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North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee says he’s becoming a Republican

Updated April 6, 2021 - 5:43 pm

North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee announced Tuesday that he is leaving the Democratic Party and becoming a Republican, citing a shift toward socialism.

The mayor of Nevada’s third-largest city made his comments on “Fox and Friends” Tuesday morning.

“In the Democratic Party of Nevada, they had an election recently for leadership, and four of the five people were card-carrying members of the socialistic (sic) party,” Lee said. “It’s not the party that I grew up with 25 years ago in this environment and it’s not the party that I can stand with anymore.”

Lee was referring to recent elections for leadership of the Nevada State Democratic Party, in which a slate of candidates affiliated with the Democratic Socialists of America were elected to most of the party’s top leadership spots.

In an interview, Lee said that election changed his perspective.

“It made me realize that what was happening in the national discussion was actually living itself out in the state of Nevada,” he said. “And it was more than I could take and I just decided my value system was such that I couldn’t take anymore. I just needed to move on.”

Lee added: “It just became such that a pro-life, pro-gun, Christian such as me was finding that there was definitely no place left in this party anymore. I didn’t say that about the Democratic people, I said that about this party.”

Lee ‘out of step’

Judith Whitmer, the new chair of the Nevada State Democratic Party, said in a statement that Lee hasn’t been in tune with the party.

“Mayor John Lee, who claims to have voted for Donald Trump twice, has an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association, and has always opposed a woman’s right to choose, has long been out of step with the core values of the Democratic Party, even as he has used our ballot line time and again to run for and win election to public office.”

Added Whitmer: “It’s unfortunate that he feels he needs to invoke our recent statewide leadership elections to justify his disaffiliation with our Party, but the fact of the matter is that Mayor Lee finds himself at odds with President (Joe) Biden, Governor (Steve) Sisolak and all Democrats in Nevada fighting to provide real relief to working people.”

Possible run for governor

Lee has been mentioned as a possible candidate for governor of Nevada in 2022. He told the Review-Journal last week that he’d been “approached by different people in both parties” to consider switching to the Republican Party and running as a moderate.

“I’m flattered, but at this point, I’m still focused on some big projects in North Las Vegas, and I don’t want to be distracted,” Lee said.

On Tuesday, Lee steadfastly declined to speculate on his political future, although he affirmed what he said shortly before his 2017 re-election, that he does not intend to seek a third term as mayor.

“I’m going to keep my eyes focused right now on being the best mayor that North Las Vegas could have at this point in time,” he said.

If Lee did enter the race, he’d face formidable competition from potential candidates including former Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison, Sheriff Joe Lombardo and Rep. Mark Amodei, among others.

City turnaround

Lee, who owned his own small businesses, has always been considered a conservative Democrat while serving in the Nevada Assembly and state Senate. He was defeated by a progressive Democrat — Patricia Spearman — in a lopsided election in 2012. Lee won election as mayor in North Las Vegas the following year.

Lee inherited a city in crisis when he took office: North Las Vegas had a huge budget deficit, bad credit rating and was even in danger of state receivership. But through budget and personnel cuts and new development, North Las Vegas has gradually crawled back.

The city is home to the sprawling Apex industrial park, a vast swath of undeveloped land that has the potential to be an economic engine for the entire state. The site gained fame when it was selected for a manufacturing plant for electric carmaker Faraday Future, although that deal fell through. Lee says the publicity helped put the city on the map, however.

“Strategically, right now, North Las Vegas is set to be an economic powerhouse,” he said. “I do believe the breadbasket for Southern Nevada is going to be North Las Vegas, and I’m very interested right now in finishing up some stuff I’ve been working on.”

Contact Steve Sebelius at SSebelius@reviewjournal.com. Follow @SteveSebelius on Twitter.

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