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.

 

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Orwell was right: Control the words, control the thoughts

When you control the language, you are closer to controlling the argument.

The press lexicon all across the state of Nevada has settled on calling Republicans who voted in the 2015 legislative session for Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval’s $1.5 billion tax hike — at least it now $1.5 billion instead of $1.1 billion as it was wrongly called for so long — “moderate” and “traditional” Republicans, while those who are challenging them in the GOP primary in June are “conservative” Republicans, which I thought was a redundancy.

What is moderate or traditional about passing the largest tax increase in state history, while doing absolutely nothing to rein in spending, not even repealing the prevailing wage law that jacks up the price of every public works project in the state by as much as 40 percent, as well as no public pension or collective bargaining reforms?

George Orwell wrote in 1946:

A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous …

Sadly, the mislabeling is not the only problem, as one of the “moderate” Republicans notes in today’s newspaper account of this issue, “But when you go knock on doors, few souls even know that there was a tax vote or that taxes had been increased at any level.”

Both sides of the GOP split are predicting primary victories, but the Democrats are claiming they will regain a majority of the Assembly in November, making it all for naught.

Republican Assemblyman Brent Jones, said to be leading a group of primary challenges to Republicans who supported tax hikes. (R-J file photo)

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

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

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

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

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

Nevada Legislative building (R-J photo)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gridlock may be our best hope.

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