Updated May 17, 2021 - 4:42 pm
North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee launched a Republican campaign for Nevada governor on Monday, telling the Review-Journal he seeks to rebuild the state’s economy using the principles that kept the state’s third-largest city from ruin and firing a campaign warning shot to other Republicans eyeing the 2022 primary.
“I’m proud to kick off my campaign for governor of Nevada, because Nevadans deserve a leader who will put Nevada values first — not the liberal, radical agenda we see today from (Gov.) Steve Sisolak,” Lee said in news release announcing his candidacy.
Lee announced in April his official switch from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party.
“I recently took a stand by leaving the Democratic Party because it embraced socialism, adopted radical policies and turned its back on Nevada’s middle class and working families,” Lee said in his campaign announcement. “As I’ve talked to folks all across the state of Nevada, it is clear that the leadership our state so desperately needs is nonexistent.”
When asked during a Monday interview how he, a Democrat until a month ago, would appeal to the fierce conservatives and supporters of President Donald Trump who make up a large part of the state’s Republican voter base, Lee said he was not the first Democrat to switch parties and seek leadership.
“Just like President (Donald) Trump and President (Ronald) Reagan, who had to make the same decisions I made, I had to leave those parties who no longer share my values,” Lee said.
Sisolak’s campaign released a statement in response to Lee’s criticism: “After leading Nevada through the pandemic, Governor Sisolak is completely focused on re-opening Nevada’s economy, putting shots in arms and bigger paychecks in workers’ pockets.”
The pro-life, pro-Second Amendment Lee served as a moderate Democrat in the Nevada Assembly from 1997-2001, then in the state Senate from 2004 until 2012, when he was soundly defeated by progressive state Sen. Pat Spearman in the Democratic primary.
He is currently serving his second term as mayor of North Las Vegas. Lee also owned and operated a plumbing business and is an active member in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“(North Las Vegas) was $156 million in debt, and we found another $6 million budget hole (when Lee was elected mayor),” Lee said in the interview. “We were months away from having to give our charter back — they would have split us in half and given half to the county and half to Las Vegas, and both of them didn’t want us because of the debt. We went from three levels of junk to an A (credit) rating using good conservative common sense. I want all of us to win the way North Las Vegas was able to win.”
Lee’s party switch and possible gubernatorial candidacy were widely rumored ahead of his announcements.
Although his campaign announcement targets Sisolak, the Democratic incumbent governor, Lee will likely face stiff competition in a Republican primary.
Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo confirmed last month he is considering a bid as a Republican. Rep. Mark Amodei is also interested. Former Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison is also rumored to be weighing his chances.
Lee said he spoke to each of these rumored candidates prior to making his announcement.
“I told them I was going to do this, but I didn’t ask their permission,” Lee said. “I told them I was not striking out on my own. I wanted to do this for all Nevadans.”
Lee said he did not get the sense that any of the rumored candidates had decided to run.
“I like these guys. I think they’re nice people, but they don’t have the experience needed to fix something that has fallen apart so badly,” Lee said. “I know — I believe I will be a better governor than any of those people.”
The official candidate filing period for state races does not begin until March.
Lee also addressed the 2014 story surrounding child pornography found on his iPad that is likely to be rehashed during a contentious statewide campaign. He said he opened a link that contained the pornography and went to police as soon as he realized the material was on his computer.
Both the North Las Vegas Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation looked into the situation, and the FBI ruled it did not have enough information to file any charges.
“I did not do anything wrong, and I look forward to putting an end to that story,” Lee said.