Posts Tagged ‘Cobb’

Former Commanding General Of U.S. Central Command Says Al Qaeda Not Gone With Death Of Bin Laden

By Sean Whaley | 6:19 am June 9th, 2011

RENO – The former commanding general of the U.S. Central Command told a group of Nevadans Wednesday that the death of Osama bin Laden does not mean the U.S. can become complacent and assume that Al Qaeda is no longer a threat.

Retired Gen. John Abizaid, whose hometown is the tiny hamlet of Coleville in northeast California, said the terrorist organization remains a threat to American interests here and around the world.

“We got rid of the head of the snake – don’t think the snake is dead,” he said. “There’s a lot more fighting ahead, there’s a lot more trouble ahead.”

Retired Gen. John Abizaid discusses the death of Osama bin Laden and the future of Al Qaeda at an event in Reno./Photo: Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau

But Abizaid, who served as commander of the United States Central Command from July 2003 until March 2007, sounded an optimistic note, saying none of the troubles we will face from terrorism or uncertainty in the Middle East threaten the county in any fundamental way.

The United States Central Command (CENTCOM), oversees American military operations in a 27-country region including much of the Middle East.

“There’s no trouble that’s so big ahead that is going to take down our country,” he said. “Our forces are strong, and despite our economic difficulties and troubles, when I go around this country and look and see how thing are, I believe that there is greater strength here than anywhere else on earth.”

Abizaid made his comments at the National Security Forum, a group organized by Reno resident Ty Cobb, who served as special assistant to President Ronald Reagan for National Security Affairs from 1983 to 1989.

Abizaid was joined in the presentation by Lt. Col. Reid Sawyer, head of the “Combating Terrorism Center” at West Point, where Abizaid serves as the distinguished chair. The topic of the presentation was “Global Terrorism after Osama bin Laden: The Road Ahead for Al Qaeda and associated terrorist groups.”

Abizaid said he believes the U.S. must reduce its presence in the Middle East, in part because of this nation’s economic problems, but that completely walking away is not an option no matter how attractive it sounds.

“If you think you can walk away from the Middle East without Al Qaeda following us you are mistaken,” he said. “It is an organization that is determined to attack American power where ever it may be. Whether we’re in the Middle East, whether we’re in Africa, whether we’re here at home. They have an intention to do that and they will do that.”

The U.S. military presence in the region is a big part of why the U.S. has not been subjected to a major attack within its borders since 9-11, Abizaid said.

The key is to use these reduced American forces to fight terrorist cells in the region using intelligence provided by a vastly more coordinated CIA and Defense Department, he said.

Sawyer said Americans can expect further attempts to attack the country, in part because of those motivated to do so by bin Laden’s death. Experts also believe that any operations that were in the planning stages by Al Qaeda before his death are continuing, he said.

“There is little disagreement in the long run that Al Qaeda remains at operational capacity to attack the United States or certainly our economic interests abroad,” Sawyer said.

Audio clips:

Gen. John Abizaid says Al Qaeda remains a threat even with death of bin Laden:

060811Abizaid3 :07 more trouble ahead.”

But Abizaid says the U.S. will survive any attack:

060811Abizaid4 :17 else on earth.”

Abizaid says the U.S. military cannot afford to completely depart from the Middle East:

060811Abizaid1 :18 will do that.”

Lt. Col. Reid Sawyer says Al Qaeda is expected to remain a threat to the U.S.:

060811Sawyer :09 economic interests abroad.”


Popular Vote Movement Gains Steam Nationally – Nevada Among States Targeted

By Sean Whaley | 1:24 pm February 22nd, 2011

A national movement to guarantee the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states combined gained steam today with the financial support of a billionaire businessman who has committed resources to enacting the concept across the country, including Nevada.

Tom Golisano, founder of Paychex, the nation’s second largest payroll and human resource company, is now the national spokesman for the National Popular Vote organization. Golisano’s support has allowed the group to put teams in all states that have yet to pass the bill.

In a telephone conference call with the media, Golisano said: “This effort is going to expand geometrically during the next 18 months. Our goal is to get this done by the end of 2012 which would make it effective for the 2016 election.”

Golisano said 75 percent of American voters believe the electoral process now used to pick the president is flawed and should be changed.

“My speculation is that if the other 25 percent totally understood it at the level we understand it, that number might go up to 90 or 95 percent,” he said. “The other most important fact is when we wake up on Wednesday morning, the presidential candidate that had the most wins should become the president of the United States, and this is what the national popular vote bill is all about.”

The proposal was debated in the Nevada Legislature in 2009.

Assembly Bill 413, which would have adopted the popular vote proposal, passed the Assembly on a party line 27-14 vote with Democrats in support. But it did not get a vote in the Senate by a legislative deadline. A bill has not been introduced yet in the 2011 session.

The proposal has been enacted in six states, including Hawaii and Washington, and the District of Columbia.

It would eliminate the current system in most states, including Nevada, where a presidential candidate wins all of a state’s electoral votes for winning the popular vote in that state. Electoral votes would still be counted, but states supporting the change would see their electoral votes go to the national popular vote winner.

The group says the winner-take-all rule has permitted a candidate to win the presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide in four of 56 elections. The group notes that a shift of 60,000 votes in Ohio in 2004 would have elected Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry despite George Bush’s 3.5 million vote lead nationwide.

The group says another shortcoming of the winner-take-all rule is that presidential candidates have no reason to pay attention to the concerns of voters in states where they are comfortably ahead or hopelessly behind. In 2008, candidates concentrated over two-thirds of their campaign visits and ad money in the November general election campaign in just six closely divided “battleground” states. Nevada was one of those states.

The National Popular Vote proposal would take effect only when enacted by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes — that is, enough electoral votes to elect a president, which is 270 of 538.

Supporters of the proposal in Nevada at a 2009 hearing cited fairness as the reason for their support.

But former Assemblyman Ty Cobb, R-Reno, explained his rationale for opposing the change: “Let us say there is a candidate who is vehemently against Nevada. This candidate proposes burying all nuclear waste in Nevada. Ninety percent of the state votes against this candidate, but that candidate wins the popular vote by 1 percent nationwide. You are suggesting that we should enact this law that would essentially disenfranchise our voters and elect someone who would go against our wishes?”

Larry Sokol, representing the National Popular Vote at the hearing, replied: “Your votes did matter, your votes were heard, but they just happened to be in the minority.”

Janine Hansen, president of the Nevada Eagle Forum, opposed the measure as well, saying Nevada’s battleground status brought then-presidential candidate Barack Obama to Elko.

“If we just relied on Nevada’s popular vote, we would probably never see another presidential candidate,” she said.

Audio clips:

Tom Golisano, founder of Paychex and a spokesman for the National Popular Vote bill, says the group wants to get the new system in place for the 2016 election:

022211Golisano1 :12 the 2016 election.”

Golisano says voters believe the electoral process is flawed:

022211Golisano2 :19 or 95 percent.”

Golisano says the presidential candidate with the most votes should win:

022211Golisano3 :12 is all about.”

Contested GOP State Senate Primary Races Split Between Moderate And Conservative Candidates

By Sean Whaley | 10:44 am June 9th, 2010

CARSON CITY – In the fight for control of the Republican Party in the state Senate in the Tuesday primary it was an even split, with conservative candidates taking two of four contested seats and two others going to more moderate candidates backed by Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio.

The winners of the contested GOP Senate primaries, depending on the results in the November general election, could change the character of the caucus. Raggio, R-Reno, has voted for tax increases in past sessions and has worked across the aisle with Democrats to end often contentious legislative sessions.

Those calling themselves the true conservatives in the contested primaries say they will not compromise on taxes or other core Republican issues.

