Commentary

Home means ‘no path forward’

May 15, 2021 12:32 pm

Systemic injustice and inequality? Here, have a Blockchains bill. (Getty Images)

As forward-thinking lawmakers have tried to pass progressive and productive measures during this year’s session of the Nevada Legislature, “no path forward” has not been the default position of the governor and Democratic legislative leaders.

Well, not publicly, anyway.

But it is the phrase Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak used while declaring Nevada will remain among the ever-shrinking number of governments around the world still practicing capital punishment. The bill to abolish Nevada’s death penalty passed the Assembly (good going Assembly Democrats, you did your part!), but Sisolak said there was “no path forward” in the state Senate. 

You remember the state Senate. That’s the place where Senator Prosecutor Nicole Cannizzaro and Senator Sidekick Prosecutor Melanie Scheible have attracted attention not just in Nevada but nationally for acting more like 20th century prosecutors than 21st century Democratic legislators.

Why, you may ask, would Sisolak take it upon himself to go out of his way to declare the bill’s demise, instead of letting it just expire when another dumb legislative deadline struck at the end of the day Friday? Alas, your governor does not confide in me (sniffle) so I’m left to speculate: He is nothing if not a 20th century Democrat, and that era’s tough-on-crime ethos may be pretty firmly lodged in his noggin. Plus he thinks, and maybe even has polling on the subject, that being pro-death penalty helps his centrist cred. And he is running for office for Pete’s sake.

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Power lines. Your governor took a break from his busy schedule of thwarting anti-racist reform Thursday to sing the praises of a plan for Nevada to adapt energy infrastructure changes that are already happening all over the place. Or as Sisolak & Friends called it, Nevada’s New Clean Energy Economy.

Which reminds me…

In the mostly unclean energy economy Nevada has now, there are two coal-fired power plants. One, near Winnemucca, is owned by NV Energy and scheduled to be shut down by the end of 2025.

The other was built in 2008, which is weird right there because that’s about the time coal plants around the country started shutting down in droves, because they’re dirty and people are sick of that, and because natural gas has gotten cheaper and cheaper. The plant is owned by Nevada Gold Mines – the joint venture between Newmont and Barrick that accounts for the overwhelming majority of the billions of dollars worth of minerals mined in Nevada every year. 

(Digression: To those of you who are excited about the long-promised lithium “boom,” keep in mind that even if lithium prices don’t collapse [again] and planned Nevada mines start producing at their most ambitious projections, the total value of lithium produced in the state will still be but a fraction of the value of gold produced at just one of any of Nevada Gold Mines’ three largest mines. And yet at some point over the next couple weeks, you can bet the governor and Democratic legislative leaders will be chanting “lithium” when they announce that now, clearly, is no time to take mining’s sweetheart tax deal out of the state constitution. And then Nevada Gold Mines will show it’s gratitude by following up the  half-million dollars it gave to Home Means Nevada [the PAC, not the song] with More, More, More. End of digression. Back to the power plant…).

Nevada Gold Mines is converting what it calls its TS Power facility to a dual fuel plant, burning natural gas as well as coal. But according to the most recent greenhouse gas inventory and projection report from the state Department of Environmental Protection, the lion’s share of greenhouse gases emitted by the plant will continue to be the result of burning coal. That scenario, according to the state report, is expected to continue past the year 2040.

If you have never heard much about this dirty greenhouse gas monster, not even from Democratic politicians while they are making cuddly cooing sounds about clean energy, there’s a very good reason for that: The first rule of the coal-fired power plant that Nevada Gold Mines owns is you don’t talk about the coal-fired power plant that Nevada Gold Mines owns.

***

Systemic injustice and inequality? Here, have a Blockchains bill. On May 4, the day after a state economic forecast was released, Sisolak issued a video address saying the forecast “showed us that those in our State who make the most were impacted the least” since the pandemic began, “and those who make the least were impacted the most.”

He also said he is “committed to changing our systemic issues.”

The very next day he sent his Blockchains study bill to the Legislature.

The two may not seem related. That’s because they aren’t. But good luck trying to tell that to Sisolak.

Blockchains will do nothing to fix “systemic issues” responsible for underlying inequities – economic, justice, and political structures where, to paraphrase Sisolak, those who make the most are shielded while those who make the least are pummeled.

But Sisolak’s concept of systemic change doesn’t seem to extend beyond an abiding faith in the magical healing powers of “economic development” and “economic diversification.” In other words, Sisolak’s policy response to structural failures at the root of economic inequality is decades-old conventional wisdom (with, in the Blockchains case, a freaky-deaky sovereign city twist), as can be found in the promotional literature of any garden-variety chamber of commerce.

Meanwhile, the Blockchains study, assuming any legislators can be found who are willing to participate in it and the thing goes forward, does nothing to address “systemic issues.” It’s a diversion from them.

***

Can billions in stock buybacks be far behind? Your resort industry has gone to full capacity and, after CDC revised mask guidelines, more or less declared oh hey masks schmasks. 

But that wasn’t the only resort industry news of the week.

After what must have been some very tough negotiations, MGM sold another of its properties to itself. The corporation’s new-ish Massachusetts operation is evidently the last MGM hotel/casino to get sold to the MGM real estate investment trust. 

So now how will Nevada’s largest employer pad its books while adding exactly nothing tangible or beneficial to the actual real-world economy living breathing humans live and breathe and work in? What financialization jiggery-pokery is next? A return to raising shareholder value (and CEO pay) by spending billions to buy back MGM stock, I’m guessing. After all, MGM’s not going to please hedge funds and “activist” investors for very long by resuming paid self-parking.

Oh and needless to say now, clearly, is no time to raise the gaming tax.

***

Here, then, is Rep. Mark Amodei, explaining his vote to punish Liz Cheney to the Nevada Independent: “You can’t run a railroad where the person driving a locomotive hates the president of the railroad.”

I confess I for one did not know that in addition to painstakingly nurturing an aw shucks gee willikers brand — the GOP House’s answer to Ned Flanders, if you will — Amodei is also a scholar of locomotive engineer sentiment toward railroad ownership during America’s history of multiple, sometimes deadly, railroad strikes. I also confess I’m not really sure who is supposed to be who in his ditzy metaphor.

***

Pathless Carson City.  In one of multiple examples of Nevada’s Democratically controlled Legislature turning its back on working people so as to suck up to industries that exploit working people, a bill to give tenants a few measly rights in one of the most landlord-friendly states in the nation has died. It’s one of several affordable housing and renter rights bills that have been either killed or dramatically watered down this session, same as the 2019 session.

Well this is the problem ain’t it? No matter how urgently a problem presses down on working Nevadans, and no matter how modest the attempt to do something about it, if business is against it, there’s just, as the governor might say, no path forward.

(The above items are excerpts, some lightly massaged, others more heavily, of material published in the Daily Current newsletter, the editor’s opinionated morning news roundup, which you can subscribe to here.)

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Hugh Jackson
Hugh Jackson

Hugh Jackson 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 author of the Las Vegas Gleaner political blog. Prior to moving to Las Vegas, he was a reporter and editor at the Casper (Wyoming) Star-Tribune.

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