Elko Daily Free Press

Security, Yucca Mountain, among top issues for attorney general

By JERRY BLAIR, Associate Editor
Tuesday, February 25, 2003

ELKO -- Elko arguably was the power center of the Silver State Friday night as four of Nevada's six constitutional officers as well as elected federal, state and local officials gathered at the Stockmen's Hotel and Casino for the Republican Party's annual Lincoln Day Dinner.

The night's highlight was the keynote speech by newly elected Attorney General Brian Sandoval. Joining Sandoval from the Nevada state administration were Treasurer Brian Krolicki, state Controller Kathy Augustine and Secretary of State Dean Heller.

U.S. Rep. Jim Gibbons, state Sen. Dean Rhoads and state Assemblyman John Carpenter also attended the dinner as did Elko County Commissioners Sheri Eklund-Brown, Warren Russell and John Ellison and Elko Mayor Mike Franzoia.

Sandoval, in office for just seven weeks, joked about his long car ride from Carson City to Elko he shared with Krolicki and Heller, noting that if there had been a mishap, "there would be a heckuva a headline. So, we let Dean drive."

But the attorney general's message was about the gravity of the numerous issues facing his office and Nevada. Sandoval, as the state's chief law enforcement officer, said much of his time is taken up in balancing the security concerns of the United States against the rights of individuals as well as the sovereign rights of Nevada.

"We've been a leader among states for domestic security measures," he said, but added that cooperating on homeland security doesn't mean the state won't take on the federal government when it's in Nevada's interests. For Sandoval, that's meant continuing the fight against the Yucca Mountain nuclear storage proposal.

"Simply put, we're looking out for Nevadans first, that's our job," Sandoval said.

In a brief interview following the dinner, Sandoval admitted it isn't always easy finding the appropriate balance between the increased needs for security while protecting individual rights. Similarly, the attorney general said he's still establishing the role his office will play in the ongoing conflict between ranchers and federal agencies over public lands issues.

Sandoval said he will continue to meet with property rights advocates, including Elko's O.Q. Chris Johnson of the Nevada Committee for Full Statehood this Wednesday, to determine what, if any, part his office will take in the fight.

"The responsible position is to gather all the information before making an assessment," he said.

Sandoval said he is monitoring Hage v. United States, the case filed by Pine Creek rancher E. Wayne Hage in U.S. Court of Federal Claims against the federal government over grazing rights. The court recently ruled that Hage's lack of a grazing permit doesn't invalidate his rights to access water and forage on allotments surrounding his ranch.

In a court order released earlier this month, Senior Judge Loren Smith ruled against the government's motion for a summary judgment. Smith's ruling means the value of those rights, which Hage says the federal government has wrongfully taken, must be determined in trial.

"What I don't know is how far-reaching" the ruling is, Sandoval said.

On another issue, Sandoval said the Bureau of Consumer Affairs, which is a part of the attorney general's office, will watch rising gas prices across Nevada. The average per gallon price in the state, according to a AAA Nevada survey, was at $1.78 last week -- more than 50 cents a gallon higher than at the same time last year and the highest February price ever recorded by the organization.

Sandoval said the Bureau of Consumer Affairs does investigate claims of profiteering, but there is no indication of anything of that nature at this time.

A former two-term legislator from the Reno area, Sandoval now leads a staff of 350 and administers a budget of $42 million. His office prosecutes criminal as well as consumer, insurance and worker's compensation fraud cases, provides legal counsel to all state agencies and is responsible for almost all state prison litigation matters.

Former Gov. Bob Miller appointed Sandoval to the Nevada Gaming Commission in 1998. One year later, Gov. Kenny Guinn named Sandoval chairman of the commission, making him at age 35 the youngest person ever to serve in that capacity.

Sandoval said so far the job has been going well.

"It's definitely challenging, but it's not been overwhelming," he said.