A little difference of opinions over covering the news

On his contribution-financed news website, The Nevada Independent, editor Jon Ralston posted a commentary, under the headline “Cutting off The Indy spites the public we serve,” this week complaining about public officials refusing to talk to his reporters — specifically state Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, Attorney General Adam Laxalt and U.S. Sen. Dean Heller.

The piece quoted a Roberson aide as texting a reporter: “Senator Roberson only provides commentary to reputable news outlets. He does not consider The Nevada Independent as such.”

At one point Ralston suggested that elected officials refusing to talk to certain reporters was tantamount to violating public records laws.

He proclaimed:

“This is not about me or our team of journalists whining about access. This is about public officials, staffers, and agencies depriving the public of important information, context and nuance. They are not hurting me or The Indy. They are sullying the civic fabric by preventing access to information that drives essential public dialogue.

“Finally, a word on a laughable claim. Roberson, Laxalt and Heller have whispered that I am a Democratic partisan. Not only is that not so, but it is low to insinuate and patently false to say that any of our news stories have a partisan slant. Indeed, anyone who knows any of our reporters knows none of them would stand for me trying to inject my bias into their stories, even if I tried, which I never have and never would.”

 

In the online-no-love-lost-between-rivals there came a couple of rejoinders.

Victor Joecks, a conservative Review-Journal columnist, responded on Twitter with this critique: “Free advice: Conflating a govt official not responding to a reporter’s request for comment with a govt official not answering a public information request is one of the reasons folks think you’re a hack and just out to smear them.”

But conservative blogger Chuck Muth unleashed a 1,200-word diatribe that had to leave a welt.

Muth pointed that two days earlier Ralston had penned a screed in which he outlined the standards The Nevada Independent would use to cover elections. Ralston said that “there is no public benefit in covering candidates who have clearly demonstrated they are unfit for public office or who have zero chance of getting elected no matter what coverage they get.”

To which Muth replied, “In short, Blogger Jon will subjectively decide who is a credible candidate worthy of attention and who isn’t.”

Muth twisted the knife:

It seems a number of candidates and elected officials don’t consider the Ralston Rag to be a credible news organization and have been refusing to give his newsblog the time of day.

Indeed, Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson is quoted as saying he only “provides commentary to reputable news outlets” and “does not consider The Nevada Independent as such.”

In other words, Roberson is treating Ralston the exact same way Ralston, just two days earlier, announced he’ll be treating certain candidates based on credibility.  Shoe on the other foot.  Sauce for the goose.

Ralston went on to spew forth his venom at Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt and U.S. Sen. Dean Heller for also blowing off interview requests from the Ralston Rag, whining that such blacklisting “is not just puerile (Jon loves to use fancy words to appear smarter than everyone else); it’s unethical and unconscionable.”

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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.

Newspaper column: Tax hike battle should prove to be a bruiser

This should get interesting.

A group of people calling themselves the We Decide Coalition has filed an initiative petition with the Nevada Secretary of State that would give voters a chance to repeal the $1.4 billion in tax hikes passed by the 2015 Legislature at the behest of Gov. Brian Sandoval — Senate Bill 483.

The political and legal wrangling promise to get down in the mud.

Politically, the filing struck a raw nerve with our Republican governor, who unleashed a withering diatribe, 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. Most Nevadans understand that more investment in our schools, with proper accountability and reform, will improve graduation rates and student performance. It is also clear that if our schools don’t improve, businesses won’t come here. The time is now to build the workforce of the future.”

Brian Sandoval

Never mind that the state has increased education spending 80 percent per pupil, adjusted for inflation, during the past 40 years with no detectible effect on test scores.

Unfazed by the historic record of failure for his proposed education spending, Sandoval attacked the petitioners by demanding: “Those responsible for promoting this petition must answer a simple question to the parents of Nevada: What will you cut?”

Among possible cuts, Sandoval helpfully listed class-size reduction, which has a 25-year track record of failure to produce. He mentioned anti-bullying programs, which have little to do with actual education. He singled out all-day kindergarten, which even the U.S. Department of Education admits has not improved outcomes.

