By Sherman Frederick/Properly Subversive
It’s been a burr under the saddle of good governance in Nevada for as long as we’ve been a state – can public employees also serve as legislators?
In 2020, the think tank Nevada Public Research Institute (full disclosure – I was on this organization’s board many moons ago) filed suit contending that public employees cannot also be legislators under the separation of powers clause of the Nevada constitution.
It’s a legitimate line of inquiry and one, frankly, that ought to be settled. Unfortunately, the case was dismissed in a lower court on the grounds that NPRI lacked standing. But the Supreme Court last month unanimously reversed that, saying the separation of powers issue “is likely to recur, and is of such significant public importance as to require resolution for future guidance.”
That’s a righteous call and I look forward to the case getting a full hearing for all Nevadans to see in open court. What’s been happening in the legislature with public employees voting on the state budget is nothing short of letting the fox guard the hen house.
I’m not saying that teachers, policemen and university professors can’t make good legislators. I’m only saying they can’t do both. Pick one, dammit, because the pitfalls are many and troubling.
Both major parties do it. Currently, this suit targets Democratic state Sen. Melanie Scheible (a deputy district attorney in Clark County); Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson and Sen. James Ohrenschall, D-Las Vegas, (deputy public defenders); Assemblymembers Selena Torres and Brittney Miller, both D-Las Vegas, (Clark County School District; Assemblymember Glen Leavitt, R-Boulder City, (Regional Transportation Commission); and Assemblymember Jill Tolles, R-Reno (works at the University of Nevada, Reno).
I first ran into this oddity some 30 years ago while sitting on the editorial board of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. A woman who was a paid lobbyist for Clark County decided to run for the state Assembly because after spending a session in Carson City she thought “it looked fun.” We asked her whether she’d remain a paid lobbyist and she looked at us like we were from Mars.
“Of course,” she said.
We did not endorse her, but she ran. She won. She served. Did she lobby herself, I sometimes wondered.
Look, what’s currently going on in the legislature is wrong. Doing double duty like this is a conflict that either needs to be prohibited or far better navigated.
But, as I periodically remind readers, my opinion and $3 will get you a medium coffee at any Starbucks in the nation. If you don’t like my opinion, enjoy the coffee.
ONE MORE THING
– You haven’t experienced true heartbreak until you’ve been thinking about leftovers all day and come home and find someone ate them.
– Reno police have confirmed that a man who fell from the top of a local nightclub was not a bouncer.
– There is a fine line between “if you don’t succeed, try, try again” and the definition of insanity.
Until next week, avoid soreheads, laugh a little and always question authority.
“Properly Subversive” is commentary written by Sherman R. Frederick, a Nevada Hall of Fame journalist and co-founder of Battle Born Media, a news organization dedicated to the preservation of community newspapers. You can reach him by email at email@example.com.