Newspaper column: Should each county get a single state senator?


Republican Sen. Pete Goicoechea is the District 19 incumbent and was not up for re-election this year.

The blue Clark County tail wagged the red Nevada dog in this past week’s election.

Election results show rural and urban Nevada are of two vastly different states of mind.

For example, in the race for the U.S. Senate, Democrat Jacky Rosen carried only Clark and Washoe counties, while Republican incumbent Dean Heller won every other county handily. In the more heavily unionized, redistribution-favoring and thus Democrat-leaning Clark and Washoe, Rosen gleaned 55 and 50 percent of the votes, respectively. Whereas, for example, in Elko County Heller netted 76 percent of the vote, 72 percent in White Pine, 79 percent in Lincoln, 75 percent in Esmeralda, 63 percent in Storey, 72 percent in Churchill, 79 percent in Lincoln and a whopping 84 percent in tiny Eureka. Quite a spectrum shift.

The state’s only Republican representative in Washington now will be Mark Amodei, whose 2nd Congressional District covers the northern half of the state and excludes Clark. Amodei won in every county and his Democratic opponent only came within spitting distance in Washoe and Carson City. Amodei took Elko with 80 percent of the vote, Humboldt with 79 percent and Lander with 82 percent, for example.

Republican Cresent Hardy won in every county in the 4th Congressional District in the southern half of the state except Clark, while the other two Congressional Districts are solely in Clark and were easily won by Democrats.

Democrat Steven Horsford won the 4th District seat by pulling 52 percent of the total vote by netting 56 percent in the more populous Clark. Hardy netted 73 percent of White Pine’s votes, 80 percent of Lincoln’s votes, 74 percent of Lyon’s, 57 percent of Mineral’s and 65 percent of Lyon’s.

In the statewide races for constitutional offices the numbers broke down largely the same.

In the race for governor, Democrat Steve Sisolak won handily in Clark and eked out a victory in Washoe, while Republican Adam Laxalt won almost every other county by at least 2-to-1. The results were similar in the race for lieutenant governor.

Incumbent Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske edged out 30-year-old inexperienced Democrat Nelson Araujo by less than 1 percentage point, though she won handily in ever county except, you guessed it, Clark.

In the race for attorney general, Republican Wes Duncan won in every county, repeat after me, except Clark. Likewise for Republican treasurer candidate Bob Beers, while incumbent Republican Controller Ron Knecht lost only in Clark and Washoe. Again, in mosts cases the margins in rural counties exceeded 2-to-1 for the Republican.

The Democrats in the state Assembly are all from Clark and Washoe. The rest of the state picked Republicans. Due to the overwhelming population of Clark and Washoe, there is now a supermajority of Democrats — 29 out of 42.

The state Senate is also all red except for Clark and Washoe. The 13 Democrats to eight Republicans leaves the Democrats one seat short of a supermajority. That could happen if a planned recount changes the outcome in a district in Clark in which the Republican won by 28 ballots.

It takes a supermajority in both the Assembly and Senate to pass tax increases, thanks to an initiative pushed through by former Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons.

Now, if the Democrats can wail about how unfair it is that the 2016 presidential election was determined by the Electoral College — in which each state gets a vote for each representative in Congress, which is determined by population, and each state gets two votes for each senator no matter population — and not by popular vote, which, yes, Hillary Clinton and not Donald Trump won, it seems only fair that we be allowed to deign to suggest that Nevada could change its governing bodies to more closing match the federal system created by the Founders.

We could have an Assembly in which representatives are seated from districts of approximately equal population and a state Senate with a single representative from each county. The whole purpose of the U.S. Senate is to assure smaller states are not run over roughshod by more populous states.

So why should the smaller Nevada counties with differing philosophies and priorities and issues be virtually shut out of the decision making process?

Of course, the chances of that ever happening is almost certainly nil. So, consider this a wee Jeremiadic cry from the desert and a whisper in the ears of the near-supermajority to give some slack for the smaller rural counties. Seems only fair. And we know Democrats are sticklers for fairness.

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.

Historic update from Wikipedia:

In 1919 the Senate started a practice called “Little Federalism,” where each county received one member of the Nevada Senate regardless of population of said county. This set the Senate membership at seventeen which lasted until 1965-1967. The Supreme Court of the United States issued the opinion in Baker v. Carr in 1962 which found that the redistricting of state legislative districts are not a political questions, and thus is justiciable by the federal courts. In 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court heard Reynolds v. Sims and struck down state senate inequality, basing their decision on the principle of “one person, one vote.” With those two cases being decided on a national level, Nevada Assemblywoman Flora Dungan and Las Vegas resident Clare W. Woodbury, M.D. filed suit in 1965 with the Nevada District Court arguing that Nevada’s Senate districts violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States and lacked of fair representation and proportional districts. At the time, less than 8 percent of the population of the State of Nevada controlled more than 50 percent of the Senate. The District Court found that both the Senate and the Assembly apportionment laws were “invidiously discriminatory, being based upon no constitutionally valid policy.[7]” It was ordered that Governor Grant Sawyer call a Special Session to submit a constitutionally valid reapportionment plan.[8] The 11th Special Session lasted from October 25, 1965 through November 13, 1965 and a plan was adopted to increase the size of the Senate from 17 to 20.

