Posts Tagged ‘Senate’

Ensign Says Good-Bye

By Elizabeth Crum | 10:55 am May 3rd, 2011

In case you missed it, Senator John Ensign yesterday made his final remarks on the floor of the United States Senate. Notable quotes follow, most of them coming near the end of the speech:

When I was first arrived in the Senate, I observed several people who were so caught up in their own importance and busyness that arrogance dripped from them; unfortunately, they were blind to it and everyone could see it but them. When one takes on a position of leadership, there is a very real danger of getting caught up in the hype surrounding that status. Often times, the more power and prestige a person achieves, the more arrogant a person can become. As easy as it was for me to view this in other people, I was blind to how arrogant and self-centered I had become; I did not recognize that I thought mostly of myself.


I believe that had I learned this lesson earlier, I would have prevented myself from judging two of my colleagues when I had no place to do so. As Chairman of the NRSC, I was confronted with the personal issues facing Senators Larry Craig and Ted Stevens. Following Larry’s admission and Ted’s guilty verdict, I too deeply believed in the power of my leadership position and I called on both to resign. This has haunted me for years, and I have sincerely struggled with these decisions. So much so that I went to each of them after a few weeks and admitted that what I did was wrong, and I asked them for forgiveness. Each of these men was gracious enough to forgive me, even though publicly I did not show them that same grace; I am very grateful to them both. When I announced my personal failure two years ago, Larry was one of the first to call and express his support. I truly cannot tell you what that meant, and still means to me.

The purpose of me speaking about this is to humbly show that in life a person understands mercy a lot more when they need it and it is shown to them. Again, this is a hard lesson that I have learn, but I hope that I can now show mercy to people who come into my life and need it.


To my Senate colleagues, I would like to take a moment to apologize for what you have each gone through as a result of my actions; I know that many of you were put in difficult situations because of me, and for that I sincerely apologize.


My wife, Darlene, who has been through so much with me and has fought through so many struggles, is owed more than I could ever repay. I do not deserve a woman like her, but I love her and am so grateful that the Lord has put her in my life.


Lastly, and most importantly, I want to thank God for allowing me to be here. I have been encouraged by some not to mention God because it looks hypocritical because of my own failings, but I would argue that I have not mentioned Him enough. I am glad that the Lord not only forgives but likes when I give Him thanks. So Lord, thank you for all that you have done in my life. I hope I can do better in the future, and can learn to love You with all my heart, soul and strength, and to love others as myself.

My colleagues, I bid you farewell. Know that you’ll be in my prayers.



Republican and Democrats Release Competing Political District Maps

By Andrew Doughman | 5:03 pm April 28th, 2011

CARSON CITY – State Republicans and Democrats today released their proposals for new state legislative political districts.

The competing proposals for state Assembly and Senate districts both keep the Legislature at its current size of 63 legislators.

The Democratic proposal, however, includes a new concept involving two Assembly districts nested within each Senate district. Democrats said they introduced “nesting” in order to simplify and harmonize how Nevadans are represented at the state level.

The proposal could also save thousands of dollars, said Larry Lomax, Clark County Registrar of Voters.

“The more the lines coincide … the less ballot styles you create,” Lomax said. “The fewer number of ballot styles you have, the cheaper it is to do your printing.”

Lomax said that his office printed 307 different types of ballots for the 2010 general elections in Clark County.

The Democratic proposal promises a 30 – 12 Democratic split in the Assembly and a 14 – 7 advantage in the Senate, according to voters registered Democratic and Republican in each proposed district.

The Republican proposal reflects a 26 – 16 Democratic advantage in the Assembly, which is the current ratio in the Assembly. The Republican plan for the state Senate would create 14 seats with more voters registered as Democrats and seven seats with a Republican voter advantage.

But the presence of large numbers of independents and third-party voters means many of these districts could swing blue or red.

About 470,000 Nevadans are registered as Democrats as opposed to about 405,000 registered Republican.

Republicans Release Congressional Plan, Hispanic Vote Proves Contentious

Republicans also released a plan for Nevada’s four congressional districts, one of which is new due to population growth between 2000 and 2010.

The districts include what Republicans say are two districts likely to elect Democrats and two districts likely to elect Republican candidates.

State legislative Republicans today released this plan for Nevada's four congressional district. Nevada earned one more representative to Congress as a result of population growth between 2000 and 2010. Please click here to see Clark County districts 1 and 4.

The proposals drew rapid criticism from Hispanic advocacy groups that called the proposals unfair to Hispanics. The proposed population of congressional district four contains 44.3 percent voting-aged Hispanics.

“This proposal does not enhance the ability for the Hispanic community to elect candidates of choice,” said Javier Trujillo of the Latin Chamber of Commerce, who said Hispanics are packed together to the extent that their vote is diluted in other districts.

Republicans, however, contended that a majority-minority district increases the likelihood that a Hispanic candidate will be elected to Congress.

Advocacy groups and legislators argued the same points about minority populations during a Democratic press conference today, touting the Democrat’s proposals as “common sense” and “fair” while disparaging the Republican proposals as unfair to their communities.

“There are several factors that we will discuss today that guided the development of this plan, including reducing population deviation, following county and city boundaries, fairly reflecting the diversity of our state and restoring common sense and reducing confusion,” said Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas.

Proposed Maps Also Eliminate Seats For Two Incumbents, Eradicate Dual Senate Districts

Both proposals eliminate Clark County’s two dual-districts, which legislators and constituents alike had criticized.

Democrats and Republicans also offered similar responses to population shifts to Clark County. The two political parties agreed to eliminate the seats of Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno, and Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka.

Growth in the southern part of the state meant that current districts are imbalanced and one northern Senate seat and one northern Assembly seat became southern seats in the new proposals.

