Monday, February 28, 2011

So Why Are These People Running?

In today's Sun, Delen Goldberg tried looking for distinction among Las Vegas' mayoral candidates (and eerily spouting off NPRI anti-worker talking points).

One interesting flash point developing is on local government consolidation.

Consolidating Las Vegas with Clark County has been debated for years as a possible way to cut costs by reducing duplicate services and management.

“Be careful what you ask for,” Brown said. “It’s not the panacea.”

Brown praised regional efforts, such as the Regional Transportation Commission and Clark County Regional Flood Control District, as common sense. Floods don’t care about city boundaries, he said.

But he warned against consolidating to disguise cuts. Rather, he said, officials should focus on combining only parts of government that are complementary and could be made more efficient.

Goodman argued that consolidation doesn’t always save money and could negatively affect constituents. Interestingly, her husband has long agitated for combining the city and county.

“Bigger isn’t always better,” she said. “A larger body doesn’t necessarily mean better services or saving money.”

Ross said he would vote for consolidation only if it saves money. He said he’s more in favor of shared services.

Giunchigliani is the only candidate to come out strongly for consolidation. She said she has been working to streamline government agencies and functions for more than a decade. She led the charge to consolidate the valley’s housing authorities and authored a regional spay/neuter law.

Giunchigliani argued that consolidation could improve services. Fewer agencies offering more services would result in people waiting in fewer lines and going through less red tape, she said.

Now this can be a touchy issue throughout the valley. Here in Henderson, the city often prides itself in NOT being like Las Vegas. And here, the city council candidates are arguing over who can best preserve the public services and amenities that residents have come to enjoy and expect.

But in Las Vegas, it's different. There's now a history of Las Vegas and Clark County consolidating certain services, such as police protection. And for so many who live in the stretch of the valley between Sunset and Lake Mead, they don't realize they may be living either in the city or unincorporated county territory. It's all just "Las Vegas" to them...

But is bigger really better? And might less actually be more?

[Chris] Giunchigliani proposes a streamlined “one fee, one form” process. Instead of businesses paying both the state and municipalities piecemeal fees for licenses, inspections, work cards and the like, Giunchigliani said she’d like to debate implementation of one fee charged by all governments and implement it. Giunchigliani fought for similar legislation several years ago, and it passed, but the city and other municipalities have since added fees, permit requirements and paperwork, so the legislation hasn’t kept pace with its intent.

Giunchigliani suggested working with Secretary of State Ross Miller, who is developing a “one-stop shop” computer program for businesses.

Las Vegas first lady Carolyn Goodman, County Commissioner Larry Brown and City Councilman Steve Ross all say they oppose tax hikes.

“It’s not going to jump-start the economy,” Ross said. “What you need to do is give businesses incentives and tax rebates for hiring and putting people back to work.”

Ross suggested that the city suspend all business license and building permit fees for a year to offset the contracted lending market.

Several candidates opposed to tax increases argued that families and employers are struggling in the down economy and increasing the cost of doing business will push them further underwater.

“You cannot get taxes from a turnip,” Goodman said.

You know, it's easy for a candidate to say, "I oppose tax hikes." It's all too often more difficult to just speak the truth on revenue and getting what we pay for. We're certainly learning that lesson the hard way at the state level. So even though the conversation may be difficult to start, Las Vegas may ultimately need to have one on taxes and revenue in order to properly fund the essential services the city so desperately needs. And perhaps by streamlining a number of fees, ordinary people won't be hit all that much.

At a recent radio forum last week, the candidates went into further detail on where they stand and why they're running.

Again, it's easy to get on the bully pulpit, attack public workers, and throw out general platitudes on "job creation". It's much more difficult, however, to actually propose a workable budget and implement sound policy that will actually put people back to work.

So why are these candidates running? Why do they want to be Mayor? And what are their real plans to make Las Vegas work? It's easy to play politics in campaigns, but we elect local government leaders to implement good policy that will make the most difference here at home.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Pomp & Circumstance... & Moving Beyond All That Jazz

Brian Greenspun was right on the money when he said this in his Sun Op-Ed today:

Whether it was our lack of commitment to education, our inability to address an inequitable and unsustainable tax structure, our failure to pay for the kind of city infrastructure that turns a good place to live into a great one, or our singular lack of leadership at the highest levels of state government, it is easy to understand why sophisticated industries choose other states over Nevada to relocate or build.

Too bad most are still obsessing over this.

Harry came back to Nevada, the state that gave him birth amid the rough and tumble of a mining town replete with the vices commonly available in such places, to lay out a vision of a Nevada that no longer condones or approves of the practice of legal prostitution. It caused quite a stir.

The story, of course, went worldwide. It didn’t drown out the voices of freedom and whatever else the protesters are clamoring for in the streets of the Middle East, or the devastation in Christchurch, New Zealand. But it did provide some relief for people worried beyond measure that the world is about to blow up in our faces while we can’t seem to do much to stop it.

Oh, jeez. "Brothel-gate". This is just stupid. OK, so Harry Reid doesn't approve of the brothels. WHO FUCKING CARES??!!

(I usually reserve the cursing and caps lock for real fits of anger, and right now I'm getting angry.)

The brothels aren't going away. Rural legislators won't allow for that, and frankly I hope Clark and Washoe legislators will be too busy tackling real issues to spend time on the stupid bullshit.

While I wish Senator Reid hadn't gone there, the fact of the matter is that he wanted to and he just did it. And come on, we should all know by now that this is how Harry rolls.

In my humble opinion, what's really pathetic is that the entire rest of Senator Reid's speech to The Legislature was almost entirely ignored, and talk of governing as grown-ups was shelved as certain politicians and pundits engaged in boyhood fantasies as they blathered on and on and on about sex with prostitutes.