He also listed the Read by Three program, which would require that children who are not proficient in reading by the end of the third grade would not be promoted to the fourth grade. How much does that cost? Besides it is not scheduled to go into effect until the 2019-20 school year, after Sandoval leaves office.

“I strongly oppose the petition,” Sandoval concluded. “Its passage will destroy a generational opportunity to finally modernize and improve an under-performing education system.”

Where and when have we heard that before?

For their part the petitioners point out that SB483 is the largest tax hike in Nevada history and includes a gross receipts tax — under the rubric of a commerce tax — that is similar to the teachers union tax that 80 percent of Nevada voters rejected at the ballot box just this past November. At that same election the voters also rejected a mining tax hike.

Doesn’t appear the voters have much of an appetite for tax increases, even if their elected lawmakers do.

But the real fight over this initiative petition is likely to take place in the courts. In fact, the petitioners themselves do not seem overly anxious to begin the arduous task of gathering the 55,000 signatures by June 2016 to qualify the referendum for the ballot. They think a court challenge is inevitable.

They say there will undoubtedly be a legal challenge and, therefore, “there isn’t much sense in potentially wasting a lot of time, effort and money actually circulating this petition until the inevitable court challenges are resolved.”

The legal hurdle is likely to be the single-subject rule, which has tripped many petitioners. This law was passed in 2005 and says any initiative petition must contain “but one subject and matters necessarily connected therewith and pertaining thereto.”

Chuck Muth

SB483 contains a half dozen taxes, which arguably violates the state constitution, which reads: “Each law enacted by the Legislature shall embrace but one subject …”

Petition proponents argue SB483 passed the Legislature and was signed by the governor as one subject; therefore, repeal would be one subject.

“In the past, courts have defined the meaning of ‘single subject’ very broadly for legislation but very narrowly for citizen ballot initiatives,” writes Chuck Muth, president of Citizen Outreach and one the petition instigators. “The only way for the courts to reject this particular word-for-word referendum as a violation of the single subject rule is to tell the people of Nevada that they are held to a completely different, thoroughly discriminatory definition of ‘single subject’ than the people we the people elect.”

Let the battle begin and when the dust clears, we’ll see if the taxpayers come out the winners or losers.

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.

Update: AP reports that Sen. Harry Reid says he is willing to do everything he can to help Sandoval’s tax package survive a ballot initiative seeking its repeal, though he is not actively involved now.

“Sandoval and I don’t agree on stuff, but we agree on a lot, and I think what he was able to do with that Legislature was masterful,” Reid said. “I think it would be a real disservice to our state if the crazies were able to prevail.”

 

Another session coming to an end without real collective bargaining reform

Tell me again why we elected all those Republicans. You know, the ones who promised collective bargaining reform and public employee pension changes that would save taxpayers millions of dollars.

So far the changes have been cosmetic at best.

Assembly Bill 280, which would have allowed local government to opt out of collective bargaining, hasn’t been heard from since April.

Assembly Bill 190, to reform PERS, is probably buried.

In his State of the State speech Gov. Brian Sandoval mentioned collective bargaining several times, but he has been AWOL ever since.

He also said, “We must also consider Sensible reform to the Public Employee Retirement System and the way we pay state employees.” Since then, crickets.

Brian Sandoval at State of State speech (AP photo)

Victor Joecks of NPRI notes that only minor changes have advanced on collective bargaining, such as Senate Bill 241. “When you first read look at SB241, it sounds like it’s a substantive reform, but when you examine the details, you’ll find it makes only cosmetic changes,” he writes.

Conservative activist Chuck Muth compares it to Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown year, after year, after year. It is apt. After all, he used the same comparison in 2011.

Fooled again.

 

 

What, oh what, to call politicians who flip-flop on an issue in a single day?

I can’t decide if they are dithering dolts or vacillating varlets or wavering wastrels.

Eight Republicans this week voted against amending a Senate bill to allow concealed carry permittees to carry their concealed weapons on college campuses, but seven of them later joined as sponsors of a new bill (Assembly Bill 487) that would accomplish the same thing, according to the Las Vegas newspaper account today. The Assembly vote against the amendment was 24-18.

