Three more Nevada legislators are bowing out of the political scene with the announcement that they will not seek re-election in 2016.
Those legislators, all three Republicans from Reno, are Assembly members Pat Hickey and Randy Kirner, and Sen. Greg Brower. They join a growing list of lawmakers who are either seeking other political opportunities or will term out after the next session.
Political pundits have speculated that the turnover rate will be more about the division within political parties, however, than because of political ambition.
Governor Brian Sandoval, and other moderate Republicans throughout the Assembly and Senate, have been criticized for their support of raising taxes to fund education - Sandoval's signature plan. Most of the criticism has hailed from the more conservative wing of the Republican party.
If this leads to more conservative challengers in the primary election - how could it potentiall shake Nevada politics up in the general elecation next November?
This year's legislative session was a contentious one. But not really between Democrats and Republicans. It was more Republican versus Republican.
Do you think the three lawmakers that have announced they're not running again are afraid they might lose to a more conservative Republican candidate?
Sebelius: Having voted for a tax is a liability on the ballot only in so far as you can’t explain why you did it and what you did it for. And I think all those people you mentioned could explain what they did and why they did it.
Now, some might say this Republican division is a good thing – and not just for democrats. Is there a logic to how a separation of the extreme right from the middle-right is good for the Republican Party?
Sebelius: I think that anyone who thinks this is good for the Republican Party must be a democrat. It all depends on your philosophy of what is government for. Does government exist to do things? Does government exist to help people? Make their lives better? Fix problems? Or does it exist just to exist? If it exists to solve problems, then no it is a terrible thing, because you’ve got a bunch of Republicans up there who went up focused on issues that had absolutely no chance of passage. Things that were just absolutely ridiculous. Meanwhile, the adults in the room were working on the problem facing Nevada that has faced Nevada for decades, which is education.
The fact that the conservative Republicans want to impose this orthodoxy on all there follow Republicans and they’ve had no success in doing it I think shows how dysfunctional the party is. So, no I don’t think it is good for the Republican Party.
Months ago, we spoke to a senior Republican state lawmaker who said he expects fully half of the Assembly to be different people after the 2016 elections. Do you think that’s possible?
Ralston: There is always a lot of turnover in the Assembly because of retirements or people trying to run for the State Senate and giving up their seats or just people losing their races. There is even more of a chance for an even greater than average turnover in 2016 because 2014 was such an aberrant year in the so-called Red Wave. You have so many Republican lawmakers sitting in seats that would ordinarily would be democratic. And with the turnout expected to be at a presidential-year level, the democrats should win back a bunch of those seats and take over the Assembly.
Is there a possibility that more conservative right-wing lawmakers will be elected? Or did they do themselves in with some of their immovable positions?
Ralston: I think that some of those who displayed that they were unfit to be legislators for a variety of reasons in 2015 will lose in the General Election to democrats because they are in democratic seats.
Most people who look at these things and understand the dynamics of these races realize that the Republicans are going to have a heck of a time holding on. And if they do hold on, it will be a very close 22-20. And some people are of course saying it might be 21-21, which of course will only be fun for us.
Sebelius: Michele Fiore, one of the people we pay the most attention to on the Republican side, if she runs for re-election, I think it’s possible that she could get re-elected. But I think that if she runs for any other seat, I think she’ll encounter the Sharron Angle-effect, which is she can get elected from a tiny Assembly district but nowhere else. I think she realizes that maybe.
Last week, KNPR’s State of Nevada talked to Jeff Zander, the superintendent of the Elko County School District, about that Board’s decision to deny a transgender boy the right to use the boy’s bathroom.
This very issue came up during the legislative session that bill failed.
But Superintendent Zander said three republican lawmakers showed up at the Elko board meeting and vowed to revive that bill in 2017. Are we going to have a repeat, then, of these controversial social issues arising?
Ralston: The democrats are likely to control the Assembly. They may control the State Senate and the governor has no interest in pushing an issue like that. Will it come up again? Surely they will talk about it. But they had all of their chances to push certain things in this last session. They’ll never have a better chance than they did and they so thoroughly marginalized themselves inside the caucus that they were unable to get anything done. I think these topics will be talked about but their chances of passage are almost nil.
Guns and more guns were also the favorite of the right-wing set in the legislature. Will that be a recurring issue?
Sebelius: Yeah, I think it will. The push for campus carry will come back I think. It will also be interesting because that issue will be on the forefront for another reason that is because there is an initiative on the 2016 ballot that would impose background checks on all gun purchases.
Are the extremists just a loud voice without the votes?
Sebelius: Success does not seem to be criteria for certain Republicans or their voters… you would think after promising so many times: ‘we’re going to do this, we’re going to gut this,’ and failing every single time that the voters would say, ‘Hey, why are we electing these guys?’
The only way to have success, marginal success, is to compromise with your fellow lawmakers that means moderate Republicans and moderate Democrats.
Will we see a very conservative governor after the next election?
Ralston: Well, I have to say the word ‘conservative’ has completely lost all meaning because of what the litmus tests are now… John Boehner is a conservative. National Review says he is a conservative. They didn’t like how he managed the Tea Party caucus but he’s a conservative. Brian Sandoval supported the most conservative school choice bill in the country which passed the legislature. They got construction defect reform done, which is a conservative idea. They got some reform of the public employee retirement system and the collective bargaining laws. Those are conservative ideas. But because they voted for a tax increase to fund education, education programs that now have accountability measures that have never existed before, they are suddenly called RINO’s or even liberal republicans.
I don’t see this state lurching to the right. There will always be a vocal minority yelling and screaming, but as Steve pointed out, not getting anything done. If they elected smarter, more effective people, they could have gotten even more done than I think they did get done in 2015.
Steve Sebelius, political columnist, Las Vegas Review-Journal, co-host, Politics NOW
Jon Ralston, political columnist, Reno Gazette Journal, host, Ralston Live
You won’t find a paywall here. Come as often as you like — we’re not counting. You’ve found a like-minded tribe that cherishes what a free press stands for. If you can spend another couple of minutes making a pledge of as little as $5, you’ll feel like a superhero defending democracy for less than the cost of a month of Netflix.