Lombardo: I will try to send cops to all accidents

Friday, February 28th, 2014

Metro Police Assistant Sheriff Joe Lombardo

Metro Police Assistant Sheriff Joe Lombardo said he will work hard to ensure officers respond to even non-injury car accidents, but says he can’t promise a controversial policy change announced recently won’t become permanent.

Lombardo, who’s running for sheriff to replace Doug Gillesipe in November, also said the current policy has been misunderstood in the media, and that police officers will respond when requested to come to an accident scene, although drivers may have to wait, in some cases hours, for a response.

But Lombardo pledged he’d review staffing and deployment with an eye toward restoring the current policy, which is to send an officer to every accident scene, even those with no injuries where a police officer may not be needed. That policy will end Monday in favor of new protocol. Under the new system, dispatchers will ask motorists involved in accidents a series of questions to determine if an officer is needed:

  • Are there injuries? (If yes, an officer will be dispatched. If no, the operator will continue with more questions.)
  • Can the cars be moved from the roadway? (If no, an officer may be sent. If yes, the questions continue.)
  • Is the other driver being cooperative in exchanging insurance and registration information? (If no, an officer will be sent; if yes, the dispatcher will ask if either party wants an officer to respond. If neither does, the drivers will be left to handle the situation on their own.)
  • In cases of hit-and-run, combative drivers or road rage, officers will be sent.
  • Patrol officers, in addition to traffic officers, may respond to accident scenes.

Although Lombardo admitted that staffing ratios contribute to the new policy, which has been under discussion for about two years, he insisted it was not a reaction to the Clark County Commission’s rejection of the More Cops sales tax increase proposal. Although Gillespie has tried repeatedly to get the commission to vote to increase the sales tax by 0.15 percentage points, commissioners have balked at several iterations of the idea. “It isn’t an action because of the no vote on More Cops,” Lombardo said.

But Lombardo said he’ll continue to try to identify ways to continue responding to accidents if he can find ways to do so, using existing staff. He said long waits or not responding to non-injury accidents when a motorist nonetheless wants an officer is “unacceptable.”

“It’s a marshaling of resources,” Lombardo said. “I personally believe we’ve done great due diligence marshaling our resources.”

Lombardo added he’s not giving up on getting the More Cops sales tax idea passed, however, and will continue Gillespie’s push for the levy if he’s elected sheriff in November. “I’m I’m elected sheriff, I’m going after More Cops again,” Lombardo said.

There were 13,000 non-injury traffic accidents in the valley last year, Lombardo said. Although most people believe officers are required to respond to all accidents, state law doesn’t say that. And in other jurisdictions, including larger cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, police don’t respond to non-injury crashes.

 

 

 

 

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Las Vegas makes the finals (of course)!

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

Las Vegas is one of the eight cities selected as finalists for the 2016 Republican convention, GOP national Chairman Reince Priebus announced via Twitter today.

We’re up against some tough political competition, however. Dallas is on the list, as are three cities from the political plumb state of Ohio, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus. Other cities are Denver, Kansas City and Phoenix.

The announcement is a victory for Las Vegas 2016, the non-profit group tasked with making the pitch to the Republican National Committee to pick Las Vegas for the convention. If ultimately chosen, it would be the first time a political convention has been held here.

Officials have been touting Las Vegas’s ability to host a political convention with ease, thanks to an abundance of hotel rooms, transportation infrastructure and the other amenities available in and near Las Vegas, including golf and shows. This week, it was announced that the Las Vegas Convention Center will be the site of the gathering if Las Vegas is chosen.

Next up: Site visits to each of the cities that made the finalist list. Time to shine, Las Vegas!

 

 

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Citizen Outreach appeals disclosure case

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

Citizen Outreach, the conservative group that paid for fliers attacking then-Assembly Speaker John Oceguera in 2010, has filed its appeal to a District Court ruling that said the group must disclose its donors and spending under Nevada law.

The appeal in Citizen Outreach v. State of Nevada contends Secretary of State Ross Miller and District Court Judge James Wilson erred by trying to force the group to disclose donors when its fliers did not “expressly advocate” for Oceguera’s defeat. Citizen Outreach attorney Craig Mueller also contends the state has misapplied a single appellate court ruling and tried to apply laws that weren’t enacted until after the group’s fliers had already been mailed.

Best of all? The group compares itself to the NAACP, which also resisted disclosing its donors during the Civil Rights era. Because when I think of Citizen Outreach President Chuck Muth, I think immediately of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

You can read the appeal for yourself here: CitizenOutreachvNevada–openingbrief.

Essentially, Citizen Outreach argues it shouldn’t have to disclose its donors because:

  • The fliers, while certainly not complimentary, did not contain the so-called “magic words” that the U.S. Supreme Court identified as constituting “express advocacy,” words such as “elect,” “defeat,” “vote for,” “vote against” “support,” or similar words and phrases. As a result, the fliers can’t be considered express advocacy and the disclosure requirement isn’t implicated.
  • The “major purpose” of Citizen Outreach is not to make campaign-related expenditures, and as a result, even if disclosure is required, it can only be required of people who specifically earmarked their donations for the Oceguera fliers.
  • A 1987 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision — FEC v. Fergatch – which held that “magic words” aren’t necessary if a message “when read as a whole, and with limited reference to external events, be susceptible to not other reasonable interpretation but as an exhortation to vote for or against a specific candidate,” is misapplied in this case. Citizen Outreach says even under that ruling, an unmistakable exhortation to take action to defeat or support a candidate is still required.
  • The state has subsequently amended the law to specify that “magic words” are not required. NRS 294A.0025 now reads: “‘Advocates expressly’ or ‘expressly advocates’ means that a communication, taken as a whole, is susceptible to no other reasonable interpretation other than as an appeal to vote for or against a clearly identified candidate or group of candidates or a question or group of questions on the ballot at a primary election, general election or special election. A communication does not have to include the words ‘vote for,’ ‘vote against,’ ‘elect,’ ‘support’ or other similar language to be considered a communication that expressly advocates the passage or defeat of a candidate or a question.” But that language was not in the lawbooks in 2010.
  • A flier decrying Oceguera’s legislative work could be interpreted as a call for him to introduce better bills, not toss him from office, the group contends. A second one decrying his dual employment as state lawmaker and a North Las Vegas Fire Department official could be interpreted as a call for him to resign his fire job, not remove him from political office. As such, the statements can’t be considered “express advocacy” against him.

