Friday, November 30, 2012

So Nevada Judge Ruled Against Marriage Equality... But Case Is Far from Over.

Last night, we saw even more breaking news as a federal judge here in Nevada ruled on the Sevcik v. Sandoval case. Unfortunately for LGBTQ civil rights activists, the news was not good...

A federal district court judge in Nevada has ruled against same-sex couples in Nevada seeking access to marriage. Sevcik v. Sandoval is a legal challenge to Nevada’s constitutional regime with respect to same-sex couples, filed by Lambda Legal. The state allows same-sex couples to have most of the rights and benefits associated with marriage but denies them and only them use of the word marriage. The plaintiffs in this case say that denying them marriage violates the equal protection of the laws.

The judge disagreed, writing that the 1972 summary dismissal in Baker v. Nelson forecloses the issue. He suggested a broad reading of Baker (which concerned an equal protection challenge based on gender), writing that “The equal protection claim is the same in this case as it was in Baker, i.e., whether the Equal Protection Clause prevents a state from refusing to permit same-sex marriages. Although the judge found that the amendment does indeed draw a dividing line between two groups and that “for the purposes of an equal protection challenge, the distinction is definitely sexual-orientation based”, he applied the most lenient form of judicial review for equal protection challenges, rational basis review, where “a court does not judge the perceived wisdom or fairness of a law, nor does it examine the actual rationale for the law when adopted, but asks only whether “there is any reasonably conceivable state of facts that could provide a rational basis for the classification.”” Under this standard, he wrote, “[t]he protection of the traditional institution of marriage, which is a conceivable basis for the distinction drawn in this case, is a legitimate state interest.” Thus there is no violation of the Equal Protection Clause.

For now, that is. Remember that this case is far from over. Rather, Lambda Legal has already vowed to appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. And remember that the Ninth has already issued a pro-marriage equality ruling in the California Perry v. Brown case. Although that ruling was very narrowly tailored to California, it nonetheless was decided on the very same 14th Amendment grounds of equal protection that the Sevcik Nevada case is based upon.

That's why marriage equality advocates are surprisingly hopeful this morning as the case moves to San Francisco (where the Ninth Circuit is based).

Further, in determining the level of constitutional scrutiny to apply to the statutes in question, Judge [Robert] Jones writes that “public acceptance and legal protection from discrimination has increased enormously for homosexuals,” going so far as to argue that “any such disabilities [that is, due to discriminatory treatment] with respect to homosexual have been largely erased since 1990.” The simple existence of the Defense of Marriage Act defies this statement, for myriad reasons–let alone the other obstacles that LGBT Americans continue to face despite the great strides that our community has made in the last 20 years.

Judge Jones goes on to write that “anti-homosexual messages are rare in the national informational and entertainment media”–presumably he was fortunate enough to miss pastor Rick Warren compare same-sex attraction to other feelings that people simply shouldn’t act on, such as “get[ting] angry and … punching a guy in the nose” this very week in a conversation with CNN’s Piers Morgan. He argues that gays are not politically powerless, and makes the somewhat astonishingly claim that for any group to be regarded as such requires that their “chances of democratic success be virtually hopeless.”

Perhaps most distressingly, Judge Jones’s opinion adopts lock, stock and barrel the anti-gay canard that marriage equality would somehow scare straight couples into deciding not to get married [...]

It’s important to remember that Judge Jones had scheduled oral argument in the Sevcik case for this past Monday to allow both sides to address the merits of the case (and specifically the question of the precedence of Baker v. Nelson but abruptly and without any explanation cancelled such arguments in a late September order. As I wrote after a preliminary hearing in the case in August, Judge Jones seemed especially eager to move the case quickly to the Ninth Circuit, telling attorneys for both sides, “It makes sense to get this decided and off with the circus train.”

Although I think Judge Jones probably should have kept his initial oral argument hearing, I think he’s going to get his wish: this one’s definitely going to the Ninth Circuit, and it’s hard to believe that court (unless the case gets a very conservative panel) won’t take issue with at least some, if not a great deal, of Judge Jones’s reasoning. In a press release distributed after the decision today, Lambda Legal wrote, ”This is not the end of this fight. We will appeal and continue to fight for these loving couples, who are harmed by Nevada’s law barring marriage for same-sex couples. By forbidding same-sex couples’ access to marriage, the State brands them and their children as second-class citizens.”

In many ways, Judge Jones' ruling is downright farcical. And it's still appalling that he did not even hear oral arguments in this case. Without a doubt, the Ninth will take issue with that.

We'll just have to wait and see what the Ninth decides to do with this case. The appeals court may simply send the case back to trial court here in Nevada if judges there feel that Judge Jones did not give this case a fair trial. Or perhaps, a three judge panel may just keep the case there and weigh the larger Constitutional issues involved while simply dismissing the (lack of) findings in Judge Jones' ruling.

But without a doubt, this case is far from over. And especially considering the US Supreme Court is weighing whether to review the Perry (California Prop 8) law suit and the Ninth's ruling in favor of the plaintiff (or in favor of marriage equality), this issue isn't going away any time soon.

Farewell, Assembly Member Mastroluca.

Last night, everyone was shocked. Hardly anyone was expecting this.

April Mastroluca [D-Henderson], a Democratic assemblywoman poised to play a key role in the 2013 Legislature, will send a letter to Gov. Brian Sandoval on Friday announcing her resignation.

The stunning move comes after the potential Ways and Means chairwoman decided, she says, that she could no longer serve because of what she described as family issues. She declined to elaborate, but she sounded shaken during a phone conversation. [...]

"This has been a difficult decision," Mastroluca told me. "I have struggled with it for weeks. But I have to put my family first."

There was early speculation that this involved a possible conflict of interest with her day job with national PTA, but that's looking increasingly unlikely. Rather, this probably involves some kind of family tragedy. It's very saddening and unfortunate.

Mastroluca tended to be a rare "straight shooter" in the Legislature who said what was on her mind and cut through the BS. She was especially passionate about education, children's, and women's issues. And she was already set to play a huge role in the 77th session as the incoming Assembly Ways and Means Chair.

Clearly, these are some big heels to fill. But already, there's plenty of speculation on who will replace her. Remember that the Clark County Commission will officially do so. Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick (D-North Las Vegas) was hoping the Commission would take care of this next Tuesday, but the state open meeting law (requiring a three business day advance notice of agenda) won't allow for that. Yet even though the next scheduled meeting will be December 18, the Commission may call a special meeting earlier to appoint a replacement.

Remember that under state law, the Clark County Commission must appoint another Democrat who lives in Assembly District 29 to replace Mastroluca. So now, all political eyes turn to Henderson as discussion ramps up on who will replace April Mastroluca. All I can say right now is that so far discussion is centered around a few women involved with the Henderson Democratic Club and Emerge Nevada (an organization that cultivates Democratic women to run for office). Mastroluca herself, along with Speaker-in-waiting Kirkpatrick, will likely have a hand in choosing her own replacement.

Right now, most everyone is still in shock over the turn of events in the past 24 hours. And many hearts have been going out to April Mastroluca and her family. But of course, politics can't be put aside forever. And this weekend, we'll be hearing more about this new race to fill her vacant Assembly seat. Let the games begin.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Ross Miller's Shocking "November Surprise"

On Tuesday, we had to work through a whole lot of confusion regarding Ross Miller's voter ID proposal. Since then, we've been seeing some surprising reactions in and around Carson City. On one hand, Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey (R-Reno) seemed to like at least the concept of Miller addressing voter ID. Governor Brian Sandoval (R) also seemed to warm up to at least the concept of tackling voter ID next spring.

But on the other hand, at least some Democrats still have serious reservations about even debating the subject in Carson City next spring. Incoming Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick (D-North Las Vegas) gave Jon Ralston a public statement expressing her doubts of the merit of this proposal.

Speaker-to-be Marilyn Kirkpatrick tells me she is not exactly excited by Miller's idea: "We don’t have that kind of money to solve a problem that doesn’t exist."

Although Kirkpatrick is so far the highest profile Democrat to publicly take a critical eye to Miller's proposal, she's not the only one who's been complaining about it.

Perhaps this is why Ross Miller went on Ralston's show. Even with his thorough explanation on Twitter on Tuesday, he still needed to clear the air. Yet even last night, Ralston still had serious doubts.

