Hambrick fires back at Fiore’s allegations and contentions

The circular firing squad of the Republican Assembly Caucus keeps firing — ready, fire, aim.

This afternoon Assembly Speaker-designate John Hambrick responded on Facebook to Assembly member Michele Fiore’s Friday public email providing tit for tat, point by point.

John Hambrick’s Facebook mug

The key question is whether or not Hambrick has the authority to oust Fiore from her “elected” post as Assembly majority leader. Fiore cited the National Council of State Legislatures as her authority that her position is elected. Hambrick counters with a 1996 textbook, “The Sagebrush State: Nevada’s History, Government, and Politics” by Michael Wayne Bowers.

Sure enough on page 72 the book says: “In the assembly, the presiding officer is the speaker of the assembly. The speaker, who is selected by the majority party caucus, not only presides over the assembly but also serves as his party’s leader. In that capacity, he appoints his party’s members to the various committees and selects the majority leader, the speaker pro-tempore, and the committee chairs.” (emphasis added by Hambrick)

Is either authority, as Al Gore would say, controlling legal authority?

Hambrick turns Fiore’s authority back on her by quoting from it:

“Caucus rules. Most legislative party caucuses have not developed formal rules for their proceedings. More often, caucus business is governed by informal rules loosely based on senate or house parliamentary procedure, by unwritten caucus traditions or simply by the style of the caucus leader who presides over the meeting.” (Hambrick underlined much of that)

Hambrick’s strongest argument is tradition. He claims, without citing a source that from 1973 until 2013 — with the exception of 1985 for which he had no information — the “Assembly Majority Floor Leader was appointed by the Speaker.

He also said Fiore has no authority to call a caucus meeting on Monday.

What will happen on Monday?


Nevada Republican Assembly Caucus about to get raucous

Dust off your Robert’s Rules of Order and lawyer up, it is going to be a bumpy ride.

The already chaotic Republican Assembly Caucus is about to reach critical mass.

Michele Fiore (AP photo)

On Monday the governor and other statewide constitutional offices will be sworn in and most legislators are expected to show up for the shindig. There was a meeting of the Republican Assembly Caucus tentatively scheduled for that day, but on Thursday John Hambrick, Assembly speaker-designate, sent a text message to the Las Vegas newspaper saying there would be no meeting.

On Friday, Assembly member Michele Fiore — the “elected” Assembly majority leader who was unilaterally ousted by Hambrick, reinstated and then ousted again — sent an email to Hambrick saying she, in her role as “elected” majority leader, was scheduling a caucus meeting for 3:30 p.m. Monday so the caucus could vote and select its leadership.

Fiore’s missive questions Hambrick’s authority to remove her from an elected leadership post and points out that, according to the National Council of State Legislatures, the caucus “elects” its leaders.

She writes:

“There is no rule in the Assembly Standing Rules that allows you to arbitrarily remove me from an elected Caucus position. Neither have the members of the Caucus been presented with any evidence from any source that allows you to overrule my election by a majority of the Assembly Republican Caucus as the Majority Leader of the Caucus. You need to know that a sizeable portion of the members of the Caucus still consider me the Majority Leader, as do I. I will be occupying my Majority Leader office January 5th.”

Hambrick told The Associated Press on Friday that he didn’t want to comment publicly on the matter.

The Republican Assembly Caucus leadership and committee assignments have been shaken up more than a dry martini in recent weeks.

It will be interesting Monday to see if Fiore can pull in a quorum of the caucus to take a vote.

Fiore herself is none too sure of the outcome:

“Until you prove otherwise, I question your power to remove me and wish to state that may only be done by a Caucus vote.

