Editorial: Democratic House bill is a naked power grab

With Democrats firmly ensconced in power in the House of Representatives, the first order of business is, of course, to hold onto that power in perpetuity.

The 600-page H.R. 1, dubiously dubbed “For the People Act,” wrests voting law decisions from the states and shreds the First Amendment right of free speech. It is co-sponsored by all three of Nevada’s Democratic representatives — Dina Titus, Susie Lee and Steven Horsford.

The bill would require automatic voter registration, online voter registration and registration on Election Day, allow felons to vote, require 15 days of early voting, end the automatic purging of voters from registration lists when they don’t vote or fail to respond to mailed inquiries, dole out a 600 percent government match for certain “small” political donations and make Election Day a holiday — all of which erode the integrity of the ballot.

H.R. 1 also seeks to curb the free speech protections for corporations, unions and other groups upheld by the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC by requiring increased disclosure of donors and online advertisers. 

In what is an embarrassing ignorance of history the bill declares, “The Supreme Court’s misinterpretation of the Constitution to empower monied interests at the expense of the American people in elections has seriously eroded over 100 years of congressional action to promote fairness and protect elections from the toxic influence of money.”

The very first such congressional action mentioned is the Tillman Act of 1907 that prohibited corporations from making contributions in connection with federal elections.

Lest we forget, the sponsor of the legislation was none other than Democratic Sen. Benjamin “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman of South Carolina — the leader of a Ku Klux Klan-style lynch mob known as the “Red Shirts,” a man who declared, “The Negro must remain subordinated or be exterminated” in order to “keep the white race at the top of the heap.”

The sole purpose of Tillman’s bill was to gag northern corporations who hired blacks and tended to favor Republicans.

Also, as Justice Clarence Thomas noted in his dissent in Citizens United, disclosure requirements have spawned a cottage industry that uses donor information to intimidate, retaliate, threaten and boycott individuals and businesses with whom they disagree. 

Thomas wrote, “The disclosure, disclaimer, and reporting requirements in (the law) are also unconstitutional. … Congress may not abridge the ‘right to anonymous speech’ based on the ‘simple interest in providing voters with additional relevant information …’”

The Founders frequently engaged in anonymous speech and protected it with the First Amendment. The Federalist Papers were penned under pseudonyms.

In addition to Nevada’s Democratic House delegates, the state’s two Democratic senators — Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen — have both railed against the free speech funded by what they pejoratively call “unaccountable dark money.”

Nevada Rep. Lee called H.R. 1 “a sweeping package of pro-democracy, and anti-corruption reforms that will put electoral power back in the hands of the American people. H.R. 1 will curb the influence of big money in politics, make it easier, not harder for Americans to practice their fundamental right to vote, and ensure that politicians actually serve the public — not special interest groups.” Special interest groups like the Democratic Party?

While the House is likely to pass this legislative and constitutional abomination, its chances in the Republican-controlled Senate are slim. 

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky rightly stated in an op-ed in The Washington Post, “They’re trying to clothe this power grab with cliches about ‘restoring democracy’ and doing it ‘For the People,’ but their proposal is simply a naked attempt to change the rules of American politics to benefit one party. It should be called the Democrat Politician Protection Act.” 

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

Newspaper column: Nevada still has a role to play in nuclear deterrence

After learning this past week that the Department of Energy had secretly shipped a thousand pounds of weapons-grade plutonium to the Nevada National Security Site in Nye County before the state had filed a federal lawsuit in November seeking to block such shipments, Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak and the state’s entire Democratic delegation to D.C. flew into paroxysms of apoplexy, accusing the Trump administration of deception and dealing unfairly with the state.

Sisolak put out a statement declaring, “I am beyond outraged by this completely unacceptable deception from the U.S. Department of Energy. The Department led the State of Nevada to believe that they were engaging in good-faith negotiations with us regarding a potential shipment of weapons-grade plutonium, only to reveal that those negotiations were a sham all along. They lied to the State of Nevada, misled a federal court, and jeopardized the safety of Nevada’s families and environment.”

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto was similarly indignant, charging that the Energy Department had “negotiated in bad faith, hiding the timing of their shipment and refused to share crucial information with Members of Congress who had the security clearance to know.”

Rep. Dina Titus said, “Time and again, we have seen Trump Administration officials treat Nevada as the dumping ground for the nation’s nuclear waste.”

Sen. Jacky Rosen called the shipment “deceitful and unethical” and said “the lack of transparency from the Department of Energy is absolutely unacceptable.”

Rep. Susie Lee decried, “Nevada officials were deceived by sham ‘negotiations’ while the safety of millions was jeopardized, as was the environment and economy of dozens of states. Nevada is not the nation’s nuclear dumping ground. Period.”

Rep. Steven Horsford, whose district includes what most Nevadans still call the Test Site, also bemoaned, “Our state is not a dumping ground for the nation’s hazardous waste, and we have no intention of letting it become one.”

The Energy Department responded with its own statement, saying it was inaccurate to state that the Nevada delegation was not informed and the agency made efforts to ensure members of Congress and state officials representing the states involved were notified as early as August 2018.

The agency also said, “It is also inaccurate to characterize this material as ‘waste’. This material is essential for maintenance of the U.S. weapons stockpile, and is handled with the highest standards for safety and security. NNSA routinely ships this type of material between its sites as part of our national security missions and has done so safely and securely for decades.”

Of course the shipment was secret. No one wants to give potential terrorists an itinerary. As for deceiving the court, the shipment had already been sent when the state’s suit was filed and the court was told this past week when the information was declassified.

What does anyone think the test site is used for in the first place? Since the Cold War it literally has been ground zero for nuclear tests and development of our nuclear deterrence. It is remote and secure.

Speaking of deterrence, the ruckus over the plutonium shipment came mere days before Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the U.S. is pulling out of a nuclear arms control pact with Russia because of its ongoing and flagrant violations.

“When an agreement is so brazenly disregarded and our security is so openly threatened, we must respond,” Pompeo said. “Russia has jeopardized the United States’ security interests and we can no longer be restricted by the treaty while Russia shamelessly violates it.”

This means the U.S. will need to catch up with its potential adversaries, Russia and China, both of which have deployed long-range, nuclear-tipped missiles. That means maintaining and, yes, even adding to our nuclear arsenal.

The very reason the plutonium was shipped to Nevada was because a federal court had ordered it removed from the Savannah River facility in South Carolina because the government had failed to build a facility to convert the plutonium into nuclear reactor fuel. It is being stored here until it can be shipped to Los Alamos, N.M., where it can be processed for weapons with which to defend our country.

That is the role the test site has fulfilled for decades and needs to continue to do, despite the histrionics from Democratic politicians.

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.