by April Corbin Girnus, Nevada Current
July 30, 2021
As the head of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, Sheriff Joe Lombardo isn’t an anti-vaxxer. But as a gubernatorial candidate, he might not mind if you think he is.
Lombardo’s official campaign Flickr page originally included a photo that appears to show him receiving a vaccination against COVID-19 at University Medical Center, the Current has learned. That photo has since been set to private and is no longer viewable to the public. It was removed sometime between June 23, when it was downloaded by a source who provided it to the Current, and July 23, when the Flickr page sans the photo was archived. Two candid photos of the sheriff with family members were also removed.
What exactly motivated the removal of the vaccination photo is unclear. Lombardo’s campaign did not return phone calls or respond to emailed questions sent by the Current for this story.
Vaccination has become a politicized issue. As president, Donald Trump downplayed the seriousness of the pandemic, setting the tone for a culture of vaccine hesitancy, resistance and antagonism that is now resulting in preventable COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths. Democrats, including first-term Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, have been aggressively urging anyone eligible to get vaccinated. That has put many Republicans — including perhaps Lombardo — in a precarious position politically.
After weeks of public speculation, the second-term sheriff confirmed to a Reno television station on May 24 that he was running for governor. He officially launched his campaign on June 28.
As a potential challenger to Sisolak, one of Lombardo’s selling points is that he is a Republican with a favorable enough reputation to make a dent in deep-blue Clark County. However, to get to that point, Lombardo must first survive a Republican primary where a photo of himself being vaccinated might not be well received by some segments of the GOP base.
Nevada’s red rural counties have low rates of vaccination compared to the state’s blue urban counties, mirroring a deep red-blue, rural-urban divide nationally. Rural counties in Nevada had a combined completed vaccination rate of 38% as of Wednesday. Clark County had a rate of 46%. Washoe and Carson City had a combined rate of 57%.
As a gubernatorial candidate, Lombardo has criticized Sisolak for his handling of the pandemic at large, but talking points have largely focused on businesses and the economy. A review of his campaign website and social media show no criticisms — or encouragement — of vaccines.
But speaking in his capacity as sheriff, Lombardo told the Review-Journal in April he believes he was one of the first people in Clark County to receive the vaccine. Police officers were one of the first occupation groups to become eligible for the vaccine when they were rolled out in December 2020.
If Lombardo was hoping to lead by example, that turned out not to be the case.
Only 34% of Metro employees — 49.4% of civilian employees and 28.6% of police officers — were fully vaccinated in April, the R-J reported. Those numbers echoed national reports showing a low vaccination rate among police officers across the country.
Lombardo at the time called Metro’s vaccination rate “unacceptable.”
A month later, in May, Lombardo told The Washington Post: “I’m doing everything I can to make it readily available, but I hire from the human race, and sometimes people are just lazy.”
As of Monday, 51% of Metro employees have been fully vaccinated, according to the department’s public information office. A breakdown of vaccination rates for civilian employees and police officers was subsequently requested by the Current but not received.
Where other candidates stand
Along with Lombardo, two other Republicans have announced their run for governor next year.
One, Joey Gilbert, is a far-right candidate who was outside the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection. The former boxer turned Reno attorney routinely spreads vaccine misinformation on social media and has encouraged people to reject what he calls the “Fauci ouchie,” a reference to top medical adviser and favorite right-wing target Anthony Fauci.
The other is North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee, who announced his official conversion from Democrat to Republican in April and launched his gubernatorial campaign in May. On the same day the campaign launched, Lee announced he had tested positive for COVID-19. Lee, who turns 66 next month, was not vaccinated, despite having been eligible and considered vulnerable because of his age.
In a social media post announcing his positive test result, Lee encouraged people to “take proper precautions” but did not reference vaccines, despite the fact they offer the best protection against COVID-19. A week before that announcement, Lee tweeted an article about the possibility of Nevada’s colleges and universities requiring the vaccine for students, adding the question: “Governor Sisolak, just curious, what’s your opinion on forced vaccinations for students?”
Lee has also previously issued a statement opposing vaccine passports. A review of his social media accounts shows no encouragement of vaccines but also no outright criticism of their efficacy.
Lee’s campaign did not respond to specific questions from the Current about whether he ever got vaccinated and seeking clarification and elaboration on his positions on the covid vaccines.
Through his communications director, Lee responded with this statement: “Continuous government-driven mandates are the problem, not the solution. I absolutely understand that individuals may choose to wear a mask, and should make their own choice whether to get vaccinated based on consultation with their medical doctor, but I believe we need a return to personal responsibility and personal decision making, and I am firmly against any government-dictated mandates.”
At least two additional Republicans are considered possible gubernatorial candidates. The official filing date for candidates is not until March 2022.
U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei has acknowledged he is considering running but said he will not make a decision until October.
Amodei received his vaccine when it was made available to members of Congress. Last week, he introduced bipartisan legislation focused on ensuring vaccines are available to all veterans within the VA health care system. In a statement announcing that legislation, Amodei called vaccines “life-saving” and said they are “the most effective way toward getting back on the road to recovery.”
It has also been reported that former U.S. Sen. Dean Heller is mulling a run.
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