Brower recently declared his intention to run for Congress and Goicoechea is expected to run for state Senate in rural Nevada, where Sen. Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora, must leave the Senate due to term limits.

In an odd maneuver, the Republican proposal also changes the numbers of every district. Nevada law prohibits someone from using the word “reelect” if the district number changes.

Democrats have also touted how their maps include Assembly districts that are, as much as possible, bounded by the borders of cities.

Both proposals, however, do not always follow county lines, especially in rural counties.

The Republican and Democratic plans represent two different takes in what could be a lengthy process to hammer out a compromise between a Republican governor and a Democratic-controlled Legislature. If the two parties cannot reach a compromise, the drawing of political districts could end up in the hands of Nevada’s judges.

Parties Constrained By Redistricting Rules

Democrats and Republicans drawing the boundaries of political districts have to follow rules culled from a variety of past court decisions.

All districts must be nearly the same size. Map drawers use the U.S. Census total population figures for Nevada and divide those by the number of districts so that each district has an ideal size. The ideal size for an Assembly seat is about 64,300 people and about 128,600 people for a Senate seat.

Republicans and Democrats must also try to follow as closely as possible the boundaries of cities and counties when drawing maps. Natural boundaries like rivers and man-made boundaries like highways can also serve as convenient boundaries.

The political parties are also generally prevented from drawing incumbent legislators out of their districts.

Finally, the two political parties must consider “communities of interest” when creating political districts. This could prevent rural Nevadans from suddenly being thrown in the same district as urban Nevadans, or keeping a distinct downtown community separate from a suburban community.

Audio Clips

Sen. Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, says that the Democratic plan for redistricting:

042811 Horsford :20


Democrats Release Maps For Proposed State Assembly And Senate Districts

By Andrew Doughman | 5:03 pm April 28th, 2011

CARSON CITY — State legislative Democrats have released their proposals for state Senate and Assembly districts.

Democrats will debate the proposals together with Republicans during meetings of the Assembly and Senate tonight. Republicans released their proposals for new state Senate and Assembly districts, as well as Congressional districts, this morning.

The Legislature is required to redraw the boundaries of political districts every 10 years based on changes in population released through the U.S. Census.

Please click here for party registration numbers for each of the proposed districts — the numbers of which correspond to the current districts and those districts’ Senators and Assembly members.

The map can be viewed below or click here for the full-sized map.


Democrats today released this proposal for 21 Senate districts and 42 Assembly districts. In the proposal, two Assembly districts are nested within each Senate district.

The proposal has 30 Clark County Assembly seats, five seats in rural counties, six seats in Washoe County and one seat split between Washoe County and rural counties.

The Senate proposal has 15 Clark County seats, three seats in Washoe County and seat split between Washoe County and rural counties.

The Nevada News Bureau has obtained from Legislative Counsel Bureau staff large .pdf files of the Democratic proposals. They are available for download below.


A Clark County map with Assembly districts nested within Senate districts.

large Clark County Assembly district map with incumbent homes.

A large Clark County Senate district map with incumbent homes.


Washoe County map with Assembly districts nested within Senate districts.

large Washoe County Assembly district map with incumbent homes.

large Washoe County Senate district map with incumbent homes.


A large statewide (rural) Assembly district map with incumbent homes.

A large statewide (rural) Senate district map with incumbent homes.






Legislature To See Democratic Proposals For New Senate And Assembly Districts

By Andrew Doughman | 2:16 am April 28th, 2011

CARSON CITY – State legislative Democrats will reveal their proposed maps for the political boundaries of Nevada’s Assembly and Senate districts at 5 p.m. today.

The unveiling of the maps represents the first public look at what promises to be a contentious debate about the state’s political districts, which the Legislature is required to alter every 10 years following the release of U.S. Census data.

Sen.David Parks, D-Las Vegas, has earlier said that the first maps will most likely show districts that reflect the Legislature’s current size of 21 Senators and 42 Assembly members.

Senate and Assembly Republicans have not yet said whether they will join Democratic leadership in presenting proposed redistricting maps on Thursday.

The Legislature has a number of challenges in drawing political boundaries of Assembly and Senate districts:

  • Growth in the southern part of the state means current districts are imbalanced and one northern Senate seat and one or two northern Assembly seats will become southern seats. This means some northern incumbents will no longer have a district to represent.

  • The Legislature must decide what to do with state’s two dual-districts, which Parks and others have earlier said will likely go extinct with this round of redistricting.

  • The Legislature must consider protecting “communities of interest” when drawing districts. This could prevent rural Nevadans from suddenly being thrown in the same district as urban Nevadans, or keeping a distinct downtown community separate from a suburban community.

  • The state’s Assembly and Senate seats also have wide disparities in population, which Assembly Republicans have said resulted from unfair maps the Legislature approved in 2001.

These challenges are compounded by the split between a Democratic-controlled Legislature and a Republican governor. Both will likely have to agree on the proposal to pass the redistricting bill.

Members of both political parties want the maps to be fair, but there may be little agreement on actual proposals. Gov. Brian Sandoval has said he will veto any plan that is not “fair.”

So a showdown between a Republican executive and a Democratic-controlled Legislature could throw the matter into the courts. Some legislators think this is an inevitability.

“The court will be the ultimate decider,” Settelmeyer said.

Others contend that they can work out a compromise.

“You go out there, there’s fights, there’s fireworks … but at the end of the day why would politicians put their fate in seven justices [of Nevada's Supreme Court],” said Assemblyman Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas.

The Legislature will also have to draw new Congressional districts.

Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, said he expects the Legislature to unveil and debate proposed Congressional maps sometime next week. Those maps will reflect the addition of a fourth Congressional district added to Nevada due to population growth during the past decade.

At today’s presentation, legislators do not expect to debate the proposals. Legislative staff plan to present and explain the maps, after which Senate and Assembly committees will debate the merits and faults of each plan.

