Newspaper column: New senator wants to shred First Amendment

Nevada’s newly elected U.S. senator, Catherine Cortez Masto, has already taken up the cudgel against the First Amendment previously wielded by her predecessor, Harry Reid.

She put out a press release recently announcing that she has joined with other congressional Democrats to reintroduce a constitutional amendment that would overturn Supreme Court rulings that have held that it is a violation of the First Amendment to restrict the amount of money corporations, nonprofits, unions and other groups may spend on political campaigns and when they may spend it.

In its current incarnation it is being called the Democracy for All Amendment. In previous years it bore the unwieldy acronym DISCLOSE Act — Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections. Reid frequently took to the floor of the Senate to pound the table for the amendment and disparage the Koch brothers’ political spending as the embodiment of evil.

“The U.S. Constitution puts democratic power in the hands of the American people — not corporations or private companies,” the press release quotes Cortez Masto as saying“Since the Citizens United decision, big corporations have gained unprecedented influence over elections and our country’s political process. I am proud to be a cosponsor of this legislation; it’s critical that we end unlimited corporate contributions if we are going to have a democratic process and government that will truly work for all Americans.”

In the 2010 Citizens United decision, a 5-4 Supreme Court struck down the part of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law that prohibited organizations such as Citizens United, a political action committee, from expending funds for electioneering immediately prior to an election. In this case the Federal Election Commission blocked the 2008 broadcast of “Hillary: The Movie,” which was critical of Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid.

During the arguments in the case, the Justice Department attorney defending the law admitted the law also would censor books critical of candidates, though newspapers and other media, most owned by large corporations, were exempted from the law and may criticize, editorialize and endorse or oppose candidates freely. Some corporations are more equal than others.

Cortez Masto’s statement concluded, “The Democracy for All Amendment returns the right to regulate elections to the people by clarifying that Congress and the states can set reasonable regulations on campaign finance and distinguish between individuals and corporations in the law.”

The problem is that free speech is not free if the incumbent government satrapy can curtail its dissemination.

Justice Anthony Kennedy explained this in his majority opinion in Citizens United v. FEC: “As a ‘restriction on the amount of money a person or group can spend on political communication during a campaign,’ that statute ‘necessarily reduces the quantity of expression by restricting the number of issues discussed, the depth of their exploration, and the size of the audience reached.’ … Were the Court to uphold these restrictions, the Government could repress speech by silencing certain voices at any of the various points in the speech process. (Government could repress speech by ‘attacking all levels of the production and dissemination of ideas,’ for ‘effective public communication requires the speaker to make use of the services of others’).”

The fact the expenditure is coming from a group instead of an individual does not negate the First Amendment guarantee of the “freedom of expression by prohibiting Congress from restricting the press or the rights of individuals to speak freely,” because it “also guarantees the right of citizens to assemble peaceably and to petition their government.”

An assembly is not just a crowd of people on the street, it is also an organization.

Reid in one of his many diatribes on the subject said: “But the flood of special interest money into our American democracy is one of the greatest threats our system of government has ever faced. Let’s keep our elections from becoming speculative ventures for the wealthy and put a stop to the hostile takeover of our democratic system by a couple of billionaire oil barons. It is time that we revive our constituents’ faith in the electoral system, and let them know that their voices are being heard.”

This implies the voters are too stupid to hear an open and free-wheeling debate and not be influenced by the volume or frequency of the message.

Lest we forget, in the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump was outspent by Hillary Clinton by two-to-one — $600 million to $1.2 billion.

Censorship is unAmerican and unnecessary. Cortez Masto should abandon this assault on free speech.

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: In Nevada election the tail wags the dog

Welcome to the state of Clark.

The land mass that is Clark County was added to Nevada three years after statehood, carved from a corner of Arizona. It was a part of Lincoln County until 1909, when the Legislature split off Clark County.

Clark dangles on the map like a vestigial tail on the nether region of Nevada.

On Election Day 2016, the tail wagged the dog.

This past week 1.1 million Nevadans cast presidential ballots, fully 68 percent of those were cast in Clark County — and there was a stark difference in how Clark voted compared to the rest of the state.

Only in Clark County did a majority vote for the Democratic Senate candidate. Thus it was for much of the ballot.

In the presidential contest alone the difference was a spectrum shift from bright Democratic blue in Clark to crimson Republican red just about everywhere else in the state.

