By SAM METZ AP / Report for America
CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak is facing criticism from political opponents for weighing in about reopening decisions that he promised months ago to delegate to county officials.
The first-term Democrat convened a news conference on Tuesday evening to announce that he’s confident all of the state’s counties will be able to reopen at 100% capacity by June 1 — a declaration his critics called politically motivated because local officials will assume control on May 1.
“We have been vigilant, thoughtful and deliberative in our decision-making process — always listening to science and doing everything we can to balance the health and safety of Nevadans with the economic impacts of this pandemic,” Sisolak told reporters.
A roadmap that Sisolak unveiled in February set May 1 as a date by when the state planned to cede some decision-making power to local officials. It directed counties to prepare to set their own capacity caps, but said Nevada’s statewide mask mandate would remain in effect.
Sisolak said, despite his announcement about reopening by June 1, counties would still retain control over those decisions as scheduled. His intention was not to take ownership over reopening, but to offer businesses more certainty in planning, he said.
“I’m not interested in who gets credit,” the first-term Democrat said. “This is the first piece of good news that I’m able to deliver in a long time.”
Critics said Sisolak’s decision to make his declaration about county-level decision-making is similar to moves about reopening plans by other Democratic governors who are also up for reelection in 2022, including New York’s Andrew Cuomo and California’s Gavin Newsom.
Nevada Assembly Republican Leader Robin Titus called Sisolak’s declaration a “political calculation” and said the governor did not want to launch his reelection campaign amid questions about Las Vegas pool parties flouting his social distancing guidelines.
“Obviously, this is not based on the supposed science that we’ve been using for the past year and instead on re-election efforts,” Titus, who also serves as Lyon County Health Officer, said. “Just like Gavin Newsom in California, the science changes when it’s politically convenient.”
Newsom, who faces a recall campaign, announced plans last week to lift some capacity restrictions by June 15, depending on regional progress in containing the virus and vaccinating people.
Virus numbers are falling in California, but critics said Newsom — who has long supported some of the nation’s most stringent restrictions — announced reopening plans to drum up support amid the campaign to recall him.
In Nevada, county commissions have for weeks deliberated plans to lift capacity caps when they regain that control and had been poised to reopen most businesses and events at 100% capacity before Sisolak held his news conference.
After Sisolak’s announcement, Washoe County Commission Chairman Bob Lucey, a Reno Republican who has pushed to drop mask mandates, postponed a meeting scheduled for Wednesday to revisit discussions about the county’s reopening plan commissioners amended last week.
Lucey commended Sisolak for publicly pushing for the state to return to normalcy, but questioned the timing of his announcement. County officials were scheduled to present their reopening proposals to a state task force on for approval on Wednesday and Thursday.
“We took a lot of heat from both sides last week and then this comes right before all the counties were supposed to present a plan to the governor and the task force,” he said.
Sisolak, a former Clark County Commissioner, called the June 1 target a “common sense bargain” and said it was a compromise with Nevada residents who had adhered to his guidelines — not those who’ve decried them as overly strict or too loose.
He also said he had decided to delegate social distancing guidelines to local governments starting May 1. He said he expected local officials to tailor restrictions to their constituents, virus trends and vaccination rates. As variants and uncertainty surrounding the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine pose new questions to politicians and health officials, jurisdictions are taking varying approaches in adjusting their reopening plans.
Sisolak said the decision Tuesday to “pause” vaccinations of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine didn’t affect his reopening plans.
While states throughout the country move to reopen, other parts of the world are moving in an opposite direction. In Canada, officials in some provinces are retightening restrictions because of a variant-driven surge in new virus cases, following similar decisions throughout much of Europe last month.
Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.