Term limits dimish power of Nevada Legislature, shifting it to governor, lobbyists

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October 27, 2016 – By Ray Hagar, Nevada Newsmakers

I’ve covered Nevada state politics since 2002 and the biggest change I’ve seen since then is term limits in the Legislature.

It sounded like a good idea when passed by Nevada voters in 1996 and changed our Legislature forever starting in the 2010 election cycle.

However, it has taken away our powerful legislators and shifted power to the lobbyists and the executive branch.

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Gov. Sandoval will be remembered as one of the most powerful governors of the modern era in Nevada. Yet he had a lot of help from a weak Legislature that was formed after term limits went into effect.

The governor has the upper hand in this new system of checks and balances when facing a weak Legislature brought on by term limits.

A weak Legislature due to term limits is the reason why Sandoval was able to pass the largest tax increase in the state history in 2015 with a Legislature with GOP majorities in both houses.

Veteran Nevadan Journalist Ray Hagar is known for fair and tough reporting and invigorating commentary.
Veteran Nevadan Journalist Ray Hagar is known for fair and tough reporting and invigorating commentary.

Stand against him and you’ve lost the key to campaign cash and support of the most powerful elected-official in Nevada.

How powerful is Sandoval? His Commerce Tax passed by two third of lawmakers in 2015 was a lot like the “margins tax” shot down by an overwhelming number of Nevada voters in 2014.

Recently, a weak Legislature due to term limits also gave us the outlandish deal to give $750 million of Clark County room tax money to billionaires so they can build a stadium in Las Vegas to lure the NFL’s Raiders. The Legislature wilted under the pressure from an army of lobbyist employed by the most powerful gaming moguls in Nevada.

Stand against the stadium and you risk alienating the richest man in Nevada (Sheldon Adelson), who owns the state’s biggest newspaper (Las Vegas Review-Journal) and has been known to throw large sums of money to political officer seekers to do what he wants, including at the legislative level.

Since term limits, the Nevada Legislature has lost respect. It’s now a clown show. And electing new clowns this year won’t save it from itself because any new legislator will be as weak as the person he or she replaces. It will take newly-elected lawmakers an entire session just to figure things out. And all the while, the friendly lobbyists will be more than happy to help them learn.

The new mantra for the Legislature is go along to get along — if you have any hope of staying in office for the 12 years (in each house) allowed by the term limits law.

FOR ME, THE WEAKNESS of the Legislature became apparent in the 2013 session, when it took lawmakers just four or five hours to pass an internet gaming bill pushed by some moguls in the gaming industry. Four to five hours? That was so disrespectful to the system, even if internet gaming was a good idea. No hearings were held on how it would impact small, local casinos. No hearings were held on how it may cultivate gaming addiction. Really? What if Sen. Joe Neal, D-North LV, was still in office? Would Neal and others of his era allowed the law to be passed so quickly with so little vetting?

THE DECREASE in respect for the Legislature was apparent during Monday’s Newsmakers show with union leader Danny Thompson (AFL-CIO). Thompson was talking about Question 3 on the ballot — where if it passes after a long process — the Legislature would be assigned to pass a constitutional amendment to deregulate Nevada’s regulated monopoly on energy (NV Energy).

Thompson was lamenting that a constitutional amendment about deregulation would be so complicated that maybe it was over lawmakers’ heads.

“The problem with putting something in the (state) Constitution as complex as this is that the only way the Legislature can go back and change it is to amend the Constitution again, which is a five-year process to the people,” Thompson said. “And if they (state legislators) get it wrong, which often times happens, it would be impossible to make an adjustment without this lengthy process.”

ANOTHER NEWSMAKERS conversation this week had to do with the fact that two Democrats running for Congress (Jacky Rosen and state Sen. Ruben Kihuen) won’t debate their Republican opponents, Rosen with Danny Tarkanian and Kihuen with incumbent Rep. Cresent Hardy. Both Democrats face experienced campaign foes, so they would probably be listed as underdogs in the debates. Their campaigns saw the possible risk and probably decided against them.

However, it follows a new Nevada Democratic tradition of keeping your candidate away from earned media (newspaper and TV interviews and debates). It really seemed to begin with Rep. Shelly Berkeley’s 2012 campaign against Dean Heller.
We know how that turned out. If Catherine Cortez Masto loses the U.S. Senate race to the GOP’s Joe Heck, or Kihuen and Rosen get blown up, Democrats will need to re-evaluate their campaign tactics in Nevada.

When Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Carson City, recently debated Democratic challenger Chip Evens on Newsmakers, Amodei said he would support U.S. armed forces veterans to use medical marijuana for pain and other ailments if it were made into a pill. Amodei said he didn’t want vets engaging in an unhealthy practice (smoking) to get their medicine. With so many other ways to ingest medical marijuana besides smoking already available, who would profit from a “pot pill” other than Big Pharmacy?

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