Las Vegas Sun

January 18, 2018

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Governor’s initiative abuse

Gibbons should stop using his government staff to push his personal agenda

Gov. Jim Gibbons in May proposed an initiative that would force local governments and employee unions to hold their negotiations in public. The issue is a favorite of conservatives — opening negotiations would, presumably, drive down public employee salaries and benefits — and Gibbons was trying to earn their favor before the primary, not that it worked.

During a news conference to announce the initiative, with members of his staff standing by, Gibbons was asked if he was pursuing the initiative as governor or as a private citizen. Gibbons said he was doing so as a private citizen.

But as David McGrath Schwartz reported in Wednesday’s Las Vegas Sun, Gibbons has been using his staff to get the initiative drive started. His office drafted the initiative and is writing instructions for signature gatherers, and that could be a violation of Nevada law, which says public officials and employees “shall not request or otherwise cause a governmental entity to incur an expense or make an expenditure to support or oppose” a ballot question.

Secretary of State Ross Miller, Nevada’s top election official, said it’s “clear” that Gibbons can push his initiative only as a private citizen.

“He can’t use resources of his office or other state employees to organize or collect signatures,” Miller said. “If the governor were allowed to run the initiative with all the power and resources of the state, he could direct tomorrow, through executive order, all state employees must circulate the petition.”

Gibbons’ staff dismissed Miller’s concerns. Stacy Woodbury, Gibbons’ deputy chief of staff, said a volunteer group is expected to circulate the petition in an effort to get the 97,000 signatures needed by November. Woodbury also said the governor’s office believes it has the legal authority to work on the petition. She compared the initiative to proposed legislation the governor’s office would draft. “This is a policy initiative of the governor,” she said.

But that is a poor analogy. Policy is supposed to be worked out between the governor and the Legislature. That’s the job citizens elect them to do. The initiative process was created as a way for citizens to put an issue before an unresponsive Legislature.

As we have said before, the initiative process is a dangerous way to make policy because it subjects complicated issues to a simple yes-or-note vote. Not that Gibbons cares about such things. He has used the initiative process to pump up his own image. He trumpeted his Education First initiative during his run for governor four years ago. The inane initiative passed, but it did nothing to improve education in the state.

Gibbons’ abuse of the initiative process is a shame. This latest initiative is not about making policy; it’s a vain attempt to help his friends, keep a hand in politics and circumvent the Legislature. The fact that he’s using his government staff to push it is disgraceful.

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