The state has contended — and the District Court agreed — that there could be no other reasonable interpretation of the fliers than to vote against Oceguera, who nonetheless won his 2010 election (with 55 percent of the vote). As a result, it demanded Citizen Outreach file its campaign paperwork.

The attorney general on behalf of Miller’s office will file a response to the Citizen Outreach brief, after which oral arguments may be scheduled before the state Supreme Court issues a ruling.

 

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The ironies of the term-limits debate

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

Now that term limits are back in the news — with the surprising ruling that a person who serves 12 years on a local government body is done, regardless of whether he or she is serving as a council member or mayor — it may be a good time to delve into some of the truly classic ironies of term limits in Nevada.

Irony No. 1: Judges were supposed to be included! That’s right, when the term-limits initiative was first qualified for the ballot, all elected officials in the state — including judges — were subject to term limits. When the measure passed on the 1994 ballot overwhelmingly (70 percent yes to 30 percent no), the question was whether term limits should be established for “state and local public officers,” with no exceptions made for judges or justices of the Supreme Court.

But two years later, things changed. The Nevada Supreme Court ruled in the case of Nevada Judges Association v. Lau that the term-limits question should be split, asking voters in one question about term limits for “state and local elected officials in the executive and legislative branches of government,” and in another, separate question about justices and judges. And wouldn’t you know it: In 1996, voters said yes overwhelmingly to term limits for politicians, albeit by a much smaller margin than two years earlier (54,3 percent yes to 45.7 percent no) but overwhelmingly rejected term limits for judges (59 percent to 41 percent).

How about that, huh?

Irony No. 2: Members of Congress were supposed to be included, too! The 1994 ballot included Question 8, which asked voters if the Nevada Constitution should be amended to establish term limits for members of Congress, too. And the question passed by nearly the same margin and term limits for everybody else — 70 percent to 30 percent.

But two years later, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Arkansas case of U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton, the question of amending Nevada’s Constitution to limit terms for federal office holders was moot. The high court held that state restrictions on members of Congress run contrary to “fundamental principles of our representative democracy” and was inconsistent with the vision of the framers of the U.S. Constitution for a national legislature representing the people. If term limits were to be established for federal lawmakers, the court ruled, the U.S. Constitution should be amended.

Not only that, but a 1995 attorney general opinion issued by then-AG Frankie Sue Del Papa concluded that the question may not appear on the 1996 ballot.

As a result, an alternative Question 16 was posed in 1996: Should the Nevada Constitution be amended to call upon Nevada’s congressional delegation and members of Congress to establish term limits, either through an act of Congress or a national constitutional convention. It passed, 53 percent to 47 percent.

Thus far, no serious move to amend the U.S. Constitution to establish federal term limits has been attempted.

UPDATE: Irony No. 2A: It was supposed to take effect sooner. The actual language of the term limit petition — now the language of our state Constitution, in Article 4, Section 3(2), Article 4, Section 4(2) and Article 15, Section 3(2) — is phrased thus: “No person may be elected to any state office or local governing body who has served in that office, or at the expiration of his current term if he is so serving will have served, 12 years or more, unless the permissible number of terms or duration of service is otherwise specified in this Constitution.”

Clearly, the language intends to count years already spent in office toward the term limits, so that long-serving officials would have to immediately decide to run for other offices or retire. But that section was undone, thanks to another attorney general opinion (96-23) that concluded that because state lawmakers’ terms begin on the day after the election (in 1996, that would have been Nov. 6, 1996) and because the initiative wasn’t effective until the canvass of the vote by the state Supreme Court (which took effect that year on Nov. 27, 1996), the terms of state lawmakers would not come under term limits until the elections of 1998, two years later. The language of the petition, which became the language of the constitution, that appears to have a retroactive effect doesn’t appear to have been specifically analyzed, but for all intents and purposes, the clocked started ticking in 1998 for state officials.

(It was another matter for local officials, most of whom served terms starting in January; because the term limits rule was in effect by January 1997, officials elected in November 1996 but who didn’t take office until January saw the term limit clock start ticking immediately. This cost several officials their seats in 2008.)

Irony No. 3: Silence is not golden. During the legal fight over whether term limits applies separately to members of a city council and the mayor, or equally to both, there was conspicuous silence from the Nevada League of Cities and Municipalities, a group that claims it is organized as “the state’s primary champion of local government.”

But the league was strangely silent in the case, not bothering to offer an amicus curiae brief in defense of the idea that mayors constitute a separate office, and thus service on the city council should not count against service in the office of mayor. And it wasn’t just that the league was silent. The Nevada Supreme Court invited the group to participate, “but the League of Cities declined our invitation”!

I wonder how Henderson Mayor Andy Hafen feels about that decision now, given that questions have been raised about whether he should have been allowed to run for re-election. (Hafen had already served more than 12 years on the Henderson City Council when he was re-elected last year, an election that appears to be barred by the decision handed down last week. At the very least, he’ll now be denied an anticipated third term under the ruling.) I only ask because Hafen is listed as a member of the board of the Nevada League of Cities and Municipalities, and his council colleague Debra March is listed as a member of the group’s executive board, as the immediate past president. Might have wanted to get in on that, huh?

Irony No. 4: More “career politicians!” The Supreme Court’s ruling last week noted that “when the question was presented to the voters, the proponents stated that its purpose was to ‘stop career politicians’ by preventing them from holding office for an excessive number of terms.” But the ruling could have the opposite effect!

