Editorial: Bill language should not allow water grab

A growing number of public and private entities are joining a concerted effort to make sure a bill pending before Congress does not inadvertently create a means for Clark County to tap rural groundwater, though Clark County officials protest that is not the intent of the proposal.

According to Great Basin Water Network (GBWN) — a coalition of conservationists, rural officials, tribes and agricultural interests — there are fears that the wording in the proposed Southern Nevada Economic Development and Conservation Act, whether intentional or not, could skirt a federal judge’s ruling blocking a proposed 300-mile right-of-way for a network of water pipelines.

The bulk of the bill, not yet introduced in Congress, proposes freeing up more than 40,000 acres of public land in Clark County for economic development, but two sections at the end of the 21-page bill call for the Interior Department to give the Southern Nevada Water Authority rights-of-way for an electric power line that “shall be subject only to the terms, conditions and stipulations identified in the existing rights-of-way, and shall not be subject to further administrative or judicial review. The right-of-way shall be granted in perpetuity and shall not require the payment of rental fees.” Opponents fear that a right-of-way for a power line could just as easily be used for pipelines.

Two years ago a federal judge ruled that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) could grant the water agency right-of-way for its network of pipelines to take groundwater beneath White Pine, Lincoln and Nye counties, but first it had to come up with plans to mitigate the potential loss of wildlife habitat due to a draw down of the water table, as is required by the CleanWater Act and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act.

That might prove to be impossible, since federal studies show the interconnected aquifers are already at equilibrium — meaning water that is now being drawn from the aquifers is being replaced gallon for gallon annually with no leeway for additional withdrawal. The water agency proposes to withdraw 84,000 acre-feet of groundwater per year. The project is projected to cost more than $15 billion and could triple water rates in Clark County.

This past week more than a dozen entities joined in opposition to Congress approving the right-of-way proposal. These include several Nevada and Utah counties, three Indian tribes and a number of environmental groups.

“What Clark County is proposing is a pro-pipeline bill,” said Kyle Roerink, executive director of the GBWN. “Elected officials, attorneys, and non-profit organizations that span Nevada, Utah and the region all agree: The SNWA wants the congressional delegation to carry its water by surreptitiously advancing a project that has consistently lost in federal and state courts. The Nevada delegation deserves better than sneaky end-runs masked as technicalities. For now, the name of the bill should be the Great Basin Water Grab Act of 2019.”

A resolution passed by the Duckwater Shosone Tribe warned, “Science has shown that the pipeline would ultimately destroy Bashsahwahbee, killing off Swamp Cedars and drying up the Sacred Water Valley’s springs and aquifers that plant and wildlife currently depend upon.”

A spokesman for the water authority told the Las Vegas newspapers there is no intention to use the right-of-way for anything other than power lines. Though he thought the language was sufficiently clear, he said it has been modified recently. Another official offered that it might be further altered to allay concerns.

Clark County could use the economic development. Changing the language in the bill should satisfy the opposition.

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.

Nevada State Sen. Pete Goicoechea and Kyle Roerink, executive director of the Great Basin Water Network, discuss efforts by Clark County to tap rural groundwater. (Pix by Roger Moellendorf)

 

Newspaper column: Trump appeals court nominee looks right for the job

This past Friday President Trump nominated former Nevada Solicitor General Lawrence VanDyke to a seat on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which handles cases for nine Western states and territories in the Pacific.

As solicitor general, VanDyke served in the office of then-Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt. He also served as solicitor general in Montana and Texas. 

VanDyke earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Montana State University-Bozeman and graduated magna cum laude in 2005 from Harvard Law School, where he was editor of both the Harvard Law Review and Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy. He is a member of the conservative Federalist Society and currently is a deputy assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division at the Department of Justice.

Nevada’s Democratic U.S. Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen immediately issued a statement sharply critical of the nomination.

Lawrence VanDyke

“We’re frustrated the White House is choosing to ignore the bipartisan work undertaken by our offices in concert with Nevada’s legal community to identify and recommend qualified Nevadans for the Ninth Circuit,” said their statement. “The Administration’s decision to put forward this nominee ignores the broad, consensus-based opinion of Nevadans. Instead, the White House has chosen to move forward on their extreme judicial agenda. While we will review the full record of this nominee, we are disappointed that the White House has chosen to nominate a candidate with a concerning record of ideological legal work.”

