Special report: Sisolak endorsement leads to big rift between Laxalt campaign, leaders at Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center

By Ray Hagar, Nevada Newsmakers

It started quietly with an interview last week on Nevada Newsmakers with Lance Gilman, a lifelong Republican and broker-developer for the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center.

Billed as the biggest industrial park in North America, TRIC is the biggest economic engine in Northern Nevada, with residents like Tesla, Switch, Panasonic and Google.

Gilman, a Storey County commissioner and brothel owner, said he was supporting Democrat Steve Sisolak for governor. It didn’t sit well with the gubernatorial campaign of Republican Attorney General Adam Laxalt.


The subsequent blow-back created by Gilman’s interview could threaten Laxalt’s campaign in Northern Nevada, some political experts said.

“Is this a problem for Laxalt? Yeah, you have traditional and big money Republicans walking over to the other side,” said Eric Herzik, a University of Nevada, Reno political science professor and a registered Republican.

After Gilman’s interview, Robert Uithoven, consultant for Laxalt, accused Gilman of threatening his candidate and using extortion-like tactics against him. Uithoven said the real issue behind Gilman’s endorsement of Sisolak was Gilman’s displeasure with the handling of criminal sexual misconduct charges against his nemesis, Storey County Sheriff Gerald Antinoro, by Laxalt’s office.

Veteran Nevadan Journalist Ray Hagar is known for fair and tough reporting and invigorating commentary.

The attorney general’s office investigated the allegations against Antinoro but filed no charges.

Uithoven, considered one of Nevada’ best conservative campaign consultants, suggested Gilman may have committed a crime in pushing Laxalt for the investigation.

“And, by the way, it is against the law for a public official, or anyone, to extort another public official in this state,” Uithoven said.

Uithoven’s remarks ruffled Don Roger Norman, Gilman’s partner and the money man behind TRIC. He shot back at Laxalt’s campaign, calling Uithoven’s statements to Nevada Newsmakers “unhinged” and “overly dramatic.”

“All he’s ever done in Nevada is swoop into our state a few years ago and run for office,” Norman said of Laxalt

Now, political experts say the rift among Gilman, Norman and Uithoven could be a major issue for Laxalt among big business interests in Northern Nevada.

“So clearly, there is bad blood,” said Fred Lokken, political science professor at Truckee Meadows Community College and a registered Democrat. “This type of dysfunctionality within a party is never good. This is close to an election and I think some opinions are going to be swayed by it.”

It’s not only losing the support of Gilman and Norman, but also their friends’, Herzik said.

“The problem for Laxalt is Gilman and Norman have friends in the bigger economic development interests in Northern Nevada,” he said. “Gilman and Norman will bring along — at least some — from that Northern Nevada economic development community. And that’s not good for Laxalt.”

The success of TRIC has given Gilman and Norman political credibility and clout to use against Laxalt, Lokken said.

Gilman was considered a Nevada hero when it was announced the Tesla gigafactory was coming to Nevada in 2014. Gilman was the star, along with Gov. Brian Sandoval, when the Legislature approved $1.3 billion in tax credits to lure the electric-car maker to TRIC.

Gilman’s political clout and close working relationship with Sandoval were also factors in the federal government’s awarding Storey County as an “Opportunity Zone” under President Trump’s Tax Cuts and Job Act. The program will allow tax breaks for qualified investors who wish to re-invest unrealized capital gains in Storey County projects.

“Some in the business community, some of whom have followed this evolution of the industrial park, may wonder why these top Republicans are not endorsing the Republican governor’s candidate,” Lokken said. “So yes, this has a risk of having a measurable impact in Northern Nevada.”

The real issue

Gilman said originally that his support for Sisolak was all about business.

“Steve Sisolak does economic development,” Gilman said. “He knows how. And that is the issue.”

Gilman said in the original interview his endorsement of Sisolak had nothing to do with the attorney general’s investigation of  Antinoro.

However, Gilman and the industrial park had urged Laxalt to pursue the investigation. Gilman thinly disguised his animosity toward the sheriff in the interview, saying his issues with Antinoro are separate from the election endorsement, but are not resolved.

Both Herzik and Lokken acknowledged Laxalt’s handling of the Antinoro issue when considering Gilman’s support for Sisolak.

“I don’t know about Gilman’s comment of ‘this has nothing to do with the investigation,'” Herzik said. “But I’m willing to buy that, at least at face value.”

Many agencies have investigated Antinoro’s charges of sexual criminal misconduct and came up with the same conclusion as the attorney general, Uithoven said.

“This was brought to Adam Laxalt’s predecessor and Catherine Cortez-Masto kicked it out of her office,” Uithoven said. “The Sparks Police Department investigated this, the FBI has investigated this. And there are public records for everyone to see how much time and effort was taken in the attorney general’s office in investigating this matter.

“And just because it doesn’t turn out the way brothel owner Lance Gilman wants it to, doesn’t mean that Adam Laxalt doesn’t have businesses’ support in Northern Nevada,” Uithoven said. “He has tremendous support and it will show on election day.”

