Quick: Name a young Hispanic Republican swing-state governor with a record of reducing the size of government and cutting spending while passing education reforms like ending teacher tenure and establishing merit pay, all with a Democratic legislature.
Stumped? Here’s another hint: he’s a former state attorney general and federal judge who left a lifetime appointment to the bench to successfully challenge a scandal-prone Republican incumbent.
Meet Brian Sandoval, the 49-year old governor of Nevada. He’s a rising star in the Republican Party who just might offer the GOP a one-man antidote to what ails them electorally.
But there’s a reason he isn’t yet a household name in political circles or on every presidential candidate’s VP short list, like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio: Sandoval is pro-choice.
I sat down with Sandoval on the afternoon of the Nevada caucus in a cavernous meeting room off the floor of the Las Vegas convention center. Engaging, with an understated confidence, the governor is eager to talk about his record since being elected in 2010.
“Fiscally I’m very conservative … others say that I’m socially moderate,” Sandoval says. “As a former judge I listen to all the facts, and I make a decision as to what I believe is in the best interest of the state.”
His state is now spending half a billion dollars less than it did last year. “That’s the first time in Nevada’s history from one year to another that we spent less money,” Sandoval says with practiced pride. “We consolidated over 20 state agencies, we eliminated positions and made some tough decisions.”
Sandoval also aims to cut red tape to help his state grow its way out of its 12.4 percent unemployment rate and “make Nevada the most business-friendly state in the country,” having recently announced the repeal of 654 outdated or overlapping regulations.
But in contrast to the current conservative orthodoxy that the best thing government can do for the economy is to get out of the way, Sandoval believes in a limited but activist role for government that betrays a bit of an inner policy wonk. “I have to ensure that I’m being a good steward of the monies but also providing the right type of services that meet peoples’ needs,” he says.