Republican candidates for governor of Nevada clashed Tuesday during a debate sponsored by the Jesse Law-led Clark County Republican Party in Henderson.
Former U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee, Las Vegas Councilwoman Michele Fiore, Reno attorney Joey Gilbert, Gardnerville surgeon Fred Simon and Reno venture capitalist Guy Nohra took part in the event, which was moderated by Review-Journal columnist Victor Joecks.
Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo did not participate. His campaign has previously said the sheriff will attend debates after the candidate filing deadline in March, when the official list of contenders will be solidified.
Reno Air Force veteran Tom Heck attended the event, but said he was not allowed to participate.
The primary for the gubernatorial race will be held in June. The winner will face incumbent Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak in November.
Question: Give an overview of your leadership experience, especially during a crisis?
Fiore said she is the proven “America First conservative leader.” She has fought for freedoms, she said. When Sisolak wanted to shut Las Vegas down, she responded saying, “We said, ‘hell no.” (The state still closed businesses under the governor’s emergency powers, however.)
Lee said he has a history in business and in the Nevada Legislature. He highlighted his positive record with the National Rifle Association. He also highlighted his success as mayor of North Las Vegas, pulling the city back from financial ruin. “I love running businesses and I love running government,” he said.
Simon said he has spent most of his life in crisis as a trauma surgeon. He said he has a background in medical training, including for the military.
Gilbert called Sisolak a “corrupt jerk” and “just a waste of space.” He said he sued Nevada over masking children and closing churches. He said someone needs to hold leaders accountable. “I’m accountable to the people,” he said. “This is not my race. This is our race.”
Heller said Nevada is in crisis and the first thing that you do in crisis is show up. “Right, sheriff?” he said, taking a jab at Lombardo. Heller said he runs for office when he sees a crisis.
Nohra talked about a decision he had to make as a venture capitalist on a gene therapy company. He said he voted for the deal because the science was sound and the CEO was successful. He said this matters because he will face complex problems and will need to weigh in, make a decision and lead.
Question: What is your most important policy priority outside of COVID-19?
Lee said Nevada has an infrastructure problem. He said it should be easier to do business in Nevada. He also wants to diversify the economy. (Lee presides over the Apex industrial area, which has been targeted as a zone for manufacturing and other businesses.)
Simon said Nevada needs to have a fair election. He said he supports voter ID. He said he wants to make Election Day a holiday. The state does not need mail ballots, he said. (Under a law passed in the 2021 Legislature, all active registered voters will automatically receive a mail ballot.)
Gilbert said he would roll back the new voting law passed by the Legislature last year and wants to fix Nevada schools.
Heller said there is a crisis of confidence in Nevada’s elections. He said the federal government is trying to take over elections. The former senator said he supports voter ID on Day 1. (A voter ID law, however, would require the Legislature to act. Proposals to enact varying forms of voter ID were ignored in the Democrat-controlled Legislature in 2021.)
Nohra said he would audit every department in the state to find efficiencies. “Governance is very important and we’re a very badly managed state,” he said.
Fiore said she would roll back mandates. “We have to get our people working,” she said. Fiore said the first priority is getting the government out of the way.
Question: What is the role of the Clark County Republican Party and how would you strengthen the Republican Party?
Simon said it is bringing candidates to town halls to put them in front of voters. He said the governor needs to be active in the party, pushing for good candidates.
Gilbert said he will attend school board and county commission meetings. He said in no races should Democratic candidates run unopposed.
Heller said Republicans reduce crime and create better education. He compared the unemployment of Nevada during the pandemic to Republican-led Utah, where unemployment was significantly lower.
Nohra said he would look at “best practices” across the country of governors and their parties. He said he would coordinate with the party chair.
Fiore said Law works tirelessly for free. She said the party needs to raise enough money to pay the chairman.
Lee said the role of the governor is to make sure the state turns red and stays red.
Question: What was your most significant failure and how did you learn from it?
Gilbert said he took performance enhancing drugs as a young fighter. He said he lost his title belts and spent 14 months out of the ring at the order of the Nevada Athletic Commission after he was caught with a banned substance in his system. He said shortcuts aren’t worth it.
Heller said he has a great life and works hard every day to improve the lives of his family and others. He did not answer the question. (Heller lost his 2018 re-election race for the U.S. Senate to Jacky Rosen.)
Nohra said failure is not something to fear, but something to learn from. He, too, did not say where in his life he made a mistake.
Fiore said she has had several companies and when one failed, the next one succeeded. She said being in the political arena, you have to fight and fight hard.
Lee said he battled stage four cancer and overcame it. During the recession, he said his business struggled, but came back.
Simon said he had a falling out with his father. “It was really my selfishness and my narcissism,” he said. He said he was not focused on family. Simon said he learned and mended his relationship. “From that moment forward, I realized I needed to be a different human being,” he said.
Question: What are the biggest issues in Las Vegas, Reno and rural Nevada?