In Washoe District 2, Assemblyman Don Gustavson, R-Sparks, defeated Washoe County Commissioner Bob Larkin, 59 percent to 41 percent. Larkin, the candidate endorsed by Raggio, had a much bigger war chest in the race. Gustavson has said he will not compromise on core Republican values and will not vote for tax increases.

In another closely watched race, Assemblyman Ty Cobb, R-Reno, lost to state employee Ben Kieckhefer, in the Washoe 4 contest. Kieckhefer, who is endorsed by Raggio and the caucus, won 42 percent to 37 percent. Two other Republicans also ran in the primary.

Kieckhefer, who had more money to spend on the race, repeatedly ran an ad showing Cobb responding awkwardly to media questions about an incident in which he had destroyed a campaign sign belonging to a Reno Democrat running for another state Senate seat. The ad called his leadership abilities into question.

In Clark County in the GOP Senate 9 primary, challenger Elizabeth Halseth defeated incumbent Sen. Dennis Nolan, R-Las Vegas, 57 percent to 43 percent. Nolan was criticized by Halseth in the campaign for testifying as a character witness for a friend who was being tried for a sex crime. Nolan said he was subpoenaed to testify by the public defender’s office.

Halseth said she will not support tax increases if elected to the Senate.

In the Senate 12 race in Clark County, Raggio-backed candidate Assemblyman Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, defeated Patrick McNaught 55 percent to 40 percent. A third candidate pulled 6 percent.

In all four races, the senators that have been serving in the districts were supporters of Raggio in the GOP caucus.

Janine Hansen, a long-time political activist and Independent American Party candidate for the Assembly seat in Elko, said the outcomes of the state Senate contests are not a surprise.

“Races are often determined not by ideology but by who has the most money and who runs the smartest campaign,” she said. “Even when there is tremendous interest in the elections like this year, those who are involved are a minority.

“The vast majority of people still respond to the name they know the best,” Hansen said.

Gustavson said his grass roots, door-to-door campaign made the difference in the Washoe 2 race.

“I’m always outspent,” he said. “At least 2 to 1 this time. Hard work is what wins races.”

Kieckhefer, who faces an Independent American candidate but no Democrat in the November general election, said he believes his campaign of offering effective, conservative leadership made a connection with voters. He also challenged any notion that he is not a conservative Republican.

“Obviously we have a massive budget shortfall we need to address by prioritizing spending,” he said. “I stand ready to make those hard decisions.”

In a fifth GOP Senate primary, Assemblyman James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville, defeated fellow conservative Steve Yeater in the Capital Senate District. Settelmeyer is backed by Raggio, but has taken a strong stand against tax increases during his tenure in the Assembly. Long-time Raggio supporter Mark Amodei, who had held the seat, was term-limited out of office. He is now chairman of the Nevada State GOP.

In addition to Amodei, Raggio had the backing of Sens. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, Maurice Washington, R-Sparks, Warren Hardy, R-Las Vegas, and Nolan in past legislative sessions. Townsend and Washington also left office due to term limits. Hardy resigned.

A change in the approach by Senate Republicans in the 2011 session could mean tough negotiating with Democrats over how to balance a budget that is expected to be $3.4 billion out of balance. Other critical issues include the redrawing of political boundaries, economic diversification and a major tax debate.

If enough GOP Senate Republican are unwilling to compromise on taxes and the budget in the 2011 session, Raggio’s job could be considerably more difficult as leader of the caucus. Republicans are a minority in the Senate 9-12, the first time they have not been the majority since 1991.

Raggio is in the middle of his final term in the Senate, having served longer than anyone in state history. He was first elected to the Senate in 1973. Rumors circulated earlier this year that Raggio might resign in mid-term and not serve in 2011. Raggio has said he has no plans to step down.

Conservative Candidates Challenge Moderates in Key GOP State Senate Primary Races

By Sean Whaley | 3:55 pm May 21st, 2010

Part 2 of a Series on Key GOP State Senate Primary Races

CARSON CITY – While Republican voters have a rare chance to chart the course of the GOP Senate caucus in the upcoming primary, the candidates described by some political observers as the establishment choice say they too are true fiscal conservatives who believe in core party values.

Both Ben Kieckhefer, running against Ty Cobb in the Washoe 4 race, and Bob Larkin, running against Don Gustavson in the Washoe 2 race, reject any label to the contrary.

Both have been endorsed by the Senate Republican Caucus headed by Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno.

“I consider myself a pretty darn conservative guy,” said Kieckhefer, a former press secretary to Gov. Jim Gibbons. “Any notion of me as some pro-tax Republican is totally flawed. I’m not.”

Larkin said his work on the Washoe County Commission, which has involved cutting $100 million from the budget over the past three years and eliminating 500 positions, is evidence of his strong GOP philosophy.

“Government can’t live beyond its means,” he said. “There was too much fat. That is what a conservative does.”

Joe Hardy, running for the Clark Senate 12 seat against newcomer Patrick McNaught, could not be reached for this story.

Sen. Dennis Nolan, who is facing a challenge in his re-election bid in Clark Senate 9 from newcomer Elizabeth Halseth, also could not be reached for comment.

The June 8 primary offers an unusual opportunity for GOP voters. Five GOP Senate contests are on the ballot with four offering a choice between what some observers say is an establishment candidate and a more conservative opponent.

The Capital Senatorial District race will see conservative representation regardless of which GOP candidate wins in the November general election. Both James Settelmeyer and his primary opponent, Steve Yeater, say they will not be willing to compromise on tax issues in the 2011 session where lawmakers face a potential $3 billion funding shortfall.

Gustavson, Cobb, Settelmeyer and Hardy, all current members of the Assembly, voted against a package of tax increases in the 2009 session. Nolan voted with Raggio and three other GOP senators for the tax increase, giving the bill three more votes than needed to meet the two-thirds requirement for passage and enough to override a veto by Gibbons.

Republicans were in the minority in the Senate in the 2009 session for the first time since 1991. But Republican support was critical to reaching the two-thirds vote needed to raise sales and payroll taxes on Nevada’s largest businesses as part of the final budget.

A new position of unwavering opposition to general tax increases on the part of Senate Republicans could make the 2011 session one of the more contentious in state history.

In addition to Larkin, Kieckhefer and Hardy, Settelmeyer has also been endorsed and given financial support by the Senate Republican Caucus headed up by Raggio.

Janine Hansen, a long-time political activist as a member of the Independent American Party, said that support is an enormous hurdle for Republican challengers to overcome.

“More money and access to the establishment power base is a significant issue in any race,” she said. “For non-establishment Republican candidates it is incredibly difficult to overcome. It will be very significant if it happens.”

Gustavson said he is being outspent by Larkin, who he describes as his more moderate GOP opponent, but that a low turnout in the June 8 primary could benefit his campaign. Conservatives will turn out, and Gustavson said the conservative mood of GOP voters in Nevada should be a trend in his favor.

“I think it is a revival for the true Republican Party, the conservative wing that values true conservative principles,” he said. “This is the best opportunity we have had in years.”

Gustavson said there is no question but that the Senate Republican Caucus approach in the Legislature will change if he and his conservative colleagues win in the primary.

“We would have a much more conservative state Senate that we have had for years,” he said.

Raggio’s leadership position could also be jeopardized as a result, Gustavson said.

Larkin said that if he is elected to the Senate, he will work to balance the budget while maintaining the core Republican values of limited government, minimal taxes and fostering business growth and individual freedoms.

“I am the conservative candidate who gets things done,” he said.

Cobb said he is not a member of the Senate GOP caucus and so declined to comment on what the future might hold for the group following the November general election.

