Posts Tagged ‘richard perkins’

Beneath Partisan Politics, Personal Relationships Hold Sway At Legislature

By Andrew Doughman | 5:00 am May 26th, 2011

CARSON CITY – On Assemblyman Harvey Munford’s desk lies his teacher’s edition of an American government textbook.

The former high school history and government teacher said he brought it as a guidebook to the legislative process. But he has not used it much.

“It wasn’t applicable to a whole lot of things,” he said.

Munford, a Democrat from Las Vegas, describes himself as “disillusioned” with the Legislature.

He sits in his office, shunted aside from most of the budget battles and without much to do except cast his vote for others’ bills; most of his bills are dead.

Munford was a teacher of government processes, but not a student of the personal politics that are so important at the Legislature.

A social undercurrent has developed as the session has progressed, intimately shaping the fates of bills and the budget. It is part of the milieu that makes every session unique, and those who do not play well with others lose.

“In a small state like Nevada, it’s all about relationships,” said former Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins, who is now a lobbyist.

And Munford is not popular.

He has served four terms, but he said he feels slighted that other colleagues have jumped ahead of him and secured leadership appointments to committees.

Munford said he has not found many people to work with. Before the session, he requested from legislative staff a bill that would ban texting while driving. He said a constituent had asked him to sponsor such a bill.

But his bill did not carry much weight. Instead, a bill from Democratic leadership became the vehicle for the proposal to ban texting while driving.

“The leadership seems to carry all the leverage,” he said. “You have to be a foot soldier for them or they’ll cut you out.”

Munford does not always vote with his party. He reluctantly attends caucus meetings, listens and leaves. He has contemplated ceasing to attend altogether.

“I should have pulled a Joe Lieberman on them and went independent,” he said, referring to the Connecticut senator who relinquished his title as a Democrat.

Munford said he likes to sponsor social policy bills. In doing so he naturally avoids the imbroglios that can develop when lots of money is at stake, but he cannot avoid the social shifts and politicking behind his bills.

“This is about regular people and emotions,” said Jim Waddams, a powerful lobbyist for a number of Nevada industries.

Legislators must be savvy enough to develop relationships and participate in the give-and-take compromising that sometimes determines the fate of bills.

Munford characterizes it differently. He calls the hushed chatter in offices and hallways a symptom of legislators’ “hidden agendas.”

“You can see where they jockey around with these bills,” he said. “They cut deals.”

Sitting in his office with Motown music softly playing in the background, the former basketball coach and high school teacher said he certainly understands how relationships matter between people.

“If you’re going to learn one thing, it’s about relationships and personalities,” Munford said of the Legislature.

The problem is, he said, he has not found many people to work with in the Legislature.

“I never wanted to identify myself as a politician,” he said. “I wanted to be a statesman whose goal was to work for the state.”

His independent attitude has relegated him to the sidelines, a man whose vote matters as much as the other 62 legislators but whose influence pales in comparison to some of his colleagues.

“I think part of the problem is he is more interested in trying to develop policy and not so much in simply cultivating relationships,” Waddams said.

Assemblyman Mark Sherwood echoes Munford’s complaints.

Sherwood, a neophyte Republican legislator from Henderson, sat in his office earlier this week and peppered his chat about the legislative process with negatives, at various times calling it “disappointing,” “frustrating,” “disheartening,” and “disturbing.”

Sherwood’s frustrations have sometimes transformed into anger. He has called a committee meeting a “farce” and once referred to a Democratic colleague by her first name, a breach of decorum in the Assembly chambers.

He has also consistently argued that Republican bills have received short shrift from the Democratic majority in the Assembly, earning him a reputation as a caustic outsider unafraid to hurl political firebombs.

Many of the bills Sherwood sponsored are dead.

“They try and destroy you,” he said. “When somebody comes up here who doesn’t conform to the politics as usual, they will try to destroy you.”

Over the course of the session, his views of the Legislature have evolved and soured.

“It becomes group think and all the sudden we’re done,” he said. “We don’t ask the questions.”

He went on to praise lobbyists as the “best politicians in this building” because they must know their issues, build consensus and work across the aisle in order to achieve the aims of their clients.

Sherwood called himself “naive” for not expecting the legislators to unjustly kill bills, steal bills, tack on last-minute amendments and sometimes push legislation for questionable reasons.

“That’s troubling,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting that. … The cronyism is disheartening.”

But not everyone is so bitter.