And frankly, I'm still trying to sort this out myself. So there's a "perception problem" with the public when it comes to voter fraud. And Ross Miller's proposal aims to properly nip that perception problem in the bud. And not only that, but he wants to do so without disenfranchising any legal voters. So what's wrong with this?

As Marilyn Kirkpatrick suggested, the key problem looks to be this quest to solve a problem that doesn't actually exist. We all know "voter fraud" (as in impersonating voters and/or trying to cast multiple ballots) is incredibly rare, and that it's virtually always caught in time. Whenever a report surfaces of someone trying to commit this type of fraud, we know the system works because this person was caught in time. So why is there a rush to spend a whole lot of money on "a solution in search of a problem"? And in implementing this "solution", might it actually create new problems by creating new burdens for many thousands of Nevada voters?

Is it due to the perception of "fraud"? Or is there more to this story? There have been whispers for some time about the "tea party" lobby going all in to push for the kind of voter ID law that actually would suppress legal voters. Is this Ross Miller's way of being proactive in preventing real voter suppression?

That's why Minnesota's Secretary of State introduced his alternative voter ID proposal (which is where Ross Miller is drawing inspiration from). However, it was still not enough to stop the then Republican controlled Legislature from putting their preferred voter suppression/voter ID bill on the November ballot. But in the following months, everyone in St. Paul encountered a huge surprise: voter ID lost at the ballot box. Apparently as progressive organizations were educating voters about the ramifications of this bill, support dropped.

So can the same happen in Nevada? That's probably what's on a lot of people's minds right now. Is it better to address the perception of fraud and simultaneously prevent any real voter suppression? Or would this bill just add unnecessary costs and complications to the election process without really accomplishing anything?

Without a doubt, Ross Miller's bill is turning out to be "The November Surprise" that will be shaking up Carson City in the new year. I can't wait to see what happens when this finally lands in state legislators' hands.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What's Behind Heller's Speech Full of Nothing

So Dean Heller isn't just trying to look "moderate" on immigration reform. He's also out to make this think he's "all grown up" on all matters fiscal. In July 2011, Heller threatened to take the nation into default and trigger a global financial crisis if a deal to raise the debt ceiling was "not good enough" (meaning not radical enough in slashing investment in our economy). But now, all of a sudden, Heller wants Democrats and Republicans to come together to do something bipartisan!

Wait, do I see fairies and unicorns gathering around him?

Or could it be something else? Perhaps it's something else. Perhaps it has something to do with influential top Republican Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma) actually telling his fellow Republicans to accept President Obama's tax proposal.

Wait, what? Yep, that happened. And TPM's Brian Beutler has a smart hypothesis as to why this happened.

Maybe Cole’s argument will prevail, or maybe it won’t. But here’s an indication that it has appeal among Republicans: a couple of veteran GOP communicators —Ari Fleischer and Brad Dayspring — are already providing House Republicans free framing advice in the event they decide to go this route. Even if the tax cuts for top earners expire, they note, Bush tax rates for 98 percent of Americans will be made permanent. Huge victory for Bush and Republicanism.

That’s true as far as it goes. It’s also consolation — the Bush tax cuts for high earners constitute about 20 percent of the Bush tax cuts’ overall revenue cost. Hardly an unalloyed victory for the GOP.

So far these are the only two Republican flacks framing the issue this way. And it’s worth keeping in mind that both of them, in different capacities, worked for George W. Bush, whose legislative legacy is at stake. But Dayspring is best known as Eric Cantor’s former adviser and communications director, and currently advises Cantor’s SuperPAC — not exactly someone you’d expect to clear the runway for Obama’s tax plan, unless he knew Republicans were preparing for a (possible) emergency landing.

Some Republicans, like Cole, are starting to think the only way they can regain any kind of leverage in "Fiscal Cliff" negotiations is by simply settling the middle class tax rates now so they can keep fighting on everything else. It's unclear as to how much truth there is to that. But at this point, it's increasingly difficult to dispute that President Obama now has the upper hand.

Things are very different now. Obama is in a far stronger position politically, and Republicans are in a weaker one. Obama just decisively won an election that pitted his demand for a greater contribution by the rich towards deficit reduction and his opposition to gutting the core mission of social programs against the GOP’s demand for more austerity. The GOP strategy of total obstructionism has been repudiated. Polls show the GOP brand is in trouble and that the public is poised to blame Republicans if the fiscal cliff talks fail.

In 2011 Republicans could demand concessions on spending in exchange for cooperation on the debt ceiling from a reasonably strong position. Now, if Democrats do force the issue and insist that the debt ceiling get resolved as part of the fiscal talks, what “price” will Republicans ask for? Will they really try to hold the debt ceiling hostage, and threaten to tank the economy, while demanding...low tax rates on the rich? That’s not a terribly strong position. Republicans will also insist on ever deeper spending cuts, but Congressional Democrats are so angry about the last debt ceiling battle that they are not going to be in any mood to give a good deal of ground in response to another round of demands.

And what makes this even worse for Republicans is that their proposed solutions are deeply unpopular. 60% of Americans do want the wealthiest 2% to pay their fair share. Well over 60% of Americans do not support cuts to Medicare and Social Security benefits for seniors and the disabled. And they don't want to see cuts to Medicaid benefits, either.

So what are Republicans to do? This is why Dean Heller gave a speech full of nothing today. What else can he say?

Where's the DREAM?

As we've been discussing for some time, Nevada is (still) a Blue State. And Nevada turned Blue because of major demographic changes in the last 20 years. This is why Republicans here are at a crossroads.

Probably the biggest driver behind President Obama's fairly comfortable win here and Shelley Berkley nearly toppling Dean Heller in the US Senate race was El Voto Latino. Heller has certainly been thinking about this since Election Day. And this may be the key reason why he's not touching the new Republican immigration bill.

The authors of the [Achieve Act], Republican Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Jon Kyl, are retiring at the end of the year, and there’s not enough time left in the legislative calendar to get a comprehensive immigration discussion going before the start of the new congressional session in January.

Perhaps more important, unlike the Dream Act, their proposal doesn’t include a concrete pathway to citizenship for young immigrants brought to the country illegally, which leading Democrats have said is their bottom line on immigration reform from which they will not budge.

In recent weeks, even some Republicans — including Nevada Sen. Dean Heller — have adopted an outlook on immigration that includes a pathway to citizenship.

Heller told the Sun this month he supports citizenship for young, undocumented immigrants who enroll in college or enlist in the military — the two target populations of the Dream Act. He also said he was talking with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio — who has taken the lead on immigration reform — about the future of a comprehensive bill. [...]

Though Hutchison and Kyl credited Rubio with playing an important advisory role in the drafting of their bill, he was noticeably not listed as a co-sponsor to the legislation they unveiled Tuesday.

Neither was Heller. In fact, Heller hadn’t even seen the bill when the Sun asked him about it. Rubio also was silent.

So what exactly is the Achieve Act? Basically, it's Republican leaders' latest half-assed attempt to respond to the DREAM Act and offer some sort of realistic immigration reform.

The measure — sponsored by Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), and retiring Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (Tex.) and Jon Kyl (Ariz.) —would offer a Republican alternative to the so-called Dream Act, providing a pathway for young adults to apply for legal permanent residency —but not citizenship —if they have completed military service or higher education and have worked in the United States for at least four years.

And even this still squarely falls into the EPIC FAIL category. Why? Well, why should young people be treated as criminals because they were brought across the border as children? Why should they be denied a chance at becoming American citizens as this country is the place they've come to know and love? So they can stay, but they can't be fully integrated into society?

And Republicans wonder why Latino voters have tuned them out? This is why! Do these Republicans really think they can treat DREAMers with such disrespect, champion policies of extreme racial profiling, obstruct any and all policies meant to promote economic empowerment in Latin@ communities, and then try to erase away all the blemishes they earned this year by proposing this? Apparently, someone smart explained this to Dean Heller in a way he could understand.

Already, immigrant rights advocates are turning down this "What Are They Trying to Achieve?" Act. This really should not be a surprise. Again, this has already been weighed and found wanting.

The DREAM Act is already conservative in nature and has even gathered support in the past from prominent conservative leaders, including Senator Hutchison herself, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

The American people certainly appreciate the proactive efforts of the Republican leadership for beginning to engage in the conversation of immigration. However, voters, specially Latino voters, spoke clearly on election day that they support the original DREAM Act. Mitt Romney garnered only 27 percent of the Latino vote, primarily due to his threat to veto the DREAM Act.