“I do know how to count votes and realize I might not survive a new vote for Majority Leader, but that vote must be taken, and it must be taken as soon as possible. The January 5, 2015 meeting that you unilaterally canceled would have been the perfect time for that vote, and I urge you to reconsider. As the Majority Leader I’m calling that meeting. Our caucus will meet January 5th at 3:30pm in our caucus room. It is in the best interests of the Caucus to bring this unfortunate incident to a conclusion.
“I will abide by the decision of the Caucus and look forward to working to bring about the real changes Nevada needs and the people who elected us deserve.”
According to the aforementioned National Council of State Legislatures, the Assembly caucuses “usually” ban the press and the public from their meetings, and, though Fiore ranted in her email about transparency and how “This is not an issue that should be resolved behind closed doors via ‘internal communication only,'” I don’t expect Monday’s meeting, if there is one, will be open to the press or public.

John Hambrick (AP photo)

This is especially so because Fiore further stirred the pot by calling on Hambrick to slap down Republican Assembly member Pat Hickey for his recent column in several state newspapers in which he called the caucus a “Clown Caucus.”
“For the record, is this sort of offensive personal attack on our caucus by a fellow caucus member acceptable under your leadership?” Fiore asks, rhetorically I’m sure, as she twists the knife in the wound. “If (it) is not acceptable, why have you decided to reward this type of behavior by assigning Mr. Hickey premier office space(?)”
In his column, Hickey ironically complained, “Intraparty squabbling, like what we’re seeing from Assembly Republicans, doesn’t score points with constituents, nor does it leave a lasting legislative legacy.”
Before this is all over, there could be blood.
The leadership of the Nevada Republican Party, notoriously short on cash, could sell tickets to this grudge match.

State should not interfere with life and death decisions of terminal patients

The founders of this nation were adherents to the concept of natural law, especially as outlined by philosopher John Locke, who stated that all individuals have the right to self-determination over their own lives, liberty and property and no government — whether king or democratic majority — may deny these rights.

Therefore, we suggest that a state law being proposed by state Sen. David Parks — dubbed by some as a “death with dignity” law — not be described as “giving” terminal patients the right to doctor-prescribed life ending medication, sometimes called assisted suicide, but rather as denying the state the power or authority to punish or prosecute anyone for providing such assistance.

Modern medicine has greatly increased the ability to prolong life, but it has also increased the ability to prolong death, too often an agonizing and painful one.

Parks’ bill could clear up Nevada law, which currently does “not condone, authorize or approve mercy-killing, assisted suicide or euthanasia,” though it does “not affect the right of a patient to make decisions regarding use of life-sustaining treatment, so long as the patient is able to do so, or impair or supersede a right or responsibility that any person has to effect the withholding or withdrawal of medical care.”

Such laws have given us the legal term DNR, do not resuscitate, a document too often ignored by medical staff fearful of litigation or prosecution.

Essentially, in too many cases, the law requires a terminal patient to lie in a drug-addled state in an aseptic hospital or hospice room and starve to death — hardly any more humane than stranding grandma on an ice floe in the river — but that person may not choose to terminate his or her own life to avoid those days or weeks that can hardly be called “life.”

We argue the state should have no right to dictate such decisions to any rational individual.

Opponents raise valid concerns about abuse but such a law merely restores natural law rights and does not open the door to street-corner suicide clinics where jilted boyfriends could ask to be hooked up to the suicide machine. Not rational.

State Sen. Parks told the Las Vegas newspaper he was prompted to introduce the bill because “almost everyone whom I’ve talked to has a devastating story to tell regarding a friend or relative who died under unbearable circumstances where this legislation would have provided an alternative to enduring excruciating agony.”

Parks says his bill will be modeled after Oregon’s 1997 Death With Dignity Act.

That law has strict requirements for prescribing lethal medication that must be administered by the patient and prohibits a doctor or other person from administering life-ending drugs. The patient must be 18 or older, a resident of Oregon, capable of making such a decision and diagnosed with a terminal illness that will lead to death within six months.

It requires the patient to make two oral requests 15 days apart and the doctor must believe the patient’s judgment is not impaired. The patient must be informed of alternatives, such as pain medication and hospice care. All lethal prescriptions must be reported to a state agency.

Parks, a Las Vegas Democrat, already has two co-sponsors, state Sens. Tick Segerblom, also a Las Vegas Democrat, and Ben Kieckhefer, a Reno Republican.

