Thursday, December 27, 2012

10 of 12: All About #NVLeg

Early in the year, we were wondering just how relevant the Legislature will be in the future. With ideological rigidity and polarization at an all-time high, can any kind of major tax reform get through Carson City? And will the rise of "ballot box budgeting" change Nevadans' relationship with their representatives in state government?

Oh, what a year we lived!

In the space of 72 hours in the third week of February, the entire "conventional wisdom" of Carson City was turned on its head. Early on, the biggest assumption was that Republicans had the inside track to retake the State Senate, especially considering the early retirements of Clark County Democrats Shirley Breeden (SD 5) and Alison Copening (SD 6). However in that third week of February, the entire calculus of the campaign for the upper house of the Nevada Legislature changed with the entry of Sheila Leslie into the SD 15 race in Washoe County and the sudden resignation of Elizabeth Halseth in SD 9 in Clark County. At first, the Halseth story seemed like such a tawdry case of "dirty laundry" being aired out in public...

Obviously, Elizabeth Halseth is leaving behind a messy personal life that Senate Republicans are trying to quietly sweep under the rug. And while I typically don't like probing into politicians' personal lives, I feel obligated to talk about something that hardly anyone else (with the notable exception of Chuck Muth) is willing to discuss.

In 2010, Elizabeth Halseth became a State Senator thanks to attacking others' personal lives. Her campaign attacked Dennis Nolan over being called to testify at someone else's criminal trial. And after the Republican primary, she then attacked Benny Yerushalmi in the general election over ridiculous material like his wife's outfits! So considering this context, I've come to accept that it's perfectly appropriate to note Halseth's total hypocrisy on making other's private lives public... Before she flees over her own private life.

And not only that, but Halseth is now using her private life as an excuse not to fulfill her public duties. Why won't she show up at interim committee hearings any more? Why won't she answer constituent emails? And why has her cell phone been shut off? Hello, Elizabeth Halseth is still listed as a Nevada State Senator for the 9th District! She has an obligation to her constituents to finish the job she was elected to do. And for Michael Roberson to try to shut down questions on her whereabouts just because of his own political ambition is downright reprehensible. He may be afraid of losing his shot at becoming Majority Leader, but fulfilling one's public duties should always come above fueling someone else's political ambition.

Is it really that hard for Roberson to ask Daniel Halseth and Tiger Helgelien if they know where Elizabeth Halseth, his fellow Senator, is? And is it really that hard for him to ask her to either fulfill her duties or prepare to resign?

Apparently, it was... But that didn't really matter, since she ultimately decided to resign. And since SD 9 was made much more Democratic in redistricting, that meant a GOP held seat was suddenly put into play. And that led to the ultimate "game change" moment.

This is why [Senate Republican Leader Michael] Roberson is so scared now. And this is why the "big bid'ness" establishment will be forking out big checks to the likes of Greg Brower and Steve Kirk (a GOP candidate in SD 5). Again, as we've been saying here for a while (and Jon Ralston has admitted on Twitter), Republican hopes of flipping the Senate have diminished greatly in the last 100 hours. However, they still intend to go all in for the #NVLeg campaign just for the sake of saving enough seats to obstruct any kind of progressive agenda in the 77th session.

So perhaps more so than ever before, the Legislature campaigns of 2012 will really matter. If one wants to fix the broken and outdated tax structure straight out of the 19th century, fully fund public education, improve our state's health care system, rebuild the rest of our state's public infrastructure, and properly invest in the kind of job creation that will benefit our economy for many generations to come, the choice will be crystal clear. And thanks to both redistricting last year and the major developments of the past week, we may actually have a unique and unprecedented opportunity to change the dynamics of Carson City for the better. So remember not to "stop at the top"... Keep going down that ballot and vote for progress.

And they did this cycle. In fact, they mattered so much that "Tea Party, Inc." giant AFP risked legal action in order to strengthen Republicans' hand in the Legislature. But between AFP missteps, ongoing Nevada Republican infighting, and the strength of Nevada Democrats' ground game, they couldn't save Nevada Republicans in Carson City.

While many challenges remain for Nevada progressives, new opportunities are emerging. As discussed earlier, issues like gun safety and LGBTQ equality are bound to make a huge splash in Carson City in 2013. In addition, there's renewed hope for humane immigrant rights proposals and other progressive policy priorities.

Of course, the biggest challenge for 2012 remains "The T Word". But even there, there's been some progress. There's been convergence around extending the 2009/11 "Sunset Tax" deal. It just remains to be seen what else happens on the taxation front.

I guess we'll all have to stay tuned in 2013...

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