by Hugh Jackson, Nevada Current
August 18, 2022
During remarks last weekend at Adam Laxalt’s Annual Wingnuts/Lambnuts Hootenanny for Fox News Viewers (not the event’s official name), Republican candidate for governor Joe Lombardo indicated that to him, crime is not just an important issue. It’s the only issue.
“One of the most important things,” Lombardo said, “is the wrong direction we’re going in our society when it comes to law and order.”
So naturally Lombardo, the Clark County sheriff, immediately condemned those Republicans like Laxalt who have been demonizing law and order officials who work for the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Just kidding. As if.
No, what Lombardo did was share what he has learned after years of being a cop: The world is going to hell in a handbasket, and only Lombardo can fix it.
“What better to have a sheriff to get in that office and fix it?” Lombardo asked rhetorically and to light applause at Laxalt’s campaign picnic, “because law and order affects the economy, it affects your kids’ education, and the ability to have a nice quality of life in the state of Nevada.”
“So we’ve got to fix that, first and foremost,” Lombardo declared.
First and foremost?
Lombardo could not have it more upside down and bass-ackwards. “Law and order” and a society’s “quality of life” is best established and preserved not by making policing and incarceration a society’s top priority, but by policies that assure broadly shared prosperity and educational achievement and opportunity – including adequately funded public schools available to all.
Besides, while locking up as many people as possible may be a deeply held desire of Lombardo’s, as ideas go, it’s been done.
As of the end of October 2021 the U.S. had the world’s highest incarceration rate at 629 per 100,000 people, according to the World Prison Population List, published by the Institute for Crime & Justice Policy Research at the University of London. Rwanda came in second at 580, followed by Turkmenistan (576), El Salvador (564), and rounding out the top five, Cuba (510). The world average is less than 150.
Is it possible to arrest and incarcerate your way to a healthy society? Because maybe that’s what Lombardo wants to try.
Maybe that’s what Nevadans want a governor to do.
Polling however suggests otherwise. A survey conducted last month by Ohio Predictive Insights and commissioned by the Nevada Independent found that “the most important issue facing Nevada” is the same thing poll after poll of voters nationwide has found: jobs and the economy.
And when asked what factor would most be driving them to vote, 40% of Nevada respondents said the economy. Abortion was a distant second at 17%
“Public Safety/Policing” was well down the list, at 5%.
Meanwhile, Lombardo’s plan to “fix” the law and order crisis which he finds so existential will be to repeal what he calls “soft on crime” policies purportedly enacted by Gov. Steve Sisolak and Democratic legislators.
Lombardo’s program to address his self-identified “first and foremost” priority is reactive at best; it would only repeal stuff, as opposed to implementing new or innovative initiatives of the sort voters might expect from a guy who rarely completes a sentence (or a tweet) without saying crime, law enforcement, or safety.
And Lombardo’s plan to “fix” everything by repealing legislation also suffers from a blatant, direct, and fatal flaw: There isn’t much to repeal.
All those horrible ‘soft on crime’ laws
As civil liberty and criminal justice reform advocates know all too well, from modest legislation to stop imprisoning people on technical parole violations, to holding law enforcement more accountable, to fixing a pernicious bail system long overdue for reform, to a broadly popular bill to end Nevada’s death penalty, Sisolak and the most powerful of of his fellow Democrats in the Legislature have time and again sided with police, their union, and prosecutors, and just said no.
In 2019, more than a dozen criminal justice reforms were rejected by the Democratically controlled Legislature led by the stars of that organization’s Prosecutors’ Caucus, Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizarro and Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson – both attorneys in the Clark County District Attorney’s office at the time.
The police-related bill that did pass that year was effectively a police bill of rights which limited the ability of superiors to question officers, limited the use of an officer’s compelled statement in some civil cases, and limited the time for investigations of alleged officer misconduct.
“That bill really was an effort to make sure that officers were being treated fairly in the workplace,” Cannizzaro explained at the time.
A year later, during the 2020 special legislative session, the policing bill that passed included provisions that a reasonable person might say shouldn’t even have to be codified in the first place – prohibiting police chokeholds or other force that stops people from breathing, requiring officers to ensure medical aid is given to a person injured during an arrest, and other similarly non-controversial common-sense measures.
And the highlights of the radical leftist woke “soft on crime” Democratic agenda enacted during the 2021 legislative session? Decriminalizing traffic tickets, and no longer stripping people of their driver’s license because they can’t afford to pay fines and fees for minor traffic tickets.
The closest Lombardo has come to articulating specific policy recommendations on what he claims is the most urgent crisis facing Nevadans amounts to letting you go to jail for running a stop sign.
The paucity of Lombardo’s plan indicates that for all the talk about crime and law enforcement and public safety, it’s just that – talk. Sure, it’s his profession, and his professional interest in it is presumably keen, in some fashion or other. But his contention that he would capably administer the office of governor in a way that would somehow enhance public safety rests not on policy proposals, but on the not particularly unique circumstance wherein he’s been wearing a badge for most of his professional life.
Does that mean anybody who’s been a cop for a long time is qualified to be a governor?
As a practical matter, a governor has limited at best law enforcement responsibilities, and those typically are not the office’s most pressing concerns. Nor should they be, if the aforementioned polling can be believed.
It’s almost tempting to feel sorry for Lombardo. His handlers, long-time Republican operatives Mike Slanker and Ryan Erwin and former lieutenant governor turned GOP PAC master Mark Hutchison, no doubt buttered Lombardo up with talk about what a great candidate he’d be. After years of kid gloves treatment from local media, including regularly scheduled appearances on morning happy news tv & radio shows, Lombardo probably believed it. Then he hit the campaign trail only to discover he has nothing of substance to say, not even about his signature issue.
He still might win. The dynamics of the midterm election have always indicated Democrats would get creamed.
If Lombardo is elected governor, it will be another victory for vacuous posturing, and his handlers can give high fives all around and say nice work, everyone. But if Lombardo intends to pursue an energetic set of policies to “fix” law and order as governor, perhaps between now and the election he might have the courtesy of explaining what those policies are. Because all he’s offered so far is cheap talk dressed up as a “plan.”