Indeed, the ACHIEVE Act complicates an issue that the Republican senators have admitted is “a strong starting point” and “a humanitarian issue.” For example, for Dreamers interested in serving this country, a strange visa such as the "W-1" status does not currently let someone join the military voluntarily, so unless they also amend the law to allow such persons to enlist, the ACHIEVE Act won't help much.

Republicans lost Latinos big this election, but some have already committed themselves to fight against the DREAM Act no matter how popular it is. And using the ACHIEVE Act is a way to avoid a solution and politicize the issue. The fight for a common sense immigration reform will not be easy; and this fight is not only for undocumented youth, but also for the parents who took the brave step to give these young people a better life. Nevertheless, undocumented youth will not give up on the DREAM Act.

Not too long ago, the DREAM Act was considered a bipartisan first step for comprehensive immigration reform. But now, all of a sudden, we're supposed to believe that the DREAM Act is "too radical" for Republicans? And that all that can pass is some half-assed crap that relegates DREAMers to permanent second or third class status? No wonder why Republicans continue to struggle with Latin@ voters!

And no wonder why Dean Heller continues to distance himself from the bulk of his own party. And he may not be the only one doing so, especially on this issue. This may be what Harry Reid is counting on. After all, this may the only way of keeping the dream of political survival alive for certain Republican politicians.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Ross Miller Responds re His Voter ID Bill

Obviously, I was taken aback when I first learned of Ross Miller's proposed voter ID bill. Why would someone of his stature lend credence to nonsensical conspiracy theories and frightening efforts to prevent legal voters from casting their ballots? What. The. F**k?!

So perhaps I overreacted. Fortunately, Mr. Secretary of State was courteous enough to explain what he's proposing... Via Twitter.

@atdleft @LauraKMM this doesn't require an ID card to vote - we'd input photos from DMV into poll book & take photo for those lacking an ID

@atdleft @LauraKMM correct, no fee or requirement to bring an ID to polls; if you have a DMV photo we'd use that, otherwise we'll take photo

Wait... What? Basically, Ross Miller is now running with an idea originally proposed by Minnesota's Secretary of State as a way to do voter ID without resorting to voter suppression.

The gist is election judges would have photos of the voters right there in the poll books (the books the election judges have in front of them with voters' addresses and a place for their signature), which should satisfy advocates of photo ID, and they should appreciate that this eliminates one of the objections of those of us opposing photo ID requirements, namely that photo IDs can be forged (I sometimes wonder that advocates seem to have never heard of fake IDs). It also eliminates the argument that a current technology is getting enshrined in the constitution, assuming, that is, that electronic poll books aren't just added to the amendment bill.

Setting this up is still an unnecessary cost since it accomplishes nothing. I can also imagine the delays, especially the first time, as voters without photos have to have them taken and election judges struggle with unfamiliar equipment with the predictable technical issues. If the poll books connect to a central database, and it goes down on election day, well, every computer person reading this just shuddered. However, since the voter doesn't have to acquire a photo ID regardless of their ability to do so, it gets rid of the disenfranchisement argument. This assumes the rules for voter ID remain as they are, namely that non-photo ID remains acceptable for registering. Such being the case, I could live with the rest. Yes, it still seems unfair and pointless to make people without photo IDs go through the delay of getting their photo taken, at least when lines are long and there are equipment or operator problems (if this is set up and you need a photo taken, go vote in the primary for local elections or special elections --- no lines), but at least they won't be told they can't vote.

Seconded. This would still lead to longer waits at the polls if implemented. And as I mentioned earlier, there's still the $7-10 million price tag to consider. Frankly, I'd still rather fund road maintenance than this.

However, the intent of this clearly is NOT voter suppression. There is no poll tax involved. And no one will be turned away for lack of a driver's license. If we must have some kind of voter ID law, this is a proposal that progressives and civil rights advocates can live with.

I apologize for jumping the gun on this. Now that I better understand what Ross Miller is proposing, I can clearly see his voter ID proposal is nothing like the tea party's. Again, no voter suppression is involved.

Still, I am concerned about the "tea party" alternative to this. At the very least, this likely means we will see a fight over voting rights during the next session of the Nevada Legislature. And civil rights activists will have to keep their eyes out for what comes next. Fortunately, they can at least breathe easier about Ross Miller's bill.

WTF, SoS?!

Just minutes ago, I noticed that Secretary of State Ross Miller had announced his plan to sponsor a voter ID bill early next year when the Legislature returns to Carson City. And my eyes were about ready to pop put. What. The. F***??!!

In looking at the details, it doesn't seem quite as gruesome. Apparently, registered voters without DMV approved ID's would have their pictures taken while signing affidavits stating who they are. Still, this is raising serious red flags.

For one, there's the $7-10 million cost of implementing this. For all the complaining about the budget, why take this on now? Couldn't that money be better spent maintaining roads?

Also, there's the issue of "voter fraud". Long story short: One is far more likely to be struck by lightning and/or encounter an UFO than to witness "voter fraud"! This truly is a "solution" in need of a problem...

Unless one takes into consideration a distinctly political problem that Republicans have. Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia) alluded to it at the Democratic Convention in Charlotte in September.

Even if Ross Miller believes he's acting in good faith by reaching across the aisle and proposing a voter ID bill, chances are most Republicans have no plan to do the same. Rather, they may see this as an opportunity to snatch some "bipartisan cover" to push voter suppression. This is truly disappointing.

(What's more likely is Miller is setting himself up for a "Nixon goes to China" moment to boost his political future. We'll see how well this goes...)

Why "The T Word" Still Matters

In today's "newspaper", we see a list of education bills on the docket for the 77th session of the Nevada Legislature. There's a whole range of bills that will be considered. However, there's one key issue that's missing from the list.

Fortunately, one (more) lawmaker recently spoke up when discussing the next session with The Sun.

We need to have some serious conversations about education and it being adequately funded, and what that means. … Everyone always talks about how they are for education. You don’t ever find anyone who is against education. So what I tell people is the question should not be: Do you support education? The question should be: Do you support funding education? Because at the end of the day, that’s where the parties diverge. That’s where you’re either for education in action or you’re just about education in words. I think for a very long time we’ve been about education in words.

Now, how you go about actually ensuring that this gets done, that’s the million-dollar question. There is a finite amount of funds, and unless we talk about the topic we should’ve been talking about for a very long time, too, which is tax structure reform and dealing with our revenue issue, then we’re never really going to get to the answer (of the question): How do we actually make education a priority by funding it adequately?

And Assembly Member Lucy Flores (D-North Las Vegas) has a great point. It's easy for politicians to say they "support education". It's been more of a challenge for many of these politicians to put the money where their mouths are.

As we've been discussing this month, a growing number of Nevadans are demanding real solutions for real tax reform that delivers real revenue for our schools that really need it. Of course, the forces defending the status quo have been (mis)using the failure of the CCSD bond this month as an excuse not to pursue tax reform. And of course, they do so by downplaying both the mendacity of the CCSD administrators and the clear desire of the voters for better funded schools... And schools better funded by way of having the largest corporations doing business here pay their fair share.

As we approach the start of the 77th session, we'll be hearing more and more about how much our state legislators "support education". OK, that's fine and dandy. So how about actually supporting public education by properly funding it? It's time to bring back "The T Word".

Monday, November 26, 2012

Gold Butte: Nevada's Hidden Treasure

Think about the amazing treasures of Nevada. No, really. What comes to mind?

Sure, we have the Fabulous Las Vegas Strip. Where else can one find some of the world's best gaming, dining, lodging, and live entertainment along a roughly 4 mile stretch of road? And yes, there is even more excitement to be found in Las Vegas, in Reno, and elsewhere. However, there's more to our fine state than just the glitz and glamour of our mega-casinos.

Beyond the bright lights of Las Vegas Boulevard and Virginia Street, one encounters another side of Nevada, a side that's simply breathtaking. Lake Tahoe. Mount Charleston. Pyramid Lake. Red Rock Canyon. There's just so much natural beauty to experience here in Nevada. And there's yet another natural wonder just 90 minutes from The Strip.

Of course, we're talking about Gold Butte. You know, there's a reason why it's been called "Nevada's Piece of The Grand Canyon". Just look at this!

And of course, it will be great to see more people take a look at this and appreciate this hidden treasure of Southern Nevada. There's just one problem right now: As of now, Gold Butte has no protected status. And as such, the area has been subject to not just plenty of use... But also plenty of abuse. Much of what's loved about this area, from the stunning muticolored rocks to the captivating Native American petroglyphs to the unique wildlife, is in grave danger. And it would be a terrible waste to lose any of it to pure stupidity.