But Cobb said the caucus approach would likely change with the election of himself and his fellow conservatives.

“We would be getting rid of a lot of the old school way of handling things,” he said. “There would be more conservative, aggressive members of the caucus.

“There will be a new type of leadership focused on core values,” Cobb said. “We will use every bit of leverage we have when we enter into negotiations with the opposition.”

Kieckhefer disputed any characterization of him being the establishment candidate, noting that it is Cobb who is serving in the Legislature.

While he has not signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, Kieckhefer said he won’t be supporting a budget in 2011 that is any larger than the current spending plan.

“Now is not the time to increase taxes,” he said. “We need to look at our spending.”

Kieckhefer said Cobb voted for the 2007 budget that saw spending go up by 17 percent over the 2005 budget.

“So let’s be clear who people claim to be as well,” he said.

Kieckhefer said the real choice for GOP voters is a candidate who is focused on solving problems or one who has a track record of failure. Cobb has only seen one of his 17 bills become law, he said.

“We don’t need people who just sit there and be conservative and accomplish nothing,” Kieckhefer said. “The question is who is going to be an effective legislator, an effective conservative voice.”

Kieckhefer said he has the endorsement of the Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce, which he described as a fairly conservative business organization in Northern Nevada. He believes anti-incumbent sentiment among voters will also help his bid in the primary.

Settelmeyer said the Senate GOP caucus will see more focus on core conservative values next session, but to what degree will depend on the voters.

“If they choose to send more conservative representatives we will see less going along with the increases in taxes and spending” he said. “Efforts in the past to place surpluses towards the unfunded liability of the retirement and health programs have always taken a back seat to new program creation.”

While general tax increases have been a part of many budget compromises in the past, Settelmeyer said he won’t be on board with such proposals because they, “just kick the can down the road.”

Continuing the sales and payroll taxes approved in the 2009 session, for example, won’t be an option, he said.

“They are killing businesses in the state, and we need jobs, not more boarded up businesses,” he said.

“There will definitely be a roadmap for the future of Nevada after this primary,” Settelmeyer said. “But that roadmap will be dictated by voters, as it should.”

Yeater said a true conservative will be representing the Senate capital district regardless of which GOP primary candidate wins the general in November. Yeater said he has signed the taxpayer pledge and does not believe raising taxes is a good idea, especially in the current economy.

“I want to reduce existing taxes,” he said.

Yeater said GOP voters are energized and informed and as a result, the conservative candidates will win out on primary election day.

“I believe the Senate will look a lot more conservative in 2011 than it does in 2010,” he said.

Halseth said she will not be a vote for tax increases if elected to the Senate.

Negotiations in past sessions seem always to end up favoring the Democrats, she said.

“This election cycle will be different,” Halseth said. “I’ve been meeting with the people in my district for eight months. What they want is lower taxes. Raising taxes has never been the answer. We can’t afford that anymore.”

McNaught said he decided to run for the seat because of concerns Hardy has been too willing to compromise with Democrats in the past, sacrificing core GOP issues in the process. The Republican Party has lost its way by giving in to Democratic demands, he said.

McNaught said he won’t be the party of “no.”

“I will be the party of no taxes,” he said. “Any corporate or broad-based business tax will drive away jobs.”

McNaught said the state has lost tens of thousands of jobs and, “we need to get those jobs back.”

McNaught said he reached out to Raggio but that the minority leader failed to respond, instead opting to “anoint” Hardy for the open seat. He also noted that Hardy has passed up at least three different opportunities to debate him on the issues in recent weeks.

The voters in Clark Senate 12 have a clear choice, he said. A candidate who won’t raise taxes and who will seek fiscal reform, or a candidate who will consider tax increases to balance the state budget, McNaught said.

GOP Primary Voters Could Chart Course of State Senate, Nevada Legislature

By Sean Whaley | 1:29 pm May 20th, 2010

Part 1 of 2 on Five Key State Senate Races

CARSON CITY – Over the past several legislative sessions the state Senate Republican caucus has shown a willingness to work across the aisle with Democrats, with some GOP lawmakers voting more than once for tax increases as a way to balance the budget.

Led by Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno, Senate Republicans have often gone along with programs and policies pushed by Democrats in a spirit of compromise to finish the Legislature’s business every other year.

But this long-held practice could soon change.

Three of Raggio’s long-time allies in the Senate are being termed out of office and a fourth has resigned. Former Sens. Mark Amodei, R-Carson City, and Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, are already gone, having resigned to take other jobs. A third senator loyal to Raggio, Sen. Maurice Washington, R-Sparks, will be replaced in the 2010 general election. Sen. Warren Hardy, R-Las Vegas, also resigned from the Senate.

Another Raggio colleague, Sen. Dennis Nolan, R-Las Vegas, is facing a primary challenge from Elizabeth Halseth in his Clark Senate 9 re-election bid. Halseth calls herself a “true conservative” for Nevada.

These primary races all have something in common. They include Republican candidates who are, if you believe their campaign promises, far less likely to seek compromise with Democrats if they win in the primary and then general elections.

In four of these five cases, more moderate Republican primary challengers are also on the ballot, giving Republican voters a choice.

Republicans are expected to easily take at least two of the seats in the general election, and three of the five have sizable GOP voter registration edges over Democrats.

If voters decide to back the more conservative GOP candidates in the June 8 primary, the 2011 legislative session could see a far more confrontational relationship with Senate and Assembly Democrats over a multitude of issues, not the least of which will be taxes.

A conservative turnout in the primary might also shift the balance of power away from Raggio, potentially putting his position as current Senate minority leader in jeopardy. Rumors have circulated that Raggio, who is in his final term in the Senate, might step down before the 2011 session. He has denied these rumors, saying he will serve in his final session.

Raggio has served in the Senate since 1973, most often as the leader of the GOP caucus, either as majority leader or minority leader.

Early voting for the primary begins Saturday.

Janine Hansen, a long-time political activist with the Independent American Party, said she believes Republican voters will show up on election day and cast their votes for the true conservative candidates.

Republican voters are fed up with establishment candidates who have voted for tax increases and an ever-expanding government, she said.

Hansen, who is running as the IAP candidate for an Assembly seat in the Elko area, said some Republicans have left the party because true conservative candidates don’t get support from the powers that be.

“There is a chance for significant culture change in the state Senate,” she said. “I think it would benefit the public.”

Many observers says turnout will be a key in the contests. Lower turnout is generally viewed as favoring the more conservative candidates.

Pete Ernaut, a political consultant with R&R Partners, said there are too many variables at play to make any predictions about who will win in the contested Senate and Assembly races. The ability for candidates to talk with voters one-on-one plays a big role in such contests, he said. But Ernaut said he does believe turnout will be higher than many observers are predicting.

Several candidates also cite the adage that “all politics is local,” meaning that voters in each district may vote for a candidate based on local issues and concerns rather than some overarching conservative versus moderate theme.

Running in Washoe Senate 2 are Assemblyman Don Gustavson, R-Sparks, and Washoe County Commissioner Bob Larkin, viewed as the more moderate of the two candidates. There are also two Democrats in the race. The district favors the GOP by 2,000 voters based on active registration numbers as of April.

Running in Washoe Senate 4 are Assemblyman Ty Cobb, R-Reno, and former Gov. Jim Gibbons press secretary Ben Kieckhefer, again considered to be the more moderate of the two candidates. Two other Republicans, Todd Bailey and Frank Wright, are also running, but no Democrats are on the ballot. An Independent American Party candidate will be on the November ballot. The GOP has a 6,000 vote edge over Democrats in the district.

