Venture capitalist and GOP candidate for Governor Guy Nohra and I met at a 51 year- old diner in Las Vegas for our interview. The diner provided a busy backdrop but a comfortable seat (and excellent service) for a man who has criss-crossed Nevada three times in his first political race.
When I asked him why he chose to run for governor to cut his political chops–instead of a smaller county or state race, he replied, “It’s the one executive position where you can make decisions and run something. I wanted to be an executive of a state that lacks smart leadership. I was an executive at my firm. I built things–companies, teams, revenue…I can do that as the top executive of Nevada, but I will have a boss and that boss will be the people of Nevada.”
“Never in a million years” did Nohra believe that he would be sitting in a diner in Las Vegas or living in Reno, NV, a place he fell in love with as a teenager. Nohra was born and raised in Lebanon. At the age of 15, he joined the Christian militia to fight in the Lebanese civil war. “I wasn’t drafted” Nohra said, “I joined and told my parents that I was going to Boy Scout Camp.” Soon thereafter, his parents fled to Alameda, CA– a place that was a “crazy culture shock” but Nohra “survived.”
“I bought into being an American. I played football, ran track and joined a rock and roll band named Merging Traffic,” Nohra shared. “We played everywhere and made good money. I played the rhythm guitar and lead vocals.”
After high school, Nohra headed to Stanford, but missed the music, the energy of the stage, and the crowds. One day, he told his dad that he was simply going to quit college and become a musician. “I will disown you,” his dad replied, so Nohra quit music, graduated from Stanford with a history degree and went on to receive an MBA from University of Chicago Business School.
From there, Nohra became one of the most success venture capitalists in the Life Sciences industry, co-founding Alta Partners in 1996, and one of the top three Life Science Venture Capital firms in the world.
Knowing that Nohra built his career and knowledge in the medical and biotech industry, I asked him about the pandemic and Governor Sisolak’s response to it. Nohra replied:
It is really important to recognize that everyone on our side, who was critical of the shutdowns and mandate, has been proven right and we can point to where we were right. After the initial eight weeks of the pandemic, I, and many experts, realized that there was no reason to have a homogenous and extreme response in our state that Sisolak had.
I would have started doing things like Governor’s Abbott and DeSantis and looked at Sweden as the models to emulate and follow. We over- reacted as a state. We were never given an explanation as to why, and there was no logic as to what was shut down and what remained open, and it felt to me like we were just following California. I didn’t understand the medical logic as to what was happening.
I don’t mandate. I educate. I think mandates are a slippery slope. I think closing the strip for as long as Sisolak closed it was a big mistake. I very quickly realized that it was a disease that was killing older and immune- comprised people. We should have ensured that those people were isolated and that the most vulnerable were taken care of.
I wouldn’t have shut down schools where the death rate was zero percent. This was very bad policy when you look at the whole picture. Now our kids are behind. Kids didn’t receive scholarships because sports were cancelled. All you have to look at is the data–the comparative data, which shows that Florida and Nevada had similar outcomes in the rates of mortality, but Florida didn’t shut down or close schools.
I don’t buy the “follow the science” argument because the Barrington declaration was ignored and maligned. I would have looked at both sides. Sisolak didn’t look at both sides. He only looked at his side and mimicked California. It was disappointingly amateurish how the pandemic was handled. The metrics were wrong that they were following. It was amateur hour.
Sisolak will be defined by his shutdowns and his over-reaction of hurting and harming a lot of people.
The Globe: Education in this state is at the bottom in every proficiency category. What is your reaction and what are your solutions to fix a system that is broken?
Guy Nohra: I come to education from an outside business perspective. We need to look at the problem and come up with solutions. I want to have an education summit. I want to invite stake holders into a meeting to discuss this issue. For the last 30 years we have talked about it–both republicans and democrats have talked about its’ importance. As a solution, they have taxed businesses, mining and cannabis, and we all said “yes”, and after all of that were are number 50 in the country.