This morning, Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani and National Council of La Raza Nevada Director Fernando Romero penned a letter to The Las Vegas Sun highlighting the reason why Gold Butte deserves federal protection and care.

The time has come to provide permanent protection for Gold Butte, Nevada’s piece of the Grand Canyon. There are many reasons why this 350,000-acre region deserves protection.

One of the most important is that we know national monuments and parks attract tourism. As the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, the Clark County Commission, the Moapa Band of Paiute Indians and the Mesquite City Council have noted, providing an incredible outdoor recreational experience will bring more visitors to Southern Nevada and encourage visitors to stay longer. Businesses will benefit, and for a region coming out of a long and difficult recession, that is very important.

Gold Butte is rich in human history and prehistory. Visitors find evidence of Native Americans going back eons before European settlement. Gold Butte has abundant archaeological resources, including rock art, caves, agave roasting pits and camp sites dating back at least 3,000 years.

The area has astonishing geological features. Gold Butte is where four uniquely American regions meet: The Great Basin, the Mojave Desert, the Sonoran Desert and the Colorado Plateau.

The confluence of distinct geographic regions makes it also ecologically unique, home to at least 78 rare and fragile plant and animal species, including the desert tortoise, bighorn sheep, the banded Gila monster, great horned owls and others that would benefit from national monument protections.

The time has come for Gold Butte to be recognized as the natural treasure it truly is. Yet we've been waiting far too long for the likes of Joe Heck to act. Since Gold Butte has been moved to the new NV-04, Steven Horsford will have a chance to actually advocate for the best interests of everyone at Gold Butte.

But if Congress still doesn't act, it's time for the President to do so. Through executive order, President Obama can declare Gold Butte a National Monument. As Giunchigliani and Romero mentioned above, this can be a win-win for our environment and our economy by encouraging more ecotourism to Southern Nevada. And with widespread bipartisan support for protecting Gold Butte, it's hard to understand why it still hasn't happened yet.

Gold Butte truly is an amazing hidden treasure of Nevada. Now, it's time for Gold Butte to be treated like one.

How Much Longer Can Nevada GOP Continue Its Self-destruction?

So the election has been over for nearly three weeks. And here in Nevada, all the races have been called. So why is there still so much drama brewing in the Nevada Republican Party?

Yesterday, the local "newspaper" had a(nother) story on the Nevada GOP's latest episode of soul searching, finger pointing, and primal screaming. Apparently, they're just starting to get the memo that Nevada is (still) a Blue State. And they have to figure out a way to avoid losing relevancy.

Earlier in the month, Ralston called them out on their epic dysfunction this cycle.

The Republicans were left with presenting fantasy math that the Flat Earth Society would have rejected and claiming they had made billions of voter contacts (I think that was the number) that would counteract the vaunted Democratic machine, an amazing integration of OFA and Team Reid.

Gentlemen, you should be embarrassed.

The Republican Party is irrelevant: Perhaps irrelevant is too mild. They may as well put up a “vacancy” sign outside the party’s headquarters. His father’s illness notwithstanding, Chairman Michael McDonald was an absentee landlord – nearly every release from the party was from Vice-Chairman James Smack.

The Romney campaign and the RNC tried a workaround, but the Ron Paul folks nipping at their heels, a Clark County GOP run by loons and a Washoe party that seceded and became a subset of the National Republican Senatorial Committee were too much to bear. When mailers started appearing from the Idaho and Colorado Republican parties in mailboxes here, the comedy show had devolved to pure farce.

They either adopt a long-term plan or even Sandoval should be worried.

And he's correct. Back in September, we noticed Nevada Republicans' glaring lack of field. The "power player" consultants ultimately opted to spend more on media advertising while "the real Nevada Republican Party" continued its increasingly time-honored tradition of extraordinary infighting. The few victories Republicans enjoyed on November 6 were more despite the party, not because of it.

So what will Nevada Republicans do to move forward? The above mentioned consultants are floating around the idea of some sort of "permanent Team Nevada" to circumvent the real state party. Others want to continue plotting a plan to finally wrest control from the Ron Paul acolytes who have been spinning the party out of control (perhaps because they're ideologically opposed to any kind of central control?). Meanwhile, the Ron Paul acolytes and their teabagger allies are already threatening primary challenges to Brian Sandoval and all other Republicans they deem "impure". So basically, get ready for another cycle full of G-O-TEA mayhem.

Of course, this is no reason for Democrats to become complacent. After all, Dean Heller was able to eke out his legendary 46% win by mostly keeping his distance from the Nevada GOP FAIL-o-rama. But on the other hand, he only managed to net 46% despite smearing his opponent in mud on the airwaves. Still, this may be a model for other prominent Republican politicians looking to circumvent "Dysfunction Junction" and overcome "The Reid Machine" at Nevada Democrats' disposal.

But can Republicans ultimately remain relevant with this level of chaos continuing indefinitely? I have my doubts. It's just not sustainable to set up a "shadow party" to get out the vote, outsource other party functions (like sending mailers and producing yard signs) out of state, and allow "top of the ticket" candidates to continue running their own operations completely separated from the party while avoiding the actual party like the plague. Something's got to give. We'll just have to wait and see what happens in the coming months as the Nevada Republican Party nears its final implosion (and first chance of actual rebuilding).

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Time for a Break

Since Thanksgiving is quickly approaching, I figured now is a good time to step back for a few days and recover from the last 6 months of pure madness. So I'm taking a break. And I think you deserve a much needed break as well.

So sit back, relax, and enjoy the holiday. And when you just need another blog fix, take a look at our fine blog friends on the right column. Thanks so much for continuing to read and follow this blog. And I promise to be back after "Tofurkey Day" with more insight on what happened this year, as well as what to expect next year.

Monday, November 19, 2012

More & Better Health Care: It Just Makes Sense.

Shortly after the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was (mostly) upheld by the US Supreme Court in June, all eyes turned to state houses to see how they would begin implementing it. So far, Nevada has begun implementing the health care Exchange part of the law. However, there's been uncertainty over the state going along with expanding Medicaid.

That may actually be changing soon. Last week, a consortium of 15 health care organizations urged Governor Brian Sandoval to implement Medicaid expansion. They were quickly joined by SEIU.

[Last Thursday], SEIU Nevada delivered more than 300 hand-signed letters to Gov. Brian Sandoval urging him to expand Medicaid coverage as he crafts his budget for the 2013 legislative session.

“Going forward three years, the state would be paying just one dime for a dollar’s worth of health coverage,” said Mayra Ocampo, SEIU Director of Governmental Affairs. “So often we see our government offer big tax breaks to lure businesses. In this case, we’re getting the incentive and it makes no sense to reject it. We can’t think of any financial reason why the governor wouldn’t expand Medicaid. Rejecting the federal money will just put a greater strain on Nevada’s budget.”

Even uber-insider Republican consultant and Brian Sandoval adviser Pete Ernaut went on Jon Ralston's show last week to express support for fully implementing the ACA.

It's finally starting to look like there's a critical mass in favor of expanding Medicaid. Why is this? Perhaps this is happening because it's good policy that makes sense (and $).

1. Under Obamacare, states no longer have to finance health insurance for people above 133 percent of the federal poverty level. Many states fund health insurance programs which cover residents living at more than 133 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL). Obamacare makes residents at higher than 133 percent of the FPL eligible for subsidized health insurance through state insurance exchanges at no cost to states. For example, Idaho would no longer have to fund health insurance for its 63 percent of uninsured residents who are above 133 percent of the FPL, reducing its $47 million annual uncompensated care cost to $17.3 million.

2. Under Obamacare, states pay billions less to cover people below 133 percent of the federal poverty level. States pay billions in health insurance programs for residents living at less than 133 percent of the FPL. After five years of Obamacare, the federal government will cover 90 percent of insurance costs for state residents making less than 133 percent of the FPL. For the first three years of the expanded Medicaid program, the federal government will cover 100 percent of Medicaid costs. The surveyed states will save $4.2 billion (100 percent of their uncompensated care costs) annually for the first three years, and $3.0 billion annually starting in 2019. For example, Michigan pays $212 million annually in uncompensated care costs. After five years of Obamacare, Michigan would have to pay only $68 million annually in the expanded Medicaid program.

