Don’t forget to vote

Election guide 2018: our endorsements

This year, we’ve focused on issues and broad concepts, with articles on net neutrality, the Truckee Meadows housing shortage, prison policies, energy, ballot questions, even 401Ks. We hoped to generate more discussion of issues by candidates.

Now comes the time for us to make our endorsements. With ballot measures and some of the major races, we’ll explain our reasoning. In some races, we’ll simply name our choices. We’re not endorsing in every race, which may mean we consider both candidates acceptable, both unacceptable, or that we have not learned enough.

And readers will note that in some races, we are recommending against candidates, not for their opponents. Politics nowadays are meanspirited and polarized. As a result, we think it’s important to defeat those who pit us against each other.

There is a saying in journalism and politics that we have seen quoted by both Ken Bode and Jack Germond, and Germond attributes it to Gannett’s Bill Ringle of the Saratogian in New York. It goes like this: “Writing editorials is like wetting your pants in a blue serge suit. It gives you a nice warm feeling and nobody notices.”

We acknowledge that possibility, but we’ve received enough emails and phone calls asking for our endorsements that we have some sense that our recommendations are welcomed this year.

A bit of trivia: In 2014, the last midterm election, 29 percent of eligible Nevada voters turned out to vote.

Nevada Question 1

“Should the Nevada Constitution be amended to remove existing provisions that require the legislature to provide certain statutory rights for all victims and adopt in their place certain expressly stated constitutional rights that crime victims may assert throughout the criminal or juvenile justice process?”

Ballot Question 1 would remove Nevada’s existing language guaranteeing victims’ rights and substitute language taken from the California Constitution. What bothers us in particular about this measure is the use of the term “Marsy’s Law” in official documents, including this ballot measure. Laws should undergo and withstand scrutiny on their merits, without appeals to emotion undercutting that process. Besides, this isn’t Marsy’s law. It’s Nicholas’s law. Question 1 is not on the ballot because of any groundswell of public demand. Its impetus comes almost entirely from billionaire Henry Nicholas III, co-founder of semiconductor firm Broadcom and brother of murder victim Marsalee Nicholas (Marsy).

Six states have already enacted Nicholas’s proposed law, which provides Nevadans with a basis for judgment. From the Marshall Project, which covers criminal justice in depth: “Given the vast number of low-level crimes that happen every day, Marsy’s Law is expensive and almost impossible to follow to the letter. … Defense attorneys argue it upends the presumption of innocence, giving alleged victims a say before it has been established that there was a crime in the first place. Using Marsy’s Law, prosecutors have blocked defense attorneys from getting basic information, such as where a crime took place.”

South Dakota House Speaker Mark Mickelson told the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, “We’re going to strengthen South Dakota victims’ rights. Part of that is removing the unintended consequences of Marsy’s Law from the constitution.”

Note that he mentioned the constitution. The Nevada initiative also changes the state constitution. In Montana, the state Supreme Court overturned that state’s Nicholas law because the ballot initiative was badly written. The American Civil Liberties Union has said it “could extend enforceable rights to corporations.” Correcting a flawed ballot measure in Nevada is not easy. Statutes are fairly easy to change. Constitutions are less so. If the courts fail to act, the Nevada Legislature would have to approve repeal or changes twice and then send it to the voters, a process that takes five years.

Sparks Tribune columnist Andrew Barbano has written, “It’s not a victims’ rights measure. It will enrich lawyers and the bail bond and for-profit prison industries.”

Nevada’s victims’ rights laws should stay in place. We urge a no vote.

Nevada Question 2

“Shall the Sales and Use Tax Act of 1955 be amended to provide an exemption from the taxes imposed by this Act on the gross receipts from the sale and the storage, use or other consumption of feminine hygiene products?”

In the mid-1970s, women legislators in Nevada began a project that lasted for a couple of decades of removing all gender-specific statutes from Nevada law and replacing them with gender-neutral statutes. This ballot measure would return gender-specific language to the statutes, and there’s no reason for it. The exact same thing could have been accomplished by making the verbiage in the ballot measure “hygiene products” instead of “feminine hygiene products.”

