It’s Easy to Hate Nevada Politics

Illustration by Cierra Pedro

Too many Americans hate politics and politicians. They shouldn’t, because they’re important. But sometimes our elected officials reinforce that view.

Yes, Democrats do it. Two legislative bills in Nevada would have allowed state parties to voluntarily adopt a presidential preference primary in 2020, ending the caucus process. In 2015, Republicans proposed a primary, but the sponsor didn’t coordinate with county registrars of voters, dooming the bill. This time, Democrats did it.

SB 211 paid for a primary by reducing early voting in the June primaries by three days each election cycle, earmarking that money for the presidential primary, to be held at the end of February to keep Nevada’s first-in-the-west status—and including absentee ballots and three days of early voting.

But a Republican sponsored SB 211. Democrats ignored that bill and tried a last-minute solution, AB 293, which had no funding source and required same-day voter registration. To do that, counties need Poll Book technology, which works instantly with the voter registration database. But Democrats didn’t coordinate this with the county registrars, who merely have to make it work, so the bill died.

So Democrats want early voting and easy ballot access but stuck with a caucus that shuts out anyone who can’t participate on that one day—workers, parents with young children and unable to get a sitter, those who physically can’t get to a polling place and people who have to be out of town for any reason. In other words, their constituency, many of whom thought their party was tone-deaf in 2016. Apparently, when it comes to tone-deafness, we ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.

Speaking of which, another way to make people hate politics is to amend a bill without saying anything to the activists involved in promoting the bill in the first place. Native Americans and non-Natives who support them backed changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day. Some constituencies think it’s more important to honor Columbus. So the legislators changed the date to August 9, which happens to be International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples anyway, and means they play second fiddle to Columbus. Again.

But lest you think Democrats are the only ones giving us reason to hate politics, there’s Sen. Dean Heller. You can always count on him to be someone you can’t count on.

Next thing you know, the legislature will try to pass a bill saying students can’t graduate unless they take a civics quiz. Oh, wait. The state senate did, and the assembly is considering it. After all, it isn’t as though K-12 students ever take history or government classes, or that the stupidity of making teachers “teach to the test” instead of encouraging independent thought is self-evident.

But lest you think Democrats are the only ones giving us reason to hate politics, there’s Sen. Dean Heller. You can always count on him to be someone you can’t count on.

He held a town hall, which he described in a speech for the Keystone Corporation as “one of those boxes you gotta check.” Since his office had asked, as The Nevada Independent reported, to bar the media from the meeting, he presumably felt safe in saying that, and calling the Trump administration “pretty incredible,” adding, “For the first time in 10 years, I’ve heard these two words … and that’s economic growth.”

Now, let’s try to get beyond the lie that the Obama administration never used the words “economic growth” and go to the box he checked, meeting with constituents other than wealthy board members of the Keystone Corporation, which describes itself as “a political action organization for the Nevada conservative.” That would be the town hall where Democratic activist Donna West said funding for Planned Parenthood was important for a lot of reasons. Heller replied he had no problem with its funding and would protect the organization.

That was unusual, since he had fought Planned Parenthood funding because, you know, abortions. Now he’s fine with supporting a federal budget that includes Yucca Mountain, or was fine with most of the budget at a town hall meeting but not when he spoke to the state legislature a few hours later. But let’s get to the major point: He hadn’t actually changed his mind about Planned Parenthood. The next day, his office stated he still opposed the funding for any of its services because, again, abortions, which account for 3 percent of what Planned Parenthood actually does.

You can agree or disagree with Heller’s views—but that’s not the problem. The problem is that you can agree and disagree with him at the same time, because he agrees and disagrees with himself. The bigger problem is that his party’s leader has proved that you can say water tastes like chicken and his supporters will say KFC makes great water, so try conveying Heller’s utter lack of principle.

But as the legislative bills demonstrate, Heller doesn’t have a premium on dissembling. It’s just that our legislators seem to do it better. And that is bad for all of us.

Michael Green is an associate professor of history at UNLV.