Sandoval Releases Statement of Intent to Appoint Heller to Senate

By Elizabeth Crum | 12:10 pm April 27th, 2011

From the governor’s office today:

“The people of Nevada deserve a new senator who can begin work immediately.  Too many important issues face our state and our nation to name a caretaker to this important position; Nevada needs an experienced voice in Washington, DC.

“Dean Heller currently represents 16 Nevada counties in their entirety and parts of Nevada’s most populous county, Clark County.  Dean has served as a statewide Constitutional officer for 12 years, as a member of the Nevada Legislature, and is serving his third term in the U.S. House of Representatives.  He has quickly risen through the ranks within the United States House of Representatives.  Dean is an experienced representative who is ready for the responsibilities of this office, and who will work hard, not just for Nevada, but for the entire nation.

“A fiscal conservative who believes in limited government, Dean will fight to keep taxes low and balance the federal budget.  He understands that the federal government spends too much money and places too many regulatory burdens on small business.  Just as Senator John Ensign fought for states’ rights and sound economic policies, Dean will speak out for the concerns of every-day Nevadans.  I am confident he will help get Nevada working again.

“Dean Heller is a compassionate man of deep personal integrity, with a down-to-earth approach to public service.  I have no doubt Dean will serve Nevada in the Senate for many years, and I look forward to working with him on behalf of the state we both love so much.

“Recognizing that this appointment will create a vacancy in the office of U.S. Representative from Nevada’s Second Congressional District, I pledge to work closely with Secretary of State Ross Miller on the timing of the upcoming transition and resulting special election.  I have asked Secretary Miller to provide me with information on the rules for conducting this election at his earliest convenience.”


Berkley Pollster Says Incumbent Advantage a Myth

By Elizabeth Crum | 10:33 am April 27th, 2011

On Sunday I wrote that Congressman Dean Heller stands to gain more than he risks losing should Governor Sandoval appoint him to John Ensign’s Senate seat this week.

Shelley Berkley pollster Mark Mellman yesterday disagreed, saying the incumbent advantage is somewhat of a myth when the subject is appointed rather than elected Senators. From his piece on The Hill:

It’s amazing how quickly some analysts jump to conclusions without any facts to break their fall. Discussions of Dean Heller’s potential appointment to John Ensign’s (R) Senate seat provide the latest example of fact-free commentary.

Talk about the “incumbent advantage” Rep. Heller (R) will gain by virtue of this appointment ignores the historical record, which makes clear that appointed incumbents gain no advantage. Telling titles of two academic treatises summarize the facts: “Treadmill to Oblivion: The Fate of Appointed Senators” and “The Electoral (Mis) Fortunes of Appointed Senators and the Source of Incumbency Advantage.”

Since popular election of senators began in 1913, 118 appointed senators sought election and just 62 — or 52.5 percent — won their seats. Nate Silver of confines his analysis to Senate appointments since 1956 and finds that 51 percent won election.

An appointed senator has about the same odds of winning a coin flip as (s)he does of keeping his or her seat: about the same odds as an otherwise evenly matched race for an open seat.

Nate Silver’s 2008 analysis included a nice chart showing the 49 gubernatorial appointees since 1956 and the results of the subsequent elections. Many lost, and Silver noted that the numbers are far below the usual benchmarks for incumbent senators:

Since 1990, about 81% of incumbent senators have sought re-election, and among those have sought it, 88% have won it. By contrast, among the 80% of gubernatorial appointees since 1956 who chose to seek re-election, only 49% survived both the primary and the general election.

Mellman goes on to list the reasons for the low ROA (Return On Appointment) including well-qualified, well-funded challengers (usually other members of Congress), the fact that appointed Senators do not have the advantage of having introduced themselves to and defined themselves with voters (as they would had they run a campaign), and the fact that voters tend to prefer elections to having “a single individual stuffing a U.S. senator down their throats in a process that appears questionable.”

Mellman also refers to the 17th Amendment, which provides for popular election of senators, saying the Constitutional language makes it clear that elections are the proper way to fill a vacancy. From his piece:

“When vacancies happen … in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies.” A proviso was added to deal with the lag between the creation of the vacancy and the point at which an election was feasible: “the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election.” While some states require speedy specials or appointment of a caretaker, many take advantage of this loophole by waiting up to two years to hold the constitutionally mandated elections, but voters smell the rat and give no advantage to those acceding to office by appointment.

Analysts who thought Dean Heller would gain an advantage from his appointment would do well to consult a few facts in addition to their flawed assumptions.

I always pay data its due respect and did consult the statistics before writing my post, so my suggestion that Heller stands to gain from an appointment was not made in ignorance. Mellman is right that it guarantees the Congressman nothing and perhaps hurts him in the eyes of some voters, but those disgruntled voters–Democrats who this week clamored for an “open” selection process to include public hearings even though state law says it is the governor’s duty to choose Nevada’s next senator (and many of whom wouldn’t be complaining if the governor were a Democrat appointing a Democrat–were not going to vote for Dean Heller next year anyhow.

A recent PPP poll shows the Republicans will vote for Heller en masse (86%) and many independents (56%) say they are likely to do so as well. The survey shows Berkley has gained ground in the last four months — Heller is now up only 47-43 — but Heller’s favorables with independents and strong support from the GOP base are not likely to change much between now and next November.

In addition, Shelley Berkley is facing a primary challenge from the wealthy and outspoken Byron Georgiou who, unless he can be talked out of the race (and he says he cannot), is very likely to attack Berkley and drive up her negatives with the Democratic base as well as with independents. This will help Heller in the general election, presuming he is not also challenged in and damaged by the GOP primary next year.

