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Steve Sisolak, not a candidate yet, sounds like a man running for governor

CARSON CITY — Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak said at the outset of his remarks to the Carson City Democratic Central Committee’s Capital Blue Dinner Tuesday that he wasn’t going to announce his candidacy for governor.

That’s helpful, because otherwise, he sounded like a man who was all in, as if a Clark County politician speaking to a Carson City crowd didn’t tell the whole story in itself.

He talked about fixing the opioid epidemic, fostering diversity, economic development and even embraced collective bargaining for state employees. And of course he took a shot at Republican front-runner, Attorney General Adam Laxalt, by saying he doesn’t mind being taped when he speaks, a reference to Laxalt’s recent troubles with the chairman of the Gaming Control Board.

As Sisolak said, he’s not running for governor, at least “not quite yet.”

Sisolak, a Democrat, said the commission deals with a range of issues ranging from zoning and planning to public safety. The man who repeatedly voted against a sales tax for more police officers (until it became a lesser-included part of the Raiders NFL stadium deal) exulted in finally reaching a ratio of two cops per 1,000 residents in Clark County.

Commissioners, he said, get everyone involved. “Why wouldn’t we want that to be the resume of the next person we elect for governor?” Sisolak asked the dinner, which about 100 people attended.

That line foreshadows a potential campaign theme, since Laxalt’s appeal lies primarily with his Republican base, who Laxalt has consistently cultivated by fulfilling campaign promises to sue the federal government to oppose unwanted initiatives.

Sisolak detailed the opioid abuse epidemic, which he said exists throughout the state. “We have a tremendous drug problem and we need everyone to get involved” in fighting it, he said.

And, in a nod toward a potential Republican attack, Sisolak said residents and businesses in Nevada pay a “fair” amount of taxes, and that new revenue wasn’t needed to accomplish the state’s goals. “We can maintain a low tax environment and still have enough money for our public schools,” he said. “It’s not an either/or proposition.”

And speaking of public schools, Sisolak said he was against using public education money for private schools. “I don’t have a problem with private education, but not at the expense of public schools,” he told an audience member during a brief question-and-answer session.

Sisolak lauded the state’s diversity, noting Nevada has fielded the first Latina U.S. senator (Catherine Cortez Masto), a Latino governor (Brian Sandoval), black leaders in both houses of Nevada’s Legislature (Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson and state Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford) and several openly gay members of the Legislature. “We are a society that welcomes all in Nevada,” Sisolak said. “We are the inclusive party. There is no room for policies of division or policies of hate.”

Sisolak didn’t mention President Donald Trump — who has stirred racial tension by loudly and repeatedly calling for a border wall between the United States and Mexico — but did say he was troubled by the lack of basic civic decency in Washington, D.C.

And speaking of Sandoval, Sisolak credited the Republican governor with doing good things for the state, another contrast between Sisolak and Laxalt, who has tangled with the governor repeatedly over lawsuits and the 2015 commerce tax on business.

Asked by a representative of the AFL-CIO about the long-sought goal of collective bargaining for state employees, Sisolak embraced the idea, noting that local government employees enjoy that benefit. “I think that they’re entitled to collective bargaining,” said Sisolak, who has tangled with unions for firefighters in Clark County over sick and vacation time. “I think we need to have that conversation.”

The speech wasn’t a formal announcement of a campaign, by any means. But on a blustery Tuesday night in the state’s capital, Sisolak sure looked and sounded like a man running for governor.

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