Should they have any difficulty pushing the bill through the Legislature in the 2015 session, they should bring it before voters, many of whom have indeed known friends and family members who have endured unnecessary pain and suffering because of government interference in their lives and deaths.

A version of this editorial appears in this week’s The Ely Times and the Mesquite Local News.

Newspaper column: Holding the line on taxation will take only 15 Assembly members

At this point, perhaps the best we can hope for is gridlock.

The 2015 session of the Nevada Legislature is only a month away — 120 days during which our lives, liberties and property, especially our property, will be in jeopardy, as Mark Twain once opined.

In the November election, nearly 80 percent of the state’s penurious voters defeated a proposal to increase business taxes to fund education and for the first time in 85 years elected Republican majorities to both the Assembly and state Senate. This will complement the Republican governor, as well as all other statewide constitutional offices. The Assembly has 25 Republicans and 17 Democrats. The Senate has 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats.

It shouldn’t take a reading of the tea leaves to figure out what the voters want, but nonetheless broad hints are being bandied about that Nevadans simply aren’t taxed enough already and surely we can afford to fork over another billion dollars or so.

Nevada Legislative building (R-J photo)

Even Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval has flatly refused to rule out the possibility of floating a tax hike.

State agencies have submitted budgets that total $7.7 billion in spending in the next biennium, while the Economic Forum has projected the current taxes will raise only $6.3 billion.

“Today’s Economic Forum report reminds us yet again that our revenue structure is not built to meet the demands of our changing economy nor our continued increase in statewide population,” Sandoval said in a statement when the projection was made.

Since the election that Republican majority has turned on itself in what can best be described as a circular firing squad.

First, the Republican caucus’ newly elected speaker, Ira Hansen of Sparks, was hoisted on his own petard — a series of two-decade old newspaper columns that did not mince words while mincing Democrats. But his criticism of how the Democrats treated blacks was misconstrued as being offensive to blacks, so Hansen stepped down as speaker.

Up stepped John Hambrick of Las Vegas as speaker. When old reports about Republican majority leader and Taxation Committee chair Michele Fiore’s troubles with the IRS resurfaced, Hambrick removed her from both jobs, only to reinstate her the next day, only to remove her again a few days later after Fiore explained her situation on the radio.

Fiore, a fiscal conservative who has pledged to not raise taxes, blamed her tax woes on a former employee and said she is making payments to the IRS. But she also claimed she was targeted by a Republican fund-raiser and two paid political consultants, one of whom has worked for Hambrick.

At this point, I’m not sure the Republican caucus can put together a foursome for a game of Bridge, much less a coherent, fiscally conservative collation that can cut spending and hold the line on taxation.

And there are still rumors that a few renegade Republicans could join with the 17 Democrats when the Legislature opens and elect someone other than Hambrick as speaker of the Assembly.

The saving grace may lie in former Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons’ constitutional amendment that requires a two-thirds vote of both the Assembly and Senate to increase taxes.

That means 15 members of the Assembly can block any tax hike proposal.

The Assembly Republicans appear to be almost evenly split between fiscal conservatives and moderates.

Gridlock may be our best hope.

This column is available online at The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News and Elko Daily Free Press.

Measuring congressional productivity the wrong way

It is long past time that people stop evaluating the “productivity” of Congress by the number of bills passed — substantive or otherwise.

The folks at Pew Research Center are the latest to engage in this farce, saying that the 113th Congress just barely avoided the dubious title of “least productive Congress in modern history.” Congress enacted 296 laws, 13 more than the 112th Congress

The only criteria for a productive Congress should one that increases liberties and opportunities and lifts burdens on the citizens. In this past session our “lawmakers” did none of that.

They couldn’t even pass a real budget, instead agreed to spend $1.1 trillion in something dubbed a CRomnibus. They did continue the tax break for wind turbines that costs electricity users coming and going.

They did not repeal enough laws or eliminate any federal agencies or end any tax.