(Before I explain, I should also point out the irony of that line: There are few, if any, career politicians in Nevada. Most every elected office in the state is considered part-time, and the office holder is expected to have an outside job that serves as his actual career. The lieutenant governor, members of the state Senate and Assembly, city councils and county commissions are all officially part-time jobs. Only the governor, attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer, controller, local sheriffs, district attorneys and — irony alert! — judges and justices of the Supreme Court are full-time jobs.)

Now, if a city were to want to structure its charter so the mayor really was a separate office, it seems there are two ways to do it. One is the city of Sparks approach — the mayor is identified as the head of city government for all purposes, and presides over the City Council but has no vote. (In Reno, the mayor is the head of government for ceremonial purposes, but is specifically listed as part of the City Council, with full voting rights.)

But there’s another way to go: The strong-mayor form of government that’s foreign to Nevada, but practiced in larger cities around the country. In Los Angeles, or New York, for example, the mayor is the chief executive of the city, specifically not part of the City Council. He has no vote on the council and doesn’t preside over it, but can sign or veto laws passed by the council. And he’s the chief executive in a true sense: He appoints deputies and they run their respective local governments, the way city managers do in Nevada. Unlike Nevada mayors, however, strong-mayors are full-time jobs, paid a full-time wage.

In other words, they’re filled by career politicians.

If Nevada cities were to seek to amend their charters toward that form of government — which would require action by the state Legislature — term limits would still apply, but it would be clear that the mayor is a separate office from city councilman, and thus a person could serve 12 years on a council and then run for and serve up to 12 years as a strong mayor. There’s no indication that any city is even contemplating this, but if it were to happen as a result of the term-limits ruling, it would constitute a final and ultimate irony.

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Are you sure, Supreme Court? (Y/N?)

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

Former Reno Councilwoman Jessica Sferrazza

In the law, a motion for reconsideration is the longest of shots, the least hale of Hail Marys, the 60-yard field-goal attempt with less than a minute on the clock, the full-court jump shot at the buzzer, the … well, you get the idea. It almost never works.

But there are those extremely rare cases where it’s successful, where a court will cop to having made a mistake, overlooked a material fact, or misapplied past precedents. And that’s precisely what former Reno Councilwoman Jessica Sferrazza is counting on with her latest legal effort.

Last week, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that a person’s service on a local government body — such as the Reno City Council — is limited to 12 years under the state’s term-limits law, regardless of whether one is serving as a council member or the mayor. Thus, having served 12 years on the council, Sferrazza and all similarly situated officials throughout the state, are now banned for life from running for mayor. (Sferrazza and Reno Councilman Dwight Dortch contended — quite correctly, in my view — that mayor was a separate office, and thus a person could run and serve another 12 years, just as a person can serve 12 years in the Assembly and then run for and serve another 12 in the state Senate.)

Today, Sferrazza’s attorney — Bradley Schrager of Wolf, Rifkin, Shapiro, Schulman & Rabkin — filed a motion for reconsideration with the Nevada Supreme Court, contended that justices had overlooked relevant precedents in their ruling. Among the points:

  • The court examined the wording of the term-limits statute with respect to local officials, and concluded that the wording was ambiguous, and thus interpretation was required.
  • In past cases where laws were ambiguous, justices have always ruled in favor of the right of people to run for elected office, and for the rights of the voters to choose their elected representatives.
  • In 1937, in the case of State ex rel. Schur v. Payne, the court held that “the right of the people to select from citizens and qualified electors whosoever they please to fill an elective office is not to be circumscribed except by legal provisions clearly limiting the right” (emphasis added).
  • In 1940, the Nevada Supreme Court in Gilbert v. Breithaupt held that “The right to hold public office is one of the valuable rights of citizenship. The exercise of this right should not be declared prohibited or curtailed except by plain provisions of law. Ambiguities are to be resolved in favor of eligibility to office” (emphasis added).
  • In 1994, in the case of State of Nevada Employees Association v. Lau, the court interpreted the constitutional term limits for governors in favor of then-Gov. Bob Miller in favor of voters’ rights to choose their favored candidate. “Most importantly, we conclude that the people’s ability to choose a governor should not be restricted by an ambiguous provision. … If a constitutional provision is capable of being understood in two or more senses by reasonably informed persons, it must be liberally construed in favor of the right of the voters to exercise their electoral choice,” that ruling reads.
  • In 1996, in Nevada Judges Association v. Lau, the court acknowledged — quoting the case of Anderson v. Celebrezze (1983) that “ballot access restrictions burden two different, although overlapping, kinds of rights — the right of individuals to associate for the advancement of their political beliefs, and the right of qualified voters, regardless of their political persuasion, to cast their votes effectively. Both of these rights, of course, rank among our most precious freedoms.”

“This court’s jurisprudence holds that, should ambiguity exist regarding Ms. Sferrazza’s eligibility, it should be resolved in favor of the electorate’s prerogative to select leaders of their choosing. Only in clear cases of ineligibility should that prerogative be defeated,” the motion for reconsideration reads. “Here, it does not appear that Ms. Sferrazza received the benefit of that presumption and liberal construction standards the court has employed in previous cases determining candidate eligibility, and she respectfully asks this court to rehear and reconsider its ruling, taking into account the authorities described herein.”

As I said, the motion for reconsideration is hardly ever successful. But in this case, it appears Schrager has identified some very good reasons for the court to revisit the matter.

You can read the motion for reconsideration for yourself here: Sferrazza petition for rehearing.

 

 

 

 

 

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Run scared and take nothing for granted

Monday, February 24th, 2014

Nevada's 1st Congressional District

Rep. Dina Titus is in such a safe district, she could see every single active Republican voter and every single active non-partisan voter team up to vote against her, and she’d still win.