Running in the Capital Senate District are Assemblyman James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville, and Steve Yeater. A Democrat and IAP candidate are also running but the district has an 8,000 GOP edge. Both Settelmeyer and Yeater, of Dayton, describe themselves as traditional GOP conservatives.

Running in Clark Senate 9 are Nolan and Halseth, along with three Democrats and an Independent American. The district has a nearly 4,000 Democrat voter registration advantage, however.

Running in Clark Senate 12 are Assemblyman Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, and newcomer Patrick McNaught, viewed as the more conservative of the two candidates. The registration balance in the district is virtually tied with Democrats. There is a third Republican, Steve Sanson, as well as a Democrat and IAP candidate, in the race as well.

The conservative Keystone Corporation, which says its goal is to recruit, support and advocate for candidates for public office who support private sector job creation, low taxation, a responsible regulatory environment, and effective delivery of essential  state services, has endorsed Cobb, Settelmeyer, Halseth and McNaught. There was no endorsement in the Washoe Senate 2 race.

Keystone Treasurer Monte Miller said the Senate candidates endorsed by his organization were selected because they share the view that the public employee sector has not shared in the job losses, salary reductions, benefit reductions and other sacrifices made by the private sector in the current downturn.

“These candidates believe that public employees need to be part of the solution,” he said.

Essential government services can be preserved if public employee wages and benefits are put more in line with what is offered in the private sector, Miller said.

The endorsed candidates also agree that businesses cannot afford to pay more taxes. The “compromise” in the 2009 session led to a 97 percent tax increase on business, he said.

The trend seen nationally of voters rejecting candidates who don’t share these views will be in evidence in Nevada in the primary as well, Miller said.

“Compromise has to come from the other side of the aisle,” Miller said. “It’s our turn.”

Next: The Candidates Weigh In on Their Races

Kieckhefer Lobs at Cobb

By Elizabeth Crum | 3:29 pm May 19th, 2010

Dullard Mush has the hardball ad posted (complete with Hollywood voice-over and ominous sounding background music).

Here’s the background if you missed the sign-kicking story when it broke.

Legislators React to Governor’s Petition Drive to Create Transparency in Government Labor Negotiations

By Sean Whaley | 3:39 pm May 11th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Gov. Jim Gibbons announced yesterday he is pursuing an initiative petition to subject labor negotiations between unions and local government entities to the open meeting law to give taxpayers access to the discussions.

Some Republican lawmakers welcomed the idea, saying the Democrat-controlled Legislature has been unwilling to consider such a proposal.

But a state Senate Democrat who will be serving in the 2011 session questioned from a practical standpoint whether the labor negotiation process would work if it had to be in the open and follow the very specific legal dictates of Nevada’s open meeting law.

Gibbons, in announcing his third effort to take an issue to the voters of Nevada, said he is going to the public because the Legislature refused to consider the idea at a special session held earlier this year.

“The objective of this initiative and this process is to open up those negotiations to public scrutiny,” he said.

“We’re taking nothing away from their negotiating abilities,” Gibbons said. “What we’re doing is saying if they are going to deal with taxpayer funds that those negotiations need to be open to the public so people can see, and watch, and understand exactly how those dollars are being spent and why.”

The proposal would repeal an exemption in state law allowing labor negotiations to be conducted behind closed doors. It would require collective bargaining proceedings to be subject to Nevada’s open meeting law, “just like any other meeting where public funds are discussed or spent.”

If Gibbons and his supporters can collect 97,002 valid signatures by a Nov. 9 deadline, the proposed change to state law would go to the 2011 Legislature. If the Legislature failed to enact the proposal, it would go to the voters in 2012.

The initiative effort will be operated independently of the governor’s office. A steering committee for the Gibbons OPEN Government Initiative has already been established that includes Gibbons and former state Sens. Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas, and Mark Amodei, R-Carson City.

Gibbons said he will work with mayors and other elected officials to ensure the measure has a fair hearing in the Legislature in 2012.

Gibbons said mayors have told him that closed-door negotiations affects their ability to negotiate.

State workers do not have collective bargaining.

When he discussed the initiative with Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman yesterday, Gibbons said the mayor was positive about the concept but said it would have to be reviewed by his staff first.

A spokesman for Goodman acknowledged he did discuss the idea with Gibbons but added that he has to see the proposal first, and run it by the city manager, before offering any comment.

Assemblyman Ty Cobb, R-Reno, said using the initiative process is the only way conservative lawmakers will get the issue heard.

“We’re not going to get any conservative issues of great substance through this liberal Legislature,” he said. “So going directly to the voters is a good idea.”

“I think it is a great idea in terms of public policy,” said Cobb, who is running for an open state Senate seat in Reno. “There needs to be a lot more transparency to that whole process.”

The Assembly Republican caucus in the special session that ended March 1 wanted such a law as part of a deal on solving the state’s budget crisis, but ultimately saw only a weak and nonbinding resolution on the issue win approval, he said.

Assemblyman James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville, said he too favors transparency in local government labor negotiations. By the time the public finds out what deals have been struck between labor and government management officials, it is weeks after the fact, he said.

“It would require both sides to discuss issues in a more rational way,” Settelmeyer said.

The lawmaker, who is running for an open state Senate seat in the capital region, said he has seen questionable examples locally of school teachers getting small raises while administrators end up with double-digit gains in the closed-door negotiation process.

Since the Legislature would not consider the idea, the initiative petition process may be the only way to go, although Settelmeyer said he would be concerned if too many issues ended up as ballot questions for voters who may not have time to read all the information.

State Sen. Mike Schneider, D-Las Vegas, said labor negotiations go on for months and applying the open meeting law requirements to the process, including meeting notices posted in advance, would not work.

He suggested the move by Gibbons was aimed more at his tough primary election race, a claim Gibbons denied when he announced his proposal.

“People at the negotiating table get mad at each other,” Schneider said. “They yell and scream at each other. Now you have them meeting in the open and having discussions on film. They would be all goody two shoes and nothing would ever get done.”

Schneider said local elected officials have the final say over such agreements and they are the ones who should be held accountable by the voters if the pay and benefit packages being negotiated are too generous.

Gibbons, who is trailing in the polls in the Republican primary to former federal judge Brian Sandoval, said he has been working on the transparency issue for months. But legislative leaders even rejected his request to draft a bill on the subject for the special session, he said.

Lynn Warne, president of the Nevada State Education Association, said there is nothing in the law now that would preclude a local government agency and collective bargaining unit to bargain in public if the two sides agreed to do so. She also noted that the Legislature in 2009 added an extra step to the collective bargaining process to give the public more opportunity to be informed about labor negotiations.

“Let’s allow the existing law to work,” Warne said.

She also questioned the timing of the Gibbons proposal.

“We believe it is a diversionary tactic on his part,” Warne said. “The real issue is the lack of funding for the public schools in Nevada.”

Brian Johnson, executive director of the Washington DC-based Alliance for Worker Freedom, said the organization always supports transparency, especially when it involves public sector unions where large amounts of taxpayer dollars are at stake.

But Johnson said an even better move would be to eliminate the requirement for collective bargaining altogether.

“Ideally we would not have mandated forced bargaining sessions,” he said. “When you have mandated bargaining, the unions always have the upper hand.”

Even so, Johnson said his group would support Gibbons’ proposal.

“Anytime we can get more transparency, it is at least a step in the right direction,” he said.

The Alliance for Worker Freedom (AWF) was founded in 2003 as a non-partisan organization dedicated to combating anti-worker legislation and to promote free and open markets.

Gibbons has had a track record of success in getting measures qualified for the ballot. He qualified a measure requiring a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to raise taxes and voters approved it. He then got a proposal on the ballot requiring the Legislature to fund the public education budget before considering other spending requirements during a session. That too won voter approval.