3. By making health insurance universally available, Obamacare slashes the “hidden tax” states pay in health insurance premiums. States pay a “hidden tax” in the form of higher insurance premiums to account for the cost of covering the uninsured. “By greatly reducing uncompensated care,” the Council explains, Obamacare works to “reduce this hidden tax.” For example, North Carolina would see its annual $58.6 million insurance premium “tax” reduced to reflect a much smaller number of people without health insurance.

So in addition to covering more Nevadans, the Medicaid expansion provision of the Affordable Care Act will ultimately save Nevada money if implemented. And since Americans using Medicaid are overwhelmingly happy with their health care, it's not as if the state will be adding people onto a troubled program. Again, it just makes sense.

And here's another way this makes sense: The $300 million that Nevada will be receiving under the ACA to expand Medicaid is money that will be injected into our economy. And this will mean more jobs in the health care sector. So even when looking at the economics of expanding Medicaid, it just makes sense.

So what is Brian Sandoval waiting for? Perhaps some politically convenient excuse to do it (a la the last budget)? Or is there something else? Whatever the case, he eventually has to look at the numbers and realize that it just makes sense to expand Medicaid and fully abide by the ACA.

All About Agua

Water. We just can't live without it. Yet here in the desert, it's quite the scarce resource. That's why many here in Nevada will be celebrating tomorrow.

Why? Pay attention to this.

Government officials from United States and Mexico have made a Tuesday date in San Diego to sign a landmark agreement to share Colorado River water during times of drought and surplus. [...]

The five-year agreement developed from talks begun before the seven Colorado River states signed a landmark agreement in 2007 to share the pain of shortages during drought and surpluses during wet years. The river runs some 1,450 miles from the Rocky Mountains of Colorado to the Gulf of California.

The agreement calls for letting Mexico store water in Lake Mead, and for a pilot program of water releases from the U.S. to replenish wetlands in the Colorado River delta south of the border.

The water agencies in California, Arizona and Nevada would each buy water from Mexico over three years. The agreement also clears the way for U.S. entities to invest in infrastructure improvements in Mexico in return for a share of the water such projects would save.

So why is this so important? Keep in mind that 90% of the water supply for the Las Vegas Valley comes from the Colorado River/Lake Mead. Without the Colorado, we simply can't survive.

Also keep in mind that as climate change becomes more of a crisis, the extended drought it's brought to The Southwest will continue. And as that drought continues, Colorado River flow remains low. So more than ever before, everyone who relies on the river for survival needs this agreement... And needs to learn how to survive by cooperating with each other.

Under this new agreement, there will be more cooperation than we've ever seen before. And it will be international.

The pact calls for the [Metropolitan Water District of] Southern California to pay Mexico $5 million over three years in return for 47,500 acre-feet of water. The agencies in Arizona and Nevada [as in the Southern Nevada Water Authority] would each pay half that for about half the amount of water. An acre-foot of water is enough to serve two households for a year.

"It is a significant development on the Colorado River," said Kip White, a spokesman for the Bureau of Reclamation. "It could be one of the most significant things that’s happened since the 1944 Colorado River Compact."

The current agreement is an addendum to a 1944 U.S.-Mexico water treaty.

It would let Mexico continue an emergency program begun two years ago to store water in Lake Mead, the reservoir behind Hoover Dam near Las Vegas. That’s when an earthquake in Mexico damaged its pipelines. Mexico asked the U.S. at the time to let it store water temporarily while repairs were made to irrigation systems.

The agreement also calls for a pilot program of water releases from the U.S. to replenish wetlands in the Colorado River delta of the Gulf of California.

Provisions include Mexico agreeing to adjust its delivery schedule during low reservoir conditions; Mexico having access to additional water during high reservoir conditions; and a commitment to work together on a pilot program that includes water for the environment.

By allowing Mexico to store water in Lake Mead, the lake's water level rises. And even though that additional 15 feet of water will be "earmarked" for Mexico, it actually provides a critical 15 feet of protection for Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) intake pipes collecting water for use in urban and suburban Clark County. And as mentioned above, the agreement will allow Nevada to collect over 23,000 acre-feet of water for $2.5 million.

So at least for now, Southern Nevada has again escaped doom by securing enough water to sustain us. So is this it? Probably not yet... But not for the reason you think.

Remember that in recent months, SNWA has been pushing hard for a pipeline to Snake Valley in rural Central Nevada to pump water from there to Clark County. Earlier this year, SNWA even raised water rates and cut conservation rebates in order to kickstart funding for the Snake Valley "Water Grab" project. And even though local officials in rural Nevada and throughout Utah begged the Nevada State Engineer not to parch them and destroy their ecosystem, SNWA turned up enough pressure to convince him to green-light the pipeline.

But now that SNWA has a new compact for the Colorado River,why should SNWA continue pursuing that Snake Valley Pipeline? Especially with Clark County population growth projected to remain much slower than what we saw in the previous two decades, there doesn't seem to be any more need for it. And as we discussed above, in this era of climate change everyone has to learn to cooperate and properly share water in order to survive.

This new compact for the Colorado River provides hope that people here are ready to do that. We'll have to see if the folks in charge of SNWA can continue applying this useful lesson in more cases.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Joe Heck's "Media Malfunction"

Fresh off winning reelection (with 50% of the vote), Joe Heck is busy getting back to...

Wait, what did he say?

[Soledad] O'Brien asked Heck what he would like to learn from Gen. David Petraeus when he testifies before a congressional hearing on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. She then asked him if he would prevent Ambassador Susan Rice's confirmation if the president attempted to nominate her for secretary of state.

"The fact is you can't put somebody out as the face of the issue on all the Sunday morning talk shows, and then turn around weeks later and say she knew nothing about the incident and had nothing to do with it. That's just plainly wrong," he said.

O'Brien likened the situation with Rice to Condoleezza Rice when she said that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. "If you use that measurement...and then later you determine that the information was wrong, isn't that exactly analogous to what happened with Condoleezza Rice?"

"I don't believe so, because here we had a situation where the information was wrong, not coming back and saying the person had nothing to do with the situation. I mean Condy Rice was in a position to be able to be the face, and the information was wrong. But here we had wrong information, and then weeks later,we have the administration coming back and saying, 'Well this person had nothing to do with the situation,'" Heck said.

O'Brien said she would like to go through his response more slowly. When Heck tried to clarify, O'Brien cut him off and said, "You've lost me completely. Let's back up again. I'm sorry, forgive me. But you've lost me."

The problem here is that John McCain and a few other Republican Senators have been relentlessly attacking UN Ambassador Susan Rice over the Benghazi (Libya) attack. Yet while they're attacking her and threatening to prevent her from becoming the next Secretary of State should President Obama nominate her, they don't actually have facts to back up their claims. Perhaps this is why Heck was so tongue tied on CNN this morning.

Yesterday, McCain cited interviews in which Rice relayed information given to her by intelligence officials after the Benghazi attack and said that the ambassador “should have known better” and is “not qualified.” McCain also said that he will “do everything in my power to block her.” Yesterday, McCain and Graham held a press conference, along with Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), to make similar points.

In reality, McCain and Graham’s comments are inaccurate. David Ignatius of the Washington Post wrote that the CIA report from the day Susan Rice appeared on morning talk shows on Sept. 16 said, “The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo… There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations.” The day after her first round of interviews, Rice said that she would wait until an investigation was complete and that “we don’t want to jump to conclusions before then.”

Perhaps this was what Joe Heck had in mind as he was going on CNN this morning. He tried so hard to "Go the Full McCain" in attacking Susan Rice and President Obama, but he just couldn't go the full distance once Soledad O'Brien started asking for more details. It's funny how facts can get in the way of spewing out talking points.

I wonder if this is the only issue that Joe Heck will have to reexamine in the coming weeks.

Republicans, Ignored (by Nevada's Republican Governor)

This week, the Republican Governors' Association has been meeting in Las Vegas. Oddly enough, Nevada's own Governor has been schmoozing with the political major leaguers in Washington, DC MIA. Any guesses as to why Brian Sandoval isn't meeting with his fellow Republican Governors in his own state?

Most likely, he did not want to be caught in the middle of this.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) strongly condemned Mitt Romney Wednesday night for remarks the former Republican nominee made blaming President Obama’s re-election on “big gifts” for minorities and women.

