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VICTOR JOECKS: Lombardo signals willingness to surrender on school choice, other priorities

Gov. Joe Lombardo looks prepared to demonstrate once again that capitulation isn’t a great negotiation strategy.

On Wednesday, Assembly Speaker Steve Yeager held a news conference to offer his thoughts on the legislative session. Unsurprisingly, Yeager reiterated his opposition to Lombardo’s priorities, including school choice. Until public education is fully funded, “we shouldn’t be having a discussion” about school choice, Yeager said.

That comment isn’t surprising. As I detailed in my last column, Democrats want to keep students trapped in a school system that’s disproportionately terrible for minority students.

It would be nice to think that facts, data and the appeals of desperate families could change their minds. Unfortunately, that would be hopelessly naïve. On high-profile issues, what matters most is hardball politics. Students stuck in Nevada’s failing public schools need a champion with political power.

That’s supposed to be Lombardo. He ran aggressively on school choice. Legislative Republicans are in the minority, but they have enough votes to sustain a veto. Nevada’s governor has a much bigger platform than any legislator. I would be shocked if 5 percent of the public could name Yeager as Assembly speaker. Lombardo has a high net approval rating.

His team is starting to apply some political pressure too. The Better NV PAC is attacking Nevada Democratic Party chair and Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno. In the recent hearing, she said, “I wish I could legislate what parents do.” A terrible soundbite, even if her intent seemed to be more about boosting parental involvement.

But Lombardo looks ready to surrender. Ben Kieckhefer, his chief of staff, said the governor’s priority is a “responsible and balanced budget.” If that happens and “zero policy bills pass, from either party,” then “we think it’d be a good outcome.”

Now, if Lombardo had proposed a budget with modest spending increases, that would be a good outcome. He can’t make Democrats vote for his bills. If the session ended in a draw for both sides, that would be a win.

But Lombardo’s proposed budget blew out the spending, including $2 billion in new education funding. For Opportunity Scholarships, he only sought $50 million and increases in future years. Even if you support this spending, it was a strategic error. Lombardo gave away his leverage before Democrats agreed to any concessions.

So, Lombardo has granted Democrats their priority — a massive spending increase — and now says he’s content to walk away. No school choice. No election reforms. No tax cuts. No crackdown on criminals.

That would be a major defeat, not a victory. It would be like a football coach giving the opposing team a three-touchdown lead and then saying he’s happy to end the game immediately.

Perhaps Lombardo has reached a secret agreement with Democrats and what’s happening now is posturing. I doubt it.

If conservatives don’t want to end this session with nothing, they need to pressure Lombardo, not Democrats. Demand that he use his veto pen on every Democrat priority — including the budget — until he extracts concessions. Compromise is fine. Capitulation isn’t.

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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