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Guns, minimum wage, taxes among topics in Democrats’ debate

May 22, 2018
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Democratic gubernatorial candidates Steve Sisolak, left, and Chris Giunchigliani debate on KLAS-TV 8 in Las Vegas, Monday, May 21, 2018. (Richard Brian/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP)

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Gun control, minimum wage and taxpayer support for a Las Vegas stadium were among the topics two top Democratic candidates for Nevada governor sparred about Monday during a live televised debate just three weeks before the primary.

Asked to raise their hands if they would pledge not to raise taxes if elected governor, Chris Giunchigliani and Steve Sisolak both stood stock still.

Giunchigliani called the tax question premature.

Sisolak said he couldn’t predict what will happen in the next four years.

“I do not have a specific tax that I would like to raise,” he said, before repeating a theme for his debate appearance. “What I’m saying is everything is on the table.”

The two, who’ve been colleagues for nearly a decade on the Clark County Commission, are vying to woo the party faithful before June 12 and advance their bid to replace term-limited Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval in November.

State Attorney General Adam Laxalt and Treasurer Dan Schwartz are the top Republicans seeking their party nomination.

Giunchigliani, who goes by “Chris G,” stood on her background as a former middle school special education teacher and union president and cast herself as more progressive than Sisolak. She said twice that she wants to be “the education governor,” and came out in favor of getting Nevada to a $15 per hour minimum wage.

The state minimum wage is currently $7.25 per hour for employees who receive health care through their employer, and $8.25 per hour for those who don’t.

“It’s always, the devil is in the details with how you put that plan together,” said Giunchigliani, who served eight terms in the state Assembly before she was elected to the county commission in 2006. She lost a bid for Las Vegas mayor in 2011.

“We have to look at what goes into the cost of raising a family for a working-class person,” she said.

Sisolak called for quickly establishing $10 minimum wage, with smaller increases after that.

“We cannot immediately move from $7.25 to $15,” Sisolak said. “It will put small businesses out of business.”

Sisolak served for 10 years on the state Board of Regents before he was elected to the commission in 2008.

He said “the only thing not on the table is doing nothing.”

Sisolak, as the region’s top elected official, spoke of being profoundly affected visiting the bloody outdoor Las Vegas Strip concert site where a gunman firing from a casino hotel killed 58 people and injured hundreds. The Oct. 1 shooting was the deadliest of its kind in modern U.S. history.

He said he wants Nevada to enforce a background check law that voters approved in 2016, and ban assault rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines. He denied Giunchigliani campaign claims that he is a friend of the National Rifle Association.

Clark County has about 2 million of the state’s nearly 3 million residents and most of Las Vegas’ 48 million tourists a year are drawn to the casino corridor just outside city jurisdiction. The seven-member county commission oversees an annual budget almost as big as the $8 billion-plus that the state spends.

As commissioners, Giunchigliani and Sisolak voted differently on the Las Vegas football stadium being built for the Raiders to relocate from Oakland.

Giunchigliani opposes the $1.8 billion project, which is being funded with $750 million in hotel tax revenue.

She said those millions should go instead to teachers, police and firefighters.

Sisolak supports the project and served on an advisory committee that gave it the go-ahead. He has projected that it will generate $35 million in tax revenue a year and draw tourists to the 160,000 hotel rooms on and around the Las Vegas Strip.

The hour-long debate aired on KLAS-TV and KXNT 840 AM radio in Las Vegas, and KTVN-TV in Reno.

Three announced Democratic candidates — John Bonaventura, Asheesh Dewan and David E. Jones — were not invited to the debate. KLAS-TV and its corporate parent, Nextar Broadcasting, said they did not meet eligibility criteria .

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