Political season begins in earnest February 2, when the 2015 Legislature convenes in Carson City. In advance of the chaos, we checked in with longtime Nevada political pundit and Reno Gazette-Journal columnist Jon Ralston, who also publishes Ralston Flash.
With Republicans controlling both chambers and the governor’s seat, do you expect more or less partisanship and infighting than in the recent past?
It potentially will be worse, because there will be both partisan fighting—with the Democrats desperately seeking relevance—and the internal GOP fights between the moderates, conservatives and crazies. [Governor Brian] Sandoval may want to get in the middle, but may not want to risk getting in the muck.
Because of term limits, have we reached the point where lobbyists are running the show in Carson City more so than elected officials, many of whom are inexperienced? How dangerous is this for the state?
Very. Some of the lobbyists are very skillful and persuasive, and institutional knowledge is evaporating [because of term limits]. The legislative staff is superb, but they often can’t have as much influence as the paid advocates.
Is there a bill or issue that is the tipping point for the whole session?
The BLT, the unfortunately acronymed tax plan. It’s called the Business License Fee, but it will be called a tax. A gross receipts tax. (Editor’s note: Sandoval has proposed changing business license fees to a graduated scale rather than the current flat fee.) Everything will pivot off that. Everything.
Will the governor be able to get his plan for increased taxes passed? Will being a Republican make it easier or more difficult?
If anyone can, he can, but it will be a heavy lift. The two biggest problems: The Assembly GOP caucus and the Democrats. … Sandoval needs at least 11 of 25 Assembly Republicans to get to two-thirds—11 assumes he gets all 17 Democrats, which is by no means assured. There is a path to 11, but it will be rocky. Then the Democrats, who ordinarily would support a plan such as Sandoval has proposed, will try to extract nuggets for their cooperation. What will that be? Global or parochial or both? It could get very ugly. Special sessions are possible, just as in 2003.
What personality do you expect to emerge as a key player that most observers wouldn’t expect?
It’s too early to tell, but some of the GOP freshmen have a lot of potential. They could be real dealmakers in the Assembly. Also, while Aaron Ford is the Democratic leader in the Senate, Pat Spearman wants to be a player. Look for her to step up.
What do you predict will be the craziest thing Assemblywoman Michele Fiore does or says during the session?
That’s impossible to answer, because she appears to have no boundaries, no sense of decorum [and] no respect for the process or anyone in it. She is a demagogue with nothing to lose, because she is such a skillful retail campaigner. She is—almost literally—capable of anything. She will make headlines—and few will be good, if any.