By Ray Hagar, Nevada Newsmakers
The public relations blitz and campaign contributions associated with Blockchains LLC’s futuristic, cryptocurrency “smart city” plan reminds Robin Titus of another big-money crusade at the Legislature — financing the Raiders Stadium in Las Vegas.
“This pattern has happened before in Nevada,” Titus, the Assembly Minority Leader, said on Nevada Newsmakers. “When the Las Vegas Raiders stadium went in, there were a lot of checks to a lot of groups, public officials, people running for office.”
Titus, too, took money from the stadium backers but did not support their plan of using $75 million in Clark County room taxes to help fund its construction. Still, it was overwhelmingly approved by the Legislature in a special session in 2017.
“They met with me,” Titus, R-Wellington, said of the stadium backers. “I got a campaign donation from them but I told them, ‘I’ll take your campaign donation but I am not supporting the stadium.’
“So I think having a donation is one thing. Does it change how you vote? That’s another (thing),” she said.
Now, the story of money and Nevada politics is repeating itself in this session of the Legislature.
Jeff Berns, the CEO of Blockchains LLC, has made more than $400,000 in contributions to Nevada elected officials and candidates since 2018, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal. About $70,000 went to Gov. Steve Sisolak, D-Las Vegas. Berns is bipartisan, giving donations to Democrats as well as Republicans.
Berns has also spent $30 million for water rights for his smart city. Those right won’t be enough for his city, experts said. He also faces a logistical problem because the water rights purchased are 100 miles away. While Berns and Sisolak’s offices worked on the plan last year, others were kept in the dark, Titus said.
“What was shocking is that I didn’t know anything about it until the day before the state-of-the-state,” Titus said, referring to Sisolak’s major speech in January, given before the start of the 2021 Legislature.
“Sen. Settelmeyer (Senate Minority Leader) didn’t know anything about it until the state of the state,” she added. “So we were all kind of wondering, what is going on here? Apparently this discussion had been going on quite a while with the governor and none of us knew about it, except for the ones who perhaps had some (campaign) donations.”
Lawmakers soon learned of the plan to build a city for 35,000 on 5,000 acres in Storey County, complete with its own cryptocurrency, energy grid, water source and local government.
“The good news is that it has been exposed,” Titus said about the money involved. “We all know ‘follow the money.’ There have been articles on ‘follow the money.’ You don’t just follow the Blockchain. You follow the Blockchain money. I feel they have put a lot of money into advertising this and they have done what they feel they need to do. I have concerns about that.”
Yet Titus — in a way — also admires Berns plan. He has said his “smart city” will eventually produce $4.9 billion in direct wages and 79,400 construction jobs, all at “zero risk” to the state.
It’s not like luring Tesla here, whose deal to build its massive gigafactory at the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Complex in 2014 included $1.25 billion in tax incentives from Nevada.
“This man is willing to put in his own money, he’s not asking for any rebates, not asking for anything but his own government? That is pretty huge, right?” Titus said. “And I would argue that this will need a lot more discussion.”
Berns’ request for his own government to run his city is a major sticking point, Titus said. The Storey County Commission already opposes it.
Titus offered another way.
“To his credit, I would say that part of the reason he wants to create his own government is he hates the obstacles he sees in his way,” she said. “And that is my question to him. Do we need to give him his own government or as a conservative Republican, do we need to limit what the government’s interference is?
“So the real question for me is do we need to go back and look at what are the obstacles in doing business in the state? Do we need to research? Is there really an obstacle or are there important checks and balances for a reason?
“So for me, its a good chance to do an overview. Does he have a legitimate argument?… I think it is a good time to see: Are we a business friendly state? I think we still are. We have been able to bring in good businesses to this state.”
POSSIBLE SENATE RUN: Titus said she would like to run for the District 17 state senate seat in 2022. It is now held by James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, but Settelmeyer is term-limited and can’t run for re-election.
Redistricting may dash Titus’ hopes. If the new redistricting plan pushes her Wellington home out of the newly reconfigured senate district, she could not run. Rural Nevada could very well lose seats in the Legislature in the next redistricting. The process of drawing Assembly and state senate districts is based on population. And the state’s population is growing considerably in the metro areas of Las Vegas and Reno.
“It is premature to know what any of us are going to do because of that whole thing called redistricting,” she said. “I may not even be in Sen. Settelmeyer’s senate district when redistricting happens. So we have to wait and see where the lines are drawn. And if indeed I am still in Sen. Settelmeyer’s district, I do plan on running for that seat.”
If she runs, she will probably meet Assemblyman Jim Wheeler, R-Minden, in a GOP primary. It’s a heavy GOP district so the winner of the GOP primary would be the heavy favorite in the general election. Settelmeyer won the district in 2018 with about 72 percent of the vote, according to the Nevada Independent’s Riley Snyder. Wheeler told Snyder he is definitely running. He was the Assembly Minority Leader before Titus took the position after the 2019 session.
Editor’s note: Robin Titus is no relation to Nevada’s 1st U.S. House District Rep. Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas.
The story has been updated to show Jim Wheeler was the Assembly Minority Leader before Titus.