Further, journalists are using shorthand terms “pink tax” and “tax on tampons.” That misrepresents the situation and is pretty poor journalism in this time when the public has to sort out “alternative news,” “fake news” and news. There is no “tampon tax” as an RGJ headline put it—there’s a sales tax that applies to a whole array of durable goods that happen to include tampons and other items, like condoms.

The claim by supporters of Question 2 that the law as it stands is sexist and discriminatory is wrong because it suggests intent. The law does not target female products. It taxes all durable goods. Dropping the term “feminine” still removes the tax from all feminine hygiene products.

As we note elsewhere in this survey, ballot measures can be flawed because they are badly written. This is a perfect example of language that should never have been approved.

We urge a no vote.

Nevada Questions 3 and 6

•Shall Article 1 of the Nevada Constitution be amended to require the Legislature to provide by law for the establishment of an open, competitive retail electric energy market that prohibits the granting of monopolies and exclusive franchises for the generation of electricity?

•Shall Article 4 of the Nevada Constitution be amended to require … by calendar year 2030 not less than 50 percent of the total amount of electricity sold by each provider to its retail customers in Nevada comes from renewable energy resources?

There are a variety of reasons why voters should reject both of these measures. An in-depth discussion of Question 3 can be found in our Sept. 27 cover story, “Question Mark” ( But there is a threshold reason for voting against both initiatives before we even get to the merits. Here it is: These are constitutional amendments. As such, they are a misuse of the initiative process and should be rejected regardless of their policy intent. They do not belong in a constitution. They are statutory measures. If their language is flawed, the legislature could not even get at the language to make repairs for five years.

Both these initiatives deal with highly complex utility law in thousands of words. Inserting them into the constitution would create dreadful problems if flaws were found in the language, which is—let’s face it—not at all outside the realm of possibility.

Former U.S. senator Harry Reid, who endorsed Question 3, said, “Voting ‘yes’ on energy choice will represent a seismic shift for America and the world—a momentous example of how the people can take down an outdated, special interest monopoly and choose the future they want for their state and their country.”

In a Reno Gazette Journal essay on Sept. 20, Reno resident Ron Cherry had the best response: “While monopolies can be bad, unregulated greed is far worse.” Monopoly is not a great idea, but eliminating it before first making preparations for such a monumental shift would turn energy producers loose on the public.

Question 6 would provide a solution without a problem. Nevada is not a state where there has been resistance to alternative energy. Indeed, there are some components of our economy that are ahead of this ballot measure, which provides the floor for alternative energy supplies in a utility’s offerings. And the Nevada Legislature has established minimum utility use of alternatives that are satisfactory, so the ballot measure is not needed. The governor did veto a bill providing for higher percentages, but not because of opposition to renewables. He wanted his administration to follow its own timetable, which could be faster or slower than the ballot measure.

If such a law is needed, it should be done by statute, not constitutional amendment. Tom Steyer, the billionaire who paid to have this measure placed on the ballot, would have known all of this if he lived here. He is at least the fourth mega-money guy who is using Nevada’s initiative law as a toy this year.

We urge no votes.

Nevada Question 4

Shall Article 10 of the Nevada Constitution be amended to require the Legislature to provide by law for the exemption of durable medical equipment … from any tax upon the sale, storage, use, or consumption of tangible personal property?

The public should and almost certainly will support this measure. It’s another example of the problems sales taxes cause. We just wish the legislature would fix the sales tax once and for all rather than doing it piecemeal, like this. After all, the tax was lifted from prosthetic limbs in 1970 and prescription drugs in 1979. This one should have been a part of those changes. The sales tax should either be repealed outright, or it should be made more progressive by extending it to services and lowering the rate. As it stands, it is one of the highest sales tax rates in the nation—and, in Reno, it is the highest in the nation.

We urge a yes vote.

Nevada Question 5

Shall Chapter 293 of the Nevada Revised Statutes be amended to establish a system that will automatically register an eligible person to vote, or update that person’s existing Nevada voter registration information, at the time the person applies to the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles for … any type of driver’s license or identification card, or makes a request to change the address on such a license or identification card, unless the person affirmatively declines in writing?