“That is absolutely wrong,” Jindal told reporters in Las Vegas at the Republican Governors Association meeting. “Two points on that. One, we have got to stop dividing American voters. We need to go after 100 percent of the votes, not 53 percent — we need to go after every single vote. And second, we need to continue to show that our policies help every voter out there achieve the American dream, which is to be in the middle class, which is to be able to give their children the opportunity to get a great education, which is for their children to have even better-paying jobs than their parents.” [...]

“If we’re going to continue to be a competitive party and win elections on the national stage and continue to fight for our conservative principles, we need two messages to get out loudly and clearly: One, we are fighting for 100 percent of the votes, and secondly, our policies benefit every American who wants to pursue the American dream, period,” he said. “No exceptions.”

Of course, Jindal was reacting to this.

"The Obama campaign was following the old playbook of giving a lot of stuff to groups that they hoped they could get to vote for them and be motivated to go out to the polls, specifically the African American community, the Hispanic community and young people," [Mitt] Romney told hundreds of donors during a telephone town hall Wednesday. "In each case they were very generous in what they gave to those groups." [...]

"With regards to African American voters, 'Obamacare' was a huge plus — and was highly motivational to African American voters. You can imagine for somebody making $25—, or $30—, or $35,000 a year, being told you're now going to get free healthcare — particularly if you don't have it, getting free healthcare worth, what, $10,000 a family, in perpetuity, I mean this is huge. Likewise with Hispanic voters, free healthcare was a big plus."

Pivoting to immigration, Romney said the Obama campaign's efforts to paint him as "anti-immigrant" had been effective and that the administration's promise to offer what he called "amnesty" to the children of undocumented immigrants had helped turn out Latino voters in record numbers.

"With regards to Hispanic voters, the amnesty for the children of illegals — the so-called Dream Act kids — was a huge plus for that voting group," he said. "On the negative side, of course, they always characterized us as being anti-immigrant, being tough on illegal immigration, and so forth, so that was very effective with that group."

"The president's campaign," he said, "focused on giving targeted groups a big gift — so he made a big effort on small things. Those small things, by the way, add up to trillions of dollars."

Once again, Mitt Romney and so many of his fellow Republicans refuse to acknowledge the new demographic reality of Nevada, and of the entire country. And way to piss off Latino voters, along with African-American and young voters, even after the election is over. Perhaps Mitt Romney is aiming for his picture to be entered into the dictionaries... Next to the definition of "sore loser".

And this is why Brian Sandoval is staying away from his fellow Republican Governors, even as they meet in Las Vegas. He would much rather hobnob with both Harry Reid and Dean Heller in DC. And most definitely, he would much rather receive prestigious awards (even if they are based on a myth) than sit around with grumpy Republicans complaining about what happened last week.

After all, Brian Sandoval is ambitious. And he may yet have a future. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, is quickly on his way to becoming a relic of the past. And the Republican Party is still struggling to figure out whether to adapt for the future or keep wishing for an idealized version of the past.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Still Can't Count Him Out

By now, everyone should know the #1 rule of Nevada politics. And at this point, it's pretty much become the #1 rule on Capitol Hill. He's back, and he's not going down any time soon.

After beating the odds as handily as he did, Sen. Harry Reid really had no reason to suspect he wouldn’t easily be reelected as majority leader.

In fact, nothing changed about the Democratic Senate leadership. On Wednesday morning, the new crop of Democratic senators who will serve in the 113th Congress voted Reid, Dick Durbin, Chuck Schumer and Patty Murray to another term at the top.

Reid is now set to serve as majority leader longer than powerhouse leaders Lyndon Johnson and Robert Byrd — but not quite as long as Mike Mansfield, the senator from Montana who ran the Senate for the 16 years after Johnson left for the White House.

Reid downplayed his own history-making moment, however, in favor of singing the praises of Patty Murray, the senator who steered the Democrats’ 2012 campaign efforts for the Senate.

“We ran a message, led by Senator Murray, from Montana to Massachusetts,” Reid said, adding that at the caucus elections, he had presented her with “40 red roses, representing her 20 years in the senate plus the 20 women that are now in the United States Senate.”

Murray pulled off something that a year ago not even Reid was predicting. Democrats were expected to lose seats in the 2012 election, potentially enough that they would lose the majority in the Senate. Instead, they gained seats. Democrats now have a 55-seat majority in the Senate.

And just this morning, Reid found out that he will indeed have 55 votes in the Senate. After days of speculation as to what he'd do upon arriving in Washington, Maine's incoming Independent Senator-elect will be caucusing with the Democrats.

[Angus] King said he spoke at length with the Senate's two current independents -- Sens. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and and Bernie Sanders of Vermont -- as well with former Maine Sen. George Mitchell and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

"I came away from these conversations reassured that my independence would be respected and that no party-line commitment would be required or expected," King told reporters at a Capitol news conference. "And so I have decided to affiliate myself with the Democratic caucus because doing so will allow me to take independent positions on issues as they arise and, at the same time, will allow me to be an effective representative of the people of Maine."

King said it became clear to him, after researching the Senate process and procedures, that he would have been largely excluded in the committee process if he chose to "go it alone."

Reid, who met with or spoke to King several times before Wednesday's announcement, welcomed the Democratic caucus's latest addition.

"Senator-elect King represents the best qualities of a United States senator," Reid said. "No. 1 he is independent. No. 2 he is a man of principle, always has been. I welcome him to the caucus where we have a strong tradition of independence."

We've said it many times before. And we'll probably have to keep reminding everyone else of this cardinal rule of politics. Never, ever, ever count Harry Reid out.

Against all odds, he was reelected here in Nevada in 2010. And against all odds, he increased his Senate Democratic majority in 2012. And while there will be many hurdles facing Reid in 2013 and 2014, it would be awfully foolish to write his political obituary now. Remember how foolish that was in 2010.

As "The Fiscal Cliff" quickly approaches, Congressional Republicans keep digging in their heels in protecting "billionaire bailouts". However, this may not last too long. Once and for all, some Republicans are breaking away from "Tea Party, Inc." in turning away Grocer Norquist and his "tax pledge". It's now a question as to how many of them will ultimately agree to sanity.

But at this point, don't count Harry Reid out...

They Kill Ranches & Rural Nevada, Don't They?

Believe it or not, there is still plenty of wide open space here in Nevada. This is how ranchers continue to survive. But while Rural Nevada is still wide open, it may not be as hospitable to ranchers and their livestock going forward.

Why? Once again, look to climate change.

A large decrease in the amount of grazing allowed on public land managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service could help offset stress on rangeland in Nevada and across the West that is being worsened by climate change, scientists said in a report released today.

While much attention is focused on a warming climate’s effects on forest health and wildfires, climate impacts on range used for grazing has received much less scrutiny, said Robert Beschta, a professor emeritus at Oregon State University and lead author of the study.

“Entire rangeland ecosystems in the American West are getting lost in the shuffle,” Beschta said. “If we don’t get recovery under way soon, we may lose that opportunity. The clock is running and it’s running pretty fast.” [...]

Tina Nappe, a Reno conservationist and member of the Sierra Club, said she’s not ready to support widespread elimination of grazing on public land but agreed not near enough attention has been paid to impacts of a warming climate on many traditional land uses, grazing among them.

“There’s no doubt in my mind our current system does not take into account increased warming,” Nappe said. “We’ve know for some time a lot of these uses have to be re-evaluated in view of the fact we are experiencing warmer temperatures.”

These lands across Rural Nevada are now experiencing additonal soil erosion, vegetation loss, drainage problems, decline in water quality, and even disruption in entire wildlife communities thanks to climate change. So obviously, these lands are having more difficulty handling roaming livestock on top of all these other problems. Local ranchers may be furious over this proposed change from the Forest Service and BLM, but what else can be done?

Well, now that we're thinking about it some more, there is something else that can be done. But while it can't stop "land rationing" now, it can prevent this problem from becoming a horrifying crisis that will forbid any more ranching in Nevada altogether. And this is something we can all do now to help.

Right now, a huge swath of America spanning from the outskirts of Chicago to Southern Montana to the Mexican Border to Big Sur (on the California Coast) is mired in an ongoing and increasingly severe drought. And if we do nothing, the climate crisis will worsen, we will experience even more severe drought, and there may not be any land left for ranching in years to come.

This is what scientists have been warning us for several years. And this is what Harry Reid warned us about back in August. Simply put, climate change is no longer some far-away, intangible issue to ignore. Rather, it's threatening all of us here and now.

Global CO2 emissions grew a record setting 2.5% just last year. If we continue at this frightening pace, expect more disaster and even more destruction. However, it still doesn't have to be this way.

