Sunday, February 26, 2012

Nevada Past... California Future?

This weekend, we've been seeing plenty of reflection on the life and legacy of Bill Raggio. The RGJ's Ray Hagar perhaps summed it up best.

As Nevada mourns the death of the “Lion of the Legislature,” some also mourn the end of an era, when bipartisanship ruled the day.

Nevada’s legislative process has gone from one of compromise to polarization, experts said. Raggio’s death only enforces the point.

“It’s been bad for a couple of sessions,” said former Assembly Speaker Joe Dini, D-Yerington, who began is legislative career in 1967 and ended it after the 2002 special session on medical malpractice. “I don’t know if will be any worse than it has been. I don’t think it will get any better.” [...]

“Clearly, that had a lot to do with it (resignation), the fact that Bill Raggio was a man who would set aside partisanship for the greater good,” said Billy Vassiliadis, a Nevada political consultant based in Las Vegas.

“He worked with three Democratic governors and three Republican governors and always worked in the spirit of getting something done,” Vassiliadis said. “And today, politics puts a premium on stopping things rather than making things happen. To stand in place rather than move forward was something he could not abide in.”

It's certainly something no one can deny at this point. And this is something we've been talking about here for quite some time. And at times, it seemed like Bill Raggio really came from a different era and represented the kind of politicking and governing that Nevada has been quickly losing. I really think Jon Ralston hit the nail on the head here.

In his later days, Raggio frequently lamented the propensity for Republicans to bow to the Temple of Norquist, pledging fealty to a no-tax pledge when circumstances could always change. In a world of one-note politicians, Raggio was operatic, often giving floor speeches that were the equivalent of arias. Indeed, one lobbyist, marveling at a Raggio performance, looked at me and said, “Like Pavarotti at the Met.”

Raggio also railed against those who only cared about re-election, a common affliction in Carson City, fearing they would never help move the state forward. As ex-Sen. Paul Laxalt said Friday, “Throughout my political career, I adhered to a policy of not allowing political differences to transform into personal differences. That was the essence of Bill Raggio. Sadly, that quality is sorely missing in today’s toxic political environment.”

I believe one of the more painful decisions of Raggio’s career was to endorse Harry Reid for re-election in 2010. Yes, he was furious that Sharron Angle had challenged him in a primary, but it was much more than personal. He thought she would be a disaster for the state, so he endorsed whom he considered the lesser off two evils.

There was nothing in it for him — he knew the blowback would be vicious, although I doubt he knew he would lose his leadership position because of his craven colleagues, some of whom I would bet a fortune voted for Reid but were afraid to say so.

A man of his word? Yes. A man of principle? Indeed. A man for all seasons, especially every other winter and spring in Carson City? Absolutely.

Perhaps none of Carson City's powers that be was surprised by Raggio's final act in 2010, but a whole lot of political junkies outside Nevada were. After all, why would someone of Raggio's stature do that to his own party? It's something that would be unheard of anywhere except Nevada...

But will we ever see something like that here in Nevada again?

Throw the party's base supporters some choice red meat... and risk that persuadable voters who tune into the media coverage recoil. But tamp down the fiery rhetoric in hopes of projecting a "kinder, gentler" image... and risk leaving the party faithful full of accusations that moderates are trying to water down the GOP brand.

'Tis a dilemma to be sure.

That's what's been happening just south of San Francisco, where California Republicans have been holding their convention. Newt Gingrich showed up yesterday to rally the base with cries of, "Drill, Baby, Drill!!!" And yes, reporters and observers there may have caught a glimpse of the Nevada Republican Party's future.

We've definitely seen a rightward shift of GOP legislators in recent sessions... And that really seemed to accelerate once Bill Raggio left Carson City for good. And now because of what's become endless intransigence on implementing long term budget solutions, some are now pushing for voters to take matters into our own hands. However, that isn't without its own risks.

The Field Poll showed the strongest backing for the tax hike on millionaires, with 63% of voters saying they were inclined to vote yes. Next came Brown's proposal, a temporary half-cent sales tax increase combined with higher income taxes on the wealthy, which drew 58% support.

But voters appear to reject a broad-based income tax hike proposed by wealthy Los Angeles civil rights lawyer Molly Munger, which received only 45% support, with 48% opposed. All three initiatives are in the signature-gathering phase before they can be placed on the November ballot.

The results roughly parallel a poll that Brown's political aides released in summary form this week. That showed Brown's proposal and the proposed levy on millionaires both with more than 50% support, while Munger's languished. Brown's aides also tested whether voters would support the taxes if all three appeared on the ballot and found in that scenario none would pass.

That's been the argument the governor and his aides have been pushing for three months now -- that Munger and the unions and activists who back the millionaire's tax need to drop their measures so they don't doom all of them.

But backers of the millionaire's tax seemed emboldened by the newest poll that continued to show theirs as the most popular. Nonetheless, the governor's aides and allies continued to urge others to back down.

Yes, believe it or not, California is also providing us with this glimpse into Nevada's future. There, Governor Jerry Brown (D) is pushing his own tax initiative that raises the income tax on top earners while also keeping in place a hike of the state's sales tax. However, he's now getting competition from both civil rights attorney Molly Munger's broad-based income tax and Courage Campaign's "Millionaires Tax". For so long, California's Legislature couldn't agree to much of any tax reform. But now, they're seeing an increasingly complicated and messy "ballot royale" over the competing tax initiatives.

And guess what? That's where we also seem to be headed... Except that I'm hoping we won't see an ugly food fight that pulls down all the tax reform initiatives. Instead, I want to do my part to inform and enlighten Nevada voters by starting a discussion this week on tax reform, ballot initiatives, and the future of Nevada Government. I'll be starting tomorrow by sharing with you a conversation I recently had with Kermitt Waters... Yes, the Kermitt Waters with the law suit causing so many Nevada politicos' heads to explode. Later this week, I'll also be posting conversations with those backing Nevada AFL-CIO whiz Danny Thompson's business margin tax initiative. Who knows, maybe we'll even dig more into Monte Miller's tax proposal?

As I've been saying here for some time, we in Nevada have to prepare for serious change. Since we first heard the saddening news of Bill Raggio's passing, we've been reflecting plenty on what's already been changing. And while I don't believe we're destined to become a carbon copy of California (or Arizona, or Colorado, or any other state, for that matter), we can no longer deny that both the dynamics of legislating in Carson City and the increasing frustration of Nevada voters outside Carson City are leading us to consider something never before seen here, even if it's something California and Arizona regularly see: ballot box budgeting.

There's obviously a reason why so many are so devastated by the loss of Raggio. In many ways, this does feel like the end of an era. But now if progressives want to embark on a new era and fix what's become regularly broken, then we may really need to rethink how we've advocated tax and budget reform. It may finally be time to face the voters, and face our future.

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