Only two days before the two senators had announced the formation of what they called “bipartisan judicial commissions to make recommendations for Nevada’s judicial vacancies,” and said, “We are establishing the commissions to encourage this and future administrations to nominate candidates that reflect the diversity and values of the Silver State.”

Republican President Trump paid no heed whatsoever.

Critics of VanDyke quickly jumped on his record in Montana of advancing friend of the court briefs defending bans on same-sex marriage and abortion, as well as challenges to gun rights. 

The voters of both Montana and Nevada had amended their state constitutions to prohibit same-sex marriage, and in 2014 Montana filed a legal brief defending those amendments before the 9th Circuit. Cortez Masto, then Nevada attorney general, refused to defend the state’s amendment. The 9th Circuit eventually ruled both state’s amendments were unconstitutional.

VanDyke was quoted by a Montana newspaper, while running unsuccessfully for a seat on that state’s Supreme Court, “My job was to represent the interests of the people of Montana and defend our state’s laws. So simply because I worked on a specific case or made a specific recommendation obviously can’t be taken as representative of my personal views. In fact, as Montana’s solicitor general, I worked on cases and took positions that were sometimes at odds with my personal or political views.”

While working under Laxalt, VanDyke was said to be a key figure in securing an injunction staying the Environmental Protection Agencies’s 2015 “Waters of the United States” rule, which unduly expanded federal power over every stream, ditch, seasonal puddle and muddy hoof print as being covered by the restrictions of the Clean Water Act of 1972. 

The conservative National Review also notes that VanDyke’s challenge of the Bureau of Land Management’s over-broad greater sage grouse land plan caused the agency to back off. The plan would have withdrawn more than 10 million acres of federal public land from use for such things as grazing and mineral exploration. He also challenged the Obama-era EPA’s Clean Power Plan that threatened to raise power bills.

“VanDyke also litigated in defense of the Second Amendment and religious freedom,” the National Review article continues. “He filed the multi-state amicus briefs at both the circuit and Supreme Court level in the Trinity Lutheran case. He was also part of the successful multi-state challenge to the Obama administration’s DAPA program, which attempted to legalize and grant numerous benefits to over 4 million illegal aliens without statutory authority. As the lead lawyer for a 22-state coalition, he successfully challenged the Obama administration’s Overtime Rule.”

Sounds like the kind of person who could help change the future rulings of the once uber-liberal 9th Circuit.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Editorial: Nevada senators back amendment abridging free speech

Nevada Democratic Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto, left, and Jacky Rosen. (R-J file pix)

This past week every Democratic member of the U.S. Senate — including Nevada Democratic Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen — signed on as sponsors of a proposed constitutional amendment that would rip the heart from the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution — the part that says, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech …”

The Democracy for All Amendment, as it is wrongly called, would overturn the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC. That 5-4 ruling overturned a portion of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law under which the Federal Election Commission barred the airing of a movie produced by Citizens United that was critical of Hillary Clinton during the 2008 Democratic primary.

The court said the First Amendment was written to protect speech, no matter who the speaker may be, whether an individual or a group, such as a corporation or a union.

The proposed amendment would allow Congress and the states to “distinguish between natural persons and corporations or other artificial entities created by law, including by prohibiting such entities from spending money to influence elections.”

Sen. Cortez Masto put out a press release saying the amendment is intended to get big money out of politics. “Citizens United opened the floodgates for big money in politics by wrongly allowing corporations and special interests to buy undue influence in American elections,” Nevada’s senior senator wrote. “It’s time the effects of this disastrous ruling were reversed. A constitutional amendment putting the democratic process back in the hands of voters will help ensure that our government represents the will of Americans, not just the wealthy few.”

Sen. Rosen has long been a proponent of overturning Citizens United. During her campaign against Sen. Dean Heller, she declared, “Washington hasn’t been listening to the needs of Nevadans because billionaires and special interests are drowning out the voices of real people in our communities. If we’re going to make real progress on issues like climate change, gun violence and health care, then we need to bring some transparency and accountability to our broken campaign finance system. Unlike Senator Heller, I will stand up for Nevadans by speaking out for real reform and a reversal of this catastrophic Supreme Court decision.”

