Beating Republicans was the easy part

reno exurb
teofilo, via Wikimedia Commons

Donald Trump wasn’t knocking on doors in Nevada neighborhoods last fall telling voters “Nevada Republicans love me! That I can tell you. Also, I’m preposterous, and a racist. So vote for Democrats, obviously.”

But he might as well have been.

This is not to belittle the work of so many people who did knock on doors for Democrats last year. The party and its candidates from top to bottom ran disciplined campaigns and stayed (mind-numbingly) on message. They batted away most of the customary campaign micro-scandals Republicans tossed their way, even and especially the racist ones.

And perhaps most impressively, Democrats got out enough votes to overcome the rurals. Even the farcical threat posed by “Californication,” and the racist sentiment that strategy was designed to tap, could not deprive the demographically diverse population in Southern Nevada from it’s rightful role as the decisive force in a statewide democratic election. That Southern Nevada oomph — that turnout — in a mid-term election, was mostly of course because of Trump. But it wouldn’t have happened without countless volunteers and activists and organizations.

So congratulations to Nevada Democrats and their supporters for winning All The Things in November.

Now comes the hard part.

When the Legislature meets this morning in a nondescript town south of Reno, there will be 63 lawmakers. There will also be more than 400 lobbyists, most — including the most powerful — of them lobbying on behalf of businesses and corporations that exist to make as much money as they possibly can.

Those lobbyists have not been hired to promote the public good by dismantling institutional barriers that make life harder and more expensive for working Nevadans than it needs to be.

Those lobbyists have been hired to protect the interest of their clients. And the interest of their clients is money.

And that’s OK — just so long as legislators and the governor don’t let lobbyists put business ahead of people, the vast majority of whom are not represented by any lobbyists at all.

Businesses that hire the most powerful lobbyists are often the ones that provide the largest campaign contributions. The symbiotic relationship between campaign cash and legislation is heavily chronicled by the press and public interest organizations in every state and nationally, and justifiably so. In Nevada, as in Washington and elsewhere, the urgency with which officials approve a policy proposal is often directly proportional to the likelihood that some hooked-up business or industry will make money off it.

But it’s short-sighted to solely blame campaign contributions and lavish lobbying when special interest policies take precedence over the public good. In a country where helping markets supplanted helping people as government’s highest calling decades ago, ideological inertia is also a decisive factor.

Let’s consider some local evidence.

A decade ago, as the economy was in ruins and many tens of thousands of Nevadans were losing their jobs, homes and hopes, the center-stage remedy proposed by Democrats, spearheaded by then-state senator and now Attorney General Aaron Ford, was … wait for it … tax credits for the film industry.

In other words, helping business.

Since then, the three priorities that Nevada policymakers have considered so urgent, so critical, that they required extraordinary procedural measures so as to rush them into law, were online gambling, Tesla, and the football field.

In other words, helping business.

Those measures happened under a Republican governor, but Democratic lawmakers supported them unanimously or, in the case of the Raiders, heavily. And of course no politician in the state was more eager to allocate $750 million of public money to the nation’s largest and most lucrative professional sports industry than the current Democratic governor.

Even education, the thing Nevada politicians love to talk about most and sure to be the charismatic megafawn of the 2019 legislative session, is framed by market worship.

Nevada’s political discussion about education is not driven by an urge to prepare people to be knowledgeable about the world they live in and to have the intellectual tools to experience a full, informed and examined life. Nevada’s political discussion about education is driven by a heartfelt desire to provide job training. Question politicians who are “for” education and you’ll quickly find that the politician is actually for “workforce development,” i.e., job training for favored industries that would prefer not to pay to train employees if the public will do it for them.

So, again, congratulations to Nevada Democrats, and to the party’s supporters and helpers too, on winning All The Things in November. Most impressive. And a special shout out to Nevada’s Democratic legislators, who start the 80th session of the Nevada Legislature today with huge majorities in both the Senate and the Assembly.

But beating Republicans was the easy part (especially given the most effective Democratic get-out-the-vote mechanism in recent memory, Trump).

Now Nevada’s elected officials in Carson City face a much tougher challenge: standing up to business.

Saying no to high-dollar clout and big campaign contributions will be hard. And perhaps harder still will be a critical self-acknowledgment that for at least 40 years, Democrats have been surrendering to the right’s pro-business ideology. At first, perhaps, some Democrats embraced “market solutions” to public problems because they viewed it as a necessary evil, particularly if they wanted to get elected amid the conservative ascendancy reflected by Thatcher and Reagan. (This explains Bill Clinton.)

But after reciting business-knows-best talking points decade after decade after decade… well, it’s not surprising that Democrats started believing the words that kept coming out of their mouths, and embraced the neoliberal conventional view that the best way to help people was to help business.

The next thing you know they’re giving money to billionaires who own football teams, not (or perhaps mostly not) because of campaign contributions, but because, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, they think if it helps business, it must be good policy.

The Legislature starts today, and yes, Democrats are in full force. So is business.

Good luck.

Hugh Jackson
Editor | Hugh Jackson has been writing about Nevada policy and politics for more than 20 years. He was editor of the Las Vegas Business Press, senior editor at the Las Vegas CityLife weekly newspaper, daily political commentator on the Las Vegas NBC affiliate, and wrote the then-groundbreaking Las Vegas Gleaner, which among other things was the only independent political blog from Nevada that was credentialed at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. He spent a few years as a senior energy and environmental policy analyst for Public Citizen, and has occasionally worked as a consultant on mining, taxation, education and other issues for Nevada labor and public interest organizations. His freelance work has been published in outlets ranging from the Guardian to Desert Companion to In These Times to the Oil & Gas Journal. For several years he also taught U.S. History courses at UNLV. Prior to moving to Las Vegas, he was a reporter and then assistant managing editor at the Casper Star-Tribune, Wyoming’s largest newspaper.

1 COMMENT

  1. When the Legislature meets this morning in a nondescript town south of Reno … that happens to be the capital of Nevada, Carson City. Surprise!!! Las Vegas is not the capital of the silver state.

    That was a pretty disparaging remark …. perhaps you should visit our state capital and learn its history and significance to the state. It is not all about Vegas, man

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