Finally, as I said on Sunday, Senator Heller will gain more in the way of statewide name recognition than Congressman Heller (even without a campaign), not to mention the PR and fundraising advantage to be gained through use of the NRSC’s statewide mailing lists. In addition, Heller will open an office in southern Nevada which can then be used as a de facto campaign headquarters in order to build support in Clark County–where he needs it most.

If Heller is appointed and then loses to Berkley next fall, it will be less for the reasons Mellman mentions and more because the Nevada Democrats, who presently have a 60,000 statewide voter registration edge, did their usual bang-up job of getting out the vote with the added boost of energy that comes in every presidential election year.


Tea Party Express is Back on the Job in Nevada

By Elizabeth Crum | 12:47 pm April 24th, 2011

They’re BAAAACK…

Yes, Dear Readers, the Tea Party Express (TPX) is once again attempting to influence Nevada state politics in ways some say make little pragmatic sense and even (I would wager) contradicts what some folks on their Nevada mailing list are hoping happens in the coming weeks.

Exhibit One, a recent TPX missive suggesting that Governor Sandoval should appoint a placeholder (rather than Rep. Dean Heller) to John Ensign’s soon-to-be vacated Senate seat:

CONTACT: Levi Russell at or (509) 979-6615


Grassroots group asks Governor to avoid forcing a Special Election

The Tea Party Express ( today called on Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval to appoint a distinguished Nevadan as an interim appointment to the vacant U.S. Senate seat so voters can have an unbiased final say in the elections of 2012.

Under Nevada law the Governor must appoint a successor to replace Senator John Ensign, who announced his resignation from the U.S. Senate as of May 2nd.  Speculation is that Sandoval is interested in appointing Congressman Dean Heller to the vacant Senate seat.

Such an appointment would create a House vacancy at an inopportune time as the Congress is addressing the serious debt and excessive spending of the federal government.  In addition, because Nevada has not had experience with Special Elections, it is an uncertain process to select a replacement to Heller.

Since historically around the country, appointed U.S. Senators have fared poorly in efforts to get re-elected in their own right, it makes more sense for the Governor to appoint a conservative Nevadan to fill out the remaining term of Senator Ensign, rather than put an appointed Senator in great jeopardy of not winning re-election in 2012.

The Tea Party Express suggests that distinguished Nevadans such as former Governor Bob List and former Treasurer Bob Seale would make outstanding interim appointments.  They could serve with great distinction for the next two years, and Nevada would be continuously represented in the House and Senate without the disruption of a Special Election.

Some have suggested the law be interpreted or changed so that political party caucuses would be used to select nominees.  We are opposed to any process that favors political insiders over the views and interests of the conservative voters of the state.

For further information or to schedule an interview, please contact Levi Russell at or (509) 979-6615


I hate to rain on anyone’s Tea Party Parade, but many TPX contentions regarding the possible outcomes of a party-chosen vs. primary-elected candidate are highly questionable. Where to begin…

First, assuming Governor Sandoval appoints Dean Heller to the Senate, Nevada special election rules dictate that he will then set a special election date (to occur within six months) for the open House seat. Once that date is chosen, there will be either a “free for all” primary election for all parties, or — as TPX points out — the parties will nominate candidates according to party rules (generally: via a vote of each party’s caucus or central committee). Whichever way it goes, the rules will be the same for all parties.

We do not yet know which scenario it will be, because Nevada law is a bit vague and in any case may be overridden by a federal statute. Secretary of State Ross Miller will issue an opinion on the law as soon as the governor announces his appointment, and we’ll go from there.

Second, the claim that the NV GOP caucus is made up of “political insiders” not only reveals typical TPX animosity toward all party structures, but also illustrates their (apparent) ignorance of the Republican ground game in Nevada. The executive board of the Clark County Republican Party, which accounts for a large percentage of the state’s GOP caucus (because 70% of the state lives in Clark), was last year taken over by Tea Party and Ron Paul types who are anything but party “insiders” and members of the good ol’ boy establishment. Naturally there are still some insiders on the inside, but they do not by any means run the GOP show.

What was left unsaid in the TXP presser is this:

If a GOP central committee caucus vote decides who the Republican candidate will be, their darling, Sharron Angle, probably does not stand much chance to be the chosen one. Sad for them — especially in light of the $500,000 they threw into her primary campaign last year — but the fact is, tea partiers and old-schoolers alike are concerned Angle could lose to a likable moderate or conservative Democrat. Whether fans of Angle or not — the base is divided on the Angle question, and her negatives with the base are high — many Republicans say they are just not prepared to risk a loss.

At this point, many Republicans say they believe state party chairman and former state Senator Mark Amodei, Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, or pretty much any other GOP candidate has a better shot to win a general election than Angle. They know Heller’s district is by no means assured to the Republicans, and they want to nominate the most conservative candidate with the best shot at holding the seat.

Second, regarding the incumbency advantage or disadvantage for Heller, there is an argument to be made either way…but Heller probably stands to lose little and gain much by already being in the Senate when he runs for the seat next year. Such as: more statewide name recognition (which he very much needs in Clark County), use of Senatorial stationery and the NRSC’s statewide mailing lists, and some sensible Senate votes to point out to Nevada’s voters when campaign season is in full swing next summer. It is foolish to claim with any confidence that Heller, if appointed to the Senate, has less of a chance at reelection than otherwise.

Third, re: redistricting, it will not in any way be decided by the outcome of the special election, but by the inner workings of the Nevada Legislature and possible the courts. Redistricting depends on numerous factors including:

– various negotiations re: the state budget (the two should not be related, but they are)

– the gumption of the governor re: vetoing Democrat-drawn redistricting maps (Sandoval so far seems unafraid to use his veto stamp, and he has stated he’ll veto as many maps as it takes to get a fair final version)

– potential compromise-driven crossover votes from either moderate Democrats or Republicans in the Nevada senate (possible), and

– whether or not the matter ends up in court, which it very well may.

