Senate bill would emasculate political parties in Nevada

sb103

A bill has been introduced in Carson City that would jettison the current Democrat and Republican primaries in favor of an open primary system, in which anyone could sign up as a candidate and anyone could vote for anyone of any party or no party. The top two vote getters would advance to the General Election, even if both are affiliated with the same party or no party.

The bill would make the two major political parties irrelevant in actually selecting their own candidates and reduce them to the role of merely endorsing candidates.

Senate Bill 103 was introduced by Republican state Sen. James Settelmeyer of Minden.

Settelmeyer told the media that some of his constituents were upset that they could not vote in the primary because they were nonpartisan.

As of December, 39 percent of active Nevada voters were Democrats, 33 percent Republicans and 28 percent nonpartisan or members of some other minor party.

The whole concept of partisan party politics is to facilitate persons of like-minded political persuasions to organize and select candidates that promise to advance a given philosophy of governance — though in recent years the efficacy of this proposition has been suspect in Nevada with self-styled conservatives voting for history making tax hikes.

Now, I’ve never been in favor of forcing all taxpayers, including nonpartisans and members of other parties, to pay for the primaries the state puts on for the Democrat and Republican parties. Let those parties pay for their primaries or caucuses or smoke-filled backrooms.

But the open primary system makes it more difficult to weigh the various candidates based on past allegiances and opens the opportunity for Fifth Column candidates to claim to be what they are not. Faux Democrats or Republicans could flood the ballot and split the vote for a party’s real selection.

In Louisiana in the 1970s Democratic Gov. Edwin Edwards hatched a foolproof plan to end the Republican Party in that state. He pushed through an open primary under the assumption Republicans would not make it to the General Election, due to heavy Democratic majorities in the urban areas of the state, meaning two Democrats would face off in November.

But the best laid plans oft gang awry. In the next election there were seven Democrats on the gubernatorial ballot, one nonpartisan and one Republican. When the smoke cleared, Republican Dave Treen was elected governor, leading the way for the state to transition to Republican domination.

At least the open primary is better than letting anyone and everyone decide on Election Day in which primary they will vote.

Think of it this way. Political parties are like brands. Without brands who knows what adulterated product you are getting.

Politics is messy. Open primaries just make it messier.

At the turn of the previous century Baltimore’s notoriously curmudgeonly newspaper columnist, H.L. Mencken, pined for more realism in politics:

“I can imagine a political campaign purged of all the current false assumptions and false pretenses — a campaign in which, on election day, the voters went to the polls clearly informed that the choice between them was not between an angel and a devil, a good man and a bad man, but between two frank go-getters, the one perhaps excelling at beautiful and nonsensical words and the other at silent and prehensile deeds — the one a chautauqua orator and the other the porch-climber. There would be, in that choice, something free, candid and exhilarating. The Buncome would be adjourned. The voter would make his selection in the full knowledge of all the facts, as he makes his selection between two heads of cabbage, or two evening papers, or two brands of chewing tobacco. Today he chooses his rulers as he buys bootleg whiskey, never knowing precisely what he is getting, only certain that it is not what it pretends to be. The Scotch may turn out to be wood alcohol or it may turn out to be gasoline; in either case it is not Scotch. How much better if it were plainly labeled, for wood alcohol and gasoline both have their uses — higher uses, indeed that Scotch. The danger is that the swindled and poisoned consumer, despairing of ever avoiding them when he doesn’t want them, and actually enforce his own prohibition. The danger is that the hopeless voters, forever victimized by his false assumption about politicians, may in the end gather such ferocious indignation that he will abolish them teetotally and at one insane sweep, and so cause government by the people, for the people and with the people to perish from this earth.”

In 2014, only 59 percent of those eligible to vote in Nevada even bothered to register. Of those who registered, only 46 percent went to the polls in November, meaning 73 percent of those eligible to vote did not choose any brand of bootleg whiskey.

 

Editorial: Lawmakers should not opt for presidential primaries instead of caucuses

Here we go again. Teeth are being gnashed. Hands are being wrung. People are whining about how unseemly, uncouth and unAmerican the very thought of a presidential caucus is compared to a nice aseptic primary.

The Legislature dithers.

Assembly Bill 302 would change the presidential caucuses of the two major parties to primaries in February, though why the Democrats need bother is another question entirely.

Senate Bill 421 would move all statewide primaries to the last Tuesday in February of even-numbered years, which would mean candidates would have to file a year before the General Election and make the general election season run from March through October. Hopefully, that is going nowhere fast. That is more politics than any of us could tolerate.

