Saturday, December 17, 2011

10 of 11: In the Capitol... And from California to Here

Yesterday, I hinted at the strange dynamics of state government this year. Believe it or not, Nevada wasn't accustomed to the hurly burly of intense, combative, highly partisan "contact sport" politics... Until this year. Yes, for a moment it looked like Nevadans' worst nightmares were coming true and we really were turning into California (albeit led by the radical right that supposedly hates our next door neighbors so much).

Yep, that's right. Republicans here always make scary comments about this state becoming some sort of "Little California", but their very obstruction on the budget and diabolical brinksmanship games with state government are turning us into California!

Sometimes, I really do wonder if Republican legislators are spending time that should be used working on a budget deal to instead study up on how California Republicans have turned Sacramento into an endless game of "Mortal Combat"... Where the folks who get killed off are kids in need of education, and seniors & disabled in need of health care. Read Calitics' budget diaries and notice the strange air of familiarity to them.

It seems like both at the federal level and in other states, Republicans are exporting the California model of obstructing their way to broken government to the rest of the country.

However, I still sensed something different. When I arrived in the capital city myself, I saw it with my own eyes.

There really is an intriguing game of political chess happening in Carson City right now. Democratic leadership is figuring out where to find the votes to pass an actual balanced budget, and Republican leadership is trying to find "cover" so they can provide enough votes for a budget that won't anger "we the people" too much.

I had a chance to talk with three of my favorite legislators this week on what's happening up north. My Senator, Shirley Breeden (D-Henderson),is busy doing her "homework", studying the numbers, and pressing for a final budget that keeps kids in school and keeps our hope for a better economy alive. David Parks (D-Paradise) is working hard on a number of LGBTQ equality bills (that you will be hearing more from me on soon!) and hopes for agreement on these as well as the budget. And as part of the new wave of Latin@ legislators providing some much needed representation in Carson, Ruben Kihuen is already off to an amazing start in The Senate... He even expressed some hope that his fellow legislators, especially on The Senate side, can work together this session.

Interestingly enough, there may actually be some opportunities for just that. That Republican legislator I spoke with was willing to keep an open mind on AB 211, the transgender inclusive workplace non-discrimination bill. Another Republican legislator apparently expressed concern over Sandoval's proposed budget cuts this week, and signaled support for the LGBTQ equality bills. And even though GOP leadership are playing "hard to get" right now in demanding some of the same union busting run amok in Wisconsin and Michigan, they may also be realizing that they can only ask for so much, and that it may not be too smart to antagonize working Nevadans when they've already sacrificed plenty and are ready to share in even more sacrifice this year.

Hopefully, what I saw behind the scenes in Carson City this week are real signs of hope that our Legislature will be working on actual solutions that will make Nevada an even better state. The "sausage making process" may be messy, but let's keep pushing them to ensure the final product is safe for human consumption.

Well, at least the final product wasn't totally lethal. And thanks to a last minute court decision, the logjam was finally broken. And looking beyond the budget, we did score big victories on the LGBTQ equality front with legislation passed to address housing discrimination, school bullying, public accommodations for all, and a long desired win for transgender equality at work. That was the major bright spot that at least somewhat made up for the idiotic Trash Tahoe bill, the ugly continuing attacks on our public servants, and the ridiculous final state budget that was yet another pile of patches, band-aids, and "quick fixes" that are destined to combust all over again in 2013 (if not sooner).

But funny enough, the postscript is still being written. And coming around full circle, Californication may indeed continue next year... But this time, it may actually be for the better. I'll leave you with these words from June, which may yet come to fruition on our ballots next year.

Either way, Nevada's governance will start to look a lot more like California's, and more like other Western states (such as Arizona) that have become accustomed to partisan turf wars, ballot box budgeting, and "direct democracy gone wild". It's now a question of whether Nevada will keep sputtering on its way to the bottom, or if progressives can turn this around and take advantage of this unique opportunity to inject more common sense into our state government. The days of Kenny Guinn and Barbara Buckley and Bill Raggio making "grand bargains" seem to be long gone. Term limits are taking away experienced legislators. Meanwhile, the power vacuum is being filled by corporate lobbyists, party central committees, and other outside forces.

So what can we do? In the long term, I still believe it's in our best interest that progressives work toward reforming state government to make it more responsive to the people and less beholden to special corporate interests. But in the mean time, we can't wait on the sidelines for the next [year] while Nevada's people continue to suffer inadequate public education, health care, transportation, and other infrastructure necessary to make our state whole again.

So now, we have to ask ourselves not whether and when we will go to the ballot and ask the people to save our state, but how we will do so and who we will build coalitions with. Should we work with gaming and mining on a broad-based business tax? Should we work with other progressive activists on a corporate income tax? Should we push for some sort of mining tax reform? 2012 may seem like a long hike away, but it really isn't [especially with the Presidential Caucuses right around the corner and just a month away for Democrats!]. We need to start planning now to take the first necessary steps to save our state and bring real progressive reform to Nevada government.

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