In any case, there is little (if any) doubt that Governor Sandoval is going to appoint Dean Heller to the Senate…so TPX is likely wasting its energy seeking a different outcome.

Assembly Republicans Hold With Gov. Sandoval On Higher Education Budget, Ensuring Funding Impasse Continues

By Sean Whaley | 7:39 pm April 22nd, 2011

CARSON CITY – After a lengthy hearing in the Assembly today on what several witnesses said were the catastrophic effects of Gov. Brian Sandoval’s budget recommendations for higher education, Republican members held firm with the executive branch in a series of funding votes.

The votes came in a meeting of the Committee of the Whole, where all 42 members of the Assembly heard testimony on what higher education officials and supporters said were reductions that would mean closing off access to higher education to as many as 19,000 Nevada high school graduates.

Dan Klaich, chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education, talked about the effects of Sandoval’s budget in hearings in both the Senate and Assembly.

Higher education Chancellor Dan Klaich testifies in the Senate today/Photo: Andrew Doughman, Nevada News Bureau

Today he offered an alternative to the Sandoval budget that would increase student fees by 13 percent, require cuts in operating budgets of another 13 percent, and see $100 million in additional revenue from lawmakers. The final element of the plan would restore additional funding in the second year of the budget if the economy recovers and revenues come in higher than projections.

Sandoval’s budget would reduce state funding to the system by $162 million.

Heidi Gansert, chief of staff to Sandoval, and Andrew Clinger, the state budget director, defended the higher education budget and responded to questions at the hearings.

The administration’s position has been consistent: that the key to getting Nevada out of its economic downturn is to create more jobs, and that tax increases would slow any recovery.

The 16 Assembly Republicans held firm with Sandoval in the votes, which included questions about whether to support Sandoval’s proposed higher education budget. The Republican caucus picked up two Democrats in support when the vote was on the question of whether the Assembly should support tuition increases of 10 percent to 15 percent to offset some of the budget reductions to higher education in the Sandoval budget.

Democrats Harvey Munford and Marilyn Kirkpatrick, both from Southern Nevada, voted with Republicans on the tuition question.

Munford, D-Las Vegas, said he thought tuition increases seemed reasonable in light of the state’s financial situation.

“That’s a pretty common practice across the country when you’re short on funds,” he said. “Sometimes finding additional funding requires increasing tuition.”

Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, also said it seemed as though the Board of Regents would approve a tuition increase of somewhere between 10 to 15 percent anyway.

“I think we are going to end up raising tuition,” she said. “I just hope we can keep the same quality of education as we do that.”

The mostly party-line votes mirrored those in the Assembly on Tuesday, when the subject was the public education budget. The Senate budget hearings did not include votes by the 11 Democrats and 10 Republicans.

Democrats seeking to offset some of what they argue are the worst cuts in Sandoval’s budget need the support of a few Republicans to raise taxes or continue those tax increases approved by the 2009 Legislature that are set to expire on June 30.

Sandoval has been unwavering in his position that he will not raise taxes or fees as part of his two-year, $5.8 billion general fund budget. Democrats need three GOP supporters in the Senate and two in the Assembly to raise taxes and override a Sandoval veto.

In the Senate Committee of the Whole hearing, Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, asked Klaich about his alternative budget proposal: “For argument’s sake, if we need $100 million … where does that come from or where do we cut?”

Klaich replied that the Legislature could mitigate many of the worst cuts, including those proposed for higher education, if it considers extending the 2009 tax increase that is scheduled to end this July.

“We are talking about a budget that is built on giving a tax cut in the upcoming biennium to the largest businesses in the state by allowing the taxes to sunset,” he said.

The 2009 Legislature increased the business tax on the state’s largest employers as part of a tax package to help balance the current budget. Those increases were required to sunset, however, on June 30 of this year.

Sandoval has rejected any suggestion of extending the sunsets to add more revenue to his budget.

The Senate hearing also featured some of the state’s prominent businessmen speaking to the benefits of higher education. They said corporate philanthropy may be in danger if businesses cannot be assured the state views its universities and colleges as long-term, sustainable investments.

Representatives from businesses in the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce echoed last week’s chamber memo, in which the chamber outlined a plan for reforms to the state’s higher education system paired with a possible tax increase.

Today, a representative from the Henderson Chamber of Commerce made a similar statement.

“Members are almost universally supportive of higher education,” said Kirk Claussen of Wells Fargo and the Henderson Chamber of Commerce. “…If they can be assured that the taxes they are already paying into the state are being effectively and efficiently spent, they are willing to come to the table to talk about additional taxes to help support the system.”

The votes suggest that bringing the 2011 legislative session to a close won’t be an easy task. If an acceptable budget is not in place by June 6, when the session must end, at least one and possibly more special sessions could be necessary, running the budget debate well into the summer.

Nevada News Bureau Intern Andrew Doughman contributed to this report.