Editorial: Voter registration version of don’t ask, don’t tell

After President Trump proclaimed to the world that the only reason Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 3 million was that 3 million or more ballots were cast fraudulently — by noncitizens, by the dead or by Box 13 in Alice, Texas, where ballot stuffing first elected Lyndon Johnson to Congress, perhaps — the media dutifully reported that there is no evidence, no proof, no foundation for such a claim.

Even Nevada’s Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske put out a statement saying her office was unaware of any “evidence” to support claims of voter fraud here.

“There is no evidence of voters illegally casting ballots at the most recent election in Nevada,” reads a statement posted on her website. “The Secretary of State’s office is aware of attempted fraud related to voter registration in Nevada; however, with the help of local election officials, we were able to investigate and make one arrest.”

There is no evidence because voters are not required to prove they are citizens or to show valid ID to prove they are who they say they are. How many people after the fact are going to come forward and volunteer that they voted fraudulently?

Recently a former newspaper columnist, Vin Suprynowicz, dredged up a 2012 column by fellow columnist Glenn Cook that found there really is “evidence,” but only if you really look for it and actually, you know, ask questions. (I also wrote about it at the time.)

Cook spoke shortly before the election that year with two immigrant noncitizens who had been registered to vote by a representative of their union, Culinary Local 226 in Clark County. They spoke English but didn’t read it very well. They told Cook the Culinary official who registered them to vote didn’t tell them what they were signing and didn’t ask whether they were citizens. Later, Culinary canvassers started seeking them out and ordering them to go vote.

Cook verified their identities, their lack of citizenship and their status as active registered voters.

The two said they did not have to show a photo ID to register and merely showed a Culinary health insurance card and a power bill.

“One would establish identity and one would establish residence,” then-Clark County Registrar of Voters Larry Lomax told the columnist. “Just like every other voter in Nevada, they will not be asked to prove citizenship.”

The Culinary political director denied the union canvassers do such things.

Shortly before the election this year The Associated Press reported that the Culinary union in Las Vegas had registered 34,000 of its members to vote and had reassigned 150 of its members to full-time political work, intending to knock on 200,000 doors and confront their co-workers in casino cafeterias and by phone. The union also chartered buses to shuttle casino workers to an early voting site during their paid lunch break, and handed each a boxed lunch.

According to a New York Times account shortly before the election, 56 percent of the Clark County Culinary union’s 57,000 members were Latino. No indication how many were citizens.

According to Pew Research Center, in 2014 Nevada had the highest ratio of illegal alien workers in the nation at 10.4 percent.

Cook spoke to just two people who should not have been registered to vote and should not have been pressured to vote nor pressured to vote for the union ticket. How many more there might have been is unknown, because no one is asking.

And, while we are not speculating about the impact such votes might’ve had on the 2016 election, we will note that Hillary Clinton lost in every county in Nevada except Clark and Washoe, while newly elected Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto lost in every county save Clark, as did the new Congressional District 4 Rep. Ruben Kihuen.

Nevada lawmakers should take the opportunity in the coming session to require proof of citizenship and a photo ID. Our current honor system is just too risky, especially in close races.

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: Whether you get to vote on tax hike will be up to the courts

One of these days, perhaps, you will be able to go online and download and sign a petition calling for the repeal of the $1.4 billion in tax hikes — a nearly 17 percent increase in state spending — approved by your Republican-majority Nevada Legislature and signed by your Republican governor just months after the voters rejected two tax hikes at the ballot box — one of them by a margin of 4-to-1.

Earlier this summer a group calling themselves the We Decide Coalition filed such an initiative with Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, asking that the matter go before the voters in November 2016.

The filing included a verbatim copy of the 100-page Senate Bill 483, which created a commerce tax (similar to the voter-rejected margin tax), hiked the cigarette tax $1 a pack, adjusted the payroll tax, made permanent certain “temporary” taxes, hiked business license fees, changed taxes on mining (a version of which was also rejected by voters), etc.

Knowing full well the initiative would be challenged in court because it addressed more than a single subject as required by law, a legislative land mine that has blown up many a petition effort, the group filed a pre-emptive lawsuit asking that the petition be declared a single subject because it addresses only one bill or, in the alternative, that SB483 be jettisoned as unconstitutional.

Brian Sandoval

The state Constitution requires: “Each law enacted by the Legislature shall embrace but one subject, and matter, properly connected therewith, which subject shall be briefly expressed in the title …”

Repeal proponents point out that SB483 amends 41 chapters and hundreds of sections, and amends, adds or deletes more than 87 separate freestanding sections of state law.