Heller said the biggest issue in Las Vegas is the increase in crime. He said that is because it is a “sanctuary city” and the sheriff practices “catch and release.” He said immigrants are coming to Southern Nevada from the U.S.-Mexico border, and that Northern Nevada faces issues because of that. He said he would ban sanctuary cities on his first day in office, he said. He said he would protect the Second Amendment and make carrying a concealed firearm without a permit legal in Nevada. (Lombardo and the Metropolitan Police Department have denied that Nevada is a “sanctuary city,” and in fact the department was criticized recently after an informal deportation program conducted with the federal government came to light. In addition, legislative action would be needed to adjust concealed firearms regulations.)
Nohra said he hears about education and crime when he is in Southern Nevada. In rural Nevada, he hears about Second Amendment infringement. Washoe County is in the middle, he said. People talk about homelessness there, he said.
Fiore said rural Nevada faces land and water issues. She talked about taking land and water back from the federal government. She said she has fought these issues for years. “As the governor of this state, I stand with the people, not the federal government,” she said. (Indeed, Fiore introduced a bill in the Legislature to lay state claim to federal land, but the bill died after the then-head of the Legislature’s legal division declared it unconstitutional.)
Fiore said crime and sanctuary are issues that Lombardo is responsible for. She said crime and homelessness are issues in Washoe County.
Lee said crime is important in Southern Nevada. He said he put $10 million into the North Las Vegas Police Department and is addressing crime in his city. He said rural Nevadans just want to communicate with the state government. “The rurals need to have some recognition that they’re out there,” Lee said. Education is a big issue in Reno and Las Vegas. He talked about starting a school district in his city for first responders during the COVID pandemic so they could go to work while their children attended classes.
Simon said Las Vegas has a crime problem. “We have to worry about business because we have crime on the Strip,” he said. He said gangs need to be broken up with RICO laws. He said rurals face a shortage of doctors. Reno, he said, has a problem with overdevelopment and now faces a housing crisis.
Gilbert highlighted the crime in Las Vegas. “It’s out of control,” he said. He said he would shut down sanctuary cities on his first day in office. He said career politicians are what is wrong with Nevada. Reno faces overdevelopment, he said. Gilbert said California takes more water than it is entitled to. He said rural Nevadans want to be left alone. Most important, he said, are issues with schools. He said parents should have a decision with their children’s education.
Question: Are you pro-life and how would you protect unborn babies in Nevada?
Nohra said he is pro-life, but changing laws in Nevada is difficult because pro-choice laws are in Nevada’s constitution. (In fact, Nevada allows abortion in statute, not the constitution, a law that was subject to a voter referendum and would require another vote of the people to change.)
Fiore said “a child is not a choice” and told a personal family story of her daughter getting pregnant as a teenager.
Lee said he is pro-life and that he believes all children are a gift from God. “I just want you to know I don’t believe killing children makes us a safer society or a more humane society,” he said.
Simon called himself “a faith-based constitutional conservative.” He said pro-choice laws were never constitutional. “Abortion is one of the most horrible things I’ve seen throughout my career,” he said. He said as governor, he would not allow abortion unless the mother’s life was at risk.
Gilbert said he is pro-life and a faith-based conservative. He said leaders need to come together to teach the value of human life and that “this world has become lost.” He called Roe v. Wade one of the worst decisions in this country. He said the government needs to do more for women’s health care and single fathers.
Heller said, “I’m pro-life and I’m proud of it.” He said his voting record is 100 percent pro-life. The only exceptions he agrees to with abortion is in cases of rape and incest or when the life of the mother is at risk.
Question: How would you ensure Southern Nevada has enough water?
Fiore said conservation measures ensure the water supply remains sustainable. She said Southern Nevada will not take water from the rural parts of the state. (A proposal by the Southern Nevada Water Authority to build a pipeline to eastern and rural Nevada has been shelved.)
Lee said conservation is working and that Las Vegas is not using its full allotment. “We are doing very good with our water right now,” he said. Lee said the state must pray for more snow in the Rocky Mountains.
Simon said Nevada will not get more water and that reservations must control water better. He said rapid development in Nevada will lead to a water problem. Simon said there has never been a thoughtful plan for water in this state.
Gilbert said Lake Mead “is not looking so good,” and that there is enough water in this state. Most of the water is used by agriculture, Gilbert said. He said there should be a task force to address water supply. The state needs more efficient irrigation techniques and the coast needs desalination plants.
Heller said the state could get more Colorado River water allocated to it. He said he would never support a pipeline from rural Nevada to Southern Nevada during renegotiation of the Colorado River compact.
Nohra said he has a history of negotiation. He talked about desalination and he has a history of investing in technology. He said he would “take it on and make it happen.”
Question: Do you pledge to oppose all tax increases and is it time for a tax cut?
Lee said he did not raise taxes on North Las Vegas residents. He said no one in Nevada should face higher taxes. The state could be run more efficiently with better leadership. “I am not raising taxes,” he said. “I see no value in it.”
Simon said Nevada has corruption and incompetence. He said he believes citizens can get a tax rebate once you deal with the corruption. “We need tough legislation, tough prosecution,” he said.