Ironically, the amendment concludes by stating, “Nothing in this article shall be construed to grant Congress or the States the power to abridge the freedom of the press.’’

Who do they think owns the “press” in the United States? Billionaires and corporations, such as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, who owns The Washington Post, and casino owner Sheldon Adelson, who owns the largest newspaper in Nevada. A handful of giant corporations own the vast majority of news media outlets in this country. In order to get around this amendment, all a billionaire or corporation has to do is buy a “press.”

In fact, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion in Citizens United, singled out the media exemption that was written into McCain-Feingold. Kennedy wrote, “The media exemption discloses further difficulties with the law now under consideration. There is no precedent supporting laws that attempt to distinguish between corporations which are deemed to be exempt as media corporations and those which are not. ‘We have consistently rejected the proposition that the institutional press has any constitutional privilege beyond that of other speakers.’ … And the exemption results in a further, separate reason for finding this law invalid: Again by its own terms, the law exempts some corporations but covers others, even though both have the need or the motive to communicate their views.”

Aren’t political parties themselves tantamount to corporations — groups of individuals uniting their voices and money in furtherance of a political agenda. Should political parties be silenced?

As Justice Kennedy concluded, “The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves.”

Congress should not deem itself the arbiter of who gets to speak and who must be gagged. Cortez Masto and Rosen should reverse course.

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.

Newspaper column: Book offers historic perspective on the press

The premise of conservative commentator Mark Levin’s new book, “Unfreedom of the Press,” is that modern journalism has devolved into an opinionated, group-think pack of politically partisan propagandists who oppose President Trump at every turn and think he is a danger to freedom of the press.

While we don’t think that conclusion is totally valid, the book does offer a worthy historic perspective on the behaviors of the press and our presidents.

Levin notes that for more than a century the American press was unabashedly partisan, often surviving on printing contracts from the party in power when the newspapers were able to put them there. He seems to accept the notion that sometime early in the 19th Century journalists altruistically embraced the concept of objectivity.

Actually the conversion was mostly profit-motivated. It was borne of the penny press.

The newspaper business model changed from being dependent on government printing contracts and political party handouts to one of being supported by advertisers, whose customers paid the same for a pair of shoes no matter which party they embraced. So why alienate half of your potential customers with partisanship? The newspaper that delivered the highest readership fetched the highest advertising dollar.

Levin’s book does point out correctly that Trump’s often repeated and tweeted animus for the press is benign compared to past presidents.

With the ink still damp on the First Amendment President John Adams pushed through the Federal Congress a series of Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798. These acts made it a crime to “write, print, utter or publish … any false, scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States, or either house of the Congress of the United States, or the President of the United States, with intent to defame the said government, or either house of the said Congress, or the said President, or to bring them, or either of them, into contempt or disrepute …” The penalty was a fine or imprisonment for up to two years.

Under those laws more than 20 Republican newspaper editors were arrested and some were imprisoned. Among those was newspaperman James Callender who called Adams a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” These details are not in the book, by the way.

Levin notes Abraham Lincoln enforced censorship during the Civil War and jailed several reporters, editors and publishers.

Sun takes cheap shot at owner of newspaper into which it is inserted

We do believe the Jewish owner of the Sun insert in the morning newspaper just called out the Jewish owner of that morning newspaper.

In an editorial about a spike in hate crimes for which it blames President Trump the Sun alleges:

For one, Trump’s Jewish financial backers must take responsibility for the president giving aid, comfort and recruiting material to white supremacists.

In backing Trump and his agenda, these donors are helping anti-Semitism thrive in America and putting Jews increasingly at risk by figuratively providing matches to light the torches of extremists.

Trump’s Jewish backers are engaging in self-interested, history-denying behavior — you’d have to imagine the NAACP funding the Ku Klux Klan to find something as perversely self-destructive.

The owner of the morning paper is the family of Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, who have given $113 million to GOP causes this election year. Trump is giving Miriam the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Friday.