Never mind that certain Taliban-esque Washington politicians are out to waste time attacking women's right to access the health care they need. Never mind that budgets still need to be passed at the state and national levels. Never mind that there now looks to be a real grassroots uprising happening throughout the country demanding an end to the attack on workers that people finally started to realize when Wisconsin started making the headlines. And never mind that people here in Nevada might be doing the same tomorrow.

Nope, never mind all that. What matters is what Harry Reid thinks of prostitution. And Sharron Angle taking her journey of self-delusion to New Hampshire. And a whole bunch of meaningless pomp and circumstance. And all that jazz.

It's so easy for the media to obsess over the latest salacious scandal full of sex, money, passion, intrigue, and/or whatever else can sell ads. And it's so easy for us to fall into the trap of thinking any of that crap really matters.

So what really matters? Look around you. Notice the kids wondering how they can afford college? Notice the neighbors wondering how much longer they can pay the mortgage with no jobs available? And we're still fixated on the sideshow?

Friday, February 25, 2011

What Are We Really Seeing on TV?

What do you think when you see this?

And this?

(Yay! Brown's campaign now has it on YouTube!)

And what do you think when you see this?

And this?

So what did you get out of those? That Larry Brown and Chris Giunchigliani are serious about getting Las Vegas out of the economic doldrums and into a brighter future? That Brown and/or Chris G care about regular Las Vegans? That they're "just like us"?

Now take a look at this.

What do you see here? "V for Victory"? "V for Vendetta"? Apparently, Victor Chaltiel for Las Vegas. So I guess that's what Sheldon Adelson's billions buy you these days?

Now take a look at this.

What did you get out of this? That we love Oscar? That Oscar has to "say goodbye"? Who's "good enough" to follow up his great act? It seems like Carolyn Goodman is taking a different approach in her ads, engaging with some playful nostalgia instead of the typical promises to do this or that.

Sadly, many voters' first impressions of the candidates will likely come from these TV ads. Do they convey the messages these candidates want to send? Or might voters eventually hear a different tune from what everyone else is saying away from commercial time?

I can definitely see different strategies at play with these various ads. Larry Brown and Chris G want to be taken seriously as practical problem solvers, and that's why they play up the general policy outlines and mix them up with "feel good" promises. Victor Chaltiel is trying to play the "businessman outsider" card a la Arnold Schwarzenegger v.2003, and it seems he's just trying to take advantage of whatever "tea party" fervor Sharron Angle left over with a vague "elect him, not a 'politician'" message.

And Carolyn Goodman? Well, what else can I say about that ad? It's original! ;-)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

You Mean I'm Not Evil?

Someone recently alerted me to this. And I figured in light of this week's developments, this may be worth paying attention to.

Happy Thursday. :-)

Programming Note: Coming Up This Weekend

I'm working on some interesting stories to post here in the next few days. I know I've been silent about "Brothel-gate", but frankly that's because it's really more of a distraction than anything else. But since so many find it so, ahem, titillating, I'll post my own unique thoughts on legal prostitution soon.

Also coming up this weekend will be an update on Henderson municipal elections. Hey, it's my own backyard, so I might as well go out and see who's up to what.

Oh, and don't think I won't be talking more about the real state of our state! Get ready for another reality check on the "conventional wisdom" in Carson City.

So fear not, I haven't forgotten you. Stay tuned for more this weekend. ;-)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

DOMA Be Gone? Not Yet, But Look Closer.

All of a sudden, hell froze over. President Obama directed the Justice Department to drop its legal defense of Section 3 of DOMA ("Defense of Marriage" Act), the provision of the 1996 statute forbidding the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. This prevents legally married gay and lesbian couples from accessing such basics like federal tax deductions and spousal Social Security benefits that they're otherwise entitled to, and this is the provision being challenged in federal court.

And now, we're also hearing this.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) today said, “My own belief is that when two people love each other and enter the contract of marriage, the Federal government should honor that,” and then announced her intention to introduce a bill to repeal DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act that bans federal recognition of same-sex marriages, into the Senate. This comes just hours after Attorney General Eric Holder announced President Obama believes DOMA to be unconstitutional and they have agreed to not defend the fifteen-year old law in court.

In a statement, Senator Feinstein announced, “As a Member of the Judiciary Committee, it is my intention to introduce legislation that will once and for all repeal the Defense of Marriage Act,” adding, “I opposed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996.  It was the wrong law then; it is the wrong law now; and it should be repealed.”

Wow. No, really. Wow!

So now President Obama realizes there's no credible Constitutional defense of discrimination? And Dianne Feinstein is going to the mat for equality in The Senate? What's going on?

Perhaps 2012 politics is already in play. And funny enough, I think that's a good thing. Let me explain.

For far too long, we queer folk have been subjected to being scapegoated for pretty much all the nation's woes, and we've been used and abused as political pinatas as politicians out-maneuvered each other on who was more homophobic. Basically, our suffering was considered "good politics".

But all of a sudden, that seems to be changing. Now don't get me wrong, we still have a long road ahead of us in becoming truly equal in this country. Still, it's funny to see more and more politicians embrace LGBTQ equality as a "winning issue" and embrace pro-equality policy as good politics. It may not seem like much at first glance, but it's quite the step forward.

Remember that just seven years ago, President Bush embraced a Constitutional marriage ban and Congress was debating whether to make us permanent second class citizens and enshrine bigotry in our Federal Constitution. So even if there's virtually no chance of Congress repealing DOMA this year, it's at least refreshing to see the legislative conversation move from taking away our civil rights to protecting our civil rights. And even if Congress doesn't repeal DOMA soon, the courts will one day.

So today may be one small step for Barack Obama and Dianne Feinstein, but it's one giant leap for LGBTQ equality.

Dynasty: Las Vegas?

The intrigue. The mystique. The majesty...

The Goodmans??!!

It seems that the biggest issue being tossed about in Las Vegas' mayoral race may just be the question of whether Carolyn Goodman is some sort of "legacy candidate" running to keep "The Goodman Dynasty" the marquee show in Las Vegas.