Audio files (broadcasters may re-use these files at will):

Gibbons on his collective bargaining proposal 1

Gibbons on his collective bargaining proposal 2

Gibbons on his collective bargaining proposal 1
Gibbons on his collective bargaining proposal 2

GOP Washoe Senate District 4 Candidates Question Opponents’ Records in Televised Debate

By Sean Whaley | 2:54 pm April 20th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Two of the four Republican candidates seeking to replace Sen. Randolph Townsend in state Senate District 4 in Washoe County attacked one another’s records in a debate televised today on the Nevada NewsMakers program.

Assemblyman Ty Cobb said one of his opponents, Ben Kieckhefer, has called for “revenue enhancements” which Cobb said is support for a tax increase. Kieckhefer denied the charge.

Kieckhefer said Cobb has been an ineffective lawmaker by failing to stop legislative tax hikes and by getting only one bill signed into law in two sessions of the Legislature.

Cobb said his record opposing tax increases is evidence of his effectiveness.

Two other candidates did not wade into the fray to such a degree, with Todd Bailey calling for the repeal of the state payroll tax as a way to create more private sector jobs.

“We need to get Nevada back to a place where we create a lot of new jobs,” he said. “That’s what we need to be focused on.”

Frank Wright said the recession gives lawmakers a chance to reign in the runaway government growth of recent years by reducing taxes and creating a more favorable business climate.

“We have for the last 10 years had a crazy increase in government spending and now we have to cut back,” he said. “It is because of the policies we have enacted that haven’t worked. We need to bring businesses back to this state.”

Cobb was also asked for a brief statement on a recent incident in which he kicked down a political campaign sign for Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, a Democrat who is running for a different state Senate seat.

Cobb said he apologized and offered to pay for a replacement, and that the incident is not a reflection on his judgment as a candidate for public office.

Cutting taxes, reducing the size of government and improving efficiencies in how necessary state services are provided are ways offered up by the candidates to help bridge what is expected to be a multi-billion dollar hole in the next two-year state budget.

Kieckhefer, currently the public information officer for the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, said improved efficiencies is one key to balancing the budget.

Kieckhefer, who said he will step down from his state job if he is elected to the Senate, said an example is an electronic application process being implemented in his agency that will make government more efficient.

“We need to pare down government to its most effective and essential levels, we need to cut our spending to that level, and at that point we need to evaluate as a state how we provide our services,” he said.

This would include a review of which levels of government are providing which services as a way to improve efficiency, Kieckhefer said.

Cobb said as a member of the Assembly he has consistently voted against tax increases approved by a majority of lawmakers. To get people back to work, he said Nevada should stop paying benefits to illegal residents, reform the public employee pension plan and limit the size of government to increase the amount of money available to the private sector.

The debate got a bit heated when Bailey accused Cobb of voting to eliminate the ability of voters to elect judges. Cobb rejected the claim, saying all he did was vote to put the issue of whether to elect or appoint judges to the voters in the 2010 general election.

Kieckhefer jumped in at this point, saying taxes and spending are the big issues in 2011.

“We’re all against higher taxes,” he said.

“No, you’re not against higher taxes,” Cobb said.

Cobb said Kieckhefer has made statements supporting higher taxes.

“I have not said that,” Kieckhefer replied.

Pointing to Cobb’s record, Kieckhefer said it is one of failure, demonstrated by the fact that Cobb has twice been voted the worst lawmaker in Carson City.

“I think the people of Washoe Senate District 4 need better representation than that when we’re going into a session that is going to be deciding redistricting  and deciding the future of our state,” he said. “He’s no good for us and we need to do better.”

Cobb replied that his ranking of worst lawmaker was the result of lobbyists grading him poorly because he has refused to raise taxes or expand the size of government.

“What I’m suggesting is that when Mr. Kieckhefer says we need revenue enhancements, which of course means tax increases, we cannot afford tax increases,” he said.

Kieckhefer said as a former member of the Gibbons administration, he worked on a policy of lower taxes.

Besides the four Republicans, Independent American M.K. Yochum is on the ballot in the Senate 4 race.

Some Nevada Lawmakers Say Now is Time to Allow Residents to Purchase Health Care Insurance Across State Lines

By Sean Whaley | 1:43 pm April 19th, 2010

CARSON CITY – With federally mandated health insurance now the law of the land barring a successful legal challenge, some state lawmakers say it is more urgent than ever to create competition among insurance providers by allowing Nevada residents to buy polices from out of state companies.

Assemblymen Ty Cobb, R-Reno, and Don Gustavson, R-Sparks, also say it is time to reduce the many mandated coverages required for an insurance company to offer a policy in Nevada to further lower the cost of premiums.

Other states, including Arizona and Georgia, have seen bills this year to allow for the purchase of policies from outside the state. The idea has been championed for years at the federal level by Rep. John Shadegg, R-AZ.

Nevadans now can only buy health insurance from companies licensed to do business in Nevada by the state Insurance Commissioner. While 723 companies are licensed to sell insurance in the state, suggesting that there is already competition, the Division of Insurance reports that many of the companies have limited offerings or may not currently be offering policies at all.

“In reality, only a handful (about 15) of insurers have a ‘health policy’ that you could purchase to cover doctor visits, hospital stays, surgeries, etc.,” said Maria Dal Pan Dias, public information officer for the agency.

“We should open up health care insurance to competition across state lines,” Gustavson said. “People have to be given choices that are affordable.”

Gustavson, who is running for an open state Senate seat, has also opposed adding mandated coverages that drive up the cost of a health insurance plan. People should be able to select policies based on their own health care needs, he said.

Cobb agrees, saying competition would lower the cost of buying health care insurance.

“We also need portability and tort reform,” he said. “Instead of true reform we got a government takeover that will result in a massive increase in the size of government. It is the opposite of what should have been done.”

Cobb, who is also running for an open state Senate seat, said his Assembly Bill 346 introduced in the 2009 session would have repealed a lot of insurance coverage mandates to allow for basic, less costly policies to be offered to residents.

Nevada requires all health insurance plans to provide coverage for medical services including alcoholism, cervical cancer/HPV screening, colorectal cancer screening, home health care, hospice care and several others.

“It would have allowed people, especially younger people just starting out, to buy basic health care coverage,” he said. “It would have allowed greater choice in what people wanted in their coverage.”

Cobb’s bill never received a hearing in the Democrat-controlled Assembly.

Las Vegas attorney Jim Wadhams, a lobbyist at the Legislature who represents several businesses, including the health insurer Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, said he believes it is unlikely the Legislature will move to allow interstate competition.

The long-term policy of the state has been to mandate that certain coverages be included in any health insurance policy sold in Nevada, and Wadhams said he does not believe the Legislature would choose to move away from that policy by allowing residents to buy out-of-state policies with lesser coverage.

Wadhams said those mandates have made Nevada’s health insurance coverage among the richest, with the most generous benefits, of all the states.

Grace-Marie Turner, president of the Galen Institute, a non-profit research organization focused on health policy, said she would welcome efforts by the states to go out on their own to provide for increased competition by health insurance companies.

She cited a study by the American Enterprise Institute that found that if individuals were allowed to purchase health policies in nearby states, up to 12 million more people would have health insurance at no cost to the government.

“It would be a great idea if there was true competition,” Turner said. “It’s not easy, but you can make it work. You don’t have to go to the lowest common denominator.”

States could ensure there were protections for residents while still allowing them to make their own choices for coverage without a mandate from the federal government, she said.

“I would love to see states do this, to take the initiative,” Turner said. “If states can do an end run around ObamaCare, then more power to them.”

