Incredibly, in a state in which registered Dems outnumber Republicans by 63,000 voters, no serious candidates will challenge incumbent Republican Brian Sandoval for Governor in this year's election. As reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal's Steve Sebelius, the Dems have all but surrendered this year's Governor's race. And though Gov. Sandoval boasts good poll numbers, to call him a 'popular' Governor would presume most Nevadans knew who he even was. Indeed, Sandoval's greatest asset seems to be his affable anonymity - or perhaps his resemblance to Donny Osmond. In a nutshell, the man's supposed popularity is paper thin - which makes it all the more disappointing the Dems couldn't field a single legit challenger in a state which ranks near the top of the nation in unemployment and foreclosures, and near the bottom in education, health care, and nearly every other key quality-of-life measure.
The essence of Gov. Sandoval's dubious popularity is his appeal to bipartisanship in an age of Tea Party fanaticism. Indeed, the Tea Party and libertarian fringe radicals hold great power within the state Republican Party, effectively undermining the Party's ability to manage basic party organizing, or field sane candidates. The most famous exemplar of this fanaticism would be former Senate candidate Sharon Angle, who routinely ran away from reporters during the later days of her hilariously unhinged candidacy in 2010.
To be fair to Gov. Sandoval, he does seem to be a reasonable man motivated by a concern for the public good, a refreshing change compared to the majority of current Republican Governors.
But make no mistake, Nevada's multi-millionaire right-wing business leaders couldn't have found a better champion in Gov. Sandoval. He has done precious little to address rampant unemployment, inequality, foreclosures, and the low quality of public services in the state - most notably mental health services, and health care in general. He has shown no interest in truly changing Nevada's regressive tax structure, which heavily favors the mining and casino industries - Nevada's Big Two special interests. Nor has he shown much interest in redressing the absurd imbalance in state spending between the North (which has the least population and receives a huge chunk of the budget) and the South (where 3/4 of the population live).
But perhaps most cravenly, he vetoed a bill to enact common sense gun laws in Nevada, clearly unwilling to stand up to Nevada's powerful - and totally fanatical - gun rights lobby. Which means that anyone without a criminal record in the state of Nevada can continue to buy a gun here. This amounts to an invitation to out-of-state gang members and other criminals to continue coming to Las Vegas's frequent Gun Shows and buying as many guns as they can.
While a Democratic challenger might have faced an uphill battle in beating Gov. Sandoval - and I'm convinced Gov. Sandoval's popularity is a desert mirage - a real race would've at least enabled a debate of these pressing public policy issues. True, there are several lesser-known candidates who intend to spark just such a debate, including medical marijuana advocate Dr. Steve Frye. But without a competitive race, the local media isn't likely to focus much attention on the issues, leaving Gov. Sandoval to continue coasting his way through his Governorship. And while Sandoval will be the winner, the loser will be all of Nevada.