Term limits are forcing out her husband after 12 years in office. Her critics said her candidacy was a ploy to keep her husband in power.

Many of those critics support other candidates and saw those people’s political aspirations take a hit when she entered the race. Others are simply projecting their dislike of Oscar, who they see as all style and no substance, onto his wife. Some think 12 years with a Goodman in office is enough.

Carolyn says her husband tried to persuade her not to run, but many political insiders find that hard to believe (in part because Oscar knows as well as anyone that Carolyn wears the pants in the family). Both enjoy the spotlight. Four more years with a mayor in their household would keep them in demand.

Carolyn stresses that she wants to be judged on her own merits. “I am my own person, and I will stand on my own beliefs,” she says adamantly. And she has an impressive professional track record at Meadows.

But in the next breath she introduces herself to voters as “Oscar’s wife.”

It’s a sound strategy, even if she’s loath to own it. Carolyn is a front-runner in the crowded race. A recent poll showed her leading her next closest competitors — Clark County Commissioners Chris Giunchigliani and Larry Brown — by more than a 2 to 1 margin.

Much of that support can likely be attributed to her last name. Oscar is Southern Nevada’s most popular politician, known internationally for his showgirls, gin and “happiest mayor” shtick.

It's never easy when a relative of a politician then runs for that same office. Accusations like these come all the time. Ask Hillary Clinton and George W. Bush. Still, it may be a legitimate issue to discuss, especially since we are in a state that cherishes its political dynasties.

Why is Carolyn Goodman running? And for that matter, why are the other candidates running? Whose agenda will the eventual winner serve?

Let's be fair here. It's not as if Carolyn Goodman is the only candidate who can be accused of being part of the dynasty. Both Larry Brown and Steve Ross have had close ties to Mayor Oscar. Victor Chaltiel is a close pawn "friend" of Sheldon Adelson. Chris Giunchigliani's husband is a powerful campaign consultant. Wherever we look, we see all sorts of juice.

So is it a problem that Las Vegas' next mayor may be the wife of the outgoing mayor? Honestly, it's a question I'm still wrestling with. What if Carolyn Goodman actually expands on her platitudes and offers good policy on remaking a Downtown that's accessible to all? What if she really does have more in store for Vegas than just "Oscar's vision"?

But what if she doesn't? Can someone who happily identifies as "Oscar's wife" on the campaign trail be trusted to move past the failed policies of criminalizing the homeless, pursuing endless "condo mania" Downtown, and using unsustainable "growth" at the edges of town to fund sweetheart deals with big developers Downtown?

I guess the jury is still out on that. No matter what last name Las Vegas' next mayor will have, will he or she be able to resist temptation from "the real estate industrial complex"?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Part Where You Come In

Do you really need me to restate the facts that we've covered extensively? And that our friends at The Nevada View, The Sausage Factory, and Desert Beacon have detailed?

Our state is in dire straits. There's no way to avoid the awful truth. Our unemployment rate is the highest in the nation. Our economy has suffered from extreme boom and bust cycles for decades. There's a growing chorus of economists and business leaders telling us we must have better schools to produce the better educated workforce our state so desperately needs to diversify the economy and thrive, but Governor Sandoval continues to blithely ignore them and hopes to proceed in cutting our schools (and our economic future) to death.

So what else can be done? What else can be said? Can anything be done to change this?

This is the part where we come in.

We MUST let our legislators, the public servants we elect to represent us in state government, know what direction we want our state to take. Are we the masters of our own fate? Or will we let some nebulous external force (insert Tea Party Inc link) make us into its ideological slaves?

What are you prepared to do to save our state? What are you planning to do to rescue your state? Go to Green Valey High School next Monday and speak some much needed truth to power? Ask Governor Sandoval and The Legislature to agree on a fair budget?

Whatever you can do, just do it. This is the part where you come in. What will you do to save our state?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Jim Rogers on Twitter? Fasten Your Seatbelts, #NVLeg Tweeps!

I think I found my new favorite #nvpolitics #NVLeg tweeter... Other than my matron saint of Twitter, @LauraKMM, of course. ;-)

Guess who made the cut...

He’s a successful businessman. He owns Sunbelt Communications, which operates 16 television affiliates in five states, including KSNV Channel 3 in Las Vegas and KRNV Channel 4 in Reno. (The Las Vegas Sun is a media partner with the stations.)

He knows state government. He served as boss of Nevada universities and colleges from 2004 to 2009.

He is politically connected. He is a prodigious political fundraiser and donor, which helps him get meetings with just about anyone he wants.

To a certain extent, his tweets are condensed versions of the weekly memos he sent out as chancellor. As a vocal defender of colleges and universities, he delivered withering — and highly entertaining — attacks on Gov. Jim Gibbons over his proposed cuts to the system.

And look at what he's saying!

"Doesn't it makes sense that a business that produces a $500k profit should be able to take part of that profit and invest it in education?"

"All of NV businesses are not broke - many are thriving and could easily afford to support education which is the key to everyone’s future"

"Sandoval is right – less government is better – but less government should mean less Sandoval and less legislature."

"If Brian Sandoval had been the captain of the Titanic it would have gone down with him smiling, his hair perfectly combed...."

"Legislators with a 'one rule fits all' tax analysis ought to know that one rule never works"

"Think about the fact that Idaho taxes my Nevada income but Nevada doesn’t tax my Nevada income"

"If Nevada’s citizens wanted an excellent education system, Nevada would have one."

Wow. Just wow! Jim Rogers is speaking the truth and saying it like he means it!

For quite some time, I've wondered if I was just one of very few voices in the wilderness. But all of a sudden, it seems Nevadans are starting to wake up and smell the napalm. And perhaps if the most iconic and passionate advocate for Nevada students can light up Twitter, Carson City can wake up and notice reality calling.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Meanwhile on Capitol Hill...