Not everyone agrees that providing for such competition would actually lower health care costs, however.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners, in a document called, “Interstate Health Insurance Sales: Myth vs. Reality,” said the real result would be lower premiums only for the healthy. Everyone else “would face steep premium hikes if they can find coverage at all.”

The association also disputes the suggestion that mandated benefits are the cause of more expensive health insurance coverage.

“Mandated benefits add, at most, 5 percent to the cost of a policy,” the association said. “Interstate sales would allow some insurers to cherry-pick the best customers by avoiding consumer protections that require them to cover individuals with preexisting conditions and limit their ability to charge higher prices for older, sicker customers.”

In states with robust consumer protections, insurers could reap huge profits by skirting these rules, the association said.

UnitedHealthcare of Nevada, one of the largest health insurance providers in the state with approximately 691,000 members, including those covered under Medicaid and Medicare through state and federal government contracts, had no comment on the concept. The company is a licensed insurer at some level in every state, and is one of the largest health plans in the country.

The Georgia proposal, pushed by Gov. Sonny Perdue, has passed the House and is awaiting action in the Senate.

“This legislation will open up the individual insurance market and allows consumers to find the plan that best fits their needs,” Perdue said in a statement issued in February.

Janine Hansen, an Independent American Party candidate for Assembly District 33 in Elko, said the Nevada Legislature first needs to challenge the new federal health care law when it convenes next February as other state legislatures have already done.  Then lawmakers need to have a discussion about how to lower the cost of health insurance, she said.

One idea is to create tax-free health savings accounts that individuals can pay into and then use the money for their health care needs in combination with a catastrophic-type policy, she said.

As to interstate health insurance purchases, Hansen said competition is usually a driving force in lowering costs, although she said she would have to learn more about the concept.

“Exploring ideas like competition is exactly what we need to do,” she said.

More Calls for Ensign’s Resignation Trickle In

By Sean Whaley | 8:08 am April 11th, 2010

(Updated at 10:02 a.m. and again at 10:41 a.m. on April 11, 2010)

CARSON CITY – Despite being described as a “wounded” senator who has not been effective in representing Nevada in Washington, DC, state Republican officials and candidates surveyed by the Nevada News Bureau for the most part are still not calling on U.S. Senator John Ensign, R-Nev., to step down.

Ensign, under the cloud of an ethics investigation over whether he provided inappropriate and possibly illegal help to former administrative assistant Doug Hampton, was called upon to resign earlier this week by two former Clark County GOP officials. Ensign last year acknowledged having an affair with Hampton’s wife.

Among the few Republicans willing to call for Ensign’s resignation was Michael Roberson, candidate for Senate District 5.

“As a taxpayer and constituent, I have heard and read enough to join other Nevadans in calling for Senator Ensign to resign,” said Roberson. “His behavior shows a callous disregard for moral decency, the dignity of his office and for those of us who elected him.”

“I realize that some suggest that we should wait for the Senate Ethics Committee and U.S. Department of Justice investigations to conclude before making such a determination. However, through his own admitted actions, I do not believe Senator Ensign is worthy of the job he currently holds, and that he is in fact letting Nevadans down by continuing to fight for his job,” he said.

Roberson said that whether Senator Ensign is indicted or cleared is a legal matter and not his top concern.

“As an attorney and a member of the Nevada Bar, I certainly respect our legal system, and I believe Senator Ensign does deserve a full, fair and complete investigation,” he said. “However, the behavior he has shown and the decisions he has made make him an unsuitable representative for our state.”

“Our congressional delegation is weakened by this scandal – and therefore, so is our representation in Congress. Nevada taxpayers  deserve better. It is time for Senator Ensign to resign and allow a more suitable and effective Senator to replace him,” he said.

Ira Hansen, a Sparks resident running for Assembly District 32, also said he thinks Ensign should step down.

“I’ve been a big Ensign supporter from Day One,” he said. “I still think very highly of the guy. But I am extremely disappointed in his unfortunate personal behavior.”

“While it is true that Ensign is innocent until proven guilty,” Hansen said, “his violation of his family values positions by having an extramarital affair does justify asking him to step down.”

“Whether his resignation would be in the best interests of the state is a much bigger question,” he said. “It’s a tough call.”

Elizabeth Halseth, candidate for Senate District 9, also agrees it is time for Ensign to go.

“If you cannot lead effectively, there is limit to your success and the success of those you serve,” said Halseth.  “While I applaud Senator Ensign for the great things he has done for our state, I believe he has become ineffective and will ultimately harm our ability to grow.”

Halseth said she believes we need strong elected officials officials who can help Nevada get back on track.

“The people are our strength, and the people have lost faith in Senator Ensign’s ability to lead effectively,” said Halseth.  “For that reason, I believe it’s in the best interest of the people, the party and the state of Nevada that Senator Ensign resigns immediately.”

Calinit Atia, candidate for state Assembly District 22, said she believes elected officials must always put their constituents first and that it may be time for Ensign to consider stepping aside.

“I don’t know if what Dean Heller said is true, but if John Ensign has lost his effectiveness, then yes, I would say he should put the state’s interests before his own and step down,” said Atia.

“These are dark days for John Ensign and his family and the choices he needs to make are not easy, but they are choices that must be made,” she said.  “My heart goes out to his family.”

George Harris, a former chairman and former treasurer of the Clark County Republican party, re-iterated past statements calling for Ensign’s resignation.

“If Ensign continues to be a wasp in the GOP ointment, he will ultimately damage the prospects of those who come out of the primary election,” Harris said.  “The opposition will absolutely use this ethics scandal against all Republicans in the general election.”

“Ensign could save everyone a lot of embarrassment,” Harris said.  “The problem is, he has become the story.  The media and the Democrats are basically turning him into a clown, the longer this drags on and the more facts come to light.”

“From a strategic perspective, as the former head of the Republican Senatorial Committee, Ensign knows that if this was anyone else, he would be the first in line to tell them to resign,” said Harris. “We cannot have this kind of thing hanging over the party. Ensign should discontinue his selfish behavior and resign now.”

Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., agreed in television interviews this week that Ensign is a “wounded” junior senator and that Nevada needs a stronger voice in Washington. But he stopped short of calling for Ensign to resign.

In a written statement to the Las Vegas Review Journal, U.S. Senate candidate Danny Tarkanian said, “After consideration of the news reports and Congressman Heller’s recent statements — which I take very seriously — I think the issue is that the people of Nevada need to know that Senator Ensign can represent them effectively.”

“I must respectfully say that as the potential Republican nominee, I do not expect to be campaigning with Senator Ensign this fall,” said Tarkanian.

Interviews with a number of other Nevada Republicans do reveal a general reluctance to call for Ensign’s resignation.  The general consensus is that Ensign has not yet been found guilty of any wrongdoing and that he will make the right decision for Nevada when the time comes.

Still, there is acknowledgment that Ensign’s troubles are creating problems for the Republican Party in Nevada because he can’t raise money for candidates or campaign on their behalf.

U.S. Senate John Chachas said, “Senator Ensign has suffered a great deal of personal and professional grief for some self-acknowledged lapses in judgment and behavior. Nevadans should not make sport of tap-dancing on someone’s misery.

“That said, elected officials need to be held to a higher standard. They have to be,” he added.  “I have served on boards of directors in business, and if a senior director had such issues, I would give him or her a nudge and suggest that moving on would be good for the company and shareholders.”

“But this is politics. The only ‘board’ is the electorate every six years. So in the interim, the only thing that matters is the good judgment of the individual,” said Chachas.  “I am confident Sen. Ensign will exercise good judgment for Nevada. His career and reputation are not the issue. The issue is Nevada, and I am confident he will do the right thing in that regard.”