She’s in such a safe district (52.8 percent Democrat, 23.7 percent Republican and 17.8 percent non-partisan) that she could lose up to 26,065 of her own Democratic base, and still beat the combined strength of the Republicans and the non-partisans put together.

But that didn’t stop Titus from holding a lovefest news conference at the Latin Chamber of Commerce today, with Hispanic leaders from business and elected office turning out in force to announce their unqualified support for “Todos con Titus,” (all with Titus).

From Assembly members to state senators to city councilmen such as Las Vegas’s Bob Coffin and North Las Vegas’s Issac Baron, they all lined up to praise Titus, who recently drew a Latino Republican opponent, attorney Jose Padilla. Padilla told the Review-Journal‘s Laura Myers earlier this month that he hoped his ethnic heritage and up-from-poverty story would attract working-class voters. (The 1st Congressional District has a population that’s one-third Latino.)

But if Monday’s turnout was any indication, many in the Latino community have already made up their minds, for Titus.

“Dina is the example of what a public servant is,” said Assemblywoman Lucy Flores. State Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis said, “She’s always been there for our community,” adding that “we’ve adopted her into the Hispanic community.” And state Sen. Ruben Kiuhen, who once entertained thoughts of running for the district himself before dropping out in favor of Titus, said he looked forward to campaigning with her.

“I just feel at home here,” Titus said in the Latin Chamber’s conference room. “Always call me, always advise me,” she told the crowd of supporters.

Asked if she was nervous about her Republican foe — even in a district so overwhelmingly Democratic — Titus said she was leaving nothing to chance. Her news release listing the membership of “Todos con Titus” includes not only elected officials, but business leaders (El Mundo publisher Eddie Escobedo, Jr., consultant Andres Ramirez, NV Energy Senior Vice President Tony Sanchez, attorney Cisco Aguillar, UNLV’s Luiz Valera, immigration activist Astrid Silva, and Latin Chamber President Otto Merida, a Republican who’s nonetheless backing Titus).

Titus said her list of priorities for the district was large, but that immigration reform was among the top jobs. She dodged a question about whether Democrats would settle for the latest Republican offering — a pathway to “legal status,” but not full citizenship — saying “I’m still fighting strong for comprehensive immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship, not legalization.”

 

 

 

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No term limits, but one hell of a career

Monday, February 24th, 2014

Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., the nation's longest-serving member of Congress

As we continue to grapple with the fallout from that Nevada Supreme Court ruling on term limits handed down last week, we get news that the longest-serving member of Congress in history — Michigan Democratic Rep. John Dingellwill not run for re-election after nearly 60 years serving in the House of Representatives.

Now 87, Dingell was 29 years old — four years older than the minimum age of 25 — when he was elected back in 1955. He’s served under 11 presidents, starting with Dwight David Eisenhower. During his tenure in Congress, he witnessed the start of the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, desegregation and the civil rights era, the Apollo moon-landing program, the war in Vietnam, the Great Society, the Voting Rights Act, Watergate, the Iran hostage crisis, the end of the Cold War, the creation and rise of the Internet, the Sept. 11 attacks and the national debate over security versus privacy.

Dingell rose to a position of great power and influence for his state — once the center of the car-making universe — as chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, a post he lost in 2008 at the hands of his fellow Democrats. Although told the New York Times he’d made the decision to step down because he didn’t feel he could live up to his own standards for a member of Congress, he also bemoaned the current state of affairs in Washington, D.C.

“This Congress has been a great disappointment to everyone, members, media, citizens and our country,” he said. “Little has been done in this Congress, with 57 bills passed into law.”

He added, “There will be much blaming and finger pointing back and forth, but the members share fault, much fault; the people share much fault, for encouraging a disregard of our country, our Congress and our governmental system.”

Then he asked Americans to work together. “What unites us is far greater than what divides us,” he said. “No president should have to tell a Congress that if that august body cannot do its task he will do it by executive order.”

A person like Dingell cannot be replaced. The breadth of his knowledge, his experience and his insights into the lawmaking process are obviously unequaled. That’s undoubtedly why the voters of his district kept returning him to the House, a record 29 times over the past seven decades. And who is anyone outside that district to tell them they were wrong? Or that they shouldn’t be able to keep him until he decides to finally retire?

Had there been federal term limits, we never would have had a lawmaker the likes of Dingell. We couldn’t. Just as a person gains enough knowledge and experience to be very effective at the job, term limits tell them that they are the only people we won’t allow to do the job. In no other sphere of life do we seek the least experienced to do the most complex work: Who facing cardiac surgery wants the doctor fresh from medical school? Who wants a new lawyer going to court in a complex case? Or an apprentice plumber when pipes are bursting?

But that seems to be what we want when it comes to political leaders: Neophytes who have no sense of history, institutional respect or hard-won experience, the kind of experience that leads to better, more effective laws. It’s a shame.

Godspeed to John Dingell, a man who ably and capably represented his constituents for decades. Maybe his example is enough to get us to reconsider the short-sighted concept of state-based term limits in the first place.

 

 

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Heller: Nobody can rein in Republicans!

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

U.S. Sen. Dean Heller

U.S. Sen. Dean Heller said today that Nevada’s Republican Party will never be as disciplined as its Democratic counterpoint, but that’s a good thing.

“There’s a lot of points of view in the Republican Party,” Heller said in a meeting with the Review-Journal editorial board. Of the Democrats, he said, “They all think the same.”

Republicans have conservative, moderate and liberal members (although it’s not entirely clear when the last liberal Republican appeared in public). The fights between those groups will eventually make the party stronger, not weaker, he said.

Republicans are “finding themselves,” he added.

The journey hasn’t been easy: Conservative/libertarian members took over the party in 2012, installing like-minded people as party officers and causing havoc by criticizing the national party over nomination rules. Nevada’s GOP delegation to the 2012 Republican convention broke the rules to cast votes for Texas Congressman Ron Paul on the convention floor rather than eventual nominee Mitt Romney.

