Sandoval takes it easy with no foe

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval started the weekend early and couldn’t make his scheduled Friday interview at the Review-Journal. But no matter.

Every day’s a holiday when you’re an incumbent without a serious challenger.

Sandoval figures to have many easy days ahead as the 2014 gubernatorial campaign smokes, smolders and eventually dies entirely. The state’s most promising and high-profile Republican, that handsome family man with a handsome future, can do anything he wants or nothing at all in the coming months with almost no risk to his political career.

In theory, at least, you’d think that even such a highly successful politician — one who defines the gubernatorial company man in the great Nevada tradition — would draw enough opposition to at least be compelled to stump full time and answer a few hard questions from taxpayers and reporters. But Democrats in the state that twice helped send Barack Obama to the White House have broken weak against Sandoval.

Instead of an actual leader in a suit this past week, one who might elaborate on the many challenges our state faces as it crawls hand-over-hand out of recession, we received the equivalent of postcards from the road during Sandoval’s publicity-rich time at the National Governors Association Winter Meeting in Washington, DC. When you’ve drawn no experienced opponent, this glorified vacation junket qualifies as heavy lifting worthy of not one but several news releases.

In addition to the announcement of an Internet gaming compact with Delaware and discussions of topics ranging from drought to transportation, we learned that Sandoval attended a reception at the Brazilian Embassy. “Stronger ties between the State of Nevada and Brazil have the potential to enhance not only trade, but tourism as well,” the Governor-by-Press-Release said.

And just imagine the site visits that will be possible. Sign me up to cover The Boy from Ipanema for the next four years.

But the big issues didn’t stop there. Not only did Sandoval attend the NGA’s Economic Development and Commerce Committee meeting on the reauthorization of federal highway dollars — turns out he’s for it — but I have it on good authority that he managed to stay awake through most of the discussion. It’s that kind of dedication, I suppose, that has earned him a ticker tape parade and four more years in the Governor’s Mansion despite all the rumors that the devoted political aspirant doesn’t plan to finish a second term.

We also learned via news release that “Governor Sandoval, in his capacity as Vice Chairman of the NGA’s Education and Workforce Committee, co-led a session entitled ‘Supporting Governors’ Innovation in Early Childhood Education’ ” with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Governors, at least in some states, can play a leadership role in battling to improve early childhood education.

In Nevada, where leaders traditionally have attended many meetings, occasionally appointed committees, and at times even funded studies on this topic, the issue is always ripe for discussion. Not to mention press release.

Spending some actual quality question-and-answer time with Sandoval might, again in theory, shatter his Governor-by-Press-Release image. It might even help conservative members of his own party better appreciate Sandoval’s political philosophy, which appears to be focused on traveling far, playing it safe, and leaving no footprints.

Perhaps Sandoval is enjoying a ride on Nevada’s political merry-go-round instead of being put through his paces because he’s just so damned dynamic and dedicated. Maybe he really is almost all things to almost all people.

If he had an experienced and well-funded opponent in the 2014 campaign, we might find out for ourselves. We might know if he’s more than just a seemingly sincere guy with a nice haircut but also a leader willing to leave his comfort zone long enough to help struggling Nevada taxpayers and their children.

Instead of a battle-tested fighter in the Battle Born State, we have a man on holiday sending postcards from the road.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Email him at or call 702-383-0295. Follow him on Twitter @jlnevadasmith.

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