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Jim Hartman: Sisolak’s staff shakeup and reset
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Jim Hartman: Sisolak’s staff shakeup and reset

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Nevada had the dubious distinction in July of having the highest unemployment rate in the entire nation (7.7%). Unemployment in Nevada has been near the top of all states all year, dropping only 0.4% since March.

The Silver State set a record for the highest unemployment rate ever recorded during the middle of the Covid lockdown — a record-breaking 29.5% in April, 2020. That’s higher than in the Great Depression.

Those woeful unemployment statistics make Governor Steve Sisolak’s re-election appear potentially vulnerable to a credible Republican challenger in 2022.

Also in July, two of Sisolak’s most senior staff members announced they were leaving the governor’s office in a sudden shakeup.

Michelle White, Sisolak’s chief of staff, and Scott Gilles, the governor’s senior advisor, announced they were leaving Nevada’s executive branch after less than three years on the job.

Both staffers had been with Sisolak since his inauguration in 2019. White is a longtime Democratic party political organizer and campaign strategist. Gilles is a former government affairs manager for the City of Reno.

Effective September 1, Sisolak named Yvanna Cancela to replace White as his chief of staff. Cancela, 33, another Democratic political operative, has worked in Nevada politics since 2010. She moved to Las Vegas from Florida to join Senator Harry Reid’s organization. Cancela later served as political director for the powerful Culinary Workers Union in Las Vegas.

Cancela was appointed to a vacant state Senate seat in 2016. She resigned in January to take a position in the Biden administration. Eight months later she now returns to Nevada.

In the legislature, Cancela championed progressive causes. She was an early supporter of Biden’s 2020 campaign.

In August , Nevada Democrat Lt. Gov. Kate Marshall also resigned her job to accept a position in Washington D.C. with the Biden administration.

Marshall will serve in the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and will continue as lieutenant governor before moving to Washington in late fall.

The move allows Sisolak to appoint a new lieutenant governor to serve until the 2022 election, or leave the position vacant. Sisolak reportedly doesn’t know if or when he will appoint a successor.

Marshall, 62, is a veteran Democratic political hand, serving two terms as state treasurer before being elected lieutenant governor in 2018. She ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2011, and also lost for secretary of state in 2014.

The current 7.7% Nevada unemployment rate continues to run high resulting from the Draconian lockdown mandated by Sisolak in 2020. Casinos were ordered closed in March and remained closed until June. When reopened, Sisolak’s capacity orders wildly fluctuated from 50% to 25%, then back to 50%.

The prolonged lockdown was devastating to many small businesses. They closed permanently. Arbitrary, inconsistent rules made it impossible for some businesses to survive.

Another cause for the high Nevada unemployment rate was the $300 weekly federal unemployment benefit bonus enacted in March that ended on Labor Day. This program contributed to higher unemployment and slowed labor force recovery in Nevada.

Many states that didn’t impose excessive lockdowns and ended the $300 bonus early have unemployment rates at pre-pandemic levels — Nebraska (2.3%), Utah (2.6%) and South Dakota (2.9%).

Sisolak’s extreme mask mandate policies in traditionally libertarian Nevada contributed to angry recall efforts against him in 2020.

In May, Nevada ended most-face covering requirements for those fully vaccinated. A Sisolak order aligned state policy with CDC mask guidance. On July 30, with new CDC guidance, Sisolak completely reversed course to require indoor masking for all people over 9, regardless of vaccination status. Only six other states share that onerous masking policy.

Critics note that even Governor Gavin Newsom in neighboring California has a more limited indoor masking requirement. It applies only to the unvaccinated.

Sisolak’s sudden senior staff shakeup may portend policy resets ahead.

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Jim Hartman is an attorney residing in Genoa, Nevada. His email address is lawdocman1@aol.com.

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