While Democrat Hillary Clinton beat out Republican nominee Donald Trump statewide by about 36,000 votes, she bested him in Clark by more than 80,000 ballots, while he out polled her in the rest of the state by 55,000 votes, according to Secretary of State tabulations.

The only other Nevada county Clinton won was urban Washoe and that by only 2,500 votes out of more than 190,000 cast there. In other counties Trump won largely by margins exceeding 2-to-1 and in Lincoln County by 6-to-1.

Meanwhile, in the senatorial race to fill the vacancy being left by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s retirement, Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto won statewide, but the only county she won was Clark. She won statewide by about 2 percentage points or 26,000 votes, but won by 80,000 votes in Clark. Republican Joe Heck, who gave up his Congressional District 3 seat to run for the Senate, won every other county, some by more than 4-to-1. Excluding Clark, Heck won the remainder of Nevada by more than 55,000 votes.

Nearly 4 percent of Nevadans chose “none of these candidates” in the Senate race.

In the 4th Congressional District — which includes part of northern Clark County, the southern part of Lyon County and all of White Pine, Nye, Mineral, Esmeralda, and Lincoln counties — Democrat Ruben Kihuen won districtwide by nearly 10,000 votes but won in Clark by about 24,000.

Incumbent Republican Cresent Hardy won every other county, all by about 2-to-1 or more.

After the dust settles, Nevada switches from having four out of its six Washington delegates being Republicans to four being Democrats.

Democrats won all save one of the Clark County state Senate seats up for grabs, giving the Democrats an 11-10 majority in Carson City, instead of the previous 11-10 GOP edge.

Republicans won every rural Assembly seat, while Democrats carried most races in Clark and Washoe, giving Democrats a 27-15 majority, instead of the previous Republican majority.

The gun grabbing Question 1 ballot initiative requiring background checks for almost every gun purchase or gift passed by 100,000 votes in Clark, but failed in every other county, often with 80 to 90 percent voting no.

Question 2, legalization of pot, passed only in Clark, Washoe, Nye and Story, but narrowly won statewide due to Clark’s numbers.

In 2014 Nevada experienced a red shift, when Republicans won all six statewide elective offices — governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, treasurer, controller, attorney general — as well as majorities in both houses of the Legislature.

The 2016 reversal of fortune was probably best explained by a little-circulated Associated Press story that appeared about a week before the election. It described how the Las Vegas Culinary union was busing thousands of casino housekeepers and staffers to early voting sites just off the Las Vegas Strip, “speaking in Spanish as they clutched pocket-sized brochures listing candidates endorsed by the powerful Culinary union.”

The union bused workers during their paid lunch break and handed them boxed lunches for the ride back to work.

The story went on to report that the union had registered 34,000 members to vote, had reassigned 150 members to full-time political work, planned to knock on 200,000 doors and place phone calls to co-workers.

There is talk in California since the election of Trump about secession from the Union. Anyone think Clark County should go with them?

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: Senate candidates are on opposite ends of political spectrum

Catherine Cortez Masto debates Joe Heck in Senate race faceoff recently. (R-J photo via AP)

Catherine Cortez Masto debates Joe Heck in Senate race faceoff recently. (R-J photo via AP)

The race to fill the U.S. Senate seat of retiring Sen. Harry Reid offers voters a marked contrast in candidates, especially rural voters.

Reid has handpicked former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto to be his Democratic heir apparent, while Republicans have nominated Congressman Joe Heck, an emergency room physician by profession and a brigadier general in the Army Reserve.

The issue of what to do about federal public lands alone finds the two candidates pegged on opposite ends of the political spectrum.

Rep. Heck argues that far too much of Nevada — more than 86 percent — is controlled by federal government land agencies, which restrict productive uses.

“I believe that the best stewards of our precious lands are the people closest to it, who understand Nevada’s Western way of life, not bureaucrats in Washington,” Heck says on his website. “I opposed the president’s recent unilateral, executive land grab designating the Basin and Range Monument because it went well beyond the intention of the Antiquities Act and it did not have the support of local residents. I also cosponsored legislation called the Nevada Land Sovereignty Act of 2015, which prevents the president from taking executive action designating or expanding national monuments without Congressional approval or local support.”

In Congress, Heck boasts that he has fought to stop the listing of the greater sage grouse as an endangered species because of how it would harm the state’s economy.

“As your Senator, I will fight to transfer more of our public lands back to our state so that Nevadans can decide how to best utilize the land,” the congressman says.