There is a new sheriff in town–pun intended– and I want to solve this problem with school choice, vouchers, charter schools, and competition. CCSD is simply too big and needs to be broken up. Nevada is one of the smaller states but we have on of the largest school districts in the country. Anyone who understand business, understands big doesn’t mean better, it can mean inefficient. The less fortunate are suffering the most and I will be hands on, working with everyone, to find a solution. Within four years, I hope to be at least number 29, not 50.
Eighty five cents out of every dollar that the system receives goes to administration. Only 15 cents goes to classroom. The system is too big and too bloated. Where is the cannabis money that voters were promised would go to schools?
We need smarter questions and solutions. Unlike Sisolak, I will communicate and provide transparency. I will ask the right questions because I have already taken tough or failing businesses and made them successful.
I combined my love of music and working with kids to be successful at a youth center, the Riekes Center in Alameda. I ended up sponsoring high school kids from the center and would take them to Europe, in Barcelona. They would practice and play music and perform in the summer. We did that for seven years until the pandemic. We would play the Eagles, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Beatles, Rolling Stones. The center, and music, is about developing who and what you are. As sophomores and juniors in high school, from all different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, they not only learn music, but they go from being the rookies on the trip to becoming the leaders of the trip in the years that follow. You can see how they grow and develop and you watch their confidence manifest into other areas in life.
There has been much talk about the diversification of revenue in Nevada by attracting new businesses, but businesses look at education when making their decision to relocate. What are your ideas of generating diversified revenue? What types of businesses would be good for Nevada?
I am going to be very aggressive and think big. The Chief Executive sets the tone. My tone for economic development will be much different. All of the business that is going to Texas, Arizona, and Tennessee could come to Nevada, but Sisolak has done a poor job in recruitment and with education. But, my overall vision is that we have a supply chain issue and we can’t rely on China. I want to bring manufacturing to our state. There are several things in the supply chain that we can bring here. We are Americans and Nevadans and we think big. We have to think big in order to be successful.
As California bleeds business. we bring those businesses here. We will figure out the land situation and schools and we will ultimately bring those businesses here because it makes financial and logistical sense.
The executive of any state or successful company has to set an aggressive recruiting tone. I will be that executive of Nevada.
What are the first three things you will do as Governor?
I will be auditing everything–all 17 government agencies. I have been on 20 audit committees and we need to know where the money is going and how it is being spent.
Second, I will approach the executive office with a start-up culture mindset. Similar to what Steve Jobs did when he ran Apple. I am going to go meet my employees. They will understand my priorities, I will understand their priorities and we will work together to make their jobs more efficient, enjoyable, and better for the people of Nevada.
And third, the education summit. This is vital to our children’s success and the future of Nevada.
There are recent reports that you cancelled a significant six-figure add buy. What should voters think about this? Is your internal polling causing this decision? And, if you were to lose the primary and a Republican won in November, would you serve in the administration if asked?
Our strategy is shock and awe and hand-to-hand combat. We are simply reallocating resources. Our internal polling is higher than Trafalgar. I am doing much better in important Republican areas than people realize.
I am a team player and have been on teams my whole life. My personality is that I need to do something that is intense. I will probably die in my boots. If I am going to get a gig to be on a commission, no. But, if I get to be the Tzar of Economic Expansion, I will say yes. But I need to have an impact and that is important.
Tell us about your experience running for political office in Nevada. A state that you moved to just eight years ago.
I have gone through this state three times because I believe I need to earn every vote.
When I think about this experience, and I am debating with a senator, a mayor or a sheriff–and to think 45 years ago I was fighting Somalia mercenaries working for the PLO. Now, I am on a stage vying to be governor of a state in the greatest country on earth, where else in the world can you do that?
I am so blessed and have lived the American dream and want to make it possible for as many people. I always refer to Luke 12:48: “for unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.”
Public service is the way for me to give back. I have fought for my people before and I will fight for them again.
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