We’d be better off if Congress went into permanent recess.

Everybody likes free money … it is free, isn’t it?

The two newspaper items landed with superb timing.

And it must follow, as the night the day, as the dullard the wise.

On Christmas Day, James L. Buckley, a retired federal judge and former U.S. senator, writes an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal about the wasteful growth in unconstitutional federal grants-in-aid programs, followed two days later by a banner story in the Las Vegas newspaper about a bid to obtain federal grant funds through a White House urban planning program to turn Cashman Field into some sort of drone aircraft center. The story contains an alphabet soup of acronyms for various doling agencies and supplicant groups.

The newspaper uncritically and matter-of-factly recounts various efforts to capture federal grants of as little as $10,000 — an amount that probably absorbed a matching amount of cost in man-hours by overpaid bureaucrats at various levels.

Buckley notes that such grant programs have grown from about $24 billion in 1970 to an estimated $640 billion in 2015, a sixth of federal spending, and that is just the direct cost and does not take into account the paper shuffling involved.

Buckley describes the problem with these grant programs:

“Because the grants come with detailed federal directives, they deprive state and local officials of the flexibility to meet their own responsibilities in the most effective ways, and undermine their citizens’ ability to ensure that their taxes will be used to meet their priorities rather than those of distant federal regulators. The irony is that the money the states and local governments receive from Washington is derived either from federal taxes paid by residents of the states or from the sale of bonds that their children will have to redeem.”

Never mind that nowhere in the Constitution are such programs enumerated or vaguely contemplated. But the courts have shrugged and allowed Congress to “induce the States to adopt policies that the Federal Government itself could not impose.” Carrot, OK. Stick, nay.

Congress and the administration can bribe state and local governments to build drone centers that should be the purview of private enterprise and which those state and local governments would never build without the free money from Washington.

In still another sign that federalism is dead, federal transfer payments now make up 30 percent of the states’ revenues, Buckley relates. It will be hard to wean the states from this teat.

But almost nobody in local government or the media ever thinks to stop and ask: Is it worth it?

Cashman Field targeted for federal grant money. (R-J photo)



Time to take off the gloves when dealing with federal land bureaucrats

Let’s just say our favorite red-headed Nevada congressman doesn’t turn the other cheek when he gets slapped by a miffed Washington bureaucrat.

After Nevada Republican Congressman Mark Amodei added a rider to the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015 — the temporary budget for those who don’t speak Washington jargon — delaying for one year any potential listing of the greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell tossed a hissy fit.

Sally Jewell

“It’s disappointing that some Members of Congress are more interested in political posturing than finding solutions to conserve the sagebrush landscape and the Western way of life,” Jewell whined in a press release, after said Members had already left town.

“Rather than helping the communities they profess to benefit, these members will only create uncertainty, encourage conflict and undermine the unprecedented progress that is happening throughout the West.”

Uncertainty? Progress? Tell that to the people of Utah and Colorado who thought they were working successfully with the Interior Department and its U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the habitat of the Gunnison sage grouse only to be blind-sided a month ago with a listing decision that will hamper economic development in both states. The listing came despite the fact the bird’s population has increased by nearly 10 percent in the past decade.

Jewell, despite her protestations, claimed the rider would have no effect on ongoing efforts to conserve sage grouse habitats. “The Omnibus (still another name for the spending bill) continues funding for Interior and USDA to conserve sagebrush habitat and to advance the unprecedented collaboration happening across 11 Western states. The Fish and Wildlife Service will continue to collect data and conduct analysis, and the agency will reach a decision as to whether listing is warranted or not,” she assured rather unconvincingly.

