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November 20, 2017

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Governor, legislative leaders earn low marks from conservative think tank


Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

The Assembly meets in a floor session Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013 during the 2013 legislative session in Carson City.

Republican state legislators performed well and Democrats performed poorly at the state Legislature this year.

At least that’s what a conservative advocacy organization thinks.

The Nevada Policy Research Institute today released its scorecard of legislators’ votes during the legislative session that ended in early June.

The institute expressed its rankings as a percentage of maximum points. NPRI assigns a point system dependent on the magnitude of a bill's influence, directly or indirectly, on spending. The NPRI analyzed 74 pieces of legislation; legislators received positive points when their votes aligned with NPRI’s stance on each of the 74 bills studied. Anything less than 50 percent is a low score.

While select Republican state legislators scored high, the group gave Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval a low score -- 36.11 percent -- for signing “many new taxes, tax-authorization bills and costly regulations into law.”

NPRI had opposed Sandoval’s extension of temporary tax increases and tax authorization bills that allowed both Washoe and Clark counties to raise taxes if their respective county commissions chose to do so.

While ranking higher than Sandoval, Republican and Democratic leadership also fared poorly in the poll:

• Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey, R-Reno, was the only legislative leader to receive a grade above 50 percent with a 51.26 percent score.

• Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, received a 44.8 percent.

• Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, was the highest scoring Assembly Democrat with a 40.04 percent.

• Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, received a 39.52 percent.

The top five lawmakers on the scorecard voted against the majority of tax bills while also supporting NPRI priorities like advocating for the expansion of charter schools, altering the state’s public retiree benefit program, increasing government transparency and loosening regulations on businesses.

“For the most part the Democrats didn’t have very favorable votes on those issues,” said Geoffrey Lawrence, deputy policy director at NPRI. “Where the Democrats did do well was on some transparency bills and education reform bills.”

The high-scoring lawmakers were largely rank-and-file Republican legislators who had a penchant for voting “no” to many bills that other Republicans and Democrats vote for. Lawrence called the top scorers “allies of economic liberty.”

Chief among these allies was Assemblywoman Michelle Fiore, R-Las Vegas, who took the No. 1 spot with an 87.13 percent rating.

Fiore, often a dissenting vote, said she was pleased with the results, especially after voting with Democrats on two of their main priorities: marriage equality and medical marijuana dispensaries.

“I took a lot of heat for voting with the Democrats,” she said. “First of all, I’m in the kitchen because I can stand the heat. However, I am excited that this came out because this shows that I vote for the people and not for the party. To beat out some of our ultraconservatives, that’s huge.”

NPRI did not include the same-sex marriage or the medical marijuana bill in its survey.

The organization also gave good marks to Republican Assemblymen Jim Wheeler of Gardnerville, John Ellison of Elko, Wes Duncan of Las Vegas, and Pete Livermore of Carson City. Sens. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville, and Don Gustavson, R-Sparks, also got relatively high marks.

But, in general, Nevada’s 63 legislators fared poorly in the poll with even the 10th ranked legislator, Assemblyman Ira Hansen, R-Sparks, receiving a 59.33 percent.

No Democrat scored higher than a Republican except for Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, D-Las Vegas, who was absent for many votes at the end of the legislative session because she was attending family matters.

Assemblyman Andy Eisen, D-Las Vegas, took the lowest spot on the report card with a 30.18 percent score.

Although the report card clearly grades legislators using subjective criteria, Lawrence said it provides an easy way for people to quickly see who voted which way on a wide variety of bills.

“It’s hard to really track what their representative is doing at the state Legislature,” he said. “This makes it easy to see what the dispersion is among lawmakers themselves in terms of how they’re voting across a cross-section of topics.”

NPRI is one of only several groups that compiles legislative report cards to track how well legislators adhered to a group’s agenda.

UNLV political science professor David Damore is organizing his own report card tracking the fate of bills that had significance for certain regions of Nevada.

“What really matters is how these things got through the legislative process,” he said.

Many bills died because legislators never had a chance to vote for them. So looking at votes to generate a scorecard could mean the report omits other information valuable to political observers.

“You’re only getting a partial picture of the whole process,” he said.

Several Democratic lawmakers and Sandoval’s office did not return calls and email requests for comment.

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