So what can we do? We can start by investing in our renewable energy future. And we can start by keeping fossil fuels where they belong (in the ground). And we can start by putting into place the proper regulatory framework to keep CO2 emissions in check moving forward. At this point, we no longer have a choice. If we don't want Nevada to turn barren, we have to take action on climate change.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Will Republican Infighting Push Us "Off the Cliff"?

Last Thursday, we discussed the coming "Fiscal Cliff", what it means for us, why we're nearing it, and how to escape it. Long story short: "The Fiscal Cliff" will trigger across-the-board spending cuts and tax increases on January 1 if Congress can't agree on a budget deal in the next six weeks. And since "The Fiscal Cliff" will hinder economic recovery if enacted (by cutting investment in our economy), and since it contains a whole lot of politically unpalatable cuts as well (like military spending cuts), there's certainly plenty of incentive to avoid this "Fiscal Cliff".

So why haven't we seen a deal develop yet? And why does it still seem so difficult for Congress to even negotiate in good faith on this? Surprise, surprise, it's Republicans trying to govern while being weighed down by "tea party" extremism.

Republican leaders are reevaluating their relationship with the tea party, a political marriage that has fueled gridlock and, some believe, played a role in the GOP's dismal outcome at the polls. The intense conservative opposition to tax increases could thwart the desire of Boehner and other Republicans to show voters the party can help make Washington work.

The speaker has made an early effort to strike a balance.

In the days after the election, he sounded a public note of conciliation, telling the president, "We want you to succeed," as he signaled a willingness to shift from the party's hard anti-tax position.

But he also made clear that the party opposed any increase in tax rates. Obama has called for taxes to rise for the wealthiest Americans. Specifically, Obama has said he wants to raise rates to President Clinton-era levels on income above $250,000 for families and $200,000 for individuals. [...]

This is the complicated courtship the chain-smoking speaker must undertake in the next 50 days as he attempts to satisfy his right wing while meeting Obama across the aisle for the deal that voters — and the stock market — have signaled they want.

Even though Harry Reid is eyeing certain Senate Republicans (including fellow Nevadan Dean Heller) to cross the aisle and support a comprehensive budget deal, the math in the House is much more complicated. And that's primarily because Boehner still fears being toppled in a "tea party" coup. Yet if he stands with the teabaggers in sending America "Off the Cliff", his entire Republican Party may be blamed for another economic slowdown and global financial panic. And because G-O-TEA intransigence (and resistance to fixing the debt ceiling) is what passed the Budget Control Act (which initiated this "Fiscal Cliff") in 2011 in the first place, this truly is a problem of their making.

This is what's weighing on the minds of Republican leaders in DC now. The only surefire way for them to escape being blamed for another "Great Recession" is by reaching a budget deal with President Obama and Senator Reid. But if they do that, they risk another "TEA" fueled revolt in their own party. So what will they do?

The clock is ticking... And the cliff is near.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Need Any More Proof That Nevada Is a Blue State?

Last Tuesday, Dean Heller (barely) won election to a full term in the US Senate. Now remember this fact. It will actually help explain what he told The Reno Gazette-Journal over the weekend.

“I just think Obama relates better to the average person in the state of Nevada, as opposed to Romney,” Heller said.

“And I think at the end of the day, that candidates do matter and I think that was a reflection of (Election Day) and why Obama did so much better,” Heller said. “He is an excellent speaker. He understands what the average middle class family is thinking.”

Oh, and he also said this.

Many Nevada voters could relate to an “Obama-Heller ticket,” Heller said. When Heller first mentioned the need for Obama voters to also support him, the feedback was swift.

“In fact, after I made that comment, I had a number of people approach me and say they went for the Obama-Heller ticket,” Heller said.

Oh, really? Did he actually say that? This can't be the same Dean Heller who catered to every whim and fancy of the "tea party". So what happened?

Long story short: Heller became "Mr. 46%". And he now recognizes that Nevada is indeed a Blue State.

Jon Ralston could barely contain his disgust this morning. After all, Heller ran as Nevada's official "tea party" BFF for so long. Yet now, all of a sudden, he has so much respect for both President Obama and his new best friends in "The Obama-Heller Social Club"? Give Ralston a break.

He hates Obamacare, but he has Obamalove.

That's the latest incarnation of the ever-adaptable Dean Heller, the senator who just won election by 12,000 votes and now is marveling at the skills of the president who just won an electoral landlside.

Couldn't he have waited a decent interval to make it seem like a gradual evolution and not pure opportunism?

The maverick secretary of state who morphed into a far-rightie after Sharron Angle almost beat him six years ago and is now back to being Dean No Labels after another near-death experience is a clear case of nurture over nature.

What is his true nature? What does nurture him beyond the politics of the moment?

So at this point, who is Dean Heller? No really, who is he and what does he stand for? Does he stand by what he said last year and early this year, when he wanted to keep the radical right in his corner? Or is he genuinely interested in bipartisanship, cooperation, and (GASP!) moderation now?

Regardless of whether or not "The New & Improved Moderate, Post-partisan Dean Heller!" is for real, he again reveals the new political reality of Nevada. We are indeed a Blue State. And the only way Nevada Republicans can survive going forward is by adapting to this new reality. So will other Republicans follow Heller's example?

We'll have to wait and see... But in the mean time, don't be surprised if/when the "TEA" troops arise (again) to try to stop any kind of "moderation". Whatever happens in the Nevada GOP in the coming months, it won't go down without a fight.

Doom? Or Opportunity? The Choice Is Ours.

Many times this year, we've discussed the potential of renewable energy. And we've discussed the grave threat of climate change. For far too long, we only saw these two subjects in the abstract. Yet this year, we finally began seeing both in the concrete.

We've seen tremendous growth in the renewable energy sector.

More than 10,800 jobs were announced in the clean energy industry and related sectors during the third quarter, according to a report from Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), the national group of business leaders who advocate for sound economic and environmental policies.

Ten states including Nevada were the big winners during the third quarter of 2012, landing the bulk of the nation’s new clean energy jobs, according to the report.

The top 10 states ranked in the latest E2 report are California, Illinois, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas and Washington.

Yet we've also seen quite a bit of terrible destruction this year.

Congress returns in mid-November to the fiscal cliff debate. Hurricane Sandy should put the issue of climate change squarely within this discussion. Sandy’s estimated costs are $10–$20 billion in insured losses with at least another $50 billion in economic damages. The $12 billion in government money set aside for disaster relief this year will be easily gobbled up in the recovery. Congress will be forced to seek additional money to help effected citizens. The federal price tag for the recovery from Hurricane Katrina reached $120 billion. Sandy may not reach that total, but the amount of federal money spent on the relief will be significant.

Hurricane Sandy, however, is only one piece of the climate impact puzzle. This year the country has also experienced record drought,widespread wildfires,and the worst West Nile virus outbreak ever. Munich Re put the cost of the first six months of 2012’s extreme weather events at over $14.5 billion. All of these impacts have required a federal government response. Lawmakers sought $800 million in additional funds this year to deal with wildfires and new legislation for over $300 million in drought assistance to livestock producers hit by the drought is expected soon.

But wait there is more. Sandy has shown that the country needs a crash course in preparing for and adapting to the changes and impacts that will occur in the future (read NWF’s prescription here). This is not cheap. For example, Norfolk, VA—home of Naval Station Norfolk and on the frontline of climate impacts—has a comprehensive adaptation plan that will cost about $1 billion. This is roughly twice the city’s entire annual budget and cannot be undertaken without federal dollars.

So, if we are serious about addressing the federal budget crisis, lawmakers need to look at the exploding costs of climate change impacts and how much it will take to better prepare for such events.

Last Friday, President Obama mentioned our need to "get to work" on clean energy.

Yet perhaps the most powerful voice in Washington to take on this issue has been none other than Nevada's own Harry Reid. He's always been an outspoken advocate for renewable energy development here in Nevada and nationwide. But in August, he went further in making crystal clear the threat of climate change.

And last week, Harry Reid reiterated his commitment to reaching a legislative solution on clean energy investment and limiting the future destructive power of the climate crisis.

“Climate change is an extremely important issue for me and I hope we can address it reasonably,” Reid told reporters. “It's something, as we've seen with these storms that are overwhelming our country and the world, we need to do something about it.”

