Judge holds that lawmakers can hold down government jobs at the same time

A Carson City judge has thrown out a lawsuit brought by the Nevada Policy Research Institute in an effort to force compliance with the Separation of Powers Clause of the Nevada Constitution.

In order to establish standing as a party, NPRI sued state Sen. Heidi Gansert on behalf of a client, Doug French, who waned to seek her job as executive director of external relations at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Article 3 of the Nevada Constitution states: “The powers of the Government of the State of Nevada shall be divided into three separate departments, — the Legislative, — the Executive and the Judicial; and no persons charged with the exercise of powers properly belonging to one of these departments shall exercise any functions, appertaining to either of the others, except in the cases expressly directed or permitted in this constitution.”

Judge James Russell tossed the suit from the bench and has two weeks to issue a written ruling explaining how on earth a person exercising the powers of the Legislature can also exercise any functions of the executive branch.

State Sen. Heidi Gansert (R-J pix)

NPRI attorney told The Nevada Independent the group will wait for the judge’s written ruling before deciding what step to take next.

This is the second time NPRI has sued to try to get lawmakers to follow the plain language of the Constitution. Earlier it sued state Sen. Mo Denis because he also was an employee of the state Public Utilities Commission, and had been for 17 years. Denis immediately resigned from his $56,000-a-year state job in order to maintain his part-time $10,000-every-other-year state senator post, and a judge declared the lawsuit moot, despite strong arguments from NPRI that there is a public-interest exception to mootness.

Gansert’s university job yields $210,000 a year in pay and benefits.

There are nearly a dozen current lawmakers who also hold jobs in state or local government. Since Nevada operates under the Dillon Rule, which limits the power of local governments to those expressly granted by the Legislature, local governments are basically subsidiaries of the state. Arguably employees of local governments are serving in the executive branch of state government, and also would be barred from serving as a lawmaker under the Constitution.

When he filed suit against Gansert, Becker issued a statement saying, “Gansert’s continued employment in the state’s executive branch, as Executive Director of External Relations for the University of Nevada, Reno, puts her in direct violation of Nevada’s Separation of Powers clause, now that she is also serving in the state senate. As a senator, she can simply not continue her employment in the executive branch without violating this clearly worded constitutional provision.”

In a counter statement Gansert called the suit meritless and said, “Nevada has an unambiguous precedent of legislators taking time off from their jobs in higher education to serve the people of the state.”

That unambiguous precedent only dates from 1964, as newspaper columnist Vin Suprynowicz pointed out in a 2011 column. Suprynowicz said even school janitors were not allowed to sit in the Legislature. This was chipped away by a couple of attorney general rulings until in 1971 Attorney General Bob List opened the flood gates. List held that a person could “exercise powers” as a legislator so long as he didn’t “exercise powers” in one of the other branches. Never mind that the constitutional criteria is “any function.”

Suprynowicz also related, “In 2004, Attorney General Brian Sandoval — now our governor — issued an opinion holding that state workers should not be allowed to sit in Carson City. But it has never been tested in the courts and is widely ignored.”

But the lawmakers’ lawyers at the Legislative Counsel Bureau issued a different opinion two years earlier and said “the separation- of-powers provision in the state constitution only prohibits a member of the Legislature, during his term, from holding a constitutional office or a nonconstitutional office in another department of state government, because a person who holds a constitutional or nonconstitutional office exercises sovereign functions appertaining to another department of the state government. However, it is also the opinion of this office that the separation-of-powers provision in the state constitution does not prohibit a member of the Legislature, during his term, from occupying a position of public employment in another department of state government, because a person in a position of public employment does not exercise any sovereign functions appertaining to another department of the state government.”

Nope, no conflict there, other than being able to hold life and death sway over the budget of one’s own boss.

Thomas Jefferson wrote in “Notes on the State of Virginia” in 1784: “All the powers of government, legislative, executive, and judiciary, result to the legislative body. The concentrating these in the same hands is precisely the definition of despotic government. … An elective despotism was not the government we fought for; but one which should not only be founded on free principles, but in which the powers of government should be so divided and balanced among several bodies of magistracy, as that no one could transcend their legal limits, without being effectually checked and restrained by the others.”

