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November 23, 2017

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Bob Beers is in it to limit government

Champion of libertarianism scrambled to try to stop public funding for stadium, sets sights on higher office

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Steve Marcus

Las Vegas City Councilman Bob Beers, right, looks on as William Mallard signs a petition opposing spending taxpayer money on a downtown soccer stadium Sunday, Jan 11, 2015. Opponents need 2,306 signatures to bring the project up for a referendum.

Opponents of Soccer Stadium Deal Gather Signatures

Lisa Mayo-DeRiso stands near the Smith's shopping center at Lake Mead and Rampart boulevards Sunday, Jan 11, 2015. DeRiso said she is pro-soccer but doesn't want the city to spend park money on a private stadium. Launch slideshow »

Bob Beers, protected by a blue canopy tent in the pouring rain, spots a pickup truck heading his direction in a Smith’s parking lot. Beers, a Las Vegas city councilman, fumbles with an umbrella, gives up and dashes toward the vehicle, sloshing through puddles.

“Don’t get out,” he yells. He’s thrusting a clipboard and pen toward the truck window. “Do you want to sign our petition?” he asks the couple inside. The issue: public funding for a $200 million downtown soccer stadium, something Beers and other opponents want to see put to voters in the June election.

Over the course of a 10-hour day, dozens of people skeptical of the stadium plan stop by Beers’ makeshift outpost, fashioned using the hatchback of his silver PT Cruiser and a small tent.

He put in 10 hours the day before, too, having meticulously chosen this particular Smith’s in Summerlin because it is near the densest residential area in Las Vegas. But he hadn’t anticipated the rain.

Returning from the truck with two more signatures in hand, Beers grins broadly. He was having fun.

“We’re making lemonade,” he says.

These days, Beers is energized by an unlikely second act in his political career after being ousted from a state Senate seat in 2008 after a brutal campaign and barrage of attack ads.

At the time, Beers said he was done with politics and poured himself into his day job as an accountant. But he got pulled back into politics in 2012 when a seat on the city council came open.

In many ways, the job is a perfect fit for Beers, who enjoys the day-to-day minutiae of government as much as he does the high-minded debates.

“For some bizarre reason, I enjoy it,” Beers said. “Somebody has a difficulty, and I figure out how to help solve it.”

Beers found a new cause in the soccer stadium, an opportunity to use his intellect and savvy with numbers to poke holes in complicated and often opaque plans to use $56 million of public money for the $200 million project.

Beers’ opposition to using city funds to build the stadium isn’t a surprise to those who know him as a firebrand conservative from his days in the state Legislature. Beers led a group of Republican Assembly members, known as the Mean Fifteen, in opposing an $833 million tax increase in 2003 that took two special sessions to resolve. He later championed a version of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, gathering 150,000 signatures to place an amendment on the ballot that would have restricted increases in government spending.

But Beers says his opposition to the stadium is more practical than partisan.

“Academic economists around the country are pretty much of one voice that these things do not build a city’s economy,” he said. “Those of us who’ve been here a long time understand this is a really tough sports market. ... That would lead a rational business mind to say, ‘If (stadium developers) want to make a go of that, God bless them, but they’d better be using their own money.’ ”

Growing up, Beers was more interested in electronics and computers than politics. As a teenager, he tinkered with radios and taught himself how to write computer code.

After starting out in radio news in Reno and Las Vegas, Beers went back to UNLV to study management before launching a career as an accountant and computer software expert.

A friend recruited him to run for a vacant Assembly seat in 1998. He agreed, he said, out of a sense of civic guilt.

Arriving at his first Legislative session in 1999, Beers thrived in the policy-driven, number-filled world of state government. But he also was startled by the inefficiencies he saw.

“I ended up with the philosophy that government doesn’t really do anything well or somebody else would already be doing it,” Beers said. “Government is a way to get stuff done that we all agree needs to be done but can’t figure out any other way to do it. Therefore government should be limited in the scope of what it does.”

That thought process carried Beers through the budget battles and tax showdowns that defined his decade in the Legislature, where he emerged as a prototypical libertarian in the pre-Tea Party days, equally revered and reviled.

“Bob was viewed in multiple ways: He could be a bomb thrower but was smart and witty with a dry sense of humor,” said Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, a Democrat who squared off against Beers in the Legislature but now is an ally in his fight against the stadium. “He liked to be on the fringe and use anything that could dig at someone, but he always did his homework.”

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Las Vegas City Councilman Bob Beers, left, looks on as Ari Stotland signs a petition opposing spending taxpayer money on a downtown soccer stadium Sunday, Jan 11, 2015. Opponents need 2,306 signatures to bring the project up for a referendum.

Beers brought his research skills and trademark quips to the city council, but those around him say he’s more mellow now than during his legislative days.

Beers attributes that to the lack of partisan friction on the council, which deals more with problem-solving than polarizing debates about the size and scope of government. Outside of the occasional vote of dissent, Beers has been a team player on hat normally is a collegial board.

When the stadium issue picked up momentum a year ago, Beers couldn’t help but take up the mantle of the opposition. He has voted against using public dollars for the stadium every step of the way, penning several scathing, point-by-point takedowns of the stadium’s financing plan on a personal blog — a trick he picked up during the 2003 tax fight when he blogged at nevadabudget.com — much to the chagrin of some of his fellow council members.

“I did not think that was appropriate. He should have first gone to staff and city managers,” said Mayor Carolyn Goodman, the stadium’s lead advocate, who otherwise speaks highly of Beers.

Despite Beers’ vocal criticism, public funding for the stadium was approved in a 4-3 vote. Joining Beers in opposition were council members Stavros Anthony and Lois Tarkanian. The three launched a petition drive to put an initiative on the June ballot that would block using taxpayer dollars for the project.

Over three weeks, Beers spent hours and thousands of his own dollars pushing the initiative, even after the number of signatures needed to qualify quadrupled from 2,000 to 8,000 because of an error by the City Clerk’s Office.

But the group got only 6,966 signatures. The issue has landed in court, and it’s unclear whether the stadium will end up on the ballot.

So Beers is gearing up for an even bigger political challenge — taking on Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid in the 2016 election. Ever the maverick, Beers threw his hat into the ring nearly three years before the election, well before other Republican challengers. So far, he is Reid’s only declared opponent.

“Somebody has to do it,” Beers said. “I don’t know if Washington can be saved between the misguided, continual borrowing and never paying back.”

For now, Beers is content working parking lots, talking to constituents and solving whatever problems happen to roll across his desk.

“The worst thing that can happen to me is in the process of losing (the U.S. Senate race), I get sullied and lied about so bad that my voters in Ward 2 don’t send me back to City Hall in 2017, because I love this job,” Beers said. “The second worst thing that can happen to me is I win.”

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