While we have been focusing lately on the Nevada budget, there's also a massive fight brewing over the federal budget. House Republicans are already getting flak over their "job destroying budget" that would kill nearly 1,000,000 jobs if passed, likely pushing the country back into full recession. President Obama has already threatened to veto the House GOP budget if passed, and some House Democrats are now saying they have their own objections to Obama's proposed budget. Another federal government shutdown may be coming.

Wow. Looks like a full on train wreck, doesn't it?

Here's the reality of what's at stake, courtesy of Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN).

As we've talked about in regards to state issues, we need real investment in our public infrastructure. But with the House GOP's preferred budget, we'd be slashing that very investment we need and destroying the still fragile hope of sustained economic recovery. Meanwhile, neither House Republicans nor President Obama are looking at more thoughtful ways of reducing the federal budget deficit without punishing working class families for no reason.

And of course, Republicans are (mis)using the federal budget debate to continue their losing war on health care, their extreme assault on women's civil rights, their drive to make America more polluted and unhealthy, and so much more. When did the federal budget become an extreme right manifesto?

So in addition to all the madness up in Carson City, it looks like we'll be in for quite the bumper car ride in Washington. Let's see if lawmakers can put aside the ridiculous political games and agree upon some good policy.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

And the Chorus... Is Us?

Surprise, surprise! Perhaps we the people can handle "the t word" after all?

By a stunning margin of 52 percent to 37 percent, Nevadans think the governor and the Gang of 63 should raise taxes to avoid cuts in government services, according to a poll just completed for the Retailers Association of Nevada. [...]

The survey was conducted for the Retailers Association of Nevada by nationally respected Republican pollster Glen Bolger, who also found that the public would prefer the tax increases remain temporary (well, no kidding.) But the significance here is that despite the relentless no-new-taxes mantra repeated by Gov. Brian Sandoval and his echo chamber across the courtyard, and fueled by the likes of Chuck Muth, the conservative firebrand, that’s not where the public is.Or at least not always. That is, voters tend to be more thoughtful than the vocal minority. What a shocker.

Indeed, as Bolger points out, “Support for raising taxes to address the budget shortfall is at an all time high.”

Another significant number: 74 percent of voters think teacher salaries should not be reduced.

Also: 55 percent say a corporate income tax, with 41 percent against.

Voters are split almost evenly on whether to change the tax system – 46 percent say it works well, 48 percent say it’s time for a change.

So Nevada voters get it? They/We really get it? Not so fast.

As usual, voters are a bit inconsistent. On a later question, when asked if the reduced spending in Sandoval’s budget is needed, 52 percent said yes and 44 percent said no. That’s still close but hardly jibes with the tax/cuts question.

Ralston is correct. This IS usual. Come on, don't we all dream about having our cake and eating it, too? Of course, the problem here is that it's simply unrealistic. Trust me, especially with the second lowest state tax rate in the country and #1 cheapest state government in the country, there's essentially no such thing as "waste" in Nevada's government... Unless we're talking about our future wasting away because we don't invest enough in our needed infrastructure, such as our schools.

Still, I must admit I'm feeling more confident about the near future. Despite all the lies being propagated by "Tea Party, Inc.", a strong majority of Nevada voters at least understand that we need revenue to fund the kind of infrastructure we need to build to get us out of the mess we're in AND prevent falling into the same old mess again. Let's hope the powers that be in Carson City are paying attention.

And the Chorus Grows...

Are we listening?

Kevin Whitney of TechAmerica, an advocacy group that represents 1,200 high-tech companies across the country, said an hour-long discussion with state Legislative leaders and the governor’s office focused on issues the state faces in luring such companies to move to the state or expand existing businesses.

“Many of those issues centered around a lack of workforce development and skills acquisitions that our companies require to relocate or expand our operations, here in the state of Nevada,” Whitney said. “Oftentimes what you see is these companies come here to do a project and unfortunately have to import their workforce from other states.”

Capgemeni, a tech firm working on the Nevada Business Portal and with the state department of employment and training, found those challenges firsthand, said company executive Kevin Doyle.

“Frankly, in order to start our business here, we needed to bring folks in (from out of state),” he said. “We know that’s not sustainable long-term, but having technology skills is absolutely paramount to our success.”

So tech companies are now begging the powers that be in Carson City for a more educated workforce? But guess what? Brian Sandoval wants to slash programs at Nevada colleges that are doing this! I know, I know, it's the definition of insanity.

How often have you heard me rant about our overdependence on gaming, even as it's becoming increasingly clear that gaming isn't building here any more? But as long as we refuse to provide needed infrastructure, like good PreK-16 schools, new companies and industries will continue bypassing us for greener pastures.

"Jobs, jobs, jobs" has been the mantra of the 2011 Legislative session that began Feb. 7. And while Democratic leaders have their differences with the new Republican governor over the budget, both sides of the aisle have stayed on message that working together and creating jobs is priority No. 1 this session.

Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, said the discussion with executives of TechAmerica focused on "what would it take for them to come to Nevada."

In answer to that question, Paul Miner, government affairs manager for General Electric Co., said "first and foremost what you're seeing around this table." He called the bipartisan front "unprecedented."

But Miner also said, "you need a well-educated work force to get to work."

Kevin Doyle, with Paris-based Capgemini, agreed, especially when it comes to specific skills required in the technology fields.

His consulting and technology firm recently located in Nevada, he said, and had to import staff because it could not find trained workers.

Sandoval said he was encouraged by the executives' comments.

"This is one of the reasons I am optimistic of the future of Nevada," he told reporters, who were briefly invited to ask questions after the closed discussions concluded.

Sandoval has proposed deep cuts to both K-12 and Nevada's colleges and universities. Democrats counter the cuts would counterproductive to a state trying to claw its way out of the Great Recession.

The writing is on the wall. Who is reading it? Who is heeding the warning? Who is ready to call out the "no tax" insanity for what it is and call on Nevada to start anew?

We have companies coming into our state, taking our natural resources for their profit, and paying next to nothing in taxes. What is wrong with this picture?