Mike Montandon, gubernatorial candidate and the former mayor of North Las Vegas, said Ensign appears to be a liability for Republican candidates because they are clearly not seeking his endorsement.

But the issue of his resignation is a decision only Ensign can make, he said.

“I’m not going to call for anyone’s resignation,” Montandon said. “If someone in public office can’t make that decision for himself, then something is wrong.”

Montandon also noted that an Ensign resignation, should it occur, raises myriad political issues that could ripple across the state. Whether it would be better before or after the primary and how it might affect the re-election chances of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., are just two of those issues, he said.

State Assemblyman Ed Goedhart, R-Amargosa Valley, said Ensign’s troubles are damaging to the GOP brand, but he added that the inquiries into his actions are still in progress.

“In America we have a system where you are innocent until proven guilty,” he said. “So in the absence of any clear criminal wrongdoing, it would presumptuous of me to be the judge, jury and executioner.”

Democrats are using Ensign’s troubles to their advantage, but ethics issues aren’t unknown to Democrats, Goedhart said. He pointed to New York Rep. Charles Rangel, who is facing an ethics probe of his own.

“Is it reducing Ensign’s effectiveness? Yes,” he said. “Am I calling on him to step down? No. Not unless he has been found guilty of criminal wrongdoing.”

Assemblyman Ty Cobb, R-Reno, a candidate for state Senate, said he believes Ensign will do what is best for the state.

“He has not been charged or convicted, so it is very premature for people to be calling his resignation,” he said.

Assemblyman Don Gustavson, R-Sparks, who is also running for an open state senate seat, said he has stayed out of the controversy but said a resignation could, “throw a monkey wrench into the elections.”

A resignation now would be poor timing, he said.

“We should wait and see what the investigations turn up,” Gustavson said. “Let it take its course. Until then I’m not suggesting we do anything different.”

U.S. Senate candidate Garn Mabey, a former member of the state Assembly, said he would agree with the description of Ensign as a “wounded” senator. But Mabey said he considers Ensign a friend who helped him win his first race for elective office.

“I’m not going to throw him under the bus,” he said.

Mabey said he does not believe Ensign’s troubles will affect other Nevada Republican candidates.

“I think he is a good man,” Mabey said. “It is a decision he has to make.”

U.S. Senate candidate and Assemblyman Chad Christensen said: “This has been an unfortunate situation all the way around. There are two basic issues here. If John Ensign did anything illegal he should resign, if not then voters should decide in 2012 if he should stay.”

Rob Lauer, a candidate for secretary of state, said he believes in loyalty and called Ensign “a great Republican.” It is up to Ensign to decide whether he can continue to be effective in Congress, he said.

“I like him personally,” Lauer said. “He has done a lot of good things for the state. But on a political level as a senator he has an obligation to the people of the state. If he can’t get bills through, if he is not effective for the state, he needs to do what is best for the state.”

Ensign’s troubles are an issue for Nevada Republicans because without them, he could raise money and help GOP candidates, Lauer said. Until the issues facing him are resolved, he can’t be an effective leader for Nevada Republicans, he said.

Craig Lake, candidate for Congressional District 1, declined to comment on the matter. Brian Sandoval, a former federal judge running for governor, also had no comment.

Patrick McNaught, candidate for Senate District 12, and Michelle Fiore, candidate for CD-1, could not be reached for comment. U.S. Senate candidates Sharron Angle also could not be reached.

Bipartisan Budget Deal in Place

By Sean Whaley | 8:10 pm February 28th, 2010

(Updated at 1:47 a.m. on March 1, 2010)

CARSON CITY – As a deal to close an $805 million budget gap was announced today, bringing a close to a sometimes rancorous six-day special session, Republican lawmakers say they helped shape the debate that led to a minimal use of taxes and fees to balance the spending plan.

And in another more modest victory, Republicans in the Legislature won bipartisan support for a resolution asking the 2011 Legislature to consider opening up to public view the collective bargaining process used by local governments and employee unions to negotiate salaries and benefits.

Gov. Jim Gibbons asked for consideration of the collective bargaining proposal in his proclamation adding issues to the special session, and Assembly Republicans had made it a key point in their acceptance of any budget-balancing plan.

The proposal, along with a collection of education reform measures sought by Gibbons, including a voucher school proposal, did not get hearings, however.

Assembly Minority Leader Heidi Gansert, R-Reno, called it a win for her 14-member caucus, which is in a difficult bargaining position because of its minority status. Democrats in the Assembly outnumber Republicans 28 to 14, enough votes to approve new fees without support from the GOP members.

“Our caucus is very concerned about transparency,” she said. “We recognize that billions of taxpayer dollars are spent through collective bargaining process and we believe the taxpayers deserve to know where that money is spent.”

Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, also welcomed the decision to seek transparency in the labor negotiation process.

Legislative leaders of both parties also praised Gibbons, who is facing a tough primary election battle against former federal judge Brian Sandoval, for working with them to craft an acceptable plan.

Gibbons spent long hours with lawmakers in closed-door meetings with legislative leadership over the past few days to come to an agreement.

The praise from Raggio was particularly noteworthy, given that he and Gibbons had exchanged some pointed criticisms in the days leading up to the session and during the session itself. Raggio has said in public comments he believes Sandoval is the only Republican candidate with a chance of defeating Democrat Rory Reid in the governor’s race.

Gansert has endorsed Sandoval in the primary race.

In announcing the agreement, Gibbons said everyone had to give something up to get bipartisan support and he credited Democrats and Republicans for working together.

“It took a lot of give and a lot of take and a lot of debate, some of it heated at times,” he said.

Raggio said the cuts to be implemented by the Legislature will be severe.

“There is going to be some pain out there,” he said. “Hopefully some of this will be an impetus for us to take a long hard look at how we fund state government, not to mention what goes on in local governments,” he said.

Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said she was pleased to be able to reduce the cuts to public and higher education. The agreement reduces public education cuts to $117 million instead of $211 million. Higher education is cut b y $46 million instead of $76 million.

Some of the “worst of the worst” cuts to Health and Human Resources programs were also restored, she said.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, also highlighted the ability to reduce the cuts first proposed by Gibbons.

“There are certain parts of the plan that each one of us don’t like,” he said.

But reducing the education cuts from 10 percent to 6.9 percent was a big victory, Horsford said.

Gansert said the language encouraging the 2011 Legislature to subject the collective bargaining process to the state open meeting law was added to Senate Concurrent Resolution 1, which passed the Senate earlier this week urging local governments and employee groups to mutually address the budget shortfall. Gansert said the language is as strong as allowed, since current lawmakers cannot bind future Legislatures to a particular course of action.

The vote on the budget bill in the Assembly was 34-8, with all eight “no” votes coming from the GOP caucus. The vote in the Senate was 20-1. Only Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, voted no.

While voting against the budget plan because of the mining and banking fee increases it contains, Assemblyman Ty Cobb, R-Reno, said Republicans clearly influenced the dialogue over how to balance the budget.

When Assembly Republicans proposed their own plan that balanced the budget without new taxes or fees not contributed directly by users, it pushed Democrats to move away from those revenue sources, he said.

“Us showing a united front, with a solution, absolutely drove the Democrats to a resolution that is less reliant on more spending, more taxes and more fees, and back to being more fiscally responsible,” he said.

Gansert, who voted for the bill, said the Republican influence can be seen in that only about $52 million of the total shortfall is being addressed with new fees. Most is coming from $26 million in a mining claim fee increase that was modified to exempt small operators and $13.8 million from an increased fee on banks when filing notices of default.

That is just a fraction of the overall shortfall, she said.

The caucus did also agree to restore some cuts Gibbons had proposed in public and higher education, Gansert said.