“In many ways this is one big family and the analogy you can draw is these are sibling rivalries you would find in any family,” Perkins said.

As the end of the legislative session nears, fatigue and stress scratch at the veneer of rationality. Passions run high and tempers flare.

The legislative process is a war of attrition. It wears down the corps of lobbyists, legislators, staff and press. The climate in the building inevitably sours. People miss their families and feelings get hurt. Everyone aches for the days to have two or three more hours, if only to catch up on sleep.

Like journalists, legislators turn to the colleagues and lobbyists they trust for information.

Waddams, the lobbyist, said the legislative process is essentially about information; some people have it and others do not. The ones who do are empowered to make decisions and close deals.

Legislators inevitably make deals, the most important of which will be the final budget deal.

“This is about regular people and emotions and pushing and pulling,” he said. “What is done is never perfect but generally, it works.”

Tow Truck Bill Focus Of “Huge Lobbying Effort”

By Andrew Doughman | 7:56 am May 5th, 2011

CARSON CITY – It has been called the most lobbied bill during the legislative session, and it is has nothing to do with taxes.

All the fuss is about changes to the tow truck and auto salvage industry.

In one corner are a wealthy business owner who often contributes to political campaigns, the auto insurance industry, the AFL-CIO and a former Speaker of the Assembly whose clients include  a now-indicted poker company.

In the other corner are tow truck companies, salvage yards, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and a group called the Nevada Tow Car Council.

Somewhere in the middle are two groups: citizen members of the Nevada Assembly, some of whom professed to know little of about the auto industry during a hearing yesterday, and average Nevadans who pay auto insurance and may someday have a vehicle towed.

At stake are potentially lucrative, monopolistic deals for business groups.

Senate Bill 407 would change how tow companies treat vehicles that end up in accidents in Clark County. Tow companies currently take those vehicles to their lots, where people can find their vehicles later.

A proposed amendment to the bill would allow insurance companies to contract with an independent storage lot. If you got in a wreck, your vehicle would go to the insurance company’s lot, where you could retrieve it later.

“I don’t know where all the money is coming from on that bill, but there is a huge lobbying effort on that,” said Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, who heard the bill in a Senate Transportation Committee last month. “There were so many good people on both sides of it that both made good points.”

Dueling Lobbyists Argue Bill Could Create Or Destroy Monopoly

The main proponent of the bill is Bobby Ellis, a businessman who often contributes to political campaigns and owns SNAP towing.

Richard Perkins, a former Democratic Speaker of the Assembly, is lobbying the bill on behalf of Ellis.

Former Speaker Richard Perkins (center), meets with lobbyists and Bobby Ellis, a Henderson businessman, after a legislative hearing. Perkins says Senate Bill 407 does not favor Ellis. "It just gives a level playing field so everyone can compete," he said. /PHOTO: Andrew Doughman, Nevada News Bureau

He said that just two tow companies get all the business for vehicles involved in accidents. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police authorize Ewing Brothers and Quality Towing to tow cars from accident scenes.

“A monopoly is what they have now,” he said, noting complaints of price gouging and abuse.

Those two companies can charge fees ratified by the Nevada Transportation Authority.

The bill would allow insurance companies to contract with companies offering lower fees, Perkins said.

“This really opens it up for people instead of protecting the current monopoly,” he said. “You shouldn’t be a victim of an accident and of a tow company. … If they weren’t raping the public we wouldn’t be here in the first place.”

Opponents to the bill note that Ellis is a consultant for Insurance Auto Auctions, which bought his salvage yard several years ago. They say this gives him an in with insurance companies and a reason to contract with Ellis.

Towing company representatives like Paul Enos say that the bill will create a monopoly for Ellis.

Ellis contended that this is not true.

“A lot of people say this is a special interest bill, but I may not even get a contract out of it,” he said.

Opponents to the bill said it has little to do with auto insurance consumers and people who get in accidents. They say that the bill ultimately benefits Ellis and the insurance industry.

“They will absorb the savings, it will never get to the consumer,” said Jason Kent of Quality Towing. “This bill would make us give up the most profitable part of our business.”

Most tow truck companies earn a hefty chunk of their revenue from storing vehicles, said Dennis Milk of Tow Guys towing company.

Some vehicles then move along to salvage yards or auto auction companies, two of which testified against the bill.

Sam McMullen, a lobbyist representing Copart Auto Auctions told a legislative committee “that kind of relationship” between Ellis and Insurance Auto Auctions gave his client concern about the bill.