Can’t tell whether they grew new spines or were kicked in the butt. The paper lists the seven changelings as Assembly members James Oscarson, Jim Wheeler, Melissa Woodbury, Derek Armstrong, Chris Edwards, Stephen Silberkraus and Lynn Stewart. Majority Leader Paul Anderson, who also voted against amending the Senate bill, is not listed as a sponsor.

On Friday conservative activist Chuck Muth sent an email missive listing the eight Republicans who voted against the “campus carry” amendment along with their phone numbers. He called them shameful and quoted another conservative activist, Tony Warren, as saying, “Remember these names. They are not worthy to serve as our representatives. Damn them to HELL.”

Muth included this detail of the events:

Our good friend Janine Hansen at Nevada Families reported on another aspect of this shameful display of betrayal and cowardice yesterday.

Assembly Speaker-of-the-Weak John Hambrick called for a voice vote on the SB175/AB148 hybrid gun bill.  He ruled from the chair that the vote was too close to call and ordered a “division of the house.”

A division of the house simply means everyone who supports the bill stands up and the total is counted, and then everyone who opposes the bill stands up to be counted.

The problem with that is that each individual legislator is allowed to escape casting a RECORDED vote in the official record.

So conservative Assemblywoman Michele Fiore – God bless her – stood up and asked for a roll-call vote.

Hambrick ruled her out of order and rejected the request.

Fiore than asked for a one-minute recess – a request that rarely, if ever, is denied.

Hambrick rejected her request.

(“So he (Hambrick) was in league with the anti-gun rights Republicans,” ((Janine)) Hansen wrote. “This is a disgrace!!! Why elect Republicans when they betray us on the most basic liberty issues like self defense?”)

Darned good question.  But back to Fiore…

After being shot down by Hambrick, the Las Vegas Republican immediately left the Assembly chamber and headed to her office where she called the lead lawyer at the Legislative Counsel Bureau (LCB), Brenda Erdoes, to ask if Hambrick really had the power to deny a request for a roll-call vote and/or one-minute recess.

But to give you an idea of just how paranoid and unhinged some folks are in Carson City about Fiore, apparently somebody thought she might have left the chamber to go get her gun and was afraid she’d come back and shoot the place up.

So, I’m told, legislative police were called to the first floor to secure the Assembly chamber and block Fiore from returning to her seat!

Un-freaking-believable.

Eventually, Fiore was allowed back on the floor and later in the day rose and issued a statement, FOR THE RECORD, identifying by name the eight Republicans who turned tail and ran when the heat got too hot in the kitchen and sold out campus carry supporters.

The Review-Journal reported that Republican Assembly Judiciary Chairman Ira Hansen criticized the creation of the new bill as an effort to gain “political cover.”

“And that is a huge mistake politically, and it was the wrong thing to do, and they abandoned their own party’s base,” he is quoted as saying of the votes against the campus carry amendment. “And now what they want to do, is come back when it is not going to make any difference and they know it, and have me go through the whole hearing process again as we already did on (AB)148, to give them political cover.

“And I think it stinks, and I think we had a shot if they would have stuck to their guns. …

“So they chickened out, they caved in on the whole issue and now they want to come back and pretend like they are going to be the heroes and resurrect the bill.”

Michele Fiore speaks on the Assembly floor Friday. (R-J photo)

The Reno newspaper account simply said:

Fiore stormed out of the chamber after that vote was taken when Speaker John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas, refused to call for a roll call vote on the issue or stop the floor session for a brief time out.

She later returned and apologized.

Muth just posted a follow-up this morning under the headline: “Who Shot Campus CarryA Muth’s Truths Investigation – Part I.”

In this posting Muth notes that Gov. Brian Sandoval does not want a campus carry bill to make it to his desk and force him to veto it and suggests certain Republicans are trying to protect him.

 

Newspaper column: State Constitution does not allow laws regulating political speech

The Nevada Supreme Court made the right decision but for the wrong reason.