Republican state Sen. James Settelmeyer of Minden, a co-sponsor of SB421, has been quoted as saying his constituents “didn’t feel they had the ability to speak freely or felt intimidated by the (caucus) process,” and that voting “is a private thing, and I don’t believe the caucus is private.”

Unlike primaries, in which people show up sometime during the day and take a few minutes to step behind the veil of a voting machine, caucuses typically take place on Saturday and can involve hours of breaking up into precinct meetings, debating candidate qualification and voting by a show of hands or some other public expression of support.

Republic caucus meeting in Las Vegas high school in 2012. (Getty Images)

Frankly, political parties should nominate their candidates by whatever means they choose without interference from the state or funding by the taxpayers. By the way, the Australian, or secret, ballot was not widely used in this country until the late 1800s.

After the Nevada Republican presidential caucuses in 2012, it was widely reported that it wasn’t exactly a well-oiled machine. There were long delays, breakdowns in communication, misfires and miscues. One person tweeted: “GOP organization — an oxymoron.”

At the time people complained that they actually were required to publicly vote and actually talk to other human beings about politics. You’d think they’d been required to mud wrestle each other.

Back in 2008 Democrat Dina Titus, now in Congress, promised to introduce a bill to change from presidential caucuses to primaries in Nevada. “This notion of neighbors getting together with neighbors to talk about politics, that’s just not Nevada,” she said. “What I found in my caucus is that the meeting didn’t lead to collaboration, cooperation and a good discussion. It led to hostility. It’s too complicated.” And she was a professor of political science — another oxymoron.

Columbia School of Law professor and election law expert Nathaniel Persily once observed, “The move toward primaries has transferred power away from political parties to the media, who are then in a position to describe someone as having momentum.” We agree.

In fact, current state law has the two major parties permanently ensconced, conducting primaries for them and paying costs and dictating when they will occur, while other minor parties must fend for themselves in conventions or caucuses to select their candidates. The Democrats and the Republicans should do the same. Perhaps, with real competition one of them might be overtaken by one of those minor parties.

Maybe we should bring back smoke-filled rooms with ward heelers arm wrestling and cajoling and making deals. Maybe then we would get candidates who stand for principles instead of hollow platitudes and slogans appealing to the widest possible range of slack-jawed dullards too simple minded to express an opinion in public and actually have to defend it.

Actually, we sometimes think Thomas Jefferson had the right idea: “I am not a Federalist, because I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent. If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.”

The state should remove itself as far as possible from the conduct of all political parties, major or minor.

A version of this editorial appears this past week in 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.

(The front page story in today’s Las Vegas newspaper reads more like an editorial than a news article.)

Let the political parties decide how, when and where to nominate their candidates

R-J photo from 2012 caucuses

Here we go again. Teeth are being gnashed. Hands are being wrung. People are whining about how unseemly, uncouth and unAmerican the very thought of a presidential caucus is compared to a nice aseptic primary.

As the Legislature dithers on this topic, it warranted a story on the front page today in the Las Vegas newspaper, including the absurd claim that some presidential campaigns are threatening to skip the Nevada Republican caucus due to fears that the libertarian-leaning party is stacked in favor of Rand Paul, son of Ron Paul who finished second in 2012. (Side observation, the story warrants the front page in print, but I defy you to track it down online. It is relegated to the “Today’s headlines” bone yard.)

Assembly Bill 302 would change the presidential caucuses of the two major parties to primaries in February, though why the Democrats need bother is another question entirely.

Senate Bill 421 would move all statewide primaries to the last Tuesday in February of even-numbered years, which would mean candidates would have to file a year before the General Election and make the general election season run from March through October. Hopefully, that is going nowhere fast. That is more politics than even I could stand.

The paper quotes Republican state Sen. James Settelmeyer of Minden, a co-sponsor of SB421, as saying his constituents “didn’t feel they had the ability to speak freely or felt intimidated by the process,” and that voting “is a private thing, and I don’t believe the caucus is private.”

No, the political parties nominate their candidates. They should nominate them in whatever way they choose without interference from the state or funding by the taxpayers. And, by the way, the Australian, or secret, ballot was not widely used in this country until the late 1800s.

After attending the Republican presidential caucus in 2012, I reported that it wasn’t exactly a well-oiled machine. There were long delays, breakdowns in communication, misfires and miscues. In fact, 20 minutes into it I sent out a tweet or twit or whatever saying: “GOP organization — an oxymoron.”

Yes, people complained that they actually were required to publicly vote and actually talk to other human beings about politics. You’d think they’d been required to mud wrestle each other.