Sam McMullen, lobbyist for Copart Auto Auctions meets with lobbyists for tow truck companies and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department prior to a legislative hearing. McMullen said Ellis' business relationships "cause concern" for this client. /PHOTO: Andrew Doughman, Nevada News Bureau

Michael Geeser, lobbyist for AAA, said that cost savings may not necessarily pass along to consumers.

“At least it gives us one more choice and a chance to perhaps bring prices down,” he told a legislative committee.

AFL-CIO representative Danny Thompson said the bill would help average Nevadans.

Representatives from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department said they did not want to become “agents” for insurance companies in directing vehicles to the storage lots insurance companies designate.

Both proponents and opponents agreed on a portion of the bill that mandates the Nevada Transportation Authority to develop a standard set of fees for the tow truck and storage lot industry, which should help Nevadans.

Choice Of Committee Stirs Controversy

Further complicating the matter is the committee to which the bill was sent.

Assemblyman Kelvin Atkinson, D- North Las Vegas, is the chairman of the Commerce and Labor committee that heard the bill yesteraday.

Opponents of the bill noted Atkinson is also the recipient of a trip to London paid for by Perkins on behalf of his client, Pokerstars, a company which is now under federal investigation.

Perkins called those implications a “cheap shot” and a “smear campaign.”

Henderson businessman Bobby Ellis was at the Nevada Legislature to support Senate Bill 407. He said the bill is about consumers. "All their (towing industry) gravy and all these charges will go away and it'll help the consumer,

Opponents of the bill pointed at the thousands of dollars Ellis contributed to members of the Commerce and Labor committee.

But groups such as the Nevada Motor Transport Association, which represents tow truck companies and others, also made donations to members of that committee.

If anything, the allegations proved there is money in the fight, and there are a gaggle of lobbyists on both sides who will hope to turn the ear of a member of Nevada’s Assembly before the bill returns for a vote.

The committee has yet to take action on the bill.





Speaker Oceguera Proposes Bill Requiring Training For Legislators

By Andrew Doughman | 3:43 pm March 17th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Legislators would have to attend legislator school under a bill from Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas.

Assembly Bill 260 would make it mandatory for all new legislators to attend classes before the official start of the legislative session.

Those who are too cool for school would suffer a truancy penalty of one day’s salary, or about $150.

Oceguera argued that the bill helps make new legislators effective and retains institutional knowledge at the Legislature. The Legislature was restrained to 120-day sessions and established 12-year term limits during the 1990s.

Oceguera said mandatory training would help legislators “hit the ground running” on day one.

Lawmakers had classes before the start of this session, when record numbers of new legislators arrived for their first day of work. The new legislators learned about budgeting, working with lobbyists and the press and how a bill becomes a law, among other things.

The speaker’s bill would require as many as 10 days of such training for all new legislators. Legislators would receive a travel and living stipend during the training, paid out of the Legislative Counsel Bureau’s budget.

Legislative leaders from the past session would draft the curriculum.

Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, D-Las Vegas, attended training classes before this session and said they helped her immensely.

Many in the building have noted the “breakneck” speed with which legislators got to work early this session.

Karl Kurtz of the National Conference of State Legislatures provided background about what kind of training other states are providing.

He said 16 states do some kind of pre-session training for new members.

“New member training is the best thing that legislatures can do to try to address the problems of inexperience brought on by term limits,” Kurtz said, citing a study about term limits.

Some states bring legislators to several sessions after the November elections and before the start of the legislative session. One state, Missouri, takes legislators on an eight-day bus tour of all state institutions, Kurtz said.

“You need to view it as an investment; it’s an investment to make the session more effective and make the session more efficient,” said Tom Little of the State Legislative Leaders Foundation.

Little said he has seen how helpful training sessions are when he has participated in other states’ legislative training sessions.

Former Speaker Richard Perkins also testified in support of the bill.

“In a citizens’ legislature, you have so many more demands on your time outside of this process that you pretty much have to make [training] mandatory,” he said. “In a professional Legislature, this would be your job.”

Perkins said that legislators this session have to sort through the “most complicated budget” in state history, as well as address the drawing of new political boundaries as is required every ten years.

“There aren’t many businesses that would thrust a team member into a situation as complex as this,” Perkins said.

Republicans on the Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections Committee asked for and were granted an amendment that would allow both parties to set the agenda for training.

Legislators also agreed to limit the training to no more than 10 days.

The committee unanimously voted to pass the bill out of committee, which, as new legislators now know, is the first step toward a bill becoming a law.