MY COLUMN: Republicans took control of state government, so now what?

On March 5, 2013, legislative Democrats killed themselves.

But that was not enough for these experts at political hara kiri: They also ensured that the coming red wave would be wide and deep, that Gov. Brian Sandoval would go unchallenged and that the Republican brand in Nevada would glisten.

I have long argued that on that day had the Democrats embraced then-Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson's plan to tax mining and collaborated with him to force the governor’s hand and put the initiative on the ballot, they would not be so blue today and the state would not be so red.

Just imagine: A mining tax to compete with the margin tax, a governor who almost certainly would not have embraced the idea having to explain that opposition, especially in Southern Nevada, and a Democratic Party that actually had a message of bipartisanship and leadership.

“Twas not to be.

So out of this paranoia and paralysis came nothing, Sandoval emerged stronger than ever (a second- or third-tier Democratic opponent would not have helped nearly so much as a ballot proposition to rally the base), the margin tax was alone on the ballot to draw anti-taxers to the polls and Roberson used the legislative snub to help change his title (although, ironically, voters decided to keep mining taxation language in the Constitution).

And here we are.

Yes, Democrats here were crippled by the Obama/Reid albatross, by the majority leader’s distracted obsession of holding his title and by the Republicans’ copying the Reid machine, catching up on the data front and ensuring the wave not only crashed down with unprecedented ferocity but washed away supposed rising stars (Ross Miller, Lucy Flores, Steven Horsford, Jason Frierson).

Fine. What happens now?

Ah, that is the question. And it is a question mostly for Gov. Brian Sandoval, who leant his political capital to almost everyone who won (was there a GOP candidate who did not use his picture?) and may find some, or at least too many, unwilling to pay back the loan.

Yes, all that glistens in Carson City is not gold. The Sandoval Sweep lifted many candidates to victory who otherwise would not have won, creating a Republican Assembly and GOP constitutional office monopoly.

Sandoval may have to spend some time stopping the attorney general he tepidly supported from suing the federal government every day and the secretary of state he did not wholeheartedly embrace from forcing voters to divulge their blood type before casting ballots. But Adam Laxalt and Barbara Cegavske are the least of the governor’s problems, and he can swat away the Ron Knecht-Dan Schwartz budget they promised to submit even though the new treasurer and controller combo frightens Democrats everywhere – and a few Republicans, too.

Sandoval has big plans for the 2015 session. And he will need cooperation from both parties to do what the late Kenny Guinn could not when he was the last 70-percent-plus governor to win re-election: Create a lasting legacy of tax reform and education funding so the Gang of 63 doesn’t have to confront the same hoary questions every session.

Sandoval has been working during the interim developing a productive relationship with Marilyn Kirkpatrick, whom he (and most everyone else including GOP strategists) thought would be the speaker in her final session. That could still pay dividends because he will need some of that diminished caucus (it went from 27 to 17), maybe now more than ever to enact any sweeping reform/tax package. (The governor will also need the state Senate Democrats, now in the minority and in such disarray they have been unable to select a new leader yet.)

But, ironically, Sandoval will meet with resistance to any plan from the Assembly he helped remake because some of the folks in that new majority will not be willing to play ball. The Assembly Republicans on Friday picked the ever-rebellious Ira Hansen as speaker, as different from moderate Pat Hickey as you can imagine.

Hickey was deposed because of newcomers who didn’t know him and because the well had been poisoned by the likes of Michele Fiore and Jim Wheeler. Now those two and others who have never chaired committees will have a lot of power, with perhaps the only good (?) news for those who actually want solutions is only nine of the 25 Republicans signed the 2014 version of the inane tax pledge, which allows elected officials to abdicate their duties as thinking human beings to Norquistian paralysis.

If you look at their websites, some of these rookies ran on a Repeal It All agenda, focusing on Obamacare and Common Core. Sandoval, who helped elect many of them, implemented the former and supports the latter. Good start, eh?

A brief historical interlude: The last time the GOP controlled the Assembly, in 1985, the Republicans also had 25 seats. The next election, the pendulum didn’t swing back; it crashed back. The Democrats ended up with 29 seats. So the GOP has to be aware of that.

Sandoval also helped poison the coming legislative well by his early and strong antagonism toward the margin tax, which was never going to pass but thanks to him and his major campaign donors, lost by a 4-to-1 margin. How many lawmakers will see that as a reflection of where the electorate is on taxes and oppose anything?

This is a problem.

But if anyone can navigate this uncertain thicket, Brian Sandoval can.

The governor has a combination of qualities that few politicians in Nevada – nay, anywhere – have possessed. He is magnetically likable. He is politically deft. He is relentlessly deliberative (like the judge he used to be).

His almost boyish enthusiasm (hence my Gov. Sunny moniker early in his tenure) is not affected. This is how he has been since he was in the Assembly 20 years ago.

The governor will need all of his formidable skills to bring together an elected and private sector coalition to pass a comprehensive reform/tax package in 2015. Guinn had a receptive GOP Senate majority leader (Bill Raggio) and a willing Democratic Assembly and could not get it done, even after two special sessions.

Anything can happen once that gavel comes down in February, and usually it crushes my pre-session sanguinity. But Sandoval has the political touch the ever-amiable Guinn did not, and I also believe he has a killer instinct that his mentor did not.

Yes, I worry that he is too cocooned, that his advisers are so jealous of his approval ratings that they tell him not to take chances, not to be too bold. So here’s the seminal question: If Sandoval was willing to lend his capital to a bunch of folks he doesn’t know, doesn’t respect or, in some cases, doesn’t like, doesn’t it make sense that he would use some of it to affect the future of the state he so obviously loves?

I think the answer is yes.

We have seen the impressive Sandoval Sweep. Now let’s see if the Sandoval Session measures up.

(Image from