John Ensign, Episode…Too Many

By Elizabeth Crum | 10:35 am April 22nd, 2011
With yesterday’s preemptive, hastily announced resignation, Senator John Ensign’s graceless fall from grace continued. Despite stating he is leaving office in order to spare his family and constituents any further stress, the timing — shortly after an Senate Ethics Committee quietly voted to continue their 22-month investigation, possibly via public hearings — made the cause of Ensign’s departure evident. The specter of the falling axe sent the senator scurrying for the exit when nothing else would.
Ensign thought — or at least fervently hoped — his decision not to seek a third term was the end of an ugly political affair birthed months after an almost inconceivable conception: a shocking and sordid personal affair with the wife of a dear friend and top aide, fertilized and fed by Ensign’s ego. The junior senator’s parents were not only complicit but participatory in the attempted cover up, issuing a series of “gift” checks to the Hamptons totaling $96,000. The Federal Elections Commission saw fit to take the Ensigns’ expanatory affidavit at face value and dismiss a Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) complaint regarding the payments.
But the saga may not be over, even yet. The sequel and (we can only hope) final episode is pending and tied to the fate Doug Hampton, former Ensign staffer and cuckhold, who now stands indicted on seven counts of illegal lobbying. Should Hampton produce damning evidence of Ensign ethics violations in his own legal defense, as he has hinted he may, the Department of Justice may take a second look at the senator.
In addition, even after Ensign vacates his seat on May 3, the Senate Ethics Committee may release some or all of the evidence it has gathered. This may also motivate the Justice Department to get off its legal duff and move forward with an investigation and possible indictment. Indeed, the committee’s statement yesterday hinted it was in possession of serious findings when it said the resignation of Nevada’s junior senator was “the appropriate decision”.
Many Nevadans disagree, believing Ensign’s so-called appropriate choice came far too long after his initial inappropriate act and subsequent machinations to be considered befitting behavior for a United States Senator. The time for doing the right and proper thing is long past, they say. Their disgraced native son–once on the probable short list for the vice presidency on a near-future national ticket–has done too little, too late.
It is said it is never too late for redemption, but Ensign’s resignation will be an unprecedented, indelible black mark on Nevada’s already tarnished political history books. It is a legacy the already embattled Battle Born State could do without.

Senate Debate On Gov. Sandoval’s Public Schools Budget Sees No Vote, Fireworks

By Sean Whaley | 4:29 pm April 20th, 2011

CARSON CITY – The debate over Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed cuts to public education shifted to the state Senate today, with members of the upper house getting the details of the reductions that the Clark County schools chief said would mean the loss of $400 million for a 19 percent cut in funding.

But there was no effort by Democrats, who control the Senate with a narrow 11-10 advantage, to force a vote on the schools budget as occurred yesterday in a more contentious Assembly hearing. There were no fireworks either.

The Senate heard from a number of school officials talking about the effects of the cuts proposed in Sandoval’s budget, as well as a defense of the plan from Chief of Staff Heidi Gansert and Budget Director Andrew Clinger.

Sen. Steven Horsford watches as Sandoval Chief of Staff Heidi Gansert and Budget Director Andrew Clinger testify in the Senate today./Photo: Nevada News Bureau

State Budget Director Andrew Clinger and Chief of Staff Heidi Gansert testify in the Senate today as Sen. Steven Horsford watches./Photo: Nevada News Bureau

Clark schools chief Dwight Jones said that if the teachers union does not agree to benefit concessions the district is looking at layoffs of 2,500 to 3,000 employees. Class sizes would also likely increase, by three students in elementary grades and two students in the secondary grades, he said. The textbook and supplies budget would likely see a 50 percent cut as well.

Jones acknowledged, however, that the tough economic conditions facing the state have proved to be an impetus to make reforms to the delivery of education in the district.

Gansert reiterated the Sandoval position that new taxes are not an option for the upcoming two-year budget because of the need to let the economy recover and for Nevada businesses to begin adding jobs.

She noted that the most recent unemployment report for March showed job growth for the first time in 37 months.

Gansert also defended the use of more than $300 million in school district bond reserve funds to fund operating costs for schools, a controversial element of Sandoval’s spending plan for public education. The proposal was put forward to avoid even more severe cuts to public education, she said.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, started the proceedings for the Committee of the Whole by saying bringing the details of the public education budget to the full Senate is critical to reaching a compromise on spending. He rejected a suggestion that the hearings are a “farce.”

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford presides over the Committee of the Whole discussion on public education today/Photo: Nevada News Bureau

“Some in the Legislature have characterized these Committee of the Whole proceedings as a dog and pony show or a farce intended to politically embarrass members of this body,” he said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. The Committee of the Whole in the Senate is about serious business of the state of Nevada that must be resolved.”

Horsford said he cannot accept the education cuts proposed in Sandoval’s two-year, $5.8 billion general fund budget, and that he is willing to compromise. There is no question that any budget approved by the Legislature will include severe cuts to all areas of spending, he said.

“I am prepared to stay here as long as it takes, but I would prefer that we meet our constitutional deadline of passing a budget by June 6,” Horsford said. “That means we must begin working together now to find the common ground and compromises that will allow that to happen.”

In a briefing after the administration presentation, Gansert and Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to Sandoval, reiterated the governor’s positions on the education budget and taxes.

“We were very careful in putting this budget together, we believe it is sound and it is reasonable,” Gansert said. “We made extra efforts to mitigate the cuts or make them as small as possible to education because that is a priority of the governor’s.”

Erquiaga said that while the administration is interested in reforms sought by Assembly Republicans in such areas as collective bargaining and the prevailing wage, that those issues must be considered on their own merits.

“He certainly welcomes a conversation about reforms, but we need to have a conversation about reforms in this state based on the merits of that proposal, not horse trading,” he said.

The actual level of funding remains a point of contention between Democrats in the Legislature and the Sandoval administration. Democrats say some elements of the proposal are budget cuts, with the governor’s staff disagreeing with the characterization.

Information prepared by legislative fiscal staff provided to lawmakers shows more than $1 billion proposed “major reductions” to school districts. These numbers come from a variety of sources:

  • $600 million from freezing teachers’ pay increases, reducing salaries by 5 percent and making teachers contribute more to their retirement plans.
  • $238 million from the governor’s direct reductions to state support for public schools.
  • $221 million of room tax money continues to shift from supporting schools to the state general fund, as it does in the current budget.

The Senate hearing was more subdued that the marathon session in the Assembly that lasted more than six hours Tuesday. The Assembly session deteriorated later in the evening with accusations and complaints levied by members of the lower house at each other.

