By Michelle L. Price
LAS VEGAS — It’s not cheap to be a swing state.
That’s what Nevada officials are learning as the state’s rising political prominence is attracting more visits from the president, vice president and other high-profile figures that are driving up costs for state troopers assigned to help protect them.
In the past year, Nevada has had seven visits from either President Donald Trump or Vice President Mike Pence, in addition to visits from members of the first family and a cabinet secretary. The Nevada Highway Patrol, at the request of the U.S. Secret Service, provided protection at a combined cost of more than $110,000.
That’s seven times what lawmakers had set aside for protecting “visiting dignitaries.”
The state doesn’t get reimbursed by the federal government or campaigns, and the protection is expected to be even more costly moving forward. Trump’s re-election campaign is targeting Nevada, and some of the candidates in a crowded field of Democrats might start receiving their own U.S. Secret Service Protection as they compete in the state’s Feb. 22 presidential caucus, which follows the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary.
“Now we’re realizing the resources that it takes to be a swing state when people start coming here,” Highway Patrol Col. John O’Rourke said. The department has had to make multiple requests for more money.
The Highway Patrol provides help with security, assisting motorcades and clearing traffic when the Secret Service asks for help, O’Rourke said.
The visits ramped up in 2018, when Nevada had a key Senate seat, two House seats and the governor’s mansion up for grabs.
State lawmakers, who set a budget every two years, put aside $35,000 to help with visiting dignitary protection from 2017 to 2019.
During that time, the Highway Patrol assisted with five visits each by the president and vice president, one from a former president and six other visits where the U.S. Secret Service requested assistance at a cost of more than $191,000.
Troopers have also assisted with visits from Cabinet members or the first family, like when first lady Melania Trump held a town hall on opioids in Las Vegas in March.
As state lawmakers wind down their biennial session in Carson City, they’re considering setting aside $113,000 to cover the costs of all trips made since June, along with enough to cover one more visit, should the president or vice president unexpectedly decide to visit before the next budget cycle starts in July.
After that, the Highway Patrol is budgeting more than $200,000 to get them through the November 2020 election.
“Presidential candidates and presidents and vice presidents don’t give out their schedules a year in advance or even two years in advance, so it’s just something that we have to deal with,” said Henderson Democratic Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee. “We like Nevada to be relevant, so we’ll deal with it.”