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VICTOR JOECKS: Republican voters shouldn’t overlook John Lee

A career as a Democrat isn’t what Republican primary voters usually look for in a candidate. But that shouldn’t preclude them from giving North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee careful consideration if — or more likely when — he runs for higher office.

Lee made waves last week by announcing on “Fox and Friends” that he was leaving the Democratic Party. He said he felt a “pro-life, pro-gun, Christian” was no longer welcome.

There are several interesting things about this move. For one, it’s a reminder that the leftward lurch by the Nevada Democratic Party could hurt its candidates in 2022. It’s also another sign that Lee wants to run for governor — as a Republican.

There’s a reason he went on Fox News to make this announcement instead of simply changing his registration. North Las Vegas mayor is a nonpartisan position, so his party affiliation isn’t pertinent to his current job. He wanted to make a splash.

Even before that interview, Lee said publicly that people have asked him to run for governor as a Republican. Don’t be fooled by his polite demurring about his future plans and his claim that he doesn’t want to be distracted from his current job. You don’t make that statement unless you’re testing the waters. Behind-the-scenes rumblings also confirm he wants to be governor.

Lee’s biggest vulnerability is that he spent more than a decade in the Legislature as a Democrat. He was a three-term Democrat assemblyman and two-term senator. He did lose a Democratic primary in 2012 because he was seen as too moderate.

Aside from that, he has a personal and professional background that would appeal to many Republicans. He has been married for more than four decades, with seven children and more than 25 grandchildren. He built and ran a plumbing company. He was an Eagle Scout and served on the Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America. He’s received an “A+” rating from the NRA.

He also has policy accomplishments that appeal to Republicans. He turned around North Las Vegas. When he came into office in 2013, the city was facing a fiscal crisis. In 2014, Fitch Ratings warned the city was nearly insolvent and could default on its debt. Its bonds were rated as junk. Lee shook up city staff, including laying off top administrators and outsourcing the human resources department. He cut the city’s debt. In February, Moody’s Investors Services gave an A1 rating to new city bonds.

Lots of Republicans talk about school choice. During the pandemic, North Las Vegas started a micro academy that provides in-person education options.

Those are real accomplishments that showcase both his leadership ability and conservative values.

This is still politics, however. Republican voters should give Lee a fair shake, but he should also be realistic. Sheriff Joe Lombardo, former-Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchinson and Rep. Mark Amodei would be formidable opponents in a primary. At least one is likely to significantly outraise him financially, too.

Lee would be better served running against Rep. Steven Horsford in the 4th Congressional District, which includes North Las Vegas, although redistricting could change that. If he won and defended the seat as Republican, he’d be well-positioned to successfully run for governor down the road.

Contact Victor Joecks at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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