We have the cheapest state government in the country and one of the lowest tax rates anywhere, yet businesses are NOT flocking here in droves. What is wrong with this picture?

Business leaders are now saying they want and need a more highly educated workforce to succeed, but Governor Sandoval stands by his budget to cut to death the very economic lifeline we need now more than ever before. What is wrong with this picture?

And what will we do to make it right?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Adriana Martinez at Stonewall, on Why She's Running for LV Council

Adriana Martinez clearly loves her community, and last Wednesday she was at Stonewall to discuss why she now wants to serve her community as their next Las Vegas City Council Member.

Full video is below.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Bob Coffin at Stonewall, on Why He's Running for LV Council

Bob Coffin has never been one to "go along to get along". He prefers to do what's right and let the consequences follow. That sturdy resolve of his was on full display last night.

Here's the video of Bob Coffin at Stonewall last night:

Las Vegas Mayoral Candidate Chris Giunchigliani Comes to Stonewall

Chris Giunchigliani, aka "Chris G", recently made an announcement that surprised many... And perhaps an announcement that some didn't want to hear.

But she's in, and she may really shake things up as Mayor.

Last night, Chris G came to Stonewall and discussed her plans for Downtown, her efforts to build more community in Vegas, and why she pushes to ensure all communities in Las Vegas, including our local LGBTQ community, are heard.

Here's the video.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

"The T Word"... And Who Can Really Handle It

It's the word so many in Carson City fear. It's the word that dare not be said. It's the word that has haunted and vexed Nevada for decades. It's...

[Drumroll please...]


And believe it or not, someone in Carson City dared to utter it yesterday... In The Legislature!

By comparison, it was a doctorate-level discussion in the Senate, where committee Chairwoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, vowed to tackle the state’s wobbly tax structure.

“We want to really look at the tax system we have in the state,” she said. “It’s not news to anyone that our state is facing structural deficits, cyclical deficits. It’s time to take out the unpredictability in our system and establish a tax structure that really is ready for the 21st century.”

Cognizant of the eye-rolling over the committee’s new name, Leslie quickly dispelled the notion that they wouldn’t address by name the most pressing issue before the Legislature this session.

“We’re not afraid of the T-word,” she said. “I’ll say it: taxes.”

Yes, that's right. Taxes.

So Sheila Leslie said it. Will The Legislature just do it? And if they don't do it, will we the people do it for them?

Gov. Brian Sandoval has proposed significant cuts to social services, higher education and K-12 schools to balance the budget. Democrats and advocates for those services say the cuts would cause irreparable damage. But these pro-tax forces face an uncertain future in dealing with the state’s $2.2 billion deficit.

“If the Legislature doesn’t have the political will to address the situation, citizens will do it themselves,” said Lynn Warne, president of the Nevada State Education Association, which represents teachers. She said the union has been in talks with business leaders, labor and other groups about an initiative petition, but that it has yet to develop into a formal proposal.

Democrats, moderate Republicans and some business leaders face a high hurdle in gathering votes to pass a tax increase this year. It takes a two-thirds majority in the Assembly and Senate to pass a tax increase and override a veto from Gov. Brian Sandoval, who campaigned on a promise to balance the budget without raising taxes.

A vote of the people would take longer to implement than legislative action. But raising taxes through a ballot initiative would require approval from only 50 percent of voters rather than the two-thirds required in the Legislature.

It's certainly an interesting suggestion... But can it really work? Or are we playing with a totally new set of dangerous flames?

California, here we come (again)?

This is why we moved away from an Athenian-style direct democracy to a representative democracy. Our American founding fathers understood that not every voter had the capacity to take everything into context to make the decisions we expect of our legislators. You could argue that the information age has brought the knowledge necessary closer to the people, but in the end, uninformed voters are making decisions without all of the facts.

Even in a state of 1 million people the system would be impractical, here it's downright unworkable. [LA Times columnist George] Skelton takes [CA Governor Jerry] Brown to task for boxing himself into the corner, but really, it was something of an electoral practicality. He may have won without it, but it sure made it a lot easier. But, here we are, in a position where Brown is now forced to bring this to the voters instead of just doing his job and making the decisions for the state with the Legislature.

Yes. I know. I did it. Again.

But you know what? I've seen it firsthand, so I can recognize it.

Ever since Proposition 13 first passed in 1978, California has endured an endless cycle of taxing (and tax cutting) and spending by way of ballot referendum. And look where it's gotten them. They're in constant crisis mode because voters love to pass all sorts of programs, but hate passing the revenues needed to fund them. So now California voters have a chance at a "do over", and it looks like they may just get it right this time.

However, can they really afford to continue governing by ballot box? And do we in Nevada want to risk total danger by essentially sidelining our own Legislature and taking its due powers into our own hands?

We know what's wrong with our system. We know that we can't keep avoiding "the t word". We need to have an honest conversation on raising the revenue we need to keep the state functioning for now, and get our state working toward a better future.

However, we need to be careful when we start talking about taking decisions that are supposed to be made by our elected legislators and making them at the ballot box. Perhaps it may ultimately be necessary to go to the ballot this time to get the revenue we need to save our state, but let's hope our legislators get the job done this session so that we the people don't have to. After all, that's why we the people voted them into office in the first place.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Pomp & Circumstance... & Any Possibility of Real Solutions?

On the opening day of the 76th Legislature, lawmakers skipped the issues that will likely define the next 119 days in favor of friendly speeches about working together, commemorative photos with proud family members and symbolic gestures.

In their only significant legislative act, lawmakers voted to voluntarily cut their salaries for the session by 4.6 percent — the amount of pay state workers have done without this biennium because of furloughs.

Awww. So everyone's getting along? Yeah, right.

Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, called for civility to rule the day, adding that he and other Democrats agree with much of what Sandoval proposed in his $5.8 billion budget.

