respond to a GOP endorsement questionnaire should not be characterized as a snub of the state party and that he has been involved in many party activities.

Still, the moves by Sandoval and Republican lawmakers illustrate the deep rift between establishment Republicans and the party organization after the governor failed last year to put a loyalist in charge of the state GOP. The popular governor is using his own campaign team and not relying on the state GOP operation to get out the vote for him in 2014.

A 16-member committee plans to review answers to 13 questions and interview candidates before recommending endorsements for the larger GOP Central Committee of several hundred members to approve.

“I won’t be submitting a response to the questionnaire,” Sandoval said in Carson City when asked about the process. “I think that the committee can look at my record over the past three years and through the Legislature and be able to answer any question with regard to my position as governor.”

Sandoval has come in for harsh criticism from conservative Republicans — particularly members of the Tea Party and backers of former GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul — for twice extending a $600 million-plus package of taxes to balance the state budget. Still, his overall approval rating among Nevadans remains high at 50 percent to 60 percent.

After Sandoval’s comments, Roberson said, “Incumbent Senators seeking re-election and caucus-endorsed candidates will not be participating in this process,” delivering yet another blow to the state party.

Hickey said he personally won’t get involved, but will leave it to individual lawmakers to make up their own minds.

“I’ve told my Caucus to follow their conscience and their constituents on the matter,” Hickey said in a statement. “In my case, I will not be participating and will stand proudly with Gov. Sandoval and the 26,000 voters in my legislative district, who ‘endorsed’ me in the last election.”

The questionnaire asks some basic background questions as well as queries about the direction of the party, the GOP platform, the U.S. Constitution and the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

“In your opinion, what is the role of the Nevada Republican Party?” one question reads.

“What does being Republican mean to you? Briefly describe your political philosophy,” another query asks.

The questionnaire also asks candidates their views on enacting a personal income tax in Nevada and whether private contractors should be used to provide services that the state has traditionally handled.

State GOP Chairman Michael McDonald said he personally backs the governor’s re-election and will campaign for Sandoval. That said, it will be up to the GOP Central Committee — or grassroots Republicans — to determine whether Sandoval gets the official party endorsement, McDonald said. He added he would recuse himself from the endorsement committee.

“This is a logical and reasonable process,” McDonald said. “Am I disappointed? No. He’s our governor and I back our governor. The process is fair enough.”

Asked whether Sandoval can still get the state party endorsement, McDonald said, “That’s up to the board one way or another and then it goes to the body. I’m behind the governor’s re-election 100 percent.”

McDonald won re-election as chairman last year, beating out Robert Uithoven, who was Sandoval’s choice.

Jim DeGraffenreid, vice chairman of the Nevada GOP, wrote on the party’s Facebook page that it’s possible that more than one candidate can be endorsed in any race, which means Sandoval and other gubernatorial candidates could get the nod.

“The process specifically allows for multiple candidates to be endorsed in a given race,” DeGraffenreid wrote. “The goal is not to tell people how to vote, but rather to let people know which candidates will support the grassroots GOP and their principles as expressed in the GOP platform.”

“The voters in the primary always make the ultimate decision on which candidate they nominate for the general election, but the party hopes this process will help them make a more informed decision,” he added.

Sandoval doesn’t yet face any formidable opponent for his 2014 re-election. The Democratic Party hasn’t fielded a strong candidate and so the governor is currently facing four little known contenders, including one Republican.

Eddie Hamilton, the GOP candidate, said he’s pinning his hopes on gaining the endorsement and more recognition.

Candidate filing opens March 3 and closes March 14, giving potential candidates plenty of time to jump into the race. Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, said he might run. And state Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, said if Sisolak doesn’t step up, he might campaign against Sandoval to give him a fight.

Last week, McDonald said the party decided to endorse candidates during the primary phase of the campaign, an unusual move since state parties often stay out of races until the general election in November.

McDonald said grassroots members of the party wanted a bigger say in who represents the GOP at the ballot box.

“The people driving this had a kind of feeling that they wanted to be more involved in the process,” McDonald said. “They felt they weren’t relevant and that, basically, the consultants have taken charge and the people have lost their voice.”

The first endorsements are expected to be made at a Feb. 15 GOP meeting in Fallon. Additional endorsements could come during the state GOP’s convention April 12-13 in Las Vegas, the party said.

McDonald said the GOP plans to endorse candidates at every level — from the governor’s job and other state offices to seats in the state Assembly and Senate. The party might stay away from nonpartisan judicial offices, he said.

Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley contributed to this report. Contact reporter Laura Myers at lmyers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919. Follow her on Twitter @lmyerslvrj.