 

Demographic swing in 2018 election turnout could affect outcome in Nevada

The 2018 election just might herald a reversal of fortunes in Nevada politics, if voter turnout projections from The Voter Participation Center bear up.

The Center study focuses on what it calls the Rising American Electorate (RAE), which it defines as unmarried women, Millennials (ages 18-34), African Americans, Latinos, and all other people of color. This group accounts for nearly 60 percent of those eligible to vote in this country and nearly 63 percent in Nevada, but they fail to register and turn out as often as non-RAEs.

Curiously, the Center never makes the connection that RAEs tend to vote for Democrats.

But once you make this connection the study’s projections for voter turnout in 2018 offers a glimpse of what might happen in Nevada. The study projects that the total number of voters in the state will drop off by 420,000 from the 2016 presidential election to the mid-term November 2018 election.

At stake in that election is Dean Heller’s Senate seat, all four state representative seats, all statewide offices, 11 state Senate seats and all 42 Assembly seats. Heller is a Republican, three of four representatives are Democrats, all statewide officers are Republicans, and Democrats hold a majority in both the Assembly and state Senate.

But of that 420,000 voter drop off in Nevada, fully 309,000 are expected to be those RAEs, who tend to vote Democrat, while only 111,000 drop offs are expected to be non-RAEs.

In the 2014 mid-term election Republicans dominated — 44 percent of the voter turnout was Republican, compared to 37 percent Democrats and 19 precent other. In the presidential election of 2016, Clinton beat out Trump when the turnout was 40 percent Democrats, 36 percent Republicans and 24 others.

The RAEs still constitute a majority, but a 5 percentage-point swing could affect a number of races.

The diehards turnout in mid-term elections. The low-information types, as some might call them, often stay home.

 

Editorial: The deal that never should have been

In all the second-guessing and navel gazing over the Faraday Future flop, no one is bringing up the real reason that the deal should never have been made in the first place.

Yes, it was an ill-conceived idea for gullible Nevada lawmakers in a special session in 2015 on blind faith alone to agree to dole out $215 million in tax abatements and credits to entice Faraday Future to build an electric car factory at the Apex industrial complex in North Las Vegas, though at the time it did not even have a prototype vehicle. The deal, struck by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, also promised to spend $120 million on infrastructure improvements at the site — water, rail and widening of Interstate 15.

Faraday promised to build a $1 billion manufacturing facility, create 4,500 jobs and start producing cars as early as 2016.

After visiting China in 2016 state Treasurer Dan Schwartz, long a critic of the Faraday largesse by the state, told the press, “We’re increasingly more concerned than we were before that this is just a big Ponzi scheme.”

He and the handful of other naysayers have been proven right. Faraday has pulled the plug, tucked tail and run off.
But it wasn’t just naiveté or poor negotiating skills or poor judgment that made this a bad deal. It was blatant and arrogant flouting of the state Constitution. In fact, it was a double flout.

Nevada’s Constitution has a Gift Clause, which states, “The State shall not donate or loan money, or its credit, subscribe to or be, interested in the Stock of any company, association, or corporation, except corporations formed for educational or charitable purposes.”

Self-styled economic development advocates have tried three times to amend the Constitution and remove the Gift Clause. The voters rejected those attempts all three times — in 1992, 1996 and again in 2000 by wide majorities.
The state Supreme Court has said that when the state provides something to a private entity without getting adequate compensation for the value, that is a gift and thus a violation of the Constitution.

Nevada’s high court has cited an Arizona Supreme Court ruling on that state’s nearly identical Gift Clause. The Arizona court said its Gift Clause “represents the reaction of public opinion to the orgies of extravagant dissipation of public funds by counties, townships, cities, and towns in aid of the construction of railways, canals, and other like undertakings during the half century preceding 1880, and it was designed primarily to prevent the use of public funds raised by general taxation in aid of enterprises apparently devoted to quasi public purposes, but actually engaged in private business.”

Then there is the section of the Nevada Constitution that clearly states, “The Legislature shall provide by law for a uniform and equal rate of assessment and taxation …” It is not uniform or equal if a select few get breaks while others don’t.