And things got downright embarrassing for elected leaders after Gov. Brian Sandoval last year made an 11th hour move to install his handpicked chairman of the state party — lobbyist Robert Uithoven — over incumbent Michael McDonald. Uithoven lost badly, and Sandoval said he’d simply move forward by building his own campaign organization.

Heller — who’s not on the ballot again until 2018 — says he agreed with Sandoval’s decision to boycott the state party’s endorsement process, which requires candidates to fill out a questionnaire and submit to an interview. Sandoval objected, saying his record in office should provide sufficient information to Republicans to decide whether he should be endorsed or not.

Heller agreed. But therein lies the problem — there are some in the conservative party base who would object to many things about Sandoval’s record, including his decision twice to extend an expiring package of taxes; to expand the Medicaid program and create a state-based health insurance exchange under the Affordable Care Act; to sign off on allowing local governments to raise taxes; and to sign a bill granting driver authorization cards to immigrants who came to the country illegally.

In fact, Heller, too, has cast some votes the party base might question, from voting to extend unemployment insurance (in which he partnered with Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Jack Reed); a bi-partisan comprehensive immigration reform bill with a pathway to citizenship; and voting for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

But Heller said he tries to work across party lines when he can, even joining something called the “Common Sense Caucus,” a group of nine Republicans and nine Democrats who meet to discuss issues. If more lawmakers got to know each other on a social level, compromise might not be so hard, Heller said.

In other remarks, Heller said:

  • He wouldn’t be surprised to see Sandoval return to the federal bench rather than run for higher office. Heller said he’d spoken to the governor, who said in “broad context” that he might seek to resume a judicial career, perhaps on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Sandoval was a U.S. District Court judge for four years, from 2005 to 2009. Some have speculated that Sandoval might be a candidate for Senate against Harry Reid in 2016.
  • He didn’t take personally a remark by Reid, who has said, “I miss John Ensign.” Reid and Heller have a frostier relationship than Reid did with former Sen. Ensign, who resigned after a sex-and-lobbying scandal. “I just throw it out there as a Joe Biden moment,” Heller said with a grin.
  • The unilateral changes President Barack Obama has made to the Affordable Care Act are attempts to help vulnerable Democrats politically, not fixes to the law. “Any Democrat that [sic] voted for this bill who’s in a close race is going to lose,” Heller said. Asked about actual fixes for the law, Heller replied: “We [Republicans] need six more seats,” and thus a GOP majority in the upper house.
  • Explaining his recent vote against raising the debt ceiling, Heller acknowledged the politics. “I think it is irresponsible not to raise the debt ceiling,” he said. “But I think it is more irresponsible to raise the debt ceiling without any financial reforms.”
  • One way to get those reforms? Bring the Bowles-Simpson report to the floor in the form of a bill, and allow unlimited amendments from both sides of the aisle. Heller predicted the final product would garner 80 votes in support. (The recommendations of the National Committee on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform — chaired by Democrat Erskine Bowles and Republican Alan Simpson — have been essentially ignored since their report was released in 2010, although Democrats say they have found ways to make budget cuts essentially equal to those called for in Bowles-Simpson.)

You can read more about Heller’s remarks in Laura Myers‘ story here.

UPDATE: Reid spokeswoman Kristen Orthman replied today to Heller’s “Joe Biden moment” remark above. Here’s what she had to say:

It was not a “Joe Biden moment.” Senator Reid does miss John Ensign because they were able to work together to do some really good things for Nevada one example being the Southern Nevada Public Lands [Management] Act. Nevada continues to see the benefits from SNPLMA. In fact, this afternoon Senator Reid will open a new Visitor’s Center at the Desert National Wildlife Refuge that was built with funds from SNPLMA.

 

 

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Hardy is still wrong, but for other reasons

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

Assemblyman Cresent Hardy, R-Mesquite

Nevada’s top Democratic attack dog — party spokesman Zach Hudson — has been having a field day today with comments uttered by newly minted congressional candidate, Assemblyman Cresent Hardy, R-Mesquite. After Hardy seemingly compared the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to segregation, Hudson lowered the boom in email after email.

And it’s worked: Hardy’s remarks have been featured and pilloried on websites ranging from Slate to Mother Jones to ThinkProgress to the Huffington Post to something called OpposingViews.com.

But did Hardy actually say EDNA — which aims to prevent employers from discriminating against gay or transgender workers — was akin to segregation, the vile system that separated blacks and whites in the South for decades before 1954′s Brown v. Board of Education decision held that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal”?

Las Vegas Sun reporter Andrew Doughman — the man who broke the story of Hardy’s comments in the first place — posted the entire exchange in context on the Sun‘s website. Here’s what he said:

The Sun: One thing that came up at the Legislature not this last go around but in 2011, there was a bill (Assembly Bill 211) talking about employment nondiscrimination, and there is a similar act up in Congress (Employment Non-Discrimination Act) basically instructing employers, saying you can’t discriminate against someone for reasons of their gender identity or sexual expression (orientation), and you voted against that one in 2011. Would you support something like that in Congress? I know Horsford has said he would support that in Congress.

Hardy: These are the type of issues that frustrate me. A crime is a crime. How can you call one type of crime a hate crime and another not a hate crime? We continue to, what I believe, separate people. We need to look at people as a whole. Everybody has the same rights and privileges. We should look at the same individuals, care about our neighbor, everybody is our neighbor, but by continuing to create these laws that are what I call segregation laws, it puts one class of a person over another. We are creating classes of people through these laws. That’s my belief. That’s the reason I have such frustration with it.

The Sun: So in this case saying that employers shouldn’t discriminate for X Y and Z reasons, you’re putting, how should it be done then to ensure that people aren’t discriminated against?

Hardy: You shouldn’t discriminate against anybody, regardless of gender, race, whatever. There’s no reason for any type of discrimination.

The Sun: So you can have just a blanket kind of law?

Hardy: When we create classes, we create that same separation that we’re trying to unfold somehow.