In sharp contrast, Cortez Masto is cut from the same cloth as Reid, who applauded the president’s unilateral designation of Basin and Range Monument and has generally opposed handing over greater control of public lands to the state.

She has said on her website, “I will fight to ensure that future generations are able to experience the incredible natural resources Nevada has to offer, just like I did,” meaning leaving it in the hands of federal bureaucrats who have failed to manage the range to prevent wildfire and have failed to control the overpopulation of feral horses that are starving from overgrazing and jeopardizing other wildlife as well.

She also embraces Reid’s blind allegiance to the not-ready-for-free-market green energy acolytes.

“As U.S. senator, I will work to ensure we are fully utilizing Nevada’s abundance of wind, solar, and geothermal energy resources and increase investments in renewable energy technology to create green jobs here in Nevada,” she says. “I will also work to preserve and protect Nevada’s incredible public lands — a unique, valuable resource in Nevada that creates thousands of jobs and brings in millions of dollars into our state’s economy every year. We must safeguard our natural resources and stop big oil from receiving unnecessary tax subsidies” — unlike subsidies for green energy?

When it comes to ObamaCare and its skyrocketing premiums and deductibles and disappearing providers, Heck has already worked to pass legislation that would exempt residents of counties that have only one ObamaCare provider from the requirement to pay a tax penalty if they fail to maintain minimum health coverage under the so-called Affordable Care Act. Ten rural Nevada counties this next year will have only one provider.

“As an emergency department physician, one of the reasons I ran for Congress was the passage of the disastrous Affordable Care Act,” Heck says “The law has failed to meet its stated goals of increasing access to healthcare and reducing costs. Recent events suggest the law is having the opposite effect. Major insurers are leaving the exchanges and others are predicting significant premium hikes for their customers, making it anything but affordable.”

For her part, as attorney general, Cortez Masto refused then-Gov. Jim Gibbons’ directive to file suit to challenge the ObamaCare law, even though she was required to do so by state law — a dereliction of duty.

Heck recently voted to delay an Obama administration Labor Department rule that would vastly increase the number of workers who would have to be paid overtime and thus cripple many small businesses and result in job losses.

Meanwhile, Cortez Masto is advocating that Congress should raise the minimum wage, another job crushing move.

When it comes to the Second Amendment, Heck has an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association, while the NRA has spent $1 million on ads opposing Cortez Masto.

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.

Heck joins call for Trump to exit race for president

Donald Trump Friday. (AP photo via WSJ)

Donald Trump Friday. (AP photo via WSJ)

Friday afternoon, Republican Senate candidate Joe Heck’s campaign sent out an email strongly condemning the misogynistic language used by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump that was caught on tape 11 years ago. (Here is a link to the tape, but the language is too foul to post.)

Today, Heck joined others in the party calling for Trump to step aside as a candidate and said he will no longer support him or vote for Democrat Hillary Clinton.

“I believe our only option is to formally ask Mr. Trump to step down and allow Republicans the opportunity to elect someone who will provide us with the strong leadership so desperately needed and one that Americans deserve,” his campaign email quoted him as saying.

But Trump, as reported by The Wall Street Journal, said he will not quit.

WSJ reports former GOP presidential contender Carly Fiorina has called on Trump to quit the campaign, as have Sens. Mike Crapo of Idaho and Mike Lee of Utah. Others are withdrawing endorsements.

Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota today tweeted that Trump “should withdraw and Mike Pence should be our nominee effective immediately.”

Fox reports that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan have chastised Trump for his lewd comments.

Even Pence slapped Trump. “As a husband and father, I was offended by the words and actions described by Donald Trump in the eleven-year-old video released yesterday,” he said in a statement. “I do not condone his remarks and cannot defend them.”

The 70-year-old Trump apologized, but could not unring the bell.

After Heck criticized Trump’s taped language, his Democratic opponent, Catherine Cortez Masto, former state attorney general, was quoted by the AP as saying condemnations ring hollow if Heck is still voting for Trump.

The AP quoted Danny Tarkanian, who is running for Congress against Democrat Jacky Rosen, as saying, “As the father of three girls, I find these comments disgusting. No man should ever talk about women like that.”

Republican Rep. Cresent Hardy, seeking re-election to Congress, said “no woman should ever be treated or described this way. There is no place for this kind of rhetoric in our society.”

Here is the full comment from Heck today:

“I’ve spent much of my life serving in the military where I stood beside some of the bravest men and women this country has to offer — willing to put themselves in harm’s way to protect the freedoms upon which this country was founded. They live by a code of honor, of decency and of respect. 

