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August 31, 2015

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Jon Ralston:

End of the redistricting mess is nigh?

Pick your poison: Special masters or special session?

After watching two days of hearings on the single most significant political act of the next decade, I can unequivocally opine: It was anything but special.

The lawyers for each party were ... lawyerly. The activists for the Hispanic population were ... active. And the masters themselves were ... yes, masterful, at least so far as the narrow spectrum of achievement allowed them.

Chairman Tom Sheets at one point urged Democratic and Republican lawyers to “make us irrelevant” by crafting a deal, which really would be special. But that seemed evanescent as the two days of hearings came to an end, especially with Gov. Brian Sandoval telling the capital press corps: “I have confidence in the judicial process.”

If I thought Sandoval was being serious — as opposed to politically correct — I’d be worried. But I still believe he would call the Gang of 63 back in a nanosecond if they reached an agreement — but not a nanosecond sooner.

What would be least special of all is seeing the lawmakers return to Carson City without an accord, thus creating chaos and obnoxiousness I had hoped we left behind in the spring. I’d rather be doing stand-up outside the Legislative Building in February than have to return to the capital to watch the partisan antics redux.

Sandoval’s pose, though, is perfectly in sync with everyone else involved in this travesty as constitutional provisions are flouted and laws twisted by poseurs — paid and otherwise. At least attorneys for the Democrats and Republicans are being compensated to do what they have been doing, which is to shamelessly pander to a burgeoning Hispanic minority as if they care — truly, madly, deeply — about its aspirations and needs.

For the political parties, this is about one thing and one thing only: Power. All of the rest is trappings, window dressing, bait-and-switch.

The Democrats’ goal from Day 1 was simple: Create two safe Democratic seats for a decade and make Rep. Joe Heck vulnerable. Period. On the legislative side, they wanted to protect majorities in both houses — tenuous in the state Senate — by brandishing the Hispanic vote as a potent force.

The GOP objective also has been crystal clear: Give Democrats what they want — two safe seats — but fortify Heck by pushing most minorities into the new 4th Congressional District and pretend they are doing it to help the cause of electing a Hispanic congressman. On the legislative side, they were slightly less shameless than Democrats — wanting only to keep both houses in play for the decade, despite Democratic registration advantages that make that difficult.

So be it. That’s a partisan’s job — to be partisan. So we heard little new, except the usual static whine about “nesting” and “fracturing” and “packing” — legal argot that was wielded to make partisan points.

Yes, Governor, the process is working fine.

The lawyers earned their keep, but I don’t know how some of these so-called Hispanic “leaders” could keep a straight face during their testimony. Yes, I have had some of these folks on “Face to Face” to represent a point of view, but that is all they really represent. They do not speak for vast swaths of the Hispanic community. Indeed, some of them have groups whose meetings I have attended and the attendance is always easily accommodated by a section of a Mexican restaurant.

Same faces. Same rhetoric. Same old.

Not special.

To be fair, I was impressed with how Sheets conducted both hearings — methodically, firmly, fairly. Bob Erickson, invaluable for years as the Legislative Counsel Bureau’s research chief, showed his experience matters. And Carson Clerk-Recorder Alan Glover didn’t speak much, but when he did, he made sense — and that’s saying a lot in this nonsensical process.

But this is so hopelessly drenched in politics and partisan legal maneuvers, thanks to abdicating lawmakers and a rogue lower court judge, that they will have an impossible time doing their job.

There are, as I have said, real legal issues here.

The Voting Rights Act specifically prohibits what Republicans and Democrats have accused each other of doing — diluting minority influence either by packing communities or fracturing them. And I still have a difficult time getting past — and the justices raised this, too — the provision in Article 4, Sec. 5 of the Nevada Constitution that says, “It shall be the mandatory duty of the Legislature at its first session after the taking of the decennial census …”

Mandatory. The high court even raised the specter of nullifying Gov. Brian Sandoval’s vetoes of two Democratic plans because the constitution does not mention an executive role. Hello, constitutional crisis.

Sandoval should have called lawmakers back after they presented unworkable plans. But he didn’t. So here we are.

But we don’t have to be. Right, lawmakers? Right, governor?

Wouldn’t that be special?

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