Certainly, it won't be easy. With a still divided Congress, most Capitol Hill watchers are not (yet) banking on even a proper debate on implementing a climate tax. However as "The Fiscal Cliff" quickly approaches and talk on (federal) tax reform can no longer be avoided, we may actually have an unprecedented opportunity to work on implementing an actual carbon tax and taking the most significant action on climate change that we will have seen.

The stakes now are higher than ever before. We've started to get a taste of the frightening doom that lies ahead if we fail to act on climate change. However, we've also started to see real, tangible economic benefits to renewable energy investment. At this point, the choice is ours as to whether we see more doom... Or create more opportunity.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Why Nevada Has Been Becoming a Blue State

So the election is over. And there is quite a bit of Blue on our map. So what is our state now? I think we all know the answer... But don't tell certain campaign consultants and media figures (afraid of losing all that big campaign cash).

Rest easy, Nevada. We’re still a battleground state.

At least so say political operatives on both sides of the aisle.

Admittedly, they may have a bit of a vested interest in saying so. Presidential battleground status opens the spigot to tens of millions of advertising dollars. [...]

President Barack Obama last week won Nevada convincingly for the second time. In fact, his margins in 2008 and 2012 far exceeded former President George W. Bush’s Nevada margins in 2000 and 2004.

Democrats have 90,000 more registered voters than Republicans. They have a well-financed party structure in place — an organization noticeably absent on the Republican side. And they have control of the state Legislature.

Some might say that doesn’t sound like the metrics of a true swing state.

Indeed, it’s starting to sound a lot like New Mexico — previously a battleground state before turning convincingly blue beginning about four years ago and disappearing from the presidential campaign radar screen.

Indeed, our similarity to New Mexico is quite striking. So are we there yet?

Perhaps not. But at the very least, Nevada is now at roughly the same place on the political spectrum as Michigan, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania: "swing states" that are increasingly out of reach for Republicans due to organizational weakness and ideological rigidity.

By contrast, a large number of electorally critical states – both traditional swing states like Iowa and Pennsylvania and newer ones like Colorado and Nevada – have been Democratic-leaning in the past two elections. If Democrats lose the election in a blowout, they would probably lose these states as well. But in a close election, they are favored in them.

The Republican Party will have four years to adapt to the new reality. Republican gains among Hispanic voters could push Colorado and Nevada back toward the tipping point, for example.

States like Wisconsin, New Hampshire and Iowa are overwhelmingly white – but also highly educated, with fairly progressive views on social policy. If Republicans moderated their tone on social issues, they might be more competitive in these states, while regaining ground in Northern Virginia and in the Philadelphia suburbs.

Finally, some of the Democrats’ apparent advantage in the swing states may reflect Mr. Obama’s voter targeting and turnout operations –which were superior, by most accounts, to John McCain’s in 2008 and Mr. Romney’s in 2012.

It is not my job to give advice, but the next Republican nominee might be well served to remember that the party won the Electoral College despite losing the popular vote in 2000, when George W. Bush and Karl Rove put more emphasis on the “ground game.” But the Republicans seemed to be at a disadvantage in the last two years when their candidates put less of an investment into it.

If the parties continue down the same paths, however, this won’t be the last election when most of the swing states turn blue.

Nate Silver makes a very good point here. Republicans can at least theoretically turn back this tide by moving closer to policy sanity and investing in a better ground game. But unless and until they do that, Nevada, along with these other peripheral and increasingly Blue tinted "swing states", will continue to be favorable territory for Democrats.

Now certainly, this does NOT mean that Nevada Democrats can now sit back and rest on their laurels. The NV-Sen and NV-03 races of this cycle certainly serve as cautionary tales. Against flawed candidates who struggle to define themselves and use a strong message, Republicans can still eke out wins here.

But again, Dean Heller is now "Mr. 46%". And Joe Heck barely crossed over 50%. And despite all the Republican Legislature Leaders' efforts to smear Vaseline on the camera, they still failed to retake the State Senate and grow their ranks in the Assembly. And perhaps most notably, Steven Horsford convincingly beat back a well funded right-wing effort to elect Danny Tarkanian in NV-04. Nevada most definitely has been changing.

And this leads us to the other reason why Republicans have been losing their grip over Nevada: Demographics. Clearly, Nevada Republicans paid a price for their support for "The War on Women", extreme anti-immigrant and anti-Latin@ policies, discrimination against LGBTQ families, and additional policies that alienate historically oppressed minorities. Now that these minority communities are becoming "majority makers", Republicans are in deep trouble.

And Nevada remains a Blue State.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

"Hopes for Bipartisanship"? Or Schemes for Something Else?

So The Sun had a sit down with Pat Hickey yesterday to talk about his great achievement in becoming Assembly Minority Leader. And of course, Pat Hickey mentioned all his grandiose "ideas" for "coming together" and fostering "bipartisanship".

The Republicans are willing to take a look at the antiquated tax structure and there may be some compromise, Hickey said. But he said he hoped the Democrats might compromise on such issues as construction defects and the public employees' collective bargaining law.

"The people are sick of partisanship," he said after the Friday caucus meeting.

Hickey, who was unopposed in the election, was one of the leaders in the campaign to elect more Republicans to the lower house but that came up short.

OK. So people are "sick of partisanship"... And they're so sick of partisanship that they're demanding Pat Hickey rise up and demand that Democrats join him and his fellow Republicans in attacking workers' rights? And they're so sick of "partisanship" that they want Pat Hickey to bring everyone together in support of gutting consumers' right to seek proper compensation when they're caught in faulty houses? Does Pat Hickey really believe the words coming out of his own mouth?

Well, this is Pat Hickey who we're talking about. This is the same guy who lectured everyone else about "ethics" and "campaign finance reform" after he couldn't live up to his own standard. And what made Hickey's move even more appalling was that he opposed much of the very measures in 2011 that he suddenly claimed as his own "ideas" in 2012!

This is actually a big reason why I'm skeptical of Hickey when he claims he's open to tax reform. After all, both Governor Brian Sandoval and State Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson have all but openly admitted that their flip-flop "newfound affinity" for the 2009/2011 "sunset tax" deal was done as a way of shutting down talk of real tax reform. So now, all of a sudden, we're supposed to believe that Pat Hickey will somehow clear the way for some kind of progressive tax reform if Democrats can just be "bipartisan" and throw workers & consumers under the bus?

Sorry, but I smell something fishy here.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Far from Dead

Yesterday, we discussed the continuing need for real, progressive tax reform. And thankfully, the teachers refuse to give up this fight.

[The Education Initiative] has more than 100,000 signatures of voters on its initiative petition and they will be presented Tuesday to the counties for verification of the names, says Nick Di Archangel, director of communications for the Nevada State Education Association.

Di Archangel says he thinks the petition has a good chance of gaining legislative approval.

The law requires 72,352 signatures on the initiative to be filed by the Tuesday deadline. And there must be 18,008 signatures in each of the four congressional districts.

So now, The Education Initiative has more than enough signatures to go to the Legislature next spring. And even if Nick Di Archangel is wrong and the Legislature does not want to approve it, that just means voters can approve it in 2014.

However, the path forward is not completely clear yet. The Education Initiative still has to overcome the legal challenge.

At the same time, the Nevada Supreme Court has decided to speed up an appeal by the union over a ruling by a lower court that the petition is invalid.

The Supreme Court Wednesday filed an order that it will hear oral arguments on the first available date and all seven justices will be sitting on the case. The court said it will not be necessary for the union and its opponent, Committee to Protect Nevada Jobs, to file briefs, a normal procedure.

The court, in expediting the process, will examine the record in the case before Carson City District Judge James Wilson, who ruled the petition was faulty, misleading and could not be presented to the Legislature.

The initiative would impose a 2 percent margins tax on businesses with more than an annual income of $1 million. It is expected to raise $800 million a year to go toward funding the public schools.

So "The Supremes" (of Nevada) must render their final verdict before we know for sure if The Education Initiative will go to Carson City next spring.

But at least for now, this initiative lives on. And at least for now, progressives can keep hope alive for meaningful tax reform. Already, the usual suspects in Carson City are working to silence all talk of tax reform. But as long as teachers and their fellow union activists keep turning up the heat with The Education Initiative, this issue will not go away.

And at this point, even a final ruling against the initiative may not be enough to silence activists demanding real solutions for better schools and a fairer tax code. Simply put, progressives are mad as hell and they won't take it any more. So expect more sound and fury from a typically unexpected source during next year's legislative session. And regardless of the final fate of this specific initiative, progressive tax reform is far from dead.