LAS VEGAS (AP) — A coronavirus mask mandate by the Democratic governor of Nevada is drawing protests and organized opposition from a self-described conservative Republican activist who vows to target elected officials he says threaten personal liberty.
“We’re really not trying to take a political stand,” Ian Bayne, head of the new “No Mask Nevada” political action committee, said Thursday. “We’re a diverse group of people who don’t want to wear masks and don’t want the government to tell us to use masks.”
Gov. Steve Sisolak called it “disappointing and outright dangerous to see any attempt to turn face coverings into a political issue during a public health crisis.”
“Efforts like this will only make the pandemic worse,” Sisolak said through spokeswoman Meghin Delaney. “The growing scientific body of research is clear. Wearing a face covering helps reduce the spread of COVID-19.”
Polls show mask use has become a partisan issue. A Pew Research Center poll published in June found more Democrats than Republicans said they wore masks in stores all or most of the time.
Bayne noted that a No Mask Nevada protest on Monday in rural Pahrump drew several dozen people. He said the governor's order to wear masks was enacted without due process and denied liberty to state residents.
He said he wasn’t surprised by a state Occupational Health and Safety Administration report on Thursday that one in four businesses in and around Las Vegas that were visited by inspectors were not complying with Sisolak’s order for people to use face coverings in public places.
“This is Nevada. We want to live free,” Bayne said.
The governor’s order took effect June 26. On Wednesday, OSHA said, officials visited 350 stores, bars, salons, gyms and gambling establishments statewide. Southern Nevada sites had a 75% compliance rate, the agency said, and northern Nevada businesses came in at 84%.
Bayne is a Massachusetts native, radio talk show host and 2014 GOP congressional primary candidate in Illinois who now lives in Las Vegas. He recently registered No Masks Nevada PAC with the Nevada secretary of state.
On Thursday, he identified a Democratic state Assembly member who heads the Legislature’s Committee on Health and Human Services and said his committee will back her Republican opponent.
He said he also will push for the Legislature to consider the mask mandate during a special session the governor has tentatively scheduled to begin next Wednesday.
The governor’s call for a return to Carson City of lawmakers who usually meet every two years is expected to focus on a budget bust caused by the pandemic and business closures.
The state has no personal income tax and its two biggest sources of revenue — sales taxes and gambling and hospitality taxes — were crippled by a business shutdown from mid-March to the beginning of June.