In the end, Republicans and Democrats remained firmly entrenched in their positions, with the 16 GOP members supporting Sandoval’s budget recommendations and the 26 Democrats seeking some compromise that would require some form of as yet unidentified tax increase.

The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn on June 6.

Audio clips:

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford says Committee of the Whole meetings are way to find compromise on budget:

042011Horsford1 :26 must be resolved.”

Horsford says budget compromise will require acting like adults:

042011Horsford2 :29 and trying circumstances.”

Horsford says he will stay in Carson City as long as it takes to find compromise on public school funding:

042011Horsford3 :19 that to happen.”

Clark County schools chief Dwight Jones says Sandoval’s budget means a 19 percent cut:

042011Jones :24 about our work.”

Sandoval Chief of Staff Heidi Gansert says every effort was made to minimize cuts to public education;

042011Gansert :13 of the governor’s.”

Sandoval Senior Adviser Dale Erquiaga says a discussion of reforms is welcome, but not as a trade off for tax hikes:

042011Erquiaga :15 not horse trading.”



Collective Bargaining Bill Dies In Committee

By Andrew Doughman | 7:23 pm April 14th, 2011

CARSON CITY — Senate Operations Committee Chairman David Parks has put the brakes on a collective bargaining bill that the sponsor said could save $2.3 billion for the state.

Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, who sponsored Senate Bill 343, said it would save local governments as much as $2.3 billion by amending the state’s collective bargaining law and ratcheting wages down to national averages.

Parks called a hearing on the bill earlier this week, but he said today that the testimony was so negative that he did not believe the bill would have the votes to pass.

“It came down to the overwhelming testimony we received in opposition,” Parks said. “My determination was that there wasn’t strong enough support for it to get a vote.”

The Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce and the City of Reno testified in support of the bill. Firefighters and police unions, joined by the AFL-CIO, testified against it.

The bill would eliminate a third-party, binding arbitration process in management and labor contract disputes and instead impose the local government’s contract offer for up to one year.

The Legislature faces a Friday deadline to vote bills out of committee. In a more symbolic move, Parks may have brought the bill for a vote only to vote it down. By not bringing it up, he let it die quietly.

“It troubles me that the discussion of real reform is not proceeding,” said Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville, who co-sponsored the bill.

He serves on the Legislative Operations committee that heard the bill. He would have voted for the bill as would have Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas. The three Democrats on the committee would have been likely ‘no’ votes.

Public sector unions have traditionally been a strong ally to Democratic candidates, making a bill like Roberson’s potentially unpalatable to his colleagues across the aisle.

The hearing earlier this week had raised the ire of both the sponsor and the opposition.

Lobbyists for public sector unions called the bill “insulting,” and at the end of the hearing Cegavske asked people to apologize to each other for “derogatory comments.”

Roberson at one point during the testimony of the opposition interjected that supporters of the bill were given short shrift.

The Legislative Operations committee did hear another bill, Senate Bill 98, that would also make changes to collective bargaining by requiring mediation prior to arbitration and freeing a third-party arbitrator from having to choose one of the final offers presented. This bill, however, sparked little contention and both public sector unions and local governments endorsed it.

Roberson’s bill, however, appears dead with the caveat that it could be resurrected as an amendment onto a similar bill such as SB 98.

SB 98 was voted out of the Legislative Operations committee today.


Legislators Texting, Tweeting And Typing Has Some Crying Foul

By Andrew Doughman | 7:11 pm April 1st, 2011

RENO – Behind the laptop, beside the cell phone and next to the iPad tablet, somewhere, is a legislator.

“I ask you to please stop looking at your phones,” said Crystal Jackson, a UNR student. “Stop looking as if you’re bored.”

She made the remarks after legislators were more than two hours into listening to students and faculty testify about proposed higher-education cuts at the University of Nevada, Reno on Thursday.

Legislators often multi-task, perusing emails and e-documents while listening to testimony.

But Jackson raises important points: how much time do representatives of the public owe the public, and how acceptable is it to use technology when members of the public are testifying?

“It seems like our stories are falling on deaf ears,” said Charlie Jose, president of the Associated Students of the University of Nevada, who testified earlier at UNR.

Often, legislators punch away at their keyboards as their committees listen to public testimony. Sometimes, only the chairperson of the committee speaks to members of the public.

Nevada Sens. Ruben Kihuen, left, and Mo Denis, both D-Las Vegas, look at an electronic device at the Legislature in Carson City, Nev., on April 1, 2011. Photo by Cathleen Allison

Still, nobody refutes the importance of public testimony, and some want to strengthen it.

Today, lobbyist George Flint testified about a bill from Assemblyman James Ohrenschall, D-Las Vegas. The bill would allow the public equal time to testify for and against a bill.

“The basic concept of our entire government is for everybody to be heard,” Flint said.

Legislators, however, do not have time to hear from everybody. The 120-day legislative session, a complex budget and a glut of bills means legislators are counting every second.

The dissatisfied students may also be bumping into what some have called the Carson City bubble, inside of which a brigade of lobbyists exert influence at the expense of those not physically in the Legislature.

“Probably the smartest thing the UNR students could do is hire a lobbyist,” said Flint, who has been a lobbyist for 49 years. “The way you get things done over here is to hire professionals who have the ear of these people [legislators].”

Flint is a lobbyist for a polarizing industry: Reno-area wedding chapels and some legal brothels. He knows as well as anyone that some lawmakers are set in their views. Three minutes or three hours of public testimony will not change their minds.

Still, it is important for the public to have a chance to have its say.

“If you’re going to walk out feeling like you’ve lost, you should walk out knowing you had enough time to make your case,” Ohrenschall said.

Nonetheless, technology has invaded committee rooms to the extent that people making their case cannot know if lawmakers are actually listening.