Mark Amodei

Amodei promptly shot back with tongue firmly affixed in his stinging cheek: “After nearly two years on the job, I am pleased Secretary Jewell is now ready to engage on the issue of the Sage Hen. I want to welcome her to the discussion. Back in March, in explaining why Interior had once again failed to submit a meaningful budget request for habitat conservation, Secretary Jewell testified to the Interior Appropriations Committee that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) needed time to finalize its 98 resource management plans (RMPs) across 11 Western states encompassing more than 186 million acres of habitat. At the time, she indicated no appreciation for the fact that the vast majority of those RMPs would not be completed until after the decision to list the Sage Hen was made. Nine months later, I find it perplexing she has become incredibly comfortable criticizing Republicans and Democrats in Congress for providing precisely what she said was needed: one last chance for her to show some leadership and request funding to fulfill Interior’s habitat responsibilities as the majority land owner in the West.”

Amodei went on to say that he found Jewell’s criticism “interesting” since her boss has already signed the appropriations bill and his rider had been discussed for months ahead of its passage.

“The resort to shallow political attacks does not hide the fact Ms. Jewell’s
department chose, through budgetary inaction, not to make any attempt to avoid an endangered species listing,” Amodei seethed. “This is all the more insidious, since the habitat owner, BLM, and the Endangered Species Act Administrator, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, both work under Secretary Jewell’s supervision. So, in effect, on this issue, the Secretary would apparently like to simultaneously perform the roles of judge, jury and prosecutor and shame on the U.S. Congress and the President for passing a bill, which does not allow her to do that.”

He accused Jewell of issuing a “CYA news release” and engaging in “incendiary communication strategy.”

We hope a few more of our representatives in Washington take off the gloves and challenge the bureaucrats who think they really do own the West rather than we who live here and must pay the consequences for their rash and unsupported decisions.

Newspaper column: Courts should put a stop to governor’s corporate welfare program

The attorney for the legal arm of a libertarian-leaning Nevada think tank this past week asked the state district court in Carson City to issue a summary judgment that would essentially put the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) out of business.

The GOED was created as a way to dispense public tax money from a $10 million Catalyst Fund to companies in hopes of creating new jobs and jumpstarting the recession-retarded economy.

The request for summary judgment grows out of a lawsuit filed earlier this year by the Nevada Policy Research Institute’s Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation (CJCL) on behalf of Michael Little, a Nevada alternative-energy entrepreneur and a taxpayer, because the GOED planned to give $1.2 million to one of his competitors, SolarCity, a company owned by a billionaire that installs solar panels.

Little owns Landfill Alternative, a company that converts recycled landscape trimmings into biomass.

Michael Little at his biomass business.

The suit claims the gift to SolarCity violates the Gift Clause of the state Constitution, which prohibits the state donating or loaning money to any company.

In a deposition given in the court case, GOED’s Executive Director Steven Hill admitted that the state giving money directly to a company would violate the Constitution, so instead the money is funneled through the various county governments.

Sounds like the very definition of a money laundering scheme — a third-party is used to obscure the transfer of illicit funds from the source to its destination.

In the recent court filing, Joseph Becker, chief legal officer and director of the CJCL, points out the state has three times asked the voters of Nevada to amend the Constitution to allow handing out public funds to private companies and each time the amendments soundly defeated.

“This scheme … runs afoul of the plain language of the Nevada State Constitution, the will of the people of Nevada as evidenced by three consecutive four-year elections,” writes Becker, “and, if not held unconstitutional, sets a very dangerous precedent whereby the State, when constitutionally prohibited from acting in certain ways, firsts creates a political subdivision and then subcontracts with that political subdivision to act as an intermediary to do the very thing the Nevada Constitution explicitly prohibits. What next?! Hiring private security companies to conduct warrantless searches in instances where the state would otherwise be constitutionally prohibited?!”

Becker asserts that the case presents no genuine issue of material fact and his client is entitled to judgment as a matter of law because the state “is not entitled to build a case on the gossamer threads of whimsy, speculation, and conjecture” — a reference to case law.

The CJCL motion also quotes at length from an opinion by the Nebraska Supreme Court discussing the constitutional and practical ramifications of that state’s almost identical Gift Clause. The opinion concedes that just about any new factory or retail store might be deemed to benefit a community’s progress and prosperity, but under state law public money cannot be appropriated for private purposes and doing so is self-destructive as well.