“As a husband and a father, I strive to bring that same code of honor into my personal life.

“I believe any candidate for President of the United States should campaign with common ethical and moral values and decency. I accept that none of us are perfect. However, I can no longer look past this pattern of behavior and inappropriate comments from Donald Trump. Therefore, I cannot, in good conscience, continue to support him nor can I vote for Hillary Clinton.

“My wife, my daughters, my mother, my sister and all women deserve better. The American people deserve better.

“Our campaign will move forward, and continue to be based on the core principles of the Republican Party, the need for conservative leadership and the requirement that all people be treated with respect and dignity.

“My hope is that this will not divide us and that we can unite behind Republican principles. We deserve a candidate who can ask him or herself at the end of the day, ‘Did I live my life with honor and do I deserve to be elected president of the United States.’

“I believe our only option is to formally ask Mr. Trump to step down and allow Republicans the opportunity to elect someone who will provide us with the strong leadership so desperately needed and one that Americans deserve.

“Today, I stand here disappointed in our choices for president but more committed than ever to bringing that same code of honor, decency and respect to the United States Senate.”

The Republican Party never should have nominated this reprobate in the first place. His track record was well known. He is not now nor has he ever been a Republican.

 

Newspaper column: BLM sage grouse guidelines will bury land users in paperwork

The Bureau of Land Management this past week issued eight guideline memos instructing federal land managers in 11 Western states as to how they are to carry out policies intended to protect greater sage grouse — a move that threatens to bury ranchers, miners, oil and gas explorers and construction companies under a mountain of paperwork and impose lengthy delays, while doing little to actually protect the birds.

The move comes a year after the Interior Department declined to list sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act but instead issued reams of land use restrictions meant to protect the grouse, even though the number of male grouse counted in leks across the West had increased by 63 percent between 2013 and 2015, according to the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

Restrictions are being imposed even though sage grouse are legally hunted in many Western states, including Nevada.

Like the record of decision on sage grouse management issued this past September, the memos largely ignore one of the biggest threats to the colorfully plumed, ground-dwelling grouse — predators, primarily ravens and coyotes — and address almost entirely human economic endeavors. The 90-page record of decision used the word predator only once.

The memos, signed by BLM Deputy Director Steven Ellis, open with statements of purpose that say they are to provide guidance for analyzing and establishing thresholds for land use, with separate memos addressing grazing permits and general surface disturbances.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, immediately fired off a statement denouncing the guidelines as a ploy by the Obama administration to block oil and gas development.

“These plans, written as if the sage grouse were listed, are proof it was an underhanded, de facto listing scheme that further oppresses Western states,” Bishop said in a written statement provided to The Associated Press.

Republican Congressman Joe Heck, who is running to replace Harry Reid in the Senate, commented, “With these new guidelines, the administration continues to disregard the input of state and local stakeholders, like our ranching and mining families, whose livelihoods depend on being good stewards of the land. Unfortunately, the guidelines have more to do with avoiding costly lawsuits from special interests, like my opponent Catherine Cortez Masto’s biggest campaign donor, the League of Conservation Voters, than they do with actual conservation. And Nevada’s economy will pay the price.”

If there is a bright spot in any of this micromanaging from Washington, D.C., bureaucrats, it is that two days prior to the memos being sent out the Interior Department inked a deal with Newmont Mining and its ranching subsidiary to jointly manage sage grouse habitat so the company can continue mining operations and exploration, as well as grazing, in Nevada. Wildlife and natural resource agencies of the state helped broker the deal.

A statement from Gov. Brian Sandoval’s office called the agreement a first of its kind in scope and scale. It was not mentioned that Newmont was under considerable duress to cut a deal with federal land agencies, which held all the cards, though Sandoval called the deal a good-faith, public-private partnership.

“Through this historic agreement, Newmont has committed to implementing a wide-ranging, landscape-level conservation plan that includes voluntarily managing certain areas of its private rangelands and ranches in Nevada to achieve net conservation gains for sagebrush species,” Sandoval said in a press release.

Though the BLM guideline memos envision grazing restrictions to protect grouse, the Newmont deal specifically notes that one of the first pilot projects to be implemented under the agreement will use targeted grazing to reduce cheatgrass, an invasive species that contributes to the frequency and intensity of wildfires.

The Newmont deal also makes a vague reference to implementing “practices to reduce human-induced advantages for predators of greater sage-grouse” — presumably fewer fence posts and power line poles from which ravens can scout for nests with eggs.