Despite these clearly worded prohibitions the state doled out $1.3 billion in tax breaks to Tesla Motors to build a battery factory near Sparks. The projections on capital investment and number of jobs to be created have fallen far short. All it would take to make the whole deal go bust is a technological breakthrough that makes lithium ion batteries obsolete.

That $750 million to build a Las Vegas stadium for the Oakland Raiders football team on a site with woefully inadequate parking spaces still could come up a piker.

But none of them should ever have been allowed in the first place and none like them should ever be allowed again, if officials and lawmakers would abide by the Constitution.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

Site of failed Faraday Future electric car factory. (R-J pix)

Thanks for your lack of support, here take some money

This is what happens when the right hand doesn’t care what the left hand is doing after being stabbed in the back — to mangle a metaphor.

This past month Anthem Inc. announced it would stop selling ObamaCare-compliant health insurance plans in all but three Nevada counties. The decision left no company willing to sell ObamaCare policies in any counties except Clark, Nye and Washoe.

Gov. Brian Sandoval called the action devastating and unfortunate. His statement at the time read: “My administration is working diligently to identify solutions to ensure there is, at the very least, a safety net available to rural Nevada residents who will be left without any options for coverage in the wake of these devastating and unfortunate decisions. The reduced footprint of carriers on the exchange will leave more than 8,000 Nevadans with no coverage, and that is unacceptable.”

Heather Korbulic, the state’s health exchange director, called the situation a “health care crisis for rural Nevada.”

In pulling out of those 14 counties Anthem stated the “individual market remains volatile” and “planning and pricing for ACA (Affordable Care Act)-compliant health plans has become increasingly difficult due to a shrinking and deteriorating individual market …”

This week the state repaid Anthem’s decision with a huge tax abatement package.

According to a press release from Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development has decided to hand Anthem $831,000 in tax abatements in exchange for leasing a customer service office in Las Vegas and hiring as many as 400 workers — at an average wage of $21.52 an hour or 1 percent more than the minimum requirement — over the next two years. That’s more than $2,000 per job.

Did anyone consider trying to use a little leverage for the rural counties? Or are they better off without ObamaCare policies, since the price is climbing by double digits.

In 2016 Anthem paid its top executive more than $16 million. The company’s gross profits in 2016 exceeded $18 billion.

 

 

 

Western congressmen seek reduction in size of national monuments

Two weeks ago the 17 members of the Congressional Western Caucus — which includes Nevada’s Rep. Mark Amodei — took Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke up on his request for feedback on what to do about all the national monuments created in the past two decades, sending him a letter with specific recommendations about 27 of those monuments.

These recommendations called for vastly scaling back the size of two monuments created by President Obama in his last year in office at the urging of then Sen. Harry Reid — the 300,000-acre Gold Butte in Clark County and the 700,000-acre Basin and Range in Nye and Lincoln counties.

The letter repeatedly points out that the Antiquities Act of 1906, which authorizes the president to create monuments, was passed in order to protect prehistoric and Indian ruins and artifacts on federal land in the West and the law limits such designations to “the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects.” While earlier monuments averaged 422 acres, several of Obama’s designations exceeded a million acres, the letter notes.

Zinke’s review of the monuments comes at the behest of President Trump, who in April asked for the review in an executive order, giving Zinke till Aug. 26 to comply.

As for Basin and Range, the congressmen point out it is larger than Rhode Island and was created as “a personal favor to then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. According to a former Obama adviser, ‘it is only due to Harry Reid that [Basin and Range] is getting done.'”

The letter quotes opposition to the monument from the Nevada Farm Bureau, as well as Lincoln and Nye County commissioners.

Nye County Commissioner Lorinda Wichman called the monument “an excellent example of hypocrisy,” noting that Reid insisted on local consent for the construction of a nuclear waste repository in Nye County at Yucca Mountain, which many in Nye favor, while ignoring the lack of local consent for Basin and Range, which many opposed because of its impact on recreation, grazing and mineral exploration.

The letter also points out that one of the motives for creating Basin and Range was to provide a buffer for an “art” project on a strip of private land, which has nothing to do with protecting antiquities.