“We absolutely don’t like all of it,” she said. “It was a struggle to add anything back to tell you the truth.”

Gansert predicted that some, but not all, of her caucus would vote for the plan and her prediction held true.

Assemblyman James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville, opposed the budget bill because of the banking and mining fees.

“There are some difficult pills in there to swallow,” he said.

Settelmeyer said he would have liked to see progress in the special session on the collective bargaining proposal as well.

“Our caucus stood up as a group and said it was important to us,” he said.

Assemblyman John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas, voted for the agreement once he received assurances that the mining claim fee will not affect the small operators.

He praised Gibbons and the leadership for working out an agreement.

As to the failure of the Legislature to consider Gibbons’ other issues, Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, said the proper focus of the special session was balancing the budget.

“These other policy concerns are best brought up in a regular session when the public can have full access and deliberations can be held. I don’t think it is appropriate to take up major policy reforms in a special session,” she said.

Keystone Announces Endorsement of GOP Fiscal Conservatives in State Senate Races

By Sean Whaley | 12:07 pm November 16th, 2009
CARSON CITY – Today the Keystone Corp., which identifies itself as Nevada’s leading political voice for free market business development, private sector job creation and fiscal conservatism, announced endorsements in key Nevada state Senate races for the upcoming 2010 election cycle.

The Keystone Corp. is a statewide political action organization that recruits, supports and advocates for candidates for public office who support private sector job creation, low taxation, a responsible regulatory environment, and effective delivery of essential state services.

Endorsed candidates include: Sen. Barbara Cegavske – running for reelection in Clark County’s District 8; Ty Cobb – currently an assemblyman representing District 26, running for state Senate in Washoe County’s District 4; and Chad Christensen – currently an assemblyman representing District 13, running for state Senate in Clark County’s District 9.

Other endorsements are James Settelmeyer – currently an assemblyman representing District 39, running for state Senate in the Capital District; and Michael Roberson – an attorney from southern Nevada, running against Sen. Joyce Woodhouse in Clark County’s District 5.

Keystone’s board members offered the following comments for each of their endorsed candidates for state senate:

“Sen. Barbara Cegavske has a proven record as a fiscal watchdog on behalf of the Nevada taxpayer. Sen. Cegavske is a conservative senator Nevadans need to fight for their interests in Carson City.”

“Assemblyman Ty Cobb has been a consistent, reliable and fierce advocate on behalf of the Nevada taxpayer, and we believe his voice on fiscal discipline and accountability will be a needed asset to our state Senate.“

“(Christensen) has fought to control government spending in order to promote economic growth. Chad Christensen will be the strong advocate for private sector job creation and limited government.”

“Assemblyman James Settelmeyer understands what is needed to make Nevada fiscally strong. He is one of the hardest working legislators in Carson City and a genuine policymaker. Mr. Settelmeyer will make the right decisions to promote economic growth while protecting taxpayers.”

“In our interview process, we found Roberson to be a strong and principled advocate for private sector job creation in Nevada. He will be a welcomed addition to the state Senate, replacing a senator who supported job-killing tax hikes in the midst of one of Nevada’s worst recessions in state history.”

Reno Chamber Hears Pros, Cons of Yucca Mountain Project

By Sean Whaley | 6:10 pm November 12th, 2009

RENO – Members of the Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce heard a spirited debate today on the pros and cons of establishing a high level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, but no formal position is expected from the group anytime soon.

Even so, several of the 50 or so people in attendance indicated by a raising of hands after the debate that they would favor negotiations with the federal government on Yucca Mountain versus maintaining the current official Nevada position of flatly rejecting the project.

The hour-long debate featured Reno resident Ty Cobb as an advocate for discussion and negotiation, and Bruce Breslow, executive director of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, presenting the case against Yucca Mountain.

Cobb served as the special assistant to President Ronald Regan for national security affairs when the “Screw Nevada” bill making Yucca Mountain the only site under consideration for the repository was passed by Congress in 1987. Breslow is a former mayor of Sparks who assumed his new position in December 2008.

The debate made one issue clear: Even those who support negotiations do not support a permanent storage site at Yucca Mountain.

Both Cobb and Breslow agreed that within 30 to 100 years, science and technology will have developed to the point where alternatives will be available making long-term storage of the waste unnecessary.

Where the two diverge is over what to do with the waste in the meantime.

Cobb told the 50 people in attendance that he believes Yucca Mountain is a suitable location to store the waste temporarily, for not more than 100 years or so, while the science of reprocessing or recycling the nuclear waste advances to the point where an alternative to storage is identified.

There are 160 million people living within five miles of the waste now stored at the nation’s nuclear reactors, which he called a “terrorist’s dream.”

Moving the waste to Nevada, which Cobb said can be done safely, for more secured storage would bring billions in benefits to Nevada. The Yucca Mountain storage project could cost as much as $90 billion, bringing work to thousands of residents, he said.

Breslow disagreed, saying leaving the waste where it is while technology develops to where the material can be reprocessed or recycled is a better alternative. Shipping the 70,000 metric tons of waste to Nevada, only to ship it back to reactors for use after reprocessing, is not a workable alternative, he said.

Cobb said his son, Assemblyman Ty Cobb, R-Reno, proposed legislation in 2009 that would have pushed for a nuclear fuels reprocessing facility. The younger Cobb, who attended the discussion, said his resolution did not get a hearing.

Breslow said the state is in a difficult situation because of the language of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act says that if Nevada officials decide to negotiate on Yucca Mountain, all rights to protest the project are forfeited.

Cobb replied that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., could use his considerable influence to get Congress to amend the act to allow for such discussions.

But there is some disagreement about whether Nevada is in fact precluded from entering into such negotiations. A legal opinion issued in 1999 by Nevada attorney Joe W. Brown suggests that engaging in a discussion of the proposed Yucca Mountain project to explore the possibility of receiving benefits does not “imply consent” to accept the facility.

Tray Abney, director of government relations for the chamber, said he does not believe the group will take a position on Yucca Mountain in the near term. The purpose of the discussion was to educate members, he said.

Reno Nurse Announces Candidacy as Republican in Assembly District 26

By Sean Whaley | 9:00 am October 23rd, 2009

CARSON CITY – Reno nurse and newspaper columnist Ellie Lopez-Bowlan announced yesterday her candidacy for state Assembly District 26. The seat is being vacated by GOP Assemblyman Ty Cobb, who has announced he is running for an open seat in the state Senate.

Lopez-Bowlan holds a master’s of science degree from the University of Nevada, Reno and she currently serves as a nurse practitioner in Reno. She has provided cancer screening in minority communities and has conducted free physicals in schools for underprivileged children. She also writes a column for the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Lopez-Bowlan has been in a leader in Republican politics, helping to develop coalitions on behalf of various candidates and serving as president of the Mt. Rose Republican Women.

“Public service has always been an important part of my life,” Lopez-Bowlan said. “As of now, the bulk of that service has come from volunteering for various causes. Now, in adding to my ongoing volunteer efforts, I would like to represent the residents of Assembly District 26.”

Lopez-Bowlan said her campaign will develop an effective grassroots organization, raise the money needed to get her message out to voters and work to earn each vote.

“Many Nevadans are frustrated.,” she said. “I am, too. Struggling families fear higher, job-killing taxes. We simply cannot continue growing government at a time when our unemployment numbers keep getting worse. We should not create or grow a single government program in Nevada until our economy rebounds and people get back to work.”

Lopez-Bowlan was appointed earlier this year to the National Museum of the American Latino Commission. She has also served on numerous organizations, including the State Board of Nursing, the Nevada Academy of Health and the Governor’s Maternal and Child Health Advisory Board.