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September 5, 2015

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Brian Greenspun: Where I Stand:

Failure to lead led to session of angst

The Nevada Legislature and Gov. Brian Sandoval have taken all of us for a ride.

It is the kind of ride that people pay good money for because it provides all kinds of thrills that you just can’t get at home. The difference, of course, between roller coasters at various hotels and theme parks and the one we have just been forced to endure in Nevada is that not everyone wanted to go on it. In fact, most Nevadans would have preferred to stay home.

It has long been known that there are two things most human beings should not do: watch sausage being made and the Legislature at work. Both are very ugly and, at best, distasteful.

Our representative democracy was designed, in part, to allow voters to select a person from their ranks who would voluntarily subject himself or herself to the indecencies of lawmaking so the rest of us could go about our lives. It was a bargain that worked well because people who wanted to serve the public, did, and those who didn’t want to, didn’t.

Somewhere along the way the people decided they knew better — always — than the folks they elected to represent them. Slowly but surely the “people,” in a classic misinterpretation of the U.S. Constitution and supporting documents, have usurped much of the political process from those most qualified to perform its rigorous tasks, which has resulted in all manner of politicians afraid of their shadows and the shadows of those who threaten to unelect them, or who are term-limited by an electorate that has lost confidence in its ability to make a decision.

That has created an environment in which our governor can take and adhere to a ridiculous no-tax pledge and legislators must hide their conviction that the way we did business yesterday has to change. In the vernacular, reforms in education, pensions and public employee benefits had to be on the table in this new world in which money is in short supply and no one wanted to say so.

Now for the roller-coaster ride.

Brian Sandoval is not a stupid man, although, in my opinion, he did a stupid thing by not only promising not to raise taxes but also doing his best to keep every Republican vote he could find in line and away from the realities of 2011 Nevada. The leadership in the Legislature also comprises intelligent people who knew reforms were essential, especially the kind that adversely affected their primary constituencies, but who failed to state that case clearly so the people could come to grips with that reality.

That resulted in men, women and children of all ages being scared on a daily basis that education would be devastated, jobs would be destroyed and those who give the most to society for so little would be asked to give more, while those who give so little would be asked to — give a little less! It caused many unnecessarily sleepless nights for good and decent people.

There is a reason the Legislature meets in Carson City, or at least there should be. The best one I can think of is to keep what is happening there out of the lives of the majority of the people who live in Clark County, far enough away so they aren’t singed by the burning desire of the politicians to score points, one against the other.

And, yet, this time it was different. Bus loads of kids traveled to Carson City to beg the Legislature to keep their education, sports and music options open. Hundreds of parents and teachers at all levels of the education systems ventured to the state capital to implore the governor and lawmakers not to make the kind of drastic cuts that would destroy all hope Nevadans have of bettering themselves and their businesses.

Even hell had a jolt when freezing temperatures headed its way because the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce agreed that taxes could, should and probably would be part of the solution to the budget problems Nevada was facing. Those business folks finally realized they lived and worked here, too. And their children needed to be educated properly.

Everyone lived and breathed the political process this year because everyone’s future was at stake. That, by the way, was not entirely bad because Nevadans needed a wake-up call because for too many years life was just too good to bother with making good decisions. Bad ones were just fine.

But all the bad stuff — the sleepless nights, the excessive worry and the concern that the best and brightest educators would leave town out of fear their futures here would be cut short through legislative and gubernatorial fiat — didn’t have to happen. The Legislature could have been more transparent about what its leaders were thinking. And lawmakers could have been more forthcoming with constituents who just wanted to know that all they held dear — education, for example — would not go on the chopping block in the name of politics. Yes, we all know times are difficult, so difficult decisions had to be made. But there was never any reason for draconian cuts to have even been part of the conversation.

That is where Gov. Sandoval failed to lead. In some silly adherence to his no-tax pledge, he allowed good and decent people in this state to remain scared about their futures and those of their children. By not stepping out front and leading us toward proper and needed cuts as well as balanced and responsible revenue increases, the governor placed himself more in the company of a Jim Gibbons rather than in the more rarefied status occupied by the Mike O’Callaghans of our world.

In the end, it took a Nevada Supreme Court ruling to cut through the red tape of political game-playing, which allowed the governor to weasel out of his promise and the lawmakers to come clean with needed reforms.

At this point you are supposed to ask “why?” Why did all this heartache among the voters have to happen? Why couldn’t the governor have led the way he was supposed to, and why couldn’t the Legislature have told us its plans long ago to allow us to digest and respond to them?

The answer is simple. These elected officials respond to the folks who elect them. It is obvious to me that we have created this situation for ourselves because we insist on voting only for those people who we force to lie to us during the campaign and, then, lie to themselves when it is time to govern.

So, if you don’t like riding a most unpleasant roller coaster toward the future, if you prefer a smoother and more thoughtful move forward, then you have to stop demanding the impossible from people who are both incapable of performing it and unwilling to admit as much.

Yes, it is “we the people” who are entirely responsible for the train wreck we have just avoided but which we have been forced to endure for the past four months — and will probably have to relive again in two years.

Having said all that, there are still a few more hours left during which the Legislature could screw it all up. Keep those seat belts securely fastened.

Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.

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