First, we see right off that Hardy is confused: He’s obviously complaining about hate crimes legislation, rather than answering Doughman’s question, which focused on workplace anti-discrimination legislation. Yes, the basic principle underlying both laws is the same, but they are two very different laws meant to address very different situations.

Second, it’s very nice that Hardy thinks we should treat everybody equally, and care about our neighbor. But the fact is, up until EDNA and AB 211, there were no solid legal protections if a person happened to be gay, or your neighbor happened to be transgender, and he or she was fired for that reason alone. That’s kind of why we needed those laws. It’s not as if government decided to create these divisions; it simply recognized divisions that already existed, and established rules to ensure equal treatment in the workplace. If Hardy truly believes “everybody has the same rights and privileges,” he should have no problem voting for a law that ensures, well, everybody has the same rights and privileges.

But the fact is, everybody didn’t have the same rights and privileges, which is why AB 211 was introduced. (And while Hardy and most of the Republicans in the Legislature voted no, it was nonetheless agreed to and signed into law by Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval. This is another reason why the party base doesn’t trust Sandoval, but independents and even some Democrats actually like the guy.)

Third, his use of the term “segregation laws” was a terrible and historically ignorant mistake. Segregation laws were the tool of racial oppression long after the rifles of the Civil War fell silent, odious and evil rules designed to claw back any moral progress won during that conflict. Everybody — especially somebody seeking to hold federal office — should realize that, and be more cautious in choosing his words. To the extent that Hardy suffers because he failed to do so, the suffering is on him alone.

Fourth, while the original “segregation laws” did put one class of people over another, he’s wrong that anti-discrimination legislation has similar effects. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Laws that protect workers from being fired on the basis of their race protect whites as well as blacks. Laws that protect workers from being fired on the basis of their sexual orientation protect gays and lesbians as well as straight people. The difference is, prior to their passage, few straights were fired because of their sexual orientation, but plenty of gays were. Thus, laws were needed to ensure equal treatment, and remedy actual and not hypothetical wrongs committed in the workplace.

Clearly, Hardy isn’t a supporter of discrimination; in fact, he makes it clear that “you shouldn’t discriminate against anybody, regardless of gender, race, whatever.” (It’s interesting to note that he stops short of actually saying words such as “sexual orientation” or “gender identity or expression,” and chooses the catchall word “whatever,” but let’s take him at his catchall word and assume he’s against discrimination against gays and lesbians and transgendered people as much as the categories he did name.)

Then again, Hardy seemed to be engaging in a bit of discrimination at today’s Hispanics in Politics breakfast. The Review-Journal‘s Laura Myers reports he said this when talking about undeserving welfare recipients: “If somebody pulls up in a welfare district in a big fancy Escalade, do you think they need welfare at that time?” Hardy asked. “I believe what the founding fathers said: ‘We’re entitled to equal rights, not equal things.’”

Really? A “welfare district”? A “big fancy Escalade”? Again, he failed to carefully select his words, but in so doing, gave his a glimpse into his mindset. In an interview with me on Tuesday, Hardy mentioned Ronald Reagan as one of his favorite presidents. That’s OK, so long as we leave Reagan’s infamous denunciations of welfare queens in the past where it rightly belongs.

“There’s no reason for any kind of discrimination,” Hardy said in the Sun. And while we’d all like to live in a world where that’s true, where people are truly judged on the content of their character and not the color of their skin or the people to whom they’re attracted, we don’t live there yet. And that means we still need laws to enforce the sentiments that even Hardy embraces — “there’s no reason for discrimination against anybody.” It’s not segregation; it’s equality under the law.

 

 

 

 

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Margins tax opponents ramp up the rhetoric

Monday, February 17th, 2014

It’s clear Nevada’s business community is in full-fledged panic mode over The Education Initiative, the proposed 2 percent margin tax that will appear on the November ballot. On Sunday, we saw an op-ed in the Review-Journal by the respected tax expert Carole Vilardo and today we read the lamentations of a guy who owns a couple of sandwich-shop  franchises in Reno in the Las Vegas Sun.

It’s getting real up in here!

Vilardo — president of the Nevada Taxpayers Association and an unquestioned authority of Nevada’s tax system — made several points in her piece:

  • The tax is not on profits, which means an unprofitable business might still have to pay the tax.
  • The $1 million exemption isn’t a true “exemption,” as the term is commonly used. If you break the $1 million mark by just $1, you owe taxes on the entire $1,000,001.
  • Even small businesses may go over the $1 million mark, especially franchise owners, independent gas stations, small retail stores and the like.
  • The language of The Education Initiative doesn’t use the word “education.”
  • There’s no accountability for how the money is spent once it is deposited in the state’s schools account.
  • The tax would push Nevada’s business tax from among the lowest in the nation (there is no tax on revenue now, although there is a tax on payroll) to among the highest in the nation.
  • The Legislature could not make any changes to the measure by law for three years.
  • There could be unforeseen consequences.

“To protect jobs, continue on the road to economic recovery and see success with our economic diversification and development efforts, it is important to vote no on this deeply flawed measure,” Vilardo sums.

Wow, that sounds pretty bad. But let’s take a look at a couple of counter-points, shall we?