But then this: “Now it is the job of the Legislature to determine if the sacrifices placed in the scales to balance the budget can be sustained. Or, if they are too much to ask of Nevada’s citizens who have already lost so much in the recession.”

The message between the lines: Mr. Governor, we aren’t going to simply roll over and hand you the no-new-taxes budget you want, not when it cuts this deeply into education. [...]

Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, also paid homage to the goal of working together. He noted that term limits had emptied the Legislature not only of important institutional knowledge, but also long-standing grudges that often impeded compromise.

But he had his own signals to send.

“Our constituents’ demands are very different than what the other side of the aisle is looking for,” he said shortly after delivering unscripted opening remarks on the Assembly floor, in which he said the state’s future prosperity depends on enacting meaningful reforms now.

What are he and his Republican colleagues looking for? Significant changes to the retirement benefits of public employees and a softening of the collective bargaining rights enjoyed by local government workers.

Already, it's looking like we have a hostage situation on our hands. State workers are public servants that, at times, are treated as indentured servants. They've been enduring pay cuts, furlough days, benefit cuts, and more... And now Goicoechea wants even more "punishment" cast on them?

And what is he willing to give in return?

While Republicans in both houses put out a statement last week supporting Sandoval’s cuts-only budget, Goicoechea implied his position is negotiable depending on the reforms Democrats agree to on those public employee issues.

“At this point, we support the governor’s budget and there are no tax increases in it,” he said.

He waited a beat and repeated: “At this point.” [Emphasis mine.]

Ah, so there it is. Goicoechea and a few other Republicans may allow our state to survive, after all... But only if we allow them to use state workers, the mentally ill, and perhaps a few more sick and starving kids as "collateral damage". Precious.

When did legislating become a political monster truck derby? This is just getting ridiculous.

Why can't more legislators just serve the constituents who voted them into office thinking they had our best interest at heart? You know, they're also supposed to be public servants.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Yet Again, I Told You So.

Remember when I said this last Monday?

The real estate speculation and debt fueled "boom times" of the last decade are long gone, so we need to stop acting like we can return to those "good old days".

Numerous ordinary Nevadans have already seen the writing on the wall. "Easy" construction jobs are no longer all that easy to get, and "plentiful" casino jobs are no longer all that plentiful, especially now that the casinos are increasingly investing in foreign markets and less so in new Nevada properties. That's why more and more of them are doing what Tera and John are doing. They're going back to school, working on advanced degrees, and doing what they need to do to access the jobs of the future.

So why can't Brian Sandoval see this? I'm sure he didn't hear any stories like this one at either of his inaugural balls last weekend, so why couldn't he take the time to stop at the town hall at Grant Sawyer on Saturday to listen?

More and more Nevadans realize that the only real way to "let Nevada be Nevada again" is for Nevada not to repeat the mistakes made in the past. The days of "easy money" in gaming and "growth" are behind us. We now have to adapt our economy for the new reality. What are we doing to adapt?

In the last two days, I caught two very troubling Sun articles that we should take as warning signs. The first is from yesterday and notes the "brain drain" that's only worsened since the start of "The Great Recession".

Nevada, like many states and countries, has always suffered from a flight of human capital, or “brain drain,” as it’s often called. Many of our best and brightest take a pass on UNR and UNLV, and once they matriculate at elite universities elsewhere, they wind up in regions that are financial and technological centers and offer more varied cultural and recreational lives.

This brain drain problem was mitigated during the boom, as tens of thousands of college-degreed Americans came to Nevada for opportunity. The valley was flush with architects, construction management experts, marketers, attorneys, accountants and other professionals. In fact, today there are roughly 191,000 working-age adults in the valley with bachelor’s degrees who weren’t born in Nevada, according to an analysis of census data by Alan Berube of the Brookings Institution.

Although we enjoyed a migration surge of the educated, we also had a massive influx of less educated service and construction workers, and we were left with a workforce that was less educated than most large urban areas — 21 percent of Clark County residents had bachelor’s degrees as of 2009, compared with the national average of 27 percent, according to census data compiled by the Chronicle of Higher Education. By contrast, 28 percent of residents of Maricopa County, where Phoenix sits, have degrees; in Salt Lake County, it’s 29 percent.

This matters because economic development experts agree that Nevada faces a difficult path to recovery. We have limited natural resources, a struggling construction economy that won’t recover anytime soon and over-reliance on a tourism industry that is itself dependent on free-spending outsiders in an age of parsimony.

In short, we need our tourism industry to expand and innovate, or we need new industry. Both options would seem to require college-educated workers whom we don’t currently possess in enough numbers.

As we've talked about before, those areas that have more highly educated workforces are the places that recover more quickly. That's why places like Greater Salt Lake City and the San Francisco Bay Area are recovering more quickly than our humble burg that hasn't valued education.

Nope, instead we keep hearing more stories like Bud Meyers'. He and other Las Vegas area "99ers" have exhausted their unemployment benefits, but don't know what to do next because all they know is casino and/or construction, and neither industry is apt to hire them back.

Meyers’ story isn’t just about one man’s disheartening job search. It’s also about a class of workers approaching obsolescence in a town much changed from the days when they first came seeking opportunity.

Older casino workers such as Meyers feel passed over in a job market that favors applicants’ appearance and personality over work history or local connections, say job placement and training experts. Las Vegas always has been driven by eye candy. That was a commonly heard complaint even before the recession. Yet age discrimination actions rarely advance far. Employees are mainly concerned about keeping their jobs rather than causing a stir.

In two years of unemployment, Meyers drained his life savings of $40,000. But the experience has taken more than a financial toll on Meyers, who picks at his once-manicured nails and chain smokes while he speaks.

His graying hair and pale skin reveal a different man from the bartender who appears in personal photos with a tanned, chiseled face and gleaming black hair. The employed Meyers had coifed hair and a wide, mischievous grin. The jobless Meyers has ragged locks he cuts himself and insomnia, reflected in the bags under his eyes and an expression of defeat.

