Commissioner Steve Sisolak: Political Reflections

YOU MAY KNOW Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak for boldly taking on the Clark County Fire Department in 2011. Then he went toe-to-toe with the Las Vegas Valley Water District and its general manager, Pat Mulroy. There was also that brief and ugly scandal of 2012, involving ex-girlfriend and former Henderson City Councilwoman Kathleen Vermillion, that many suspected might tarnish taxpayers’ latest and greatest friend—but it didn’t.

And, if somehow you managed to miss all of that, surely you’ve caught him on Channel 3. Sisolak’s held a Clark County commissioner’s seat since 2009, and was the vice-chair in 2011 and 2012; now, as of this year, he chairs the commission.

You even may have bumped into him, out and about, and had yourselves a heart-to-heart.

Sisolak has got to be one of the most approachable politicians in Nevada, so it wasn’t too difficult for diamondcake to get up close to ask him the question that’s on everyone’s mind: Will he be running for governor in 2014?

You grew up in blue-collar Milwaukee; how does that affect your role as a commissioner?

I think I can relate with how people feel. I came from a hardworking middle class family. My mom could make three dinners out of a chicken. (She) taught me the value of a dollar and how to work. My dad gave me advice before he passed away: When you look at yourself in the mirror, if you stop liking what you see, you’ve got to change something. I try to live by that.

How did you get into politics?

I had a direct marketing company; we sold stuff on the phone. That’s how I got involved. I went to the Legislature and lobbied for some tougher laws related to telemarketing. That introduced me to a lot of politicians. At the time, I was a nonpartisan. I became friends with people in both parties. Some people say I’m the most conservative Democrat they’ve ever seen, or the most liberal Republican. I am who I am. I registered as a Democrat because of my belief in education.

As you get deeper into politics, how do you feel about it?

Politics is something I enjoy. I think that I can contribute something. But it’s not something that defines me. My upbringing and my life define me. My family and my friends define me.

I’ve learned a lot. Sometimes delivering tough messages or bad news is hard, but people deserve the truth. I’m not going to sugarcoat things. When I recognize what I feel is a weakness in our system or an abuse, I’ve pointed that out.

What else have you learned?

I can be dealing with the MGM, and Jim Murren will call me about the arena they’re going to build for $300 million dollars. It’s exciting and it’s going to help create jobs. An hour later, I’m dealing with two neighbors arguing about a tree that’s overhanging the brick wall. I think the thing is realizing that that issue or the next issue you’re going to face is the most important issue, because it’s important to those two people, whoever the people are.

You settle disputes every day. What’s fair?

When you face an issue, you have to try to view it from everybody’s point of view. If I’m sitting with two businesses, or a business and the county, or two neighbors, and we have a meeting and you both walk away a little unhappy with me, I probably did a pretty good job.

What’s your biggest challenge right now?

The biggest challenge we’re facing is the University Medical Center. We have a great asset in UMC. It’s our only level-one trauma unit. We can’t afford to shut it down. At the same time, it’s running at an 87 million dollar deficit and I don’t know how we fix that. So, we’re going to have to make some really hard decisions.

You’ve done a lot already. What are you particularly proud of?

I opened the USO lounge at McCarran Airport, which I’m really very proud of. When I saw servicemen willing to give their lives sleeping on the floor, it broke my heart. Then I got the pleasure of meeting one of the volunteers. She would bake cookies at home and give these men and women hugs. They’re scared because they’re being deployed, and they got that love. That’s a great thing.

So I encourage people to get involved, whether it’s through a charitable organization, your church or politics; whatever it is, get out in the community. We have to be more of a community.

Will you be running for governor of Nevada?

(Laughs) You’re the fifth one to ask today. For right now, I really enjoy what I do but I’m not ruling it out. We did some polling early on and it was really good. We’ll see how the polling goes after the (legislative) session. Then I’ll sit down with my daughters and friends and family; after that, my political advisers.

Whatever I decide to do, I think we need to have some really hard discussions about what direction this state is going in. I think it’s going to take some political courage for folks to step up and make some hard decisions. If and when that happens, I’m looking forward to it.

Previously published in diamondcake. Updated by smallTALK. Archived for Steve Sisolak.