Gilbert said there will be no new taxes and that he wants to repeal some taxes. “We’re gonna audit this sucker,” he said. Gilbert talked about privatizing some services and going after government corruption. He said he will be responsible with the people’s money and that he will be accountable to Jesus Christ and the people.
Heller said he has never raised a tax in his career. Most small businesses in Nevada are struggling because they are overtaxed, over-regulated and hurting to find employees. He blasted the commerce tax and said he would repeal it on Day 1. He called it the “biggest embarrassment of the Republican Party.” (Repeal of the commerce tax would require action from the Legislature, however.)
Nohra said “we don’t do taxes where I come from.” He said he will “change the hell out of all” the taxes that are inefficient. He said his administration will develop a tax system that people think is efficient. He said government would be more transparent under his administration.
Fiore said she fought the commerce tax when she served in the Nevada Assembly. She said she will fight for Nevada and called the commerce tax, passed by a Republican-controlled Legislature in 2015, “horrific.”
Question: What Republican elected official do you admire?
Simon said he admires Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and newly elected Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin. He said the next governor has to have courage and stand up for what he believes.
Gilbert admitted he made a mistake criticizing Fiore for fighting the commerce tax, and apologized for his comments. “Michele was right,” he said. “I was wrong.” He said he would follow the example set by DeSantis and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem.
Heller said he admires DeSantis, Noem and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
Nohra said governors are the first line of defense. He called DeSantis a Republican rockstar and said he admires Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey.
Fiore said she her local hero is Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman. “Her and I basically gave the double middle finger to Gov. Sisolak,” she said. Fiore said she would follow the example set by former President Donald Trump, and said he is still the rightful president and that there was fraud in the election. (Courts and recounts of ballots have found no evidence to support that claim, however.)
Lee said he admires Trump and Noem and said he voted for Trump twice.
Question: Do you support emissions-reduction goals?
Gilbert said Nevada does need more renewable energy. He said he supports using nuclear generators to produce power. He wants to launch a task force to explore the issue.
Heller said he has supported an “all of the above” energy policy, including fossil fuels and renewables. He said solar energy generated in Southern Nevada is sent to California. He said he is OK with alternative energy development as long as it is affordable.
Nohra said everyone wants to save the planet, but he is going to report to the people of Nevada: If “dumb rules” hurt Nevadans, he isn’t going to follow them, he said.
Fiore said she drives a giant Ford F-250 diesel-fueled pickup truck “and it ain’t going nowhere.” She said Sisolak is “as corrupt as they get.” She said Nevada needs to be energy independent because it has the resources. “And keep driving your big damn trucks,” she said.
Lee said renewable energy creates 21st century jobs and that goals should be ambitious. Nevada needs redundant power that extends beyond solar.
“A clean energy is a good energy, as far as I’m concerned,” he said.
Simon said he, like Gilbert, supports modular nuclear power to achieve energy independence. He asked where solar panels would go. “We’re going to have dumping grounds of solar panels,” he said. He called into question the existence of global warming, suggesting it may be a symptom of “cancel culture.”
Question: How will you fight cancel culture as governor?
Heller said it’s hard to fight cancel culture legislatively, but would fight it with his rhetoric as governor.
Nohra said “this whole woke, cancel thing drives me crazy.” He said he supports common sense and free markets. People can choose not to support companies that they disagree with. “That’s America,” he said. “That’s Nevada.”
Fiore said Joe Rogan should have never apologized. She racism needs to stop and said people who support cancel culture are “just loud.”
Lee said cancel culture only works when it is allowed. “If you’re known for your values, then you don’t hear a lot of this stuff,” he said.
Simon said cancel culture is real. He said he would attract independents as a constitutional conservative and that people need courage to stand up. “Why do we put up with this transgender stuff?” he said.
Gilbert said “we’re not gonna play the game.” He criticized transgender people and critical race theory. “This cancel culture’s gone way too far,” he said, adding that he would stand up against it.
Nohra said he understands budgets and can negotiate.
Fiore said she has 10 years of experience fighting. She has not run for office elsewhere, has not supported Democrats, and has never wavered in her support of Trump.
Lee said all of the candidates are more qualified than Sisolak to lead the state. He criticized Lombardo for not being at the debate. He said he is most qualified.
Simon said his life story is faithfulness to his family and as a citizen. He has been committed to conservatism, the Constitution and God. He said he is willing to fight for values and ethics and never compromise on them. He said he has “never succumbed” to special interests. “I’m not a special-interest candidate,” he said. “I’m a faith-based constitutional conservative.”
Gilbert called this the most important election “of our lifetime.” He said he backed Trump early (“Trump from the jump”) and said he is still the president. Gilbert said he has the courage and experience to beat Sisolak. He said he has “been in the fight” across the state for the past 22 months. He said all people need to get involved and that the state needs to be taken back. “Who do you want in the trenches for you?” he said.
Heller said all of the candidates love Nevada and will fight for it. He said no one in the nation’s capital will fix the country’s issue. That will be done by the governors. He said he could tackle the hardest issues Nevada faces, such as crime, education and job creation.