Assembly Minority leader Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, said that this is the “price we pay” for integrating more technology into the legislative process.

For the first time this year, nearly all legislative documents are on a computer system. So when legislators are looking at their computers, they could be referencing relevant documents.

Orhenschall said that he gets text messages from his assistant, who tells him another committee is waiting for him to testify on a bill.

Some members of the Senate and Assembly also use Twitter and consistently Tweet colorful quotes as people testify.

So for better or worse, legislators seem to be connected to their laptops, iPads and cell phones.

“You know how Darth Vader had become more machine than man?” Ohrenschall said.




DOJ Indicts Former Ensign Staffer Doug Hampton on Seven Counts

By Elizabeth Crum | 3:42 pm March 24th, 2011

Deep sighs of relief were heard all over Nevada when Senator John Ensign announced his decision not to run for reelection. Today the indictment of former Ensign staffer Doug Hampton will once again put many of the Silver State’s political players* on edge.

As reported by the AP and others, Hampton has been charged with illegally lobbying the senator’s staff on behalf of two companies for which he was working as a consultant.

Federal law prohibits former Senate aides from lobbying the Senate for one year after termination of employment.

Roll Call reports that Hampton is scheduled to be arraigned March 31 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Doug Hampton claimed in 2009 (first in a riveting interview on Ralston’s Face to Face and then on national television) that Ensign helped him find lobbying clients after he left the Senator’s office. Ensign has denied doing so.

When Hampton went public and effectively incriminated himself, he hinted he was in possession of more (read: damaging to Ensign) information than he was sharing. Presumably, that information will now be shared with the Department of Justice (DOJ) as Hampton seeks to defend himself.

If found guilty, Hampton could face up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for each count.

The Department of Justice last year served subpoenas on numerous Las Vegas businesses, seeking documentation about Ensign, Doug Hampton, and various staffers and political operatives.

That documentation showed companies being contacted by Ensign’s office about possible work opportunities for Hampton, as well as emails from Hampton explaining how he could help them.

Ensign escaped sanction by the FEC and prosecution by the DOJ, but he is still the subject of a Senate Ethics Committee investigation that started in the fall of 2009.

*Update: Ralston mentions, via Tweet, that key testimony could come from John Lopez, former Ensign chief of staff who is now with R&R Partners, and Mike Slanker, an ex-Ensign operative now heading up Dean Heller’s senate campaign.


Heller Was Poised to Challenge Ensign in Primary

By Elizabeth Crum | 8:43 am March 15th, 2011

During a brief interview with Congressman Dean Heller a few moments ago, Heller laughingly called his U.S. Senate run “the worst kept secret in Nevada” and said that for the past many months his team “had anticipated we would be running against Ensign in the primary.”

Indeed, Heller’s well-tooled, warm-and-fuzzy campaign website and already emailed fundraiser invitation to major donors show he has been working on his Senate campaign for some time.

Heller said he “probably would not have announced for another couple of months” were it not for the scandal-plagued Ensign’s recent announcement not to seek a third term, confirming speculation about the timing of his own announcement to run for Senate.

Heller will not be holding a formal press conference, but instead will be talking to reporters one-on-one and doing numerous radio and television appearances in the coming weeks.

The Congressman would neither confirm nor deny whether he has had recent conversations with Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, Sharron Angle and/or other Nevada Republicans about their own possible senatorial ambitions — but of course he has, and those conversations will surely continue as we wait to see who else will try to become Nevada’s next senator.





Republican Assemblyman Accuses Democratic Senator Of Hijacking His Bill

By Andrew Doughman | 2:20 pm March 10th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Freshman Assemblyman Ira Hansen, R-Sparks, watched as one of his first bills was introduced on the floor of the Assembly Tuesday.

Hansen’s bill would establish a state grants coordinator to help Nevada apply for and win more federal grants.

A few hours later, Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas, stood at a lectern flanked by the American flag and the flag of the State of Nevada, and told a gathering of reporters about his bill.

Parks’ bill would establish a state grants coordinator to help Nevada apply for and win more federal grants.

The introduction of Hansen’s bill, Assembly Bill 243, was a matter of procedure. Parks delivered his speech under studio lights at a Democratic press conference attended by about a dozen journalists jotting down his words.

Parks’ proposal received press attention whereas Hansen’s bill did not.

“It’s either highly unusual timing or they thought it was a great idea and wanted to capture it for themselves,” Hansen said yesterday.

Parks said he was “totally unaware” of Hansen’s bill before Hansen e-mailed him yesterday.

Hansen said he had submitted his request for a bill November 4, 2010. He said it was an idea from the Sage Commission’s report, an underlined and annotated copy of which he keeps in his office.

He said he received the bill back last Friday and collected signatures from legislators of both parties Monday.

“They’re taking the political credit for it,” he said.

Gov. Brian Sandoval had earlier said he would like to establish a grant coordinator for the state.

Parks said he had his idea independently from Hansen.

“We see that sort of thing all the time here,” he said today after a Senate floor session. “There was absolutely nothing deliberate. I did not see that he submitted such a bill draft. …These things happen. As far as I’m concerned, it’s no big deal.”

Parks submitted his bill draft request on Valentine’s Day.

Parks’ bill draft request description states that the bill “makes various changes concerning solicitation and use of grants.”

Hansen’s bill draft request description states that the bill “creates the position of State Grants Coordinator within the Budget Division of the Department of Administration.”

Parks bill, Senate Bill 233, was introduced on the Senate floor today.

Parks said that these sort of duplications happen. He cited one of his own bills that Assemblyman Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, introduced in the Assembly before Parks was able to introduce his.

Parks said that there may be “a little personal hurt” when something like that happens, but he hopes to reconcile Hansen’s bill with his own.

“Presumably, somehow along the way our bills will cross and we’ll work on the concept,” Parks said.