The BLM’s handling of the sage grouse issue remains in active litigation in federal court, where the agency is being sued by Nevada, nine rural counties, two mining companies and a ranch, with Attorney General Adam Laxalt taking the lead, despite Sandoval’s reluctance.

Laxalt has stated that the BLM’s grouse efforts blatantly disregard the input of Nevada experts and stakeholders in violation of federal law.

The BLM’s own economist has estimated that the grouse habitat conservation efforts will cost Nevada $31 million and 493 jobs annually.

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.

Greater sage grouse (Forest Service photo)

Greater sage grouse (Forest Service photo)

New TV ad tries to smear Senate candidate with oil

What a non sequitur.

According to the Las Vegas newspaper, a group called the League of Conservation Voters plans to spend $860,000 on a TV ad attacking Rep. Joe Heck because his campaign to replace Harry Reid in the Senate is being backed by organizations associated with the oil barons Charles and David Koch.

The ad claims Heck’s alleged favoritism toward oil risks good Nevada clean energy jobs. Less than 1 percent of electricity in the country is produced with oil, so what’s the point?

Heck and Cortez Masto (AP photo)

Heck and Cortez Masto (AP photo)

Jobs? It is the League of Conservation Voters that is attacking jobs. According to its website, it pushes the Endangered Species Act, which kills jobs, opposed drilling anywhere, which kills jobs, and wants to shut down any activity that contributes to carbon production, which kills jobs.

Heck sent out a press release countering the claims in the ad.

“While Dr. Heck has been a strong supporter of solar jobs in Nevada, including legislation to streamline renewable energy development across the state, the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) is a DC-based partisan special interest that wants to put Nevadans out of work by stopping responsible mining, ranching, agriculture and recreation,” Heck spokesperson Brian Baluta said. “And, as Attorney General, Catherine Cortez Masto showed herself to be no friend of solar when she introduced a bill to exempt the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) from the open meeting law, allowing the PUC to raise rates behind closed doors. This bogus attack has nothing to do with clean energy and everything to do with installing Chuck Schumer as the next Senate Majority Leader.”

In fact, Heck has backed tax credits for wind and solar, which, frankly, drive up the cost of power and kills jobs, but no one is a purist in this fight.

On the League’s scorecard Heck’s voting record agreed with its stances only 8 percent of the time, compared to Reid’s 81 percent. There’s a contrast Heck should be proud of.

It’s going to get ugly, folks.

 

 

 

Koch brothers repay Reid by spending millions to capture his Senate seat for GOP

Be careful against whom you declare war. They might fight back and win.

For years Harry Reid has been obsessively ranting and mewling about the wealthy Koch brothers, Charles and David, for deigning to spend their own money to express their free speech rights. He even has a webpage on his official Senate website devoted to lambasting the brothers Koch. According to the 17 points on the page, the Kochs want to pollute the air, foul the water, dismantle Social Security, Medicare, ObamaCare, minimum wage laws and public education.

Though the Koch brothers this election season are largely staying out of presidential politics, they are pouring money into Nevada in an effort to help a Republican capture Reid’s Senate seat, now that he is retiring. They have reportedly spent $6 million so far backing Republican Rep. Joe Heck and attacking former state Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, Reid’s hand-picked successor, according to ThinkProgess, a liberal website.

According to the Las Vegas newspaper today, the Kochs and other groups are currently spending heavily in the race, mostly against Cortez Masto. The story reports Freedom Partners Action Fund, a super PAC that is part of the Koch brothers’ network, has reported spending $622,153 on media ads opposing Cortez Masto, such as the one above.

Heck and Cortez Masto (RGJ photos)

According to the latest polls, Heck and Cortez Masto are tied, even though Democrats outnumber Republicans in Nevada by more than 70,000 registered voters.

An earlier story in the Las Vegas paper reported that the Kochs’ Americans For Prosperity is working on a so-called ground game to challenge Reid’s vaunted army of union volunteers who bus casino workers to the polls with pre-selected sample ballots.

In a recent news account, The New York Times quoted Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity, as saying, “It would certainly be poetic justice to see Harry Reid, who for so long has waged an unhinged personal vendetta against people we care a lot about, to see his seat go to someone who supports limited government, free speech.”

The Kochs are putting their money where their mouths are.

Reid seems to think that money alone will persuade people, but there also has been believable content in the message. I’m not sure anyone believes anything Reid has to say any more. He sounds like a broken record.