  • The board of directors of the Nevada Taxpayers Association is made up of business owners and executives whose industries have already declared their opposition to the tax, so it’s not surprising that Vilardo would take a stance in opposition to the tax.
  • According to figures calculated by research expert Jeremy Aguero of Applied Analysis, fully 87 percent of businesses in Nevada will pay nothing under the tax. (The remaining 13 percent, however, account for the majority of employment and economic activity in the state.)
  • According to a Western Washington University study, spending on the cost of goods sold can add up to 70 percent for convenience stores. Businesses are allowed to deduct their costs of labor, costs of good sold or take a standard 30 percent deduction. But a 70 percent deduction can reduce a convenience store’s liability considerably.
  • Nevada already features a tax on gross revenue that’s even higher than the 2 percent margin tax — it’s the gross gaming tax, and the top tier is currently set at 6.75 percent. That doesn’t seem to have chased many Nevada casinos away, even as gambling has spread to other states (where the licenses are fewer and the tax rates are even higher).
  • The missing word — “education” — doesn’t mean a thing. The Education Initiative specifies how the margin tax will be created and specifies that its proceeds are to be deposited into the state’s Distributive Schools Account. We’re supposed to believe the business groups that oppose the tax would support it if only it said “education” more? Please.
  • The Nevada State Education Association — the state teachers union, which circulated the petitions to qualify The Education Initiative for the ballot — would undoubtedly have preferred stronger language as to how the money could be spent. But attacks on all initiatives by opponents under the state’s initiative “single-subject rule” could have doomed the entire enterprise if that kind of language had been included in the measure. As it was, business groups fought hard in Carson City to keep The Education Initiative off the ballot.
  •  The same thing goes for language that would have prevented the Legislature from taking any of the money raised by The Education Initiative out once it’s deposited in the state schools account, or — more likely — reducing the amount of state commitment to education that it normally would have approved. Such language would undoubtedly have been stricken (at best) or killed the initiative outright (at worst).
  • It’s true no changes can be made in a voter-approved statutory initiative for three years. But it’s also true that in order for The Education Initiative to pass, backers had to find thousands of valid voter signatures, navigate an extremely complex legal process, and obtain the majority of votes at a general election. The three-year rule exists in law to prevent the Legislature from steamrolling the will of the people in the very next session by changing a voter-approved measure.
  • And finally, The Education Initiative — with all its flaws — is on the ballot primarily because business interests in Nevada have consistently killed any attempt to enact a business tax of any kind in Carson City. While they cheerfully point out the flaws of the current proposal, the fact remains, they had chance after chance over decades to suggest a better idea in Carson City. Instead, they simply shot down all proposals. The result? A frustrated union that wrote a well-intentioned-if-flawed measure. The result was foreseeable (that’s how we got legal medical marijuana and outlawed smoking in restaurants and grocery stores, for example).

Then there’s Tim Wulf, a former vice chairman of the Washoe County Republican Party who backed Mitt Romney over President Barack Obama in 2012. Wulf — who holds a bachelors degree in economics and a masters in education, and once taught economics as a faulty member at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill. — told the Sun he’d either have to raise his sandwich prices or lay off employees in order to compensate for the impact of the tax on his business.

“What we know is that business, to survive, will have creative responses, and none of those responses will be good for payroll or will be good for pricing,” Wulf told the Sun. “There will be higher prices and fewer jobs.”

Then again, there are Jimmy John’s franchise operations in nearly every state in America, including seven of the 10 states identified by the Tax Foundation as having the worst business climates in the country. Since 98 percent of Jimmy John’s stores are franchise-owned, obviously owners in places such as California, Texas, New York and New Jersey have found a way to keep selling sandwiches notwithstanding business taxes.

It’s not to say the tax won’t have an effect; obviously, every levy has an affect on business, and some businesses will consider layoffs or increased prices as a response. (Studies conducted in 2003 and 2011, however, found that prices on the same goods in neighboring states with business taxes were roughly equal to those of Nevada.)

The fact remains that the perfect tax — the one that burdens no one while raising plenty of money to accomplish all the state’s duties — doesn’t exist. There are flaws with every conceivable tax, including the margin tax. It’s just that political circumstance has left us debating the margin tax.

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Reid: Tragic stories call out for immigration reform

Monday, February 17th, 2014

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid today showcased an immigrant family separated by the law, but reunited thanks to a sweeping policy change, as proof that comprehensive immigration reform is needed.

At an afternoon news conference at the Latin Chamber of Commerce’s offices in downtown Las Vegas, Reid introduced Edith Fawkes and her 17-year-old son, Brahyam (pronounced “Brian”) Zurcher. Zurcher was accused by immigration officials of lying in 2010 by falsely claiming he was an American citizen, and banned from immigrating to the country for life.

But after Fawkes — who struck out with a sting of attorneys — contacted Reid’s office, his staff got involved. “It was a long, long journey,” said Fawkes, who came to the United States to find work in 2002, and was just naturalized as a citizen last Friday. “They [Reid's staff] were the only ones who listened to me.”

That led to a policy change that bars using anything a minor child says to immigration authorities against him or her, a move that will affect thousands of people across the country. Questions raised by Reid’s staff about this case led to a review of the interview policy by the departments of State and Homeland Security, which led those agencies to a new interpretation of the law regarding minor’s statements.

Fawkes expressed her gratitude to Reid for his work on the issue, and said she’s overjoyed to be doing regular family things with her son, like making breakfast and taking him to school. “We’re having like a normal life again, that’s when it hit me,” she said.

Reid said the incident points to a long-overdue need for reform.

“There are so many tragic cases that can only be resolved if we do comprehensive immigration reform,” said Reid, who led the Senate last year in passing a bi-partisan immigration bill that’s now stalled in the House. “We need to get this issue resolved because there are so many tragic cases.”

But the odds appear long: Speaker John Boehner said recently he doesn’t think any bills will come to the floor this year, ostensibly because Republicans don’t trust President Barack Obama to enforce any rules properly. Reid said Republicans and Democrats alike support reform, save for certain members of the House Republican caucus.

Reid stopped short, however, of endorsing an idea supported by some Democrats to halt all deportations until a reform bill is approved. (Obama, ironically enough, has deported people at a higher rate than former President George W. Bush.)

Asked about the idea, Reid said the president can do some things via executive order (for example, sending the children of immigrants who came to the country illegally to the back of the deportation line) but added that the only real solution will be a change in the law. “He [the president] is really burdened by the law as it now exists,” Reid said. (Notably, Obama has said the same thing.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Two totally unrelated yet nonetheless interesting stories

Monday, February 17th, 2014

The Southern Nevada Health District’s lawsuit against Clark County over the district’s right to own its own property has cost taxpayers more than $275,000 since 2011.