Back in 2008 Democrat Dina Titus, now in Congress, promised to introduce a bill to change from presidential caucuses to primaries in Nevada. “This notion of neighbors getting together with neighbors to talk about politics, that’s just not Nevada,” she said. “What I found in my caucus is that the meeting didn’t lead to collaboration, cooperation and a good discussion. It led to hostility. It’s too complicated.” And she was a professor of political science — another oxymoron.

I used that quote in a column in which I talked about Columbia School of Law professor and election law expert Nathaniel Persily saying, “The move toward primaries has transferred power away from political parties to the media, who are then in a position to describe someone as having momentum.” I agreed.

In fact, state law has the two major parties permanently ensconced, while other parties must fend for themselves in conventions or caucuses to select their candidates. The Democrats and the Republicans should do the same. Perhaps, with real competition one of them might be overtaken by Curmudgocrats or the Latter-day Whigs.

It is time to scrap the idea of primaries and caucuses. Bring back smoke-filled rooms with ward heelers arm wrestling and cajoling and making deals. Maybe then we would get candidates who stand for principles instead of hollow platitudes and slogans appealing to the widest possible range of slack-jawed dullards too simple minded to express an opinion in public and actually have to defend it.

Actually, I think Thomas Jefferson had the right idea:

“I am not a Federalist, because I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent. If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.”

 

 

 

 

 

Only four state senators vote against governor’s margin tax lite

Only four state senators had the gumption today to vote against the governor’s margin tax lite, which taxes businesses based on their gross receipts in the same way as the proposal on November’s ballot, which was defeated by voters by a 4-to-1 margin.

The four were Republicans Pete Giocoechea, Donald Gustavson, Scott Hammond and James Settelmeyer. That means seven Republicans and all the Democrats voted for Senate Bill 252, making the final vote 17-4. It now goes to the Assembly, where its fate is unknown.

State Treasurer Dan Schwartz and Controller Ron Knecht jointly sent out a press release calling on the Assembly to reject the bill. Press release on SB252

“To propose a tax that has been explicitly rejected by Nevada voters displays a blatant disregard for the democratic process. The Governor has called for alternatives. Those have been provided. They should be considered along with reprioritizing several proposed expenditures,” said Schwartz.

Assembly member Michele Fiore sent out an email pointing out that SB252 has 1,811 unique tax brackets based upon gross receipts. (The state Constitution states: “The Legislature shall provide by law for a uniform and equal rate of assessment and taxation …”)

She noted that the unemployment rate is still 7.1 percent in Nevada and “the last thing the Legislature should be doing is taking money out of the private sector, where it’s needed to create jobs, and transferring it to the public sector so that government can continue to spend beyond its means.”

Nevada Policy Research Institute’s Executive Vice President Victor Joecks commented:

“The voters of Nevada made clear in November that they do not want to impose a gross-receipts business tax, yet today the Senate passed a similar tax. Unlike the 17 Senators who voted in favor of SB252, Nevada voters recognized that raising taxes on businesses that are struggling or even losing money will only hurt families and parents throughout Nevada.”

Actually, as a survey reported by NPRI points out, Nevada voters apparently aren’t paying any attentionThe poll, conducted by Google Consumer Surveys in March, found 89.4 percent either did not know Sandoval supports the largest tax increase in Nevada history or mistakenly thought the governor supports keeping taxes low.

Gov. Brian Sandoval has said the so-called business license fee based on gross receipts will eventually rake in $250 million a year. The Nevada Registered Agent Association commissioned a study that says his figure is off by $65 million. NRAA Study

When Texas launched its margin tax it was expected to bring in $5.9 billion a year, but only netted $4.45 billion its first year and $4 billion the next.

Never mind that most of what Sandoval plans to spend on improving education will not work and has not worked when tried elsewhere.

Giocoechea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gustavson

Hammond

Settelmeyer

Why does there always have to be a law?

Uber connects drivers and riders.

What’s that old saw? When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem is a nail.

Likewise, when we send people to Carson City and call them lawmakers, they think everything has to have a law.

If I pick my phone and call a friend to ask for a lift to the store and say I’ll give him a few bucks to cover gasoline and his time, do I need the nanny state to hold my hand and make sure my friend has adequate insurance and isn’t a criminal?

The same should go for picking up my cell phone and pressing an app, such as Uber, and asking the same of a stranger.

No, Senate Bill 439 proposed 12 pages of regulations on so-called transportation network companies to put Uber and similar businesses on a more even footing with taxi and limousine companies.