In the case of Citizen Outreach vs. State, the court ruled 5-2 a couple of weeks ago that the organization did not violate a 1997 law requiring those who engage in express advocacy to file paperwork with the secretary of state’s office revealing donors and expenditures.

The majority said the fliers mailed out by Citizen Outreach during the 2010 election season criticizing Assembly member John Oceguera for being a double-dipper — drawing pay as a North Las Vegas firefighter while serving in Carson City — did not contain the “magic words of express advocacy,” such as “vote for” or “vote against,” which would trigger the need to comply with the law.

The ruling overturned a summary judgment by Carson City District Judge James Todd Russell, who fined the group $10,000 plus $7,600 in costs in 2013.

Nevada Supreme Court (R-J photo)

The ruling states, “Because it is undisputed that Citizen Outreach’s flyers do not contain magic words of express advocacy, the flyers were not subject to regulation under Nevada’s campaign practices statutes that were effective in 2010.”

The problem now is that in 2011 the Legislature rewrote the law so that it now states that express advocacy “means that a communication, taken as a whole, is susceptible to no other reasonable interpretation other than as an appeal to vote for or against a clearly identified candidate.”

The court majority noted that the secretary of state testified that the change would “make it clear that Nevada does not require” magic words for a communication to be express advocacy.

That makes the revised law highly subjective and subject to as many interpretations as there are people. It erases any bright line test.

The problem is that both the 1997 and the 2011 law blatantly violate both the First Amendment and the Nevada Constitution because they are not “content neutral” and address no “compelling government interest.”

In a similar case involving a Virginia-based organization that failed to file the proper paperwork with the state, Judge James E. Wilson Jr. stopped televised ads from being broadcast and said, “Nevadans have a right to know who is behind election advertising.”

There is no such right to know. The voters get to decide what communication is persuasive, whether the source of funding is revealed or not. The voters tell the government what to do, not the other way around.

Article 1, Section 9 of the Nevada Constitution states: “Every citizen may freely speak, write and publish his sentiments on all subjects being responsible for the abuse of that right; and no law shall be passed to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech or of the press.”

This law clearly restrains and abridges.

The words are clear and unambiguous — “no law shall be passed to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech or of the press” — and thus any state law that does so violates the state Constitution and is null and void from inception. A $10,000 fine in any dictionary is a restraint.

In this day and age, donating to certain causes, such as the anti-gay marriage campaign in California, have resulted in threats, intimidation, boycotts and ruined careers.

Justice Clarence Thomas said in a dissent in Citizens United v. FEC, “I cannot endorse a view of the First Amendment that subjects citizens of this Nation to death threats, ruined careers, damaged or defaced property, or pre-emptive and threatening warning letters as the price for engaging in ‘core political speech, the “primary object of First Amendment protection.”’

Just this past week a federal judge in California temporarily enjoined the state attorney general from enforcing a law similar to Nevada’s.

“Donors who have witnessed harassment of those perceived to be connected with plaintiff’s co-founders have experienced their unwillingness to continue to participate if such limited disclosure is made,” Judge Manuel Real wrote, adding that there is “sufficient evidence establishing that public disclosure would have a chilling effect on free speech.”

There is no constitutional authority for government to drag more information out of a speaker than the speaker wishes to convey, under the excuse that voters are just too darned stupid to evaluate anonymous speech for themselves. Compelled speech is not free speech.

The Legislature should repeal this law or someone should challenge the 2011 version of the law in the courts and make the right argument.

Free speech must be free of government restrictions, especially political speech.

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 and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Nevada Supreme Court rules too narrowly in free speech case

Nevada Supreme Court

The Nevada Supreme Court made the right decision but for the wrong reason.

In the case of Citizen Outreach vs. State, the court ruled 5-2 that the organization did not violate a 1997 law requiring those who engage in express advocacy to file paperwork with the secretary of state’s office revealing donors and expenditures. The majority said the fliers mailed out by Citizen Outreach during the 2010 election season criticizing Assembly member John Oceguera for being a double-dipper — drawing pay as a North Las Vegas firefighter while serving in Carson City — did not contain the “magic words of express advocacy,” such as “vote for” or “vote against,” which would trigger the need to comply with the law.