The Sun — which is owned by the family of Brian Greenspun, who is CEO, publisher and editor — editorially links Trump’s so-called embrace of nationalism with “white supremacy” and sees a causality link between that and a rise in hate crimes, especially anti-Semitic ones, such as the mass shooting at a synagogue in the Pittsburgh area.

It further pokes Adelson in the eye by saying, “Americans won’t stand for this corrosion of our values, as they showed during this year’s midterm referendum on Trump. That was particularly true in Nevada, where candidates who aligned themselves with Trump got destroyed in the balloting in favor of those calling for an end to the administration’s divisive politics.”

Adelson’s morning newspaper editorially endorsed virtually every one of those losing candidates and Adelson generously contributed to many of them.

The Sun is inserted into the morning paper under a joint operating agreement (JOA) that began in 1990 and runs through 2040. The Newspaper Preservation Act allows competing newspapers to skirt anti-trust law and combine operations if one of them is about to go out of business, which the Sun was at the time.

The Sun in the past has sued the morning paper disputing the amount of money it received under the agreement. That went to private arbitration. In January the Sun started charging for access to online content, saying it was no longer getting a share of profits from the JOA because there are no profits.

We wonder how much longer this pissing match can continue.

 

Newspaper column: These statewide candidates worthy of your vote

The statewide elective offices on the November ballot are of doubly vital concern to rural Nevadans this year, primarily because the urban counties are likely to stack the Legislature with tax-and-spend Democrats beholding to public employee unions and eager to throw more of our money into the bureaucratic maw.

Topping the list is the race for governor, pitting Republican Adam Laxalt against Democrat Steve Sisolak. During his term as attorney general Laxalt has proven himself to be a staunch defender of Nevada’s rights in the face of federal encroachment and displayed conservative bona fides. The voters need to hand the veto pen to Laxalt so he can protect us from a likely left-leaning collective of lawmakers. Sisolak would be a rubber stamp.

Republican lieutenant governor candidate Michael Roberson, who backed Gov. Brian Sandoval’s record-breaking tax hikes, might not be our first choice for the office or even second or third, but letting Democrat Kate Marshall preside over the state Senate in 2019 and cast tie-breaking votes would not bode well either. Roberson as the Senate minority leader has tried to rein in lobbyist and special interest influence in Carson City and advocated for economic development and school choice. Roberson is the better choice.

During her first term as secretary of state, Republican Barbara Cegavske has worked tirelessly to assure the integrity of Nevada’s elections and record keeping. She has worked to increase voter registration and turnout.

Cegavske says that during a second term she will work with county officials to increase cyber security of county registration databases, improve audits and physical security of voting equipment. She is the obvious choice, because her 30-year-old Democratic opponent Nelson Araujo lacks the experience and credentials.

In the race for state treasurer, Republican Bob Beers — a certified public accountant, former legislator and Las Vegas city councilman — is the clear choice over Democrat Zach Conine. The treasurer is the state’s chief financial officer and is responsible for investing state funds, maintaining the state budget, managing college savings plans, keeping records of unclaimed property and maintaining records of the state’s accounts.

Beers has experience managing public money because of his five sessions on the Legislature’s Finance Committee and five years on the city council, plus many years in private business. His integrity is unquestioned.

In his first term as the state’s controller, Republican Ron Knecht has introduced cost-savings and increased transparency in the handling of the state’s funds. The controller is essentially the state’s chief fiscal officer, responsible for the state’s accounting system, settling claims against the state and collecting debts. The office protects the citizens’ money by ensuring that it is properly accounted for and spent in the most efficient and cost effective manner at all times.

Knecht boasts that he has cut the controller’s office spending by more than 13 percent, returning more than $1 million to the treasury and increased debt collection by $1.3 million a year. As a legislator he was a staunch opponent of higher taxes in general and still favors a repeal of the complicated and burdensome commerce tax. Knecht also published the state’s first annual report on the fiscal management of state funds, put the state checkbook online for direct inspection by citizens and has worked to improve data security.

Knecht has the credentials and experience that his Democratic opponent Catherine Byrne lacks.

The major party contenders to be the state’s next attorney general are Republican Wes Duncan and Democrat Aaron Ford. The attorney general is the state’s top lawyer, representing citizens of Nevada in civil and criminal matters. The attorney general also serves as legal counsel to state officials, providing opinions on how to interpret the law.

