LAS VEGAS — The consensus Republican front-runner for Nevada governor drew attention and applause from a GOP luncheon audience Tuesday when he used an expletive to deride Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak’s decision to enact a state-managed public health insurance option.
Answering a question about homelessness, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo expressed frustration about people who don’t or won’t accept help from public services. He said he wanted to stop the Clark County jail from being the “No. 1 facility” for mental health services in Nevada.
“A very small percentage are homeless due to circumstances out of their control,” said Lombardo, who served two terms as nonpartisan elected head of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. “You have to hold them accountable and, unfortunately, society is turning a blind eye to that issue.”
“The governor can make that a priority,” Lombardo continued, referring to Sisolak. “He said his priority is health. And he’s talking about (bull–—) things like the public option.”
Sisolak last year signed Nevada’s public health care option into law, amid projections that it will lower insurance premium costs 15% for participants by 2026.
Sisolak campaign aide Reeves Oyster responded to Lombardo’s comment with a statement saying 350,000 Nevada residents will benefit from the law; pointing to the coronavirus pandemic; and accusing Lombardo of siding with “big insurance over Nevada families in need of health care.”
The answer wrapped up Lombardo’s time during a forum that drew more than 200 luncheon guests to the Dragon Ridge Country Club in Henderson. It was moderated by Nickie Diersen, of the Southern Hills Republican Women’s Club, and conservative KNXT-AM radio morning show host Alan Stock.
In a statement late Tuesday, Lombardo campaign aide Elizabeth Ray said, “the actual benefit of this public option bill has not been made evident, and Nevadans don’t deserve to suffer through the beta test for this bad public policy, which was rushed through the Legislature.”
Nine Republican candidates for governor were asked about the economy, crime, schools, homelessness, and development amid a dwindling Colorado River water supply during the question-and-answer style forum.
On hand were perennial political hopeful Eddie Hamilton, logistics manager Tom Heck and real estate investor Barak Zilberberg, plus five others who took part in a campaign forum last week in Las Vegas: North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee, Gardnerville surgeon Fred Simon, Reno venture capitalist Guy Nohra, former US Sen. Dean Heller and firebrand northern Nevada lawyer Joey Gilbert.
Stock said the station planned to broadcast the two-hour event twice — at 2 pm Saturday and noon May 8.
The campaign for the June 14 GOP primary has 20 announced candidates.
Sisolak has a tremendous campaign finance advantage over any of the Republicans, and he faces a lone underfunded Democratic primary challenger, former North Las Vegas City Council member and Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins.
Most of the Republican candidates have offered dire assessments of the state’s economy, rising crime and struggling schools. Several have blamed Lombardo for not attending previous campaign events.
Lombardo hit back Tuesday against Heller, who served one term in the Senate after serving in the state Assembly and Congress, for Heller’s stump speech comments about “sanctuary cities,” “catch-and-release” jail policies and defunding police.
“You want to live in a dangerous neighborhood? Live in a sanctuary city,” Heller said Tuesday. “Practice catch-and-release? You have a dangerous community. You’re talking about defunding the police? Guess what, you have a dangerous city.”
Lombardo withdrew Las Vegas police in 2019 from participating in a jail-based federal immigration enforcement program known as 287(g) that critics including the American Civil Liberties Union said led to unconstitutional warrantless arrests. Others said that pulling out of the program made Las Vegas a haven for people living in the US without legal permission.
Lombardo this week began airing a campaign advertisement that took credit for sporting 10,000 people.
“I’m freaking tired of hearing it,” the sheriff declared Tuesday. “There is no sanctuary jurisdiction in Clark County or the state of Nevada. There is no catch-and-release program in the state of Nevada.”