The ruling overturned a summary judgment by Carson City District Judge James Todd Russell, who fined the group $10,000 plus $7,600 in costs in 2013. (In a bizarre twist, the court first reported that case was affirmed 5-2, but the ruling and dissents contained identical language. The court blamed a clerical error. This turn of events practically gave Citizen Outreach head honcho Chuck Muth whiplash.)

The corrected ruling stated:

“Because it is undisputed that Citizen Outreach’s flyers do not contain magic words of express advocacy, the flyers were not subject to regulation under Nevada’s campaign practices statutes that were effective in 2010.

“Accordingly, we ORDER the judgment of the district court REVERSED.”

The problem now is that in 2011 the Legislature rewrote the law to remove the question of whether “magic words” — a silly creation of the U.S. Supreme Court — and state that express advocacy “means that a communication, taken as a whole, is susceptible to no other reasonable interpretation other than as an appeal to vote for or against a clearly identified candidate.”

The court majority noted that the secretary of state testified that the change would “make it clear that Nevada does not require” magic words for a communication to be express advocacy.

The problem is not with magic words. The problem is that both the 1997 and the 2011 law blatantly violate both the First Amendment and the Nevada Constitution because they are not “content neutral” and address no “compelling government interest” in curtailing free speech by requiring revealing donors and expenditures under penalty of $10,000 fines.

In a similar case involving a Virginia-based organization that failed to file the proper paperwork with the state, Judge James E. Wilson Jr. stopped televised ads from being broadcast and said,“Nevadans have a right to know who is behind election advertising. … Irreparable harm will occur to the voters and to the electoral process if broadcasting of the Ad is not enjoined, because voters are being deprived of the information to which they are entitled under Nevada law prior to casting their ballots.”

There is no such right to know. A compelling government interest might be public safety, but not whether voters must be told who is donating to a given cause. The voters get to decide what communication is persuasive, whether the source of funding is revealed or not. The voters tell the government what to do, not the other way around.

Article 1, Section 9 of the Nevada Constitution states: “Every citizen may freely speak, write and publish his sentiments on all subjects being responsible for the abuse of that right; and no law shall be passed to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech or of the press.”

NRS 294 clearly restrains and abridges.

The words are clear and unambiguous — “no law shall be passed to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech or of the press” — and thus any state law that does so violates the state Constitution and is null and void from inception. A $10,000 fine in any dictionary is a restraint.

In 1988, Margaret McIntyre was fined $100 for distributing leaflets opposing a school tax levy at a public meeting in Westerville, Ohio. She had violated a state law prohibiting unsigned leaflets — similar to unrevealed donors, don’t you think?

In declaring the Ohio law unconstitutional, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote:

“Under our Constitution, anonymous pamphleteering is not a pernicious, fraudulent practice, but an honorable tradition of advocacy and of dissent. Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. … It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation — and their ideas from suppression — at the hand of an intolerant society.”

The Federalist and Anti-Federalist papers, as well as “Common Sense,” were all penned anonymously. The former to avoid clouding the message about the new Constitution with personalities, but the latter to avoid being hanged for treason.

In this day and age, donating to certain causes, such as the anti-gay marriage campaign in California, have resulted in threats, intimidation, boycotts and ruined careers.

Justice Clarence Thomas said in a dissent in Citizens United v. FEC:

“I cannot endorse a view of the First Amendment that subjects citizens of this Nation to death threats, ruined careers, damaged or defaced property, or pre-emptive and threatening warning letters as the price for engaging in ‘core political speech, the “primary object of First Amendment protection.”’

As I said, the Nevada high court made the right decision but for the wrong reason. The law itself should have been declared unconstitutional.

There is no constitutional authority for government to drag more information out of a speaker than the speaker wishes to convey, under the excuse that voters are just too darned stupid to evaluate anonymous speech for themselves. Compelled speech is not free speech.

The Legislature should repeal this law or someone should challenge the 2011 version of the law in the courts and make the right argument.

Free speech must be free of government restrictions.