The status of that lawsuit is unclear since a group calling itself the Coalition for Nevada’s Future filed another suit in another state court challenging the legal standing of the petition over the single-subject law and over its “Description of Effect” filed with the repeal effort. Instead of describing the effect of repealing the law or letting it stand, the We Decide Coalition simply cut and pasted SB483’s title.

The suit points out that Nevada law “requires that an initiative petition set forth, in not more than 200 words, a ‘description of the effect of the initiative or referendum if the initiative or referendum is approved by the voters.’ The purpose of the description of effect is to help prevent voter confusion and promote informed decisions. The description of effect cannot be materially misleading, nor fail to identify the consequences of a referendum’s passage, and it must be straightforward, succinct, and nonargumentative.”

Chuck Muth

One of the instigators of the petition, Chuck Muth, conceded the latter point and said the group plans to refile its petition with a new and improved description of effect.

Once that is done, the other coalition is expected to file suit against that petition and start the whole process over again.

There is a possibility somewhere along the line that someone might raise the issue of whether every state judge has a conflict of interest. Were the voters to get a chance to slash the state budget by nearly 17 percent, who knows where the cuts in spending might trickle down. To the courts, perhaps? But it is hard to see how federal courts could have jurisdiction in what are basically conflicts under state law and constitution.

Gov. Brian Sandoval has promised to fight the repeal effort tooth and nail, calling the petition “a wrongheaded attack on the children and families of Nevada. Supported by more than seventy percent of legislators, the revenue the petition seeks to eliminate will go directly to the classroom and give teachers the resources to deliver a quality education.”

Of course, the governor fails to note that the state has increased education spending 80 percent per pupil, adjusted for inflation, over the past 40 years with no detectible effect on student test scores.

More than a few legal knots will have to be untangled before we find out whether the voters themselves will get a chance to say whether they agree or not with this massive increase in spending and taxation.

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

Rural Nevada voters help paint the state red

It may have been a Republican rout across Nevada,  but it was voters in rural counties who turned out in greater numbers and helped turn the state Republican red.

While turnout in Clark County, where more than two-thirds of the state’s population resides, was only 41 percent, turnout in many rural counties topped 60 percent, hitting 83 percent in Lander and 80 percent Eureka.

The dreaded mining tax constitutional amendment, Question 2, which would have removed the 5 percent cap on the net proceeds tax on minerals, went down to defeat by less than a percentage point, or 3,300 votes. The measure won with 56 percent of the vote in Clark County, where the state’s largest newspaper, the Review-Journal, endorsed passage of the amendment, but was defeated by huge margins in the rural counties, where most newspapers editorially opposed the change. Voters opposed the measure by more than 80 percent in Elko, Esmeralda, Eureka, Lander and White Pine counties.

Brian Sandoval

The rural counties also played a role in the Republican sweep of statewide offices on the ballot — Brian Sandoval for governor, Mark Hutchison for lieutenant governor, Adam Laxalt for attorney general, Barbara Cegavske for secretary of state, Ron Knecht for controller and Dan Schwartz for treasurer.

Sandoval, Hutchison, Schwartz and Knecht won in every county, despite the fact Schwartz’s opponent was endorsed by the Reno and Las Vegas newspapers and despite the fact Knecht’s opponent for backed by the Reno paper.

Adam Laxalt

Barbara Cegavske

The biggest difference made by the rurals may have been the somewhat surprising win of newcomer Laxalt over 12-year Secretary of State Ross Miller by less than 1 percentage point statewide. Democrat Miller carried the endorsement of the Las Vegas and Reno newspapers and won in Clark by 6 points and in Washoe by less than 2 points. Laxalt won most of the others counties with double-digit margins, by more than 52 points in Eureka, by 44 points in Lincoln and Elko counties.

Cegavske won in every county expect Washoe and Mineral.

The Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, Lincoln County Record, Eureka Sentinel, Mineral County Independent-News and Mesquite Local News — endorsed the Republican slate, except for Sandoval whose race was never in doubt.

Dan Schwartz

Cresent Hardy

Another race that many considered an upset was determined by rural voters — Congressional District 4, in which Democrat freshman incumbent Steven Horsford was defeated by Mesquite Republican Cresent Hardy by nearly 3 percentage points.

In the portion of Clark County in the district Horsford, who was endorsed by the Las Vegas newspaper, won by less than 2 points. Hardy carried Mineral by only 1 point, but won by double digits in the rest of the counties — 46 points in Esmeralda, 51 in Lincoln, 37 in Lyon, 21 in Nye and 30 in White Pine.

In a reversal of fortunes, Republicans now control majorities in both the state Assembly and Senate, taking 25 Assembly seats and leaving Democrats with just 17. All the Democrats in the Legislature are from either Clark or Washoe. None is from a rural county.

So, yes, your votes counted.

Ron Knecht