Legislature Fails to Negotiate the End Game

As usual, the legislature ended as T.S. Eliot said the world would, not with a bang but with a whimper. As we wait to find out what bills Governor Brian Sandoval will sign or veto, a couple of quotations from a roundup of the session’s conclusion speak volumes.

As legislators waited for a special session, State Sen. Greg Brower, a Reno Republican who succeeded to the seat once held by legislative legend Bill Raggio, groused, “We’re here because the majority party mismanaged the end game.” To which State Senator Tick Segerblom, a Las Vegas Democrat, said, “It takes two to tango.” He noted the loss of veteran lawmakers who knew how to manage legislation and said, “If you want to blame something, blame term limits.”

Segerblom is right, as far as he goes. Term limits are a problem: only two state senators present in 2009 are still in the upper house. Granting that some of the newbies were in the assembly, that’s a lot of inexperience, and the media should talk more about that as a problem. But as the Sun pointed out, governors called special sessions in 2001, 2003, 2005, and 2007, before term limits took effect.

What Brower said is far closer to being the problem: that an end game exists. Why, and what to do about it? Let us count the ways:

•We need annual sessions. Keeping a biennial citizen legislature in a state that has grown as Nevada has is ridiculous and reflects the survival of the frontier anti-government mindset. Meeting more regularly, with the full constitutional power not allotted to interim committees, would make the end game less important.

•In the late 1990s, Bill Raggio, the longtime Republican state senator from Washoe County, pushed to limit sessions to 120 days, and the voters approved it. Another reason for the end game and the silliness that goes with it is Raggio. He was one of the most powerful people in the legislature, if not the most powerful. After the 120-day amendment took effect, he was the leader when his fellow Republicans in the governor’s mansion—Kenny Guinn and Jim Gibbons—had to call special sessions so the legislature that Raggio reputedly controlled could finish its business. Let’s not deny what Raggio was—a smart, shrewd operator who could fashion a compromise, and served his constituents better than they realized by protecting northern Nevada so well. But let’s not make him into what he wasn’t.

Thus, Segerblom has been trying to work out a way for lawmakers to meet a bit more often without changing the number of days, and the legislature passed bills expanding the power or duties of interim committees—which almost all Republicans opposed, and a northern Nevadan tried to gut one of the bills to protect a pal. It’s up to us all to push harder for this.

•No disrespect to Brower, but why should his views matter?

He represents Washoe County, where about 20 percent of Nevadans live. Segerblom is from Clark County, where more than 70 percent of Nevadans live. Of the 42 assembly members, 31 represent Clark County. Of the 21 state senators, 15 live in Clark County.

Simplifying the end game is … simple. The 31 assembly members and 15 state senators get together and vote to close every state facility outside of Clark County. You want to see Sandoval, aptly nicknamed “the Governor of Reno,” negotiate?

Do I overstate the case? Yes and no. But to say the majority party mismanaged the session or that term limits are the problem overstates the case far more, and it’s time that Nevadans understood that and demanded that their elected officials, who are supposed to represent them, do something about it.