Though he subsists on just one meal a day to save money, the once-trim body that rushed about behind a bar, slinging drinks for tourists, has grown thick.

Many of the long-term unemployed like Meyers are showing up at agencies like the state-run JobConnect.

Ben Daseler, who supervises the state’s largest JobConnect office in central Las Vegas, said older hospitality workers are having an especially tough time finding work. Like other job seekers, he said, they are told to “be flexible and learn new skills.” [...]

“I couldn’t believe that someone with my experience couldn’t even get a job as a busboy,” Meyers said.

Still, he spent months applying online for similar job openings. But many casino companies prevent job seekers from applying for more than one job at once, requiring applicants to wait several weeks before they can reapply for something else. He also walked into bars and casinos, talking with bartenders, managers and human resources representatives to get a foot in the door. You have to apply like everyone else, they said.

What happened over three years ago wasn't just a typical "cyclical downturn" that one studies in macroeconomics. No, this was more. Our entire US economy was revealed to be frighteningly unstable, and it came perilously close to total collapse.

And more so than perhaps anywhere else in the nation, Nevada's economy was "built" around the very worst aspects of the postmodern American economy. How often did we hear that "growth begets growth"? How often were new home developments hastily approved just because "if we build them, they will come"? How often were we told not to worry about Americans mortgaging pretty much everything in sight to pay for "the high life", just because "real estate is a valuable commodity, it always goes up"?

As I've been saying on this blog for well over a year, Nevada's economy was built on financial quicksand. It was only a matter of time for many "homeowners'" over-leveraged "assets" to catch up with them, and for companies accustomed to "easy money" to see it dry up as fast as it appeared, and for our entire way of existence to be revealed as nothing more than a glamorized ponzi scheme.

We're only deluding ourselves if we really think all the "easy money" in casinos and construction will suddenly reappear as fast as it disappeared. It's just not realistic.

But you know what is? Making sure we don't repeat the same mistakes of the past. Why don't we get more of these 99ers back to school so they can learn new skills and be able to obtain jobs that can survive the new economy? Why don't we encourage more of our high schoolers to stay in school, go to college, and make something out of their lives? And why don't we build the kind of lasting infrastructure that will make more educated workers (and the companies looking to hire them) want to move here?

Again, we need to adapt. We need to change. We can't afford to follow the same path to failure (yet again). Nevada doesn't have to be a failed state. What will we do to change it?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

First Thoughts on Henderson City Council Forum

Wow. It's one thing to hear all the rumors swirling around the campaigns and candidates of 2011, but it's something else to hear directly from the people in the news. That's what happened last night when I grabbed a front row seat at the Henderson Democratic Club Candidate Forum.

Here's what I noticed last night:

- Debra March is definitely knowledgeable on Henderson issues and what she feels she can do to continue making this city great. She had an interesting take on "rightsizing" local government- that is, making local government more efficient while continuing to improve the essential services that everyone loves about Henderson. I was definitely getting a Clintonesque vibe... In a good way, of course! And as the former Director of The Lied Institute for Real Estate Studies at UNLV, I could most definitely see her inner policy wonk shine through! As y'all know, I do have a soft spot in my heart for wonks. ;-)

- Sam Bateman is new to campaigning. I could tell. However, he isn't new to community service. As soon as he started talking about his "family values" of utilizing local policy to ensure Henderson families have access to good jobs and economic security, I was melting. And when he described in depth what Henderson's Planning Commission does and how he relishes his role in protecting the quality of local neighborhoods, I could tell he may be new to campaigning, but not new to getting a tough job done.

- Gerri Schroder has real passion. I could feel it, and I most definitely heard it in her speech last night. She clearly knows Henderson and knows Ward 1, as she was telling us stories of fighting NV Energy's attempt to mount huge transformers in people's backyards, meeting regularly with rural homeowners who want to preserve their community as they know it and love it, and working on a truly balanced budget that keeps city finances in the black while also keeping people working and services running. It was hard not to be moved.

- Kevinn Donovan also showed up. He explained why he jumped into this race after losing his State Assembly race last fall. After November, someone reminded him of a promise he made to run in this election after the decision was made on the Ward 2 appointment in 2009. He spoke about being on the job at Cosmopolitan as the new casino was opening, and that his business experience there best qualifies him to run Henderson. He then proceeded to attack current Henderson leadership, then offered proposals on issues like severing Henderson from Clark County School District, issues that I don't think the city has too much control over.

That's what I saw last night. Oh, and the snapshots above as well. Local politics certainly isn't dull, and Henderson may be in for quite a dramatic election this year.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

2011 Municipal Elections: WTF??!!

I guess the old saying is true. All politics is local. And not just that, but local politics can get awfully strange... Especially here in Southern Nevada.

Oh, where do I begin? How about my own back yard? Apparently, there's new drama in Henderson. Kevinn Donovan, the Democrat who lost to incumbent Republican Assembly Member Lynn Stewart in District 22, is now running for City Council in Ward 2. OK, so what's the big deal? Well, incumbent Democratic Council Member Debra March is. Apparently Donovan hoped for an appointment to the council when the vacancy opened in 2009, but instead March got it. And in addition to those two running, former city construction manager John Simmons is also running in Ward 2.

But wait, there's more! A crowded field has already emerged in the Ward 4 race, and this may especially get plenty of attention because of two interesting high profile candidates... And who's backing them. Mike Mayberry, Henderson's former police chief, is being endorsed by current Mayor Andy Hafen (D). Meanwhile, current Henderson Planning Commission Chair Sam Bateman is being endorsed by outgoing Ward 4 Council Member Steve Kirk (R). OK, so where's the intrigue? Get this: Bateman is the one Democrat running, while Mayberry is a Republican.

Whoa! Talk about bipartisanship in action! This may have something to do with Mayberry running for Mayor in 2009, and ultimately endorsing Hafen over Kirk when he failed to make the runoff.