Duncan has been Attorney General Laxalt’s assistant attorney general and has served as an assemblyman and a county prosecutor and Air Force judge advocate. Ford is an attorney and former state senator who has advocated for higher taxes, though the IRS has filed liens against him for unpaid taxes. Duncan has the experience and conservative philosophy fitting for our next attorney general.

There are two contested Nevada Supreme Court seats on the ballot. The nonpartisan contests pit Nevada Court of Appeals Judge Jerry Tao against Clark County District Judge Elissa Cadish and Supreme Court Judge Lidia Stiglich, appointed to the court two years ago, against Clark County District Judge Mathew Harter.

Both Tao and Harter have vowed to be conservative arbiters of the law and have been rated well by lawyers appearing before them and are worthy of support. Stiglich also dissented from a recent decision strengthening access to public records.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Newspaper column: Too many willing to forgo First Amendment rights

Here is proof positive that ignorance is hazardous to freedom.

The Freedom Forum’s 2018 First Amendment survey, conducted in May and June, asked 1,009 Americans to name the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment. Only one person could name all five. One out of more than 1,000.

But perhaps the most telling aspect of the survey was when knowledge of the First Amendment was compared to a willingness to have the government censor social media online. Fully 63 percent of those who could name not a single First Amendment right agreed the government should censor speech, while 87 percent of those who could name four freedoms disagreed.

The more rights one could name, the more those people balked at government censorship. The curve of ignorance runs counter to the curve of freedom.

Knowledge is power and ignorance is hazardous.

Even more scary is the fact that ignorance is rampant. Fully 76 percent of those surveyed could name none or only one First Amendment right — meaning that if such a censorship scheme were put to a vote it just might win.

As for political party affiliation, 54 percent of Democrats agreed with government censorship compared with 47 percent of Republicans.

For the record, the First Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

We’ve been writing about this annual survey with considerable angst for two decades and things have gone downhill since. In 1997, the first year of the survey, 2 percent of those questioned could name all five rights.

Somewhat ironically, considering the considerable willingness to renege on it, the one First Amendment right a simple majority, 56 percent, could name was freedom of speech. Only 15 percent could recall freedom of religion. A mere 13 percent could think of freedom of the press, while right of assembly garnered only 12 percent and right of petition a paltry 2 percent. Fully 9 percent thought the Second Amendment right to bear arms was in the First.

Another disturbing finding in the survey is the willingness of Americans to silence someone merely because someone might be offended. When asked whether public universities should be able to retract invitations to controversial speakers if their remarks would offend some groups or even individuals, 42 percent agreed. If the appearance might provoke protests, 51 percent would withdraw the invitation. And if it might incite violence, 70 would cancel — the hooligan’s veto.

“It’s a little disquieting that 4 in 10 believe that public universities should be able to cancel a speaker if he or she might offend ‘individuals.’ In these polarized times, it’s difficult to conceive of anyone speaking on any topic without offending someone,” commented Ken Paulson, president of the Freedom Forum Institute’s First Amendment Center and dean of the College of Media and Entertainment at Middle Tennessee State University.

“That finding — along with majority support for cancelling speakers if a protest is likely — suggests there is significant public support for keeping controversial ideas off college campuses,” Paulson continues. “This begs the question: If a public institution dedicated to the sharing of knowledge and ideas is the wrong place for controversial thoughts, what is the appropriate venue?”

On a more positive note, 74 percent of survey respondents agreed that it is important that the news media act as a watchdog on the government, up from only 68 percent in 2017.

David L. Hudson, Jr. — author, co-author or co-editor of more than 40 books, including “First Amendment: Freedom of Speech” — noted that politicians have long extolled and excoriated the role of the press.

Though President Obama praised “a tough and vibrant media,” President Trump has called some members of the press “enemies of the people” and purveyors of “fake news.”

“The most encouraging part of the 2018 State of the First Amendment survey is the public’s embrace of the ideal of the media serving as the watchdog of a free society,” Hudson writes. “The American public recognizes the essential importance of a vibrant and free press to serve the interests of the public as a check against government.”

But for how long?

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.