CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Gov. Brian Sandoval came into office bullish on a state racked by unemployment, bankruptcies and foreclosures, saying in his first State of the State address, if Nevada were a stock, "I'd buy it now."
On Wednesday, the Republican will report to lawmakers and Nevadans on their return on investment from his policies and set up his priorities for the 2013 legislative session and the remainder of his term.
The popular head of state is approaching the session that begins Feb. 4 from a more centrist vantage point than the conservative-talking candidate who became the state's first Hispanic governor after the 2010 election when he beat a sitting Republican incumbent in the primary and trounced Democrat Rory Reid, son of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, that November.
Sandoval has said he plans to run for re-election next year, and his televised speech before both chambers of the Nevada Legislature will also serve as a de facto opening statement for his 2014 campaign.
"This is really the re-election session," said Robert Uithoven, a Republican consultant. "People will be campaigning for him or against him based more on this session than last."
A rising star in the Republican Party, he was considered by national media as a possible running mate for Mitt Romney on the 2012 GOP presidential ticket, despite his repeated denials of having any interest in the job.
Economic development, job creation, education reform — priorities Sandoval identified two years ago — will again be front and center in the months to come.
Sandoval revamped the state's approach to economic development, making it a cabinet-level position and establishing a blueprint to focus on attracting key industries such as tech, aerospace and medical services while helping existing businesses to grow. His administration says he's halfway toward achieving a goal to create 50,000 jobs by the end of his term.
His economic development team last year lured tech giant Apple to set up shop in northern Nevada, in exchange for $89 million in tax abatements. Sandoval also led an entourage on a trade mission to China and South Korea, inking deals for a Las Vegas architectural firm and Reno-area candy maker to enter those Pacific Rim markets. A cooperative agreement also was forged to conduct scientific research.
He pushed for education overhauls that give the governor authority to appoint a state superintendent and three out of four voting members on the state Board of Education, and put in motion efforts to abolish using teacher seniority when determining layoffs.
A no-new-tax candidate in 2010, Sandoval abandoned that stance late in the 2011 session and showed his conciliatory side after a Nevada Supreme Court ruling put in doubt the funding sources of his bare-bones budget.
He forged a compromise with lawmakers in both the Assembly and Senate to extend $620 million in taxes that were set to expire in June 2011. But the move drew harsh criticism from conservative Republicans, who voted against the tax extensions and the overall budget.
Last March, Sandoval sought to defuse the lingering tax question over another temporary extension. While still pledging to hold spending to a minimum, Sandoval said he would extend the taxes again in his upcoming two-year state budget to avoid another round of deep cuts to education and vital social services. This time, GOP legislative leaders were quick to line up in support.
Hardline conservatives decry the move, and the more left-leaning Democrats say it's not enough after years of funding cuts to K-12, higher education and social services.
But Sandoval's stance shows a governor now more experienced, said Eric Herzik, political scientist at the University of Nevada, Reno.