Do you now understand why Henderson is my ideal place to call home? We're not as dull as you think. ;-)

Oh yeah, and before I forget to mention it, Las Vegas local elections are about to heat up even more. Two new Mayoral candidates have emerged, despite both earlier denying they would run. Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani and Meadows School Founder (and wife of the outgoing mayor) Carolyn Goodman, both Democrats, are officially entering the fray today. So now Las Vegas has Oscar's wife, two County Commissioners (Chris G and Larry Brown), City Council President Steve Ross, and a host of business folk, local gadflies, and all sorts of other colorful characters.

In addition, Las Vegas Ward 3 also promises to be an interesting contest, featuring current Planning Commission Chair Steve Evans, former State Senator Bob Coffin (D-Las Vegas), and political newcomer Adriana Martinez.

Honestly, I originally wasn't expecting this much excitement this year. But hopefully with all the action happening in Las Vegas, Henderson, and elsewhere, people will feel encouraged and emboldened to make a difference by getting involved and voting this year.

And yes, I'll do my part here at Nevada Progressive to cover what's happening and make sure you're excited about this election and ready to vote. ;-)


Is this what we've been waiting for?

Dean Rhoads, the state’s senior senator, became the first Republican lawmaker to publicly break with Gov. Brian Sandoval, saying he thinks the state will need to raise taxes to balance the budget.

Rhoads, who is serving his final year in the Legislature because of term limits, told the Sun that cuts in education and social services in Sandoval’s budget are too deep.

“There will have to be deep cuts like Sandoval proposed, and tax and fee increases,” Rhoads said Tuesday. “We’re going to have to do a combination.” [...]

After a long meeting Tuesday where advocates for the mentally ill warned of service cuts under Sandoval’s budget such as specialty courts for the mentally ill, Rhoads said: “We’re basically taking wheelchairs from senior citizens.”

A 28-year veteran of the state Senate and rancher from Tuscarora, north of Elko, Rhoads said he didn’t mind being the first Republican to break ranks with Sandoval. [...]

Pro-tax forces, which include many of Nevada’s largest businesses, have expressed concern about Sandoval’s budget, but have struggled to find a strategy to override the popular governor’s promise to veto any budget that contains a tax increase.

I know, I know. It's just one, and we need at least two more in The Senate and at least two more in The Assembly to get a sensible budget passed. But hey, at least it's a start.

Hopefully, more Republicans in Carson City will listen to what we the people say and realize that Sandoval's proposed draconian cuts are simply unacceptable. These cuts hurt, and the people of this state don't need any more pain. We need a chance to heal.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

NV-Sen, NV-03: It's Campaign Time... All Over Again!

What? You really thought the respite would continue? Oh no, my dear. Even though I occasionally still see 2010 campaign signs around town, and even as 2011 campaign signs are still going up, 2012 is fast approaching.

The Sun has a story this morning on Johnny Casino Ensign's "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and gosh darn it, my hair means business!" campaign to make Republicans give him one more chance next year.

Ensign is the only person who has officially declared intentions to run for the Senate seat he currently holds in 2012, but even in a field that doesn’t yet officially include anybody else, many analysts think he is the longest shot to win.

Ensign is still struggling with ethics accusations stemming from an affair with former aide Cynthia Hampton, whose husband, Doug, was also an employee of Ensign’s.

Although the Justice Department dropped its investigation of the senator’s actions in the wake of the affair, and the Federal Election Commission refused to start one, the fight is not over for him until the Senate Ethics Committee renders its verdict on whether to indict him. [...]

Last month, Ensign set a fundraising benchmark: $1 million. If he can raise that by the end of June, he said on Nevada Public Radio, “I think that would be a healthy number,” and enough to shore up his candidacy.

If he’s nervous about a potential primary challenge — and all eyes are on Rep. Dean Heller to mount one — he’s not showing it. Ensign told reporters at a January conference in Reno that he wasn’t worried about a primary challenge, although he acknowledged his campaign would be “very, very difficult” because of the scandal surrounding him.

But the sum is a modest one for an uphill battle.

According to records filed in the third quarter of 2010, Heller has more than $850,000 on hand and presumed Democratic challenger Rep. Shelley Berkley, more than $1.1 million — compared with barely $300,000 for Ensign.

But Ensign says he isn’t feeling any special pressure to add to his figure dramatically during today’s strategy session with his campaign fundraisers and minds, where they’ll likely assess the odds, give him tips, reach out to potential donors and go-to check writers. “It’s all part of the process,” Ensign said.

I guess Poor Lil' Johnny is still in denial. But hey, stranger things happened in GOP primaries across the country last year. I say the Nevada GOoP deserves Johnny and all the lovely luggage that comes along with them.

Of course they think otherwise, and they are quietly trying to force him out like they forced Jim Gibbons out last year... But will it work again? Will the teabaggers that now run the show over there have other ideas? Will Sharron Angle perhaps reemerge from her underground bunker to cause some real mayhem in this primary?

It's already looking like another clusterf*ck that will steal the show next year...

Unless NV-03 somehow stays competitive...

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is launching a media blitz against Republican Rep. Joe Heck, the first major move in Democrats' effort to reclaim the House in 2012.

Heck is one of 19 Republicans being targeted nationwide. Many are freshman, and most come from Democratic-leaning districts that President Barack Obama won in 2008.

The ad blitz is part of the Democrats' "Drive to 25" campaign, an effort to win the 25 seats needed to regain the House majority from Republicans in 2012.

The 19 seats being targeted with radio ads, web commercials, phone calls and e-mails are key to Democrats' success.

Oh yes, Joe Heck isn't out the hot seat just yet. I guess the DCCC is banking on The Legislature only being able to pack so many Republicans into the new NV-03 in redistricting that Heck may still not be as safe as he wants, especially if President Obama's approval numbers are high again next year going into his reelection campaign. I guess by the end of the year we'll know if we'll see a huge, dramatic campaign in NV-03 again in 2012.