Las Vegas Sun

October 15, 2018

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Where I Stand — Mike O’Callaghan: Assembly-style censure

THE DISCUSSIONS about impeachment and censuring in Washington bring back memories of the sole trip Nevada's Assembly took into those political swamps.

Almost 20 years have passed since the Nevada Assembly clumsily censured one of its members. This was the first and last time such action by Nevada's lower house was taken. Observers, including this writer, thought the action was unnecessary and reflected a nastiness usually not seen during the legislative silly season.

Assemblyman Peggy Cavnar, R-Las Vegas, became the target of Assembly Resolution No. 29 when she openly questioned the integrity of 21 colleagues who failed to vote on a resolution the way they had promised Cavnar. A newspaper headline "Assemblymen Dishonor Nevada Legislature" really upset the Assembly power structure. Of course, Cavnar didn't write the headline that caused so much irritation.

Two assemblymen demanded that Cavnar make a public apology. After considering some of the abuse heaped on her, she politely told them to stuff it. So they sponsored AR29 which read as follows:

"Whereas, Each member of the assembly of the Nevada legislature owes to each other member of that body a certain restraint in expressing opinions of the integrity of the members in statements made to the press and public; and

"Whereas, One member of the assembly has made derogatory statements which reflect on the personal integrity of many other members, including statements to the press; now, therefore be it

"Resolved, by the Assembly of the State of Nevada, That the assemblyman from District No. 1 is hereby censured for certain statements made which reflect on the personal integrity of other members of the assembly."

Notice anything strange? Cavnar's name wasn't mentioned. She went to the floor of the Assembly and called the censure resolution a "very severe action." She then listed some of the failings of other legislators without naming them, and added, "And many, many times before there've been things in the press that have been disparaging to any one of us. And I don't see anybody censuring them. However, if the action of censure is taken, and it does pass, then I will very happily accept that because if anything or any good comes out of this action, perhaps it will be that every single one of us will think twice before we carelessly make a commitment. And if we don't understand the commitment, we'll go to the person and have it clarified and be released from it."

Going back over my notes I find there was a minority move to drop the censure. This resulted in my writing: It appeared for a while that the level heads of a few assemblymen would overcome the drive for censure. Speaker Paul May didn't want the censure carried out because he knew it would be an unfair act.

Assemblyman Bob Robinson, D-Las Vegas, said he believed censure should be reserved for a serious matter, such as a legislator taking a bribe. This seemed to make better sense than censuring a member for telling the truth as she saw it.

Assemblyman Bob Craddock, D-Las Vegas, always a gentleman, said she had already received enough criticism and then commended her for at least being open in her actions. Craddock, a hard-working tradesman, showed admiration of a quality seldom demonstrated by his other colleagues.

The die was cast and the good sense of May, Robinson and Craddock was shunted aside by the vindictiveness of a loud-voiced majority of the lower house.

So on May 25, 1979, Las Vegan Peggy Cavnar was branded with the badge of honor bestowed upon her by several legislators who enjoyed giving witnesses who came before them heat, but couldn't take the truth she laid on them.

Life could have been made even more difficult for the lady from Las Vegas. What if that motley crew had voted to honor her and claimed her as one of them? This would have left a scar that followed Cavnar to her grave. She probably felt like the man who was tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a railroad flat car. He said it would have been embarrassing if not for the honor bestowed upon him by the community.

Cavnar, a registered nurse, went on to run unsuccessfully for Congress a couple of times and her future political successes were few. This shouldn't bother her, because she has the distinction of being publicly chastised by some of Nevada's best-known elected whiners.

She was chastised with a censure despite there being no procedures provided for it in the Nevada Constitution, nor were there any laws or legislative rules making provisions for it in the Silver State.