COVID-19 rules take center stage in Nevada GOP governor primary as candidates blame Gov’s ‘draconian’ rules

COVID-19 rules take center stage in Nevada GOP governor primary as candidates blame Gov's 'draconian' rules thumbnail

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In the fall of 2020, people in Nevada were required to wear masks in their own homes if anyone from outside their immediate household were present – and private gatherings were capped at 10 people from two households.

Schools were remote or hybrid for more than a year after students were sent home in March 2020. School sports didn’t resume until spring 2021.

Nevada’s indoor mask mandate was in place until February 2022, including in schools.

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Now, after a federal judge blocked the federal transportation mask mandate on Monday, most Americans will go about their daily lives without any sort of lingering virus rules. However, Nevada’s pandemic restrictions were largely imposed by the Democratic Governor. Steve Sisolak will remain front and centre in a gubernatorial race that’s likely one of the most closely followed in the country. This dynamic is especially evident in the GOP primary, where the candidates are competing to be the most against pandemic rules.

Students walk to class amid the COVID-19 pandemic at Washington Elementary School Jan. 12, 2022, in Lynwood, Calif. Nevada removevvd its mask mandate for public places, including in schools, in February of this year. 

Students walk to class amid the COVID-19 pandemic at Washington Elementary School Jan. 12, 2022, in Lynwood, Calif. Nevada removevvd its mask mandate for public places, including in schools, in February of this year.
(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

“We have a governor in his first term, half of the children were locked out of their schools,” former GOP Sen. Dean Heller told Fox News Digital. “The bigger problem is that we now have second-graders who cannot read, third-graders who are unable to write, and fourth-graders who cannot do math.”

“It made me decide to run for governor, part-and- parcel to that,” Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said to Fox News Digital. He said that the state had lifted its mask mandate “far to late” and called the restrictions “political theatre.”

“It was the essential-nonessential mindset, picking the winners and losers,” Lombardo added on Sisolak’s restrictions. “As we went through COVID, the infection, and all the other complication that came with it, he kept moving the goalposts. “

“It wasn’t the most scientific, unscientific, or unnecessary nonsense that we’ve ever seen,” Joey Gilbert, another Republican candidate and lawyer, stated. These draconian, unscientific and unnecessary lockdowns have made us number one in all the wrong columns. They were pure, pure, and pure evil. Absolutely political bullying like nothing I’ve ever seen. “

Former Nevada GOP Sen. Dean Heller is running in the state's 2022 Republican gubernatorial primary.

Former Nevada GOP Sen. Dean Heller is running in the state’s 2022 Republican gubernatorial primary.
(Steve Marcus/Las Vegas Sun via AP)

North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee has also made Sisolak’s COVID rules a major theme of his GOP gubernatorial primary campaign.

Nevada’s economy, which relies heavily on tourism, was more susceptible to struggle from the pandemic than other states.

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According to the University of New Hampshire School of Public Policy, in October Nevada ranked worse than nearly every state in percent job shortfall relative to trend from the beginning of the pandemic. It was also in the bottom half of percent change in employment and percent of jobs recovered as well, though it was among the highest in percent job growth in 2021 as a percent of pre-pandemic employment. But the attacks on Sisolak in the GOP primary aren’t just directed at Sisolak. Lombardo, Clark County’s sheriff – where Las Vegas lies – initially supported the virus rules and was able to enforce them during the pandemic. His opponents don’t hesitate to remind voters of this.

“I take everything the sheriff says with a grain-of-salt because he was… as bad as…the governor himself,” Heller stated, citing Lombardo’s vaccine mandate for new recruits to the department. “The sheriff followed the governor’s lead literally hand in glove. “

In this June 28, 2021 file photo, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo speaks with journalists at a news conference announcing his candidacy for governor of Nevada, in Las Vegas.

In this June 28, 2021 file photo, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo speaks with journalists at a news conference announcing his candidacy for governor of Nevada, in Las Vegas.
(AP Photo/John Locher)

Gilbert said that “Lombardo is essentially a liberal Democrat.” He was behind the masks,” Gilbert stated, “You don’t mandate a vaccine to your own people for one year.”

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Nevada Democrats are also keen to bring up Lombardo’s early support for the virus rules as pushback to his criticism of the governor.

“Lombardo has been lying to Nevadans since day one. His actions as sheriff contradict his statements as a candidate to governor, he continues proving he’ll say or do anything to win,” Mallory Payne, spokesperson for Nevada Democratic Victory, told Fox News Digital.

Lombardo’s department did indeed take some actions to enforce Sisolak’s orders. In March 2020, Lombardo said his department was ready to enforce Sisolak’s shutdown order when he first issued, according to the Las Vegas Sun. On April 9, Lombardo’s Department issued a press release stating that it was “working together with various partners to enforce Governor Sisolak’s executive orders as they relate the closing of non-essential business.” “

Joey Gilbert during the Republican governor debate. 

Joey Gilbert during Republican governor debate.
(Ty O’Neil/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Further, a March 23, 2020 press release announced that the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department “served 36 warning letters, 7 suspensions and 4 citations to non-essential area businesses that were not complying with state orders to shut down. “

“Of the 113 business that were visited by the compliance team, the 7 suspensions resulted in forced shutdowns of businesses that would not voluntarily close,” the press release said.

Lombardo, however, says that his department was put in a bad position by a governor who pushed for local law enforcement to act on his executive orders.

“Lombardo spoke out about Sisolak’s orders, saying that along with his regulations and mandates, there was enforcement recommended associated. “We were only put in that position a few times. So our mantra, in my communication the city and county was we were gonna educate before we did any mandates… 99.9% of the time that worked. “

The Sisolak shutdown order did not explicitly order local police departments to enforce government restrictions, though its wording appeared to imply that was the expectation.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak attends the launch of the 100-megawatt MGM Resorts Mega Solar Array on June 28, 2021 in Dry Lake Valley, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak attends the launch of the 100-megawatt MGM Resorts Mega Solar Array on June 28, 2021 in Dry Lake Valley, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images).

“Businesses that do not comply with this Directive or regulations promulgated under this Directive, after receiving written notice from law enforcement, may be subject to criminal prosecution and civil penalties,” Sisolak’s order said. This directive is enforced by all law enforcement agencies in Nevada. “

Further, Lombardo said, he quickly turned against Sisolak’s mandates after he started getting data that didn’t match how dire Sisolak said the situation was.

“He claimed that a lot of this was based on overwhelming medical services, and I didn’t believe that data to be accurate or true.” Lombardo stated. Lombardo said that Sisolak seemed to be following the California model on virus restrictions.

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“If and when elected governor here I’m not going to be asking Gavin Newsom what to do in the state. Lombardo stated that this was the perception, and that it was the reality.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak provides an update on COVID-19 regulations in Las Vegas on Aug. 16, 2021. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP, File) 

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak provides an update on COVID-19 regulations in Las Vegas on Aug. 16, 2021. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review Journal via AP, File

While the Republicans will continue to battle over coronavirus restrictions ahead of their June 14 primary, Sisolak appears to be shifting his message to emphasize economic growth and moving on from the virus. In his February State of the State address, Sisolak made it clear that he was shifting his message to emphasize economic growth and moving on from the virus.

“Today, our economy is one of the fastest growing in the country,” he said in the Feb. 23 speech. “Tourism has increased, but unemployment has fallen.” Our students are back – with 100% of our classrooms in person. Gaming revenues are at an all time high and, more importantly to me, wages are on the rise. “

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