In advocating for the bill, Republican Sen. James Settelmeyer strangely argued that new technology should not be stifled to protect the legacy technology — saying candlemakers shouldn’t be able to use the law to block the use of electric lightbulbs or encyclopedia publishers to block wikipedia.

“I think that it is wrong of us to consider the concept of preserving the status quo by stifling this technology,” Settelmeyer argued Wednesday on the Senate floor. “The people, the citizens of the state of Nevada, have a thirst for technology, they’re looking for this. They’re looking for the opportunity to utilize this technology, but in my opinion it needs regulation.”

Motions by Democrats to make the bill even more onerous were rejected by the Senate along party line votes.

The final Senate vote on the bill was all 11 Republicans in favor and all 10 Democrats against, but because the bill also included a 25-cent per ride fee for the highway fund it needed a 14-vote supermajority to pass. The bill’s failure means firms like Uber are blocked from operating in Nevada under current law and court rulings.

The debate got a bit acrimonious when one Democrat objected to a Republican applauding Settelmeyer’s speech. The word disrespect was bandied about in the subsequent discussion.

As with taxes, the difference between Republicans and Democrats on the issue of regulation is merely a matter of degree — harsh or harsher.

You may view the entire debate online. The SB439 part starts at about 2:06:00 of the session.

 

Newspaper column: Nevada lawmakers must put a stop to civil asset forfeitures prior to conviction

The whole concept of civil asset forfeiture turns the law on its head, essentially finding people guilty until they can prove their innocence.

Police departments and federal agencies across the country have been using civil procedures to seize cash, cars and homes that just might be somehow, maybe linked to a crime.

In Humboldt County here in Nevada a county deputy seized $50,000 from a California tourist who said he’d won it at a casino. The deputy claimed he might be a drug dealer.

According to a recording from a dashboard-mounted camera in the patrol car, the tourist asked why he was being searched, and the deputy replied, “Because I’m talking to you … well, no, I don’t have to explain that to you. I’m not going to explain that to you, but I am gonna put my drug dog on that. If my dog alerts, I’m seizing the money. You can try to get it back but you’re not.”

He also told the tourist, “You’ll burn it up in attorney fees before we give it back to you.”

Over a two-year period Humboldt deputies seized $180,000 in cash from motorists, some of them got their money back after fighting the seizure in court.

Deputy seized cash from motorist.

The Nevada Attorney General’s office reportedly is investigating the county’s highway interdiction program, which smacks of highway robbery to us. The county’s new sheriff, who took office in January, has placed the deputy quoted above on paid leave pending an investigation.

In another Nevada case, the U.S. attorney’s office in Las Vegas demanded a local woman forfeit the $76,667 in salary she earned while running the office of her brother, who was later convicted of mortgage fraud.

U.S. District Judge Roger Hunt called the federal forfeiture effort against Jenna Depue “the most egregious miscarriage of justice I have experienced in more than twenty years on the bench. I refuse to be a party to it.”

Recently, New Mexico lawmakers passed a bill essentially ending most civil asset forfeitures in that state until someone is convicted of a crime. It also would not let police agencies keep the proceeds of a seizure and instead channels it into the state general fund, thus ending an incentive for police to use seizures to raise money.

In Carson City, Republican state Sens. Don Gustavson of Sparks and James Settelmeyer of Minden have sponsored Senate Bill 138, which is similar to the one in New Mexico. It also requires a conviction prior to seizure and states that any money left over after expenses are covered goes to the state general fund. The bill also mandates annual reports to the state on civil asset forfeitures.

The Fifth Amendment provides that “No person shall be … deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

But too often police intimidate people by basically extorting waivers of due process rights. In the case of the tourist in Humboldt, he was threatened with having his car impounded, too.

The Institute for Justice has been fighting civil asset forfeiture in the courts and on op-ed pages of newspapers for years. President and General Counsel Chip Mellor of IJ once said: “The Institute for Justice has documented time and again that civil forfeiture invites a lack of accountability, a lack of due process and a lack of restraints on government authority. Civil forfeiture needs to end. If the government wants to take someone’s property, it should first be required to convict that person of a crime.”

In a 73-page article published in the Nevada Law Journal, David Pimentel, a law professor at Florida Coastal School of Law, laid out the case against civil forfeiture.

“Given the dubious policies behind facilitating property forfeitures, and the due process problems inherent in carrying them out, the more potent question is whether facilitating property forfeitures should be allowed at all,” writes Pimentel. “If the taking of such property is to be justified, or even tolerated, it must be for the most compelling public policy purposes, none of which can be demonstrated for facilitating property forfeitures.”

Let’s hope SB138 breezes through the legislative process and the governor signs it into law.

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.