In part two of our interview series with Nevada Attorney General (AG) Aaron Ford, we learn about what he does as state AG, his efforts to address public safety, and his work with Nevada’s Latino community.
You can read part one of our interview here, where Ford talks about his personal life and what drove him to get involved in public service. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Americano: Can you talk a little bit about what the Nevada attorney general does and why it’s such an important position?
Ford: In the simplest terms, we’re the ‘people’s lawyer.’ We represent the state on behalf of the people in both criminal and civil matters—a limited number of criminal matters, to be sure. I’m the top legal advisor in the state and the top law enforcement officer in the state, so when we have to sue the federal government, for example—as we did when I was first inaugurated—for things they were doing that we thought infringed upon our residents’ rights, it’s the attorney general who does that.
When we have to sue corporations or businesses that are taking advantage of our residents and violating consumer protection laws, it’s the attorney general that does that. And in the instance of the criminal justice system, where I have jurisdiction—cyber criminals, elder abuse, Medicaid fraud, insurance fraud, those types of things—it’s the attorney general who prosecutes those. At the end of the day, the best way to phrase it is I am the people’s lawyer, the top law enforcement officer in the state, and the top legal advisor in the state.
Americano: What accomplishments are you most proud of during your first term as AG?
Ford: One of the first things I did when I got on the campus of our office up in Carson City was introduce myself to our 400 new co-workers and I explained to them what I thought our job was and I said in a word, our job was simple, but in implementation, it was sometimes difficult. And the word is justice. Our job is justice and I explained to them that justice we would look at through the lens of what I call my three c’s: consumer protection, criminal justice and reform, and the protection of all of our constitutional and civil rights.
What I am most proud of is that we have stuck to justice as our job. If you were to ask anyone in our office, they will tell you that our job is justice, and they will ask the question of every circumstance in which we engage, ‘What does justice look like here?’
I’m proud of the work we’ve been able to do in all of these areas, especially over these last three years and 10 months I’ve been in office, because of COVID, because of the elections debacle we saw, the attack on the integrity of our elections and the foundations of our democratic republic. I’m most proud of us being able to effectuate justice by focusing on our three c’s.
Americano: Public safety is obviously a big issue for voters. Can you talk a little bit about what your priorities around this are and how you plan to balance holding people who break the law accountable without resorting to incarcerating people en masse?
Ford: Criminal justice and issues of public safety are at the forefront of what we do in the office. I can’t think of one person that I know—or any person I’ve ever spoken to—who wants to live in an unsafe neighborhood. We all are interested in public safety and there are many different ways we approach it.
One of the ways we approach it in my office is by trying to tamp down on the form of crime that has increased across the nation, and that’s gun crimes. We focus on public safety by focusing on removing guns from those who should not have them and preventing those who should not have them from getting guns—domestic abusers, ex-offenders who are prohibited from owning firearms—so we’ve worked to institute background checks, we’ve worked to institute what we call ‘red flag laws,’ or early risk protection orders.
We’ve worked to get rid of ghost guns in our state and we’ve worked to do all that we can to ensure that we can institute responsible gun ownership. I’m a gun owner myself and it’s incumbent upon us as gun owners to be vigilant in the way that we maintain our guns. We focus on public safety by working with as many folks as we can to tamp down on gun violence and that’s just an example as I’ve indicated, but we also focus on the entirety of the criminal justice system.
In law school, most of us learn at least four reasons that the criminal justice system exists. It’s to punish people who violate the law, it’s to isolate them from society, but it’s also to rehabilitate them and then to restore them to society.
Most people focus on the first two; we’re not so good at the latter two. In my mind, my job is the entirety of it, the holistic approach, to focus on all four of those prongs and we do that. If you’re the bad person, we’re going to get you and we’re going to imprison you. But while you’re in prison, we’re going to try to rehabilitate you and then get you restored back to society, because most folks that go in will come out. We want to ensure that they can become active social agents in society and we do that, again, by focusing on the holistic approach to criminal justice, and we’ve been successful at that.
Americano: Your opponent, Republican Sigal Chattah, has said she wants to “make crime illegal again” and has sought to blame you for the rise in violent crime that’s happened in Nevada during the pandemic, even though violent crime rates went up just about everywhere in the U.S. What would you say to voters who might be considering voting for her because they’re worried about crime?
Ford: First, it’s important that we set the record straight, and while no one individual can take credit for this fact, the fact is crime has actually reduced in our state over the time that I’ve been in this office. Again, I don’t take credit for that because there’s an amalgamation of efforts that have contributed to it, but what has increased, as I’ve indicated, are violent crimes that include gun use. That’s why I say our focus on public safety is to address what has caused the increase in gun violence, and that is inappropriate individuals having guns, and so what I would say to people who are somewhat persuaded by her approach is: Again, we need to focus on responsible gun ownership, which I’m willing to do and she is not, and we need to focus on the holistic approach, which has ultimately led to a decrease in crime across the state.
Americano: Nevada has a sizable Latino population. Are there any accomplishments or things you’re particularly proud of as it relates to your work with the Latino community?
Ford: Absolutely. I’ve been speaking Spanish since I was 14 and I didn’t wait to get elected attorney general before I began interacting with the Latino community. Whether it was in the state Senate and trying to pass laws that allowed economic opportunity for all of us, whether it was working in the immigration context for those who are concerned about that, whether it’s putting out ‘know your rights’ missives to individuals over the course of my tenure here as attorney general, or whether it’s being here literally in the community and having conversations with people about what’s important to them, I have been there. I will continue to be there and I think that the Latino community knows that, appreciates that, and I will continue to rely upon them for their support just as much as I give them the support that I can offer as well.
Americano: What would you say to Latino voters who might be undecided on whether to vote for you or your opponent—or maybe not vote at all?
Ford: I would tell them that your rights are very important and that’s why you have to vote. If you don’t vote, we’re going to lose and we’re going to lose big and at the end of the day, we want individuals in our state who are going to work towards defending the rights of everyone in this state. Every person in this state, as far as I’m concerned, is a member of the Nevada family, and that includes our Latino brothers and sisters. It includes our immigrant Latino brothers and sisters and if you want someone here who’s going to stand up for their dignity and their humanity, that would be me. That would certainly not be the one running against me.
Read the third and final part of our interview with Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford next week, when we talk about his top priorities for a potential second term, his defense of reproductive rights and Nevada’s 2020 election results, and what he’s done to ensure economic justice for his constituents.