“It does not matter what such undertakings may be called or how worthwhile they may appear to be at the passing moment,” the court opines. “The financing of private enterprise by means of public funds is entirely foreign to a proper concept of our constitutional system. Experience has shown that such encroachments will lead inevitably to the ultimate destruction of the private enterprise system.”

In fact, Gift Clauses were enacted in many state constitutions precisely because of the experiences of a number of states during the mid-19th century that loaned public money to private firms for the construction of railroads, canals and other infrastructure only to see the companies go broke and leave the taxpayers holding the debt with no assets to show for it.

“It is an illusion — one that seems to have the persistence of original sin — that prosperity can be attained by taking money from taxpayers and handing it to favored businesses. …” the motion for summary judgment concludes. “The idea of government intervention to influence the composition of a country’s output has long been derided by economists for breeding inefficiency, reducing competition, encouraging lobbying and saddling countries with factories producing products nobody wants.”

As Adam Smith wrote in 1776: “It is the highest impertinence and presumption, therefore, in kings and ministers to pretend to watch over the economy of private people … They are themselves always, and without any exception, the greatest spendthrifts in the society.”

The state should not take from some taxpayers and give to others no matter its motives or methods.

This column ran this week in The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Contrasting behavior today with this day in history

Washington at the Battle of Trenton

On this day in 1776 in freezing weather the Continental Army overwhelmed Hessian forces — still groggy from their Christmas imbibing — and captured the town Of Trenton, New Jersey.

The This Day in History website recounts:

Although the victory was minor from a strategic perspective, it bore tremendous significance for the future of the Continental Army. Washington needed a success before his solders’ enlistments expired on December 31 — without a dramatic upswing in morale, he was likely to lose the soldiers under his command and be unable to recruit new men to replace them. The victories at Trenton and a few days later at Princeton proved to the American public that their army was indeed capable of victory and worthy of support.

The image of ragged farm-boy Patriots defeating drunken foreign mercenaries has become ingrained in the American imagination. Then as now, Washington’s crossing and the Battle of Trenton were emblematic of the American Patriots’ surprising ability to overcome the tremendous odds they faced in challenging the wealthy and powerful British empire.

Today we celebrate the bravery of Mesquite theater goers who faced down the threat of having their iPhones hacked by a North Korean dictator in order to view a slapstick, l0w-brow comic movie, while million-dollar jet fighters bomb 13th century lunatics from 30,000 feet in the Middle East and our economic sanctions drive up the cost of bread in Moscow and our president unilaterally normalizes relations with a totalitarian regime in the Caribbean.


A suggestion as to who should pay for Obama’s security during a weekend of golf

Obama plays golf in North Las Vegas. (AP photo)

I think Brian Greenspun should pick up the tab, don’t you?

It turns out President Obama’s weekend trip to Henderson in November to putatively sign off on an amnesty plan for millions of illegal immigrants but really to play golf all weekend with the Sun newspaper owner and various celebrities is costing state and Henderson police $170,000, according to the Review-Journal newspaper.

Though officials plan to bill the Democratic Party no one really expects to be paid. It took the school district four years to get paid by the Obama campaign for a 2008 political visit.

Since the Greenspun family made its fortune off the city of Henderson with a shady land deal so the family could build Green Valley, it is only fair that Greenspun pay the security costs of his golfing partner, right?

According to an R-J report by A.D. Hopkins, in 1971 the city sold 4,720 acres to Hank Greenspun, Brian’s father, for about $280 an acre. “They did so largely because he promised to include it in his proposed Green Valley development, increasing the city’s tax base and establishing nearby residential areas and amenities, which would attract further development in the stagnating small town,” the story says. “Instead, Greenspun sold much of that land at $3,000 to $5,000 an acre” — around $15 million at the low end.

The city also gave Greenspun a deadline to build and called for a $1.7 million penalty if he did not comply. He did not and the city never enforced the penalty. How much would that be in 2014 dollars with interest?

Henderson should send Brian Greenspun a bill.