A view of “City,” artist Michael Heizer’s monumental work of land art in the Nevada desert. (Tom Vinetz / Triple Aught Foundation / LACMA via LA Times)

According to a Washington Post article in 2015, Reid, who for two years could not get Congress to go along with his proposal to put the land off limits, asked Obama to create a national monument partly as a buffer for a giant earthen and concrete art project called “city” and described as “reminiscent of a ceremonial Mesoamerican city stretching across an expanse of desert nearly the size of the Mall” in Washington. The “artist” has been working on it for 50 years and allows only VIP visitors and journalists to view his work.

“Explain it to me,” the paper quoted Reid quoting Obama.

“I can’t,” Reid said he replied.

Though both Amodei and then-Rep. Cresent Hardy, in whose districts the monument is located, opposed it, Reid persuaded Obama, who owed him a favor or two for such things as ObamaCare and ending the filibuster for judicial nominations.

The WaPo story ends thusly:

“This was on nobody’s radar screen, and it certainly wasn’t part of the plan,” said one person close to the president who has been involved in the discussions. When the question of possible controversy was broached, Obama said: “I don’t care. I want this done.”

Reid visited (Michael) Heizer’s art installation and its remote environs in 2007. He said he went “to check off a box.” But the visit changed him. “I became a convert. … You have this magnificent work of art that this man spent half a century working on. And that’s quite a story.”

The caucus letter recommends the monument be reduced to about 2,500 acres — “the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”

As for Gold Butte, the letter notes the designation specifically bans grazing and suggests it was “political retribution” against the Bundy family, whose cattle have grazed in the area for more than a century. Cliven Bundy and four of his sons are currently in jail awaiting trial on charges growing out of an armed standoff in 2014 when BLM agents attempted to confiscate their cattle.

Gov. Brian Sandoval said the monument designation bypassed Congress and the public.

In January, Amodei and Sen. Dean Heller introduced the Nevada Land Sovereignty Act, which intends to prevent the threat of executive action designating or expanding national monuments without Congressional approval or local support.

“Whether you agree with our proposals or not, I have always supported a public and transparent process which includes input from interest groups, local communities, and elected representatives,”Amodei said at the time. “Unlike all of our Nevada lands bills that allow stakeholders an opportunity to voice their concerns and ultimately reach a consensus agreement that achieves bipartisan support, the Obama Administration has repeatedly bypassed Congress and local input.”

Heller said, “Late last month, without even having a say in the matter, Nevadans witnessed the executive branch quickly lock up hundreds of thousands of acres of local, public land with an effortless stroke of the pen. No matter which political party is occupying the White House, these types of unilateral federal land grabs by the executive branch should not be allowed.”

The caucus letter quotes former Rep. Hardy as stating: “If you want to protect the petroglyphs, and you want to designate that as the monument, that’s what the Antiquities Act was set up to do, is protect the minimum possible footprint of that of what you’re trying to designate. Not an extra 300,000 acres on top of the 50-100 acres that you could have protected.”

The letter itself did not state any specific size for Basin and Range.

In concluding remarks, the congressmen argue: “The Antiquities Act of 1906 is broken and in desperate need of reform. No one person should be able to unilaterally lock-up millions of acres of public land from multiple-use with the stroke of a pen. Local stakeholders deserve to have a voice on public land-use decisions that impact their livelihoods.”

BLM pix

ObamaCare will live on … until single-payer takes its place

Sen. Mitch McConnell today released ObamaCare repeal and replace legislation. (AP pix via WSJ)

You can’t drive a stake through its heart. It looks like ObamaCare will live on — or at least until the death spiral of premium and deductible hikes force Congress to pass single-payer, as was the plan all along.

Today the Senate Republicans released their revised repeal and replace legislation, according to The Wall Street Journal, and it would include steep Medicaid cuts. With only 52 Republicans in the Senate and no Democrat likely to get on board, that likely means Republicans like Dean Heller of Nevada will balk and the 50 needed votes can’t be found.

“If you want my support (on repealing Obamacare) … you better make sure that the Republican governors that have expanded Medicaid sign off on it,” Heller was quoted as saying by a morning newspaper columnist a few weeks ago. “I’ve been saying that for months. … Where is Governor (Brian) Sandoval? What does he think?”