And two health district clinics, one in East Las Vegas and another in Henderson, are trimming one hour per day off their operating hours.

Hmmm….

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America wants secure border AND comprehensive immigration reform

Monday, February 17th, 2014

Ask Americans if they favor strong border control or dealing with the millions of immigrants who’ve come to the United States illegally, and you’d typically see more supporter for the former than the latter. But now, a Gallup survey says those two things are equally important to Americans.

According to Gallup, 44 percent say it’s important to develop a plan to deal with immigrants who are already here, while 43 percent say stronger border control to stop the flow of illegal immigration should be the priority.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Republicans are more likely to emphasize border security, although even that’s changing. In 2011, 68 percent of Republicans said the secure border should be the priority, but in the latest survey, 56 percent do. Democrats chose the strong-border option by 42 percent in 2011, and 31 percent today.

Asked if they were forced to choose one or the other — a strong border or dealing with existing immigrants — Americans for the first time in 2011 started to favor the former over the latter. But the lines have narrowed in recent years, with 51 now saying dealing with immigrants should be the priority, while 46 percent prefer the strong-border policy first.

From Gallup:

In the past, Americans gave a higher priority to securing U.S. borders, but they now rate dealing with illegal immigrants already in the country as equally important, if not more so, when forced to choose. The relative importance of the two would matter less if Congress and the president were able to agree on comprehensive legislation that dealt with both issues. And that may still be a possibility in the future, but it seems unlikely to happen this year. Whether the chances improve next year may depend on which party gains seats in this fall’s congressional elections.

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A slap in the face

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

Rep. Joe Heck

If anything, Rep. Joe Heck is being kind in this remark from Facebook, reacting to news that Afghan President Hamid Karzi has released 65 Taliban enemy combatants:

I am shocked and angered that after all our country has done for Afghanistan and its people Hamid Karzai would unilaterally release known enemy combatants who have engaged in hostilities against the United States and even killed American service members. The men and women of our armed forces have sacrificed greatly over 12 years of combat in Afghanistan and this outrageous decision marks a new low in US-Afghan relations. If Karzai wants to ensure a stable Afghanistan, it will take cooperation with the US and its allied partners. Releasing enemy combatants with suspected ties to the Taliban will only erase gains made and further escalate unrest in the region.

What Karzi has done is a slap in the face to the United States and every person who has set foot in Afghanistan, liberating it from oppressive Taliban rule, rooting out a safe haven for al-Qaida and trying to establish a functioning government.

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry should treat this as a most egregious affront to our country and ensure that there are repercussions for Karzi. Trying to make peace with the Taliban will not work; it will just bring back the days when art, music and unaccompanied women in public were banned.

This is an outrage and a disgrace.

 

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The pathology we just keep enabling

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

Former Assemblywoman Sharron Angle

If former Assemblywoman Sharron Angle claimed to have been abducted by aliens, or to have seen a Yeti, or to have discovered a way to turn lead into gold, we’d pretty much dismiss her as a garden variety crank unworthy of media attention.

But let her say something equally fantastical (and utterly without a single piece of evidence) — such as implying or insinuating that she lost to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid because of voter fraud — and she gets all the ink in the world. (And yes, I realize that by writing about her here, I am contributing to the phenomenon that I am decrying.)

My colleague Ray Hagar of the Reno Gazette-Journal was part of an interview with Angle on Nevada Newsmakers, in which she hawked her self-published book, her website and her totally incredible (in the traditional sense of that word) notion that she lost to Reid because of fraud. (The truth? She lost to Reid because she took radical positions, said and did silly things and ran an incompetent campaign, while Reid did precisely the opposite. He earned his 50 percent to 44.5 percent victory over Angle, a margin of more than 40,000 actual votes.)

But to hear Angle tell it, well, it was fraud. Here’s a portion of Hagar’s blog about the interview:

Angle has been on a crusade against voter fraud since her loss to Reid. When asked if voter fraud was an element in her loss to Reid, viewers learned it is a rampant problem across the nation and no one is paying attention to it. Maybe dead guys and people in prison voted for Reid, Angle insinuated.

“I think it (voter fraud) is an element in every election across the United States,” Angle said. “I’ve been traveling and I have done quite a bit of it and they asked me two questions. One is, ‘What are you doing now?’ And the other is, ‘Did Harry Reid steal the election?’

“It is more of a rhetorical question,” Angle said. “People have such a lack of confidence in our electoral system and it is because of the things they have seen happening at the polls. Where voting machines change their votes, where people are intimidating them (voters) at the voting place. We know that ballots have been cast for dead people or for people in prison. So they know all of this and they really think that no one is paying attention and nobody really cares is what is happening. And that is why many people don’t even go to vote because they don’t think it counts.”

Got that? People are asking Angle the question! It’s not Angle slyly implying that her totally understandable and easily foreseen (by everyone except the public pollsters) loss to Reid was somehow suspect. It’s people asking the question! 

And, by the way, “did Harry Reid steal the election?” is not a rhetorical question. “Is Sharron Angle a bit nutty?” — now that’s a rhetorical question, which we all know is one in which the answer is obvious. But “did Harry Reid steal the election?” is a straightforward question, and the answer to it is a simple “no, he didn’t.” But that answer doesn’t sell Angle’s books or get her on TV.

So the next time Angle tries to get away with her particularly reprehensible brand of book-hawking, I hope somebody follows up with this: “What actual proof do you have that Harry Reid stole the election? Show us the evidence.” I’ll be surprised if she has any. But the best thing is, she’ll be surprised if you try to pin her down on the issue.

Until that happens, we need to relegate Angle to the file full of people who think contrails are chemicals being sprayed over our communities, who think 9/11 was an inside job and who believe God has prepared them to run for political office in what turns out to be a losing crusade.

 

 

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