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STEVE SEBELIUS: Close races often stretch truth

In Nevada’s race for governor, either incumbent Democrat Steve Sisolak or challenger Republican Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo could win.

In fact, this may be the most equally matched contest in the last three decades.

Sisolak won the governor’s mansion in 2018 by 4.08 percentage points over then-Attorney General Adam Laxalt, the second-closest margin going all the way back to 1986.

That explains the intensity of the political attacks.

For example, Lombardo is accusing Sisolak of corruption related to the Northshore Labs scandal, which he calls “the biggest scandal in our history,” followed by “the biggest cover-up in our history” in which the media are complicit.

Really? The biggest scandal in our history? Bigger than Operation G-sting or Operation Yobo? Bigger than the deaths of construction workers in the Strip building boom? Bigger than the indictment and impeachment of former federal Judge Harry Claiborne?

For those who don’t recall, a company called Northshore Labs partnered with Greg and Angelo Palivos, sons of Sisolak friend and contributor Peter Palivos, to offer COVID testing in Nevada. As the company’s application lagged, former state official-turned-lobbyist Mike Willden made calls, including to Sisolak’s chief of staff, Yvanna Cancela, to speed up the state inspection process.

As it turns out, the tests didn’t work: 96 percent of tests from one location were wrong.

Oh, and by the way, this story wasn’t covered up by the media, it was reported by the media: ProPublica published in the original account, along with the Nevada Independent, a nonprofit news website. The Review-Journal later published the entire investigation as well.

Lombardo’s complaint is that there’s been no follow-up by the media, but so far, there hasn’t been any evidence that Sisolak did anything untoward. He said he never spoke to Peter Palivos or his sons about Northshore. He condemned the faulty test results as “despicable.” A lobbyist using his connections to speed up the bureaucracy isn’t unusual, and nobody knew at the time that the tests would be so disastrously wrong.

On the other side, the Sisolak camp (as well as progressive groups) have been savaging Lombardo for his position on abortion ever since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, returning the issue to state jurisdiction. Here in Nevada — and this is important — abortion rights are enshrined in statute ratified by voters in 1990.

Lombardo is anti-abortion. He’s said that he will govern that way. But he’s said a few other things that have led to attacks.

During a May debate at KLAS-TV, Channel 8 (disclosure: the author was a co-moderator), Lombardo was asked if he’d support laws short of an abortion ban that would nonetheless restrict it. Examples included parental notification laws or restrictions on the so-called Plan B pill.

“Yes, absolutely,” Lombardo replied. His campaign later clarified that his “yes” was for parental notification, not to banning Plan B or contraceptives.

After Roe was overturned, Sisolak put in place an executive order specifying no state agency could assist another jurisdiction in prosecuting a woman who came to Nevada to seek an abortion because the practice was illegal under her state’s laws. Asked about that, Lombardo said he’d repeal it.

And in that same interview, Lombardo said (correctly) that there was nothing he could do as governor to overturn the existing statute, save for bringing another ballot measure to repeal it. If that happened, he said he hoped voters would affirm his anti-abortion position. But he quickly followed that up by adding: “But more important, the position the people feel, the majority of voters that passed a referendum, I support that.”

Then again, he told the Review-Journal’s Victor Joecks that he would also support placing a 13-week abortion ban (with exceptions for rape, incest and health) before the voters.

But even if another referendum is placed on the ballot, it’s unlikely that Nevada has become more anti-abortion since 1990; if anything, it’s the opposite. That’s also why it’s highly unlikely any anti-abortion legislation would make it out of the Legislature, which is controlled by Democrats.

So even if Lombardo’s personal preference would be for Nevada to have stricter abortion laws, there’s very little chance it will actually happen.

The truth is neither Sisolak nor Lombardo is anything close to the ogres appearing in political ads. But it’s necessary over the next two months to make a majority of voters believe that they are, in order to win what will be a very close election.

Contact Steve Sebelius at SSebelius@reviewjournal.com. Follow @SteveSebelius on Twitter.

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