Sandoval was one of 31 governors to expand Medicaid with the promise that the feds would pick up 90 percent of the cost. He was quoted as saying, “As a result of [expanding Medicaid] we’ve added 210,000 Nevadans and allowed them to access health care,” Sandoval said. “These are our friends. These are our families. These are our neighbors.”

In addition to Heller several moderate Republicans have voiced opposition to Medicaid cuts.

So, when the death spiral hits bottom, that’s when the Democrats’ plan will kick in. Nevada’s former Democratic Sen. Harry Reid admitted four years ago on public radio here that the country will eventually drop private health insurance for the single-payer government-run-and-funded medical coverage.

Reid said the country has to “work our way past” private health insurance.

“What we’ve done with Obamacare is have a step in the right direction, but we’re far from having something that’s going to work forever,” Reid was quoted as saying by the Las Vegas Sun. “We had a real good run at the public option … don’t think we didn’t have a tremendous number of people who wanted a single-payer system,” but he could not get enough votes then.

That was then.

At a meeting with constituents in April in Las Vegas, Reid’s successor Catherine Cortez Masto was repeatedly asked about single-payer legislation.

At first she said, “We are fighting Republicans who want to take away health care. […] We have to be realistic.” But when asked again about single-payer, she replied, “I will take a look at it.”

 

Real reason the Faraday Future deal should never have been struck

For all the recriminations and navel gazing over the Faraday Future flop, no one is bringing up the real reason that the deal should never have been made in the first place.

Yes, it was an ill-conceived idea for gullible Nevada lawmakers in a special session in 2015 on blind faith alone to agree to dole out $215 million in tax abatements and credits to entice Faraday Future to build an electric car factory at the Apex industrial complex in North Las Vegas, though at the time it did not even have a prototype vehicle. The deal, struck by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, also promised to spend $120 million on infrastructure improvements at the site — water, rail and widening of Interstate 15.

Faraday promised to build a $1 billion manufacturing facility, create 4,500 jobs and start producing cars as early as 2016.

After visiting China in 2016 state Treasurer Dan Schwartz, long a critic of the Faraday largesse by the state, told the press, “We’re increasingly more concerned than we were before that this is just a big Ponzi scheme.”

He and all the handful of other naysayers were right. Faraday has pulled the plug, tucked tail and run off.

But it wasn’t just naiveté or poor negotiating skills or poor judgment that made this a bad deal. It was blatant and arrogant flouting of the state Constitution. In fact, it was a double flout.

You see the Constitution has a Gift Clause, which states, “The State shall not donate or loan money, or its credit, subscribe to or be, interested in the Stock of any company, association, or corporation, except corporations formed for educational or charitable purposes.”

Self-styled economic development advocates have tried three times to amend the Constitution and remove the Gift Clause. The voters rejected those attempts all three times — in 1992, 1996 and again in 2000 by wide majorities.

The state Supreme Court has said that when the state provides something to a private entity without getting adequate compensation for the value, that is a gift and thus a violation of the Constitution.

Nevada’s high court has cited an Arizona Supreme Court ruling on that state’s nearly identical Gift Clause. The Arizona court said its Gift Clause “represents the reaction of public opinion to the orgies of extravagant dissipation of public funds by counties, townships, cities, and towns in aid of the construction of railways, canals, and other like undertakings during the half century preceding 1880, and it was designed primarily to prevent the use of public funds raised by general taxation in aid of enterprises apparently devoted to quasi public purposes, but actually engaged in private business.”

Then there is the section of the Nevada Constitution that clearly states, “The Legislature shall provide by law for a uniform and equal rate of assessment and taxation …” It ain’t uniform or equal if a select few get breaks while others don’t.

Despite these clearly worded prohibitions the state doled out $1.3 billion in tax breaks to Tesla Motors to build a battery factory near Sparks. The projections on capital investment and number of jobs to be created have fallen far short. All it would take to make the whole deal go bust is a technological breakthrough that makes lithium ion batteries obsolete.

That $750 million to build a Las Vegas stadium for the Oakland Raiders football team on a site with woefully adequate parking spaces still could come up a piker.

But none of them should ever have been allowed in the first place.

The only car Faraday Future has made.