That comment seemed to infuriate Norman.

“Laxalt claims that his office has done a thorough investigation of the matter, and I can assure you that this is not the case,” Norman said in a statement to Nevada Newsmakers. “His office did not interview the two women who claimed they were raped, nor did they interview the officers who took the initial reports of rape – both significant omissions of what should have been a thorough and comprehensive investigation.

“Laxalt’s office also never interviewed Antinoro’s subordinates who testified that Antinoro bragged to them about the incidents,” Norman continued. “We also understand Laxalt’s office did not even pick up the phone to ask Antinoro a single question. Without these interviews, how can the investigation be considered complete?

“One of Antinoro’s accusers gave sworn testimony a few weeks ago in a deposition, with Antinoro’s attorney present, and stated that Antinoro, along with three other individuals, raped her in Lodi, California, using duct tape, knocking her unconscious in the process. She testified this crime occurred in the last few years. The AG’s office has this transcript and refuses to act.”

Laxalt’s investigation into Antinoro “just kicked the can down the road,” Herzik said. “And then he said it was Catherine Cortez Masto’s fault. I kinda always laugh about that.”

In all, the controversy hurts Republicans, Lokken said.

“They (Gilman and Norman) are obviously very concerned about how the attorney general handled the issue with the sheriff but they were willing not to make this about that,” Lokken said. “Unfortunately, the Laxalt campaign made it clearly about that. It put the attention on the sheriff again and that entire issue in Storey County.”

Losing Sandoval’s support

Losing support of Gilman and Norman comes after the failure of the Laxalt campaign to secure the endorsement from GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval, Lokken said.

Laxalt and Sandoval have disagreed on a number of issues since Laxalt was first elected as attorney general in 2014. One the the largest had to do with the Commerce Tax. The tax, paid only by Nevada’s largest businesses, helps fuel Sandoval’s education reforms, which passed in the 2015 Legislature along with about $1.4 billion in new taxes.

Laxalt said he would like to repeal it, which didn’t please Sandoval.

“It is a strange campaign already because of a popular Republican governor in Gov. Sandoval not offering up an endorsement on the Republican side,” Lokken said. “Now, you have this display with two very important business players in Northern Nevada. These are not controversies you’d generally want for your campaign.”

Uithoven did not respond Monday or Tuesday to a request for comment from Nevada Newsmakers.

Monday, less than a week after Uithoven’s blowup with Gilman and Norman, the Laxalt campaign released its seven-point plan for economic development, perhaps trying to blunt some of the criticism of Gilman and Norman.

Laxalt’s plan includes:

Protect Nevada status as a low-tax state,

Rein in the state’s burdensome occupational regulations,

Reform the regulatory structure,

Make Nevada attractive for new businesses,

Prepare Nevadans with skills needed in a new economy,

Build the infrastructure needed for the digital age, and,

Reduce barriers to affordable housing.

The Laxalt campaign is still behind Sisolak when it comes to economic development, Herzik said.

Sisolak’s TV ads broadcast in Northern Nevada have targeted his economic development skills and have featured the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center.

“Gilman makes a good point,” Herzik said. “Sisolak has far more economic development experience. He has far more experience, period.”

Sandoval worked closely with Gilman and Norman to bring the Tesla gigafactory to Northern Nevada. Securing Tesla’s gigafactory was vital to jump start the Northern Nevada economy, Herzik said.

“It also doesn’t help that Laxalt is not being endorsed by Sandoval, who really stepped out in front to push support for the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center and he took heat for it,” Herzik said.

TRIC is in rural Storey County, a few miles east of Reno and Sparks.

“It (TRIC) has been far more successful and faster than I ever thought it would be,” Herzik said. “It’s like wow. So Apple had their cloud farm there. Then you bring in Tesla and Tesla brings in Panasonic. Now Switch is there, all kinds of startup firms. And the last I heard, virtually all the land at TRIC is sold.

“That is an amazing transformation,” Herzik said.

Uithoven’s response

It was not a smart play for Uithoven to engage after the Gilman interview, Lokken said. Without his response, there would be no counter-response from Norman, no controversy. No follow-up story needed

“Lance Gilman was attempting to stay on the high road when he came on the program and said he was endorsing Sisolak over Laxalt,” Lokken said. “Unfortunately, the reaction by Uithoven was very inappropriate. It literally had a number of accusations which were very inflammatory and obviously prompted the response from (Norman), Lance’s partner.

“It wasn’t a statement,” Lokken said of Uithoven’s response. “It was an outburst. It demonstrated a lot of emotion and clearly, that was unfortunate. He (Uithoven) clearly is a professional and has had success with other campaigns. But this is kind of a black eye.

While Uithoven’s response surprised Lokken, not so with Herzik.

“You make think it is over the top for Uithoven but it is Uithoven’s MO (method of operation),” Herzik said. “He is the one who talks more than Laxalt does himself. And he tends to be very aggressive. Everybody is the enemy, including you. So I am not surprised by that.”

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