We have a lot of reservations about the language of Question 5, and we are not sure what problem it’s designed to remedy. It once again advances the notion that increased registration is the key to increasing Nevada’s dismal voter turnout. But experience has shown otherwise. Motor Voter, the program introduced in 1987 that increased Nevada registrations by making it possible to register at the DMV, failed to increase turnout.

Easier absentee voting, mail-in registrations, removal of racial bars in the South, and Motor Voter did not solve poor turnout. Registration itself was originally introduced in the United States to keep some groups from voting, and it seems to be working admirably that way. Meanwhile, other democracies have done away with it or never adopted it. Finland registers its citizens at birth for their lifetimes. How simple.

At any rate, we’re not sure why this particular twist in Motor Voter—automatic registration with an opt-out—needs to be passed by initiative. Legislatures are there for a reason, to scrutinize measures, craft the language and decide whether they are wise. This policy proposal belongs before the lawmakers, particularly given its fiscal implications.

We urge a no vote.

WC-1 River flooding funds

“Shall Washoe County be authorized to levy an additional property tax rate for … a flood protection project by the Truckee River Flood Management Authority … ?”

In November, 1998, a lame duck county commission took the unpopular step of approving a sales tax increase for flood control and lowering the railroad tracks in the downtown after an election in which anti-sales tax candidates had been elected.

In the 20 years since, low income Nevadans have paid the bulk of those taxes. According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, the poorest 20 percent of Nevada families pay 6.1 percent of their income in sales tax. The wealthiest one percent of Nevada families pays six-tenths of one percent. That fund has generated from nine to six million dollars annually.

WC-1 seeks to leverage more federal funding with this property tax hike. We would argue that with 20 years of sales tax payments for flood control, the working poor have done their part, and no new money should be approved until the 1998 sales tax hike is repealed.

We urge a no vote.

Sparks Question 1

“Should the City Attorney remain an elected non-partisan office within Sparks Government?”

Public bodies often want to hire their own lawyers instead of using elected lawyers. This usually means they want legal advice that will let them do what they want. But being accountable to the public instead of the public body gives the lawyer some independence and makes it more likely she or he will tell other elected officials not what they want to hear but what the law says.

Until 1989, for instance, the Washoe County Airport Authority used a deputy district attorney as its lawyer. She was an employee of the elected district attorney’s office, not of the Airport Authority, which gave her independence. She was paid $57,262 annually.

Then the Airport Authority switched to private lawyers. It was soon enmeshed in some badly handled public controversies. Some members of the Authority board felt that the private attorney formed an alliance with the airport director and staff and with one faction on the board, and it affected the character of the advice given to the board. To tie it all together neatly, the Authority was paying nine law firms more than 10 times the amount it had previously paid for legal costs each year.

Elected city attorneys should not only be continued in Sparks, they should be returned to other jurisdictions around the state.

We urge a yes vote.

U.S. Senate

In 2008, there were people who were shocked when we endorsed Dean Heller when he ran for the U.S. House. And a few were outraged.

To us, the choice was pretty simple. Heller in the Nevada Legislature had been a moderate who worked well with Democrats. As secretary of state, he had treated all parties fairly. He was good on transparency and campaign finance. And electing him would send reinforcement to the dwindling group of moderate Republicans who did not feel the need to hate.

Besides, Heller’s Democratic opponent was an Iraq war supporter who had been indifferent to civil liberties as a state regent.

What happened when Heller was elected, of course, fit an increasingly familiar pattern. Once he learned the facts of life in federal office—the money that must be raised and the need to toe the line of the right wing groups like the Club of Growth that provide the big money—he dashed to the right. (He also became something of a recluse, seldom appearing in public.)

Since then, his voting record has not been as bad as Democrats say. He initially voted against the Wall Street bailout, tried to reduce oil company subsidies and chastised Mitt Romney for his attack on “the 47 percent.” He supported removing marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.

But if his record was not terrible, it was bad enough. Though he sits on a banking subcommittee of Senate Finance, he has never done anything to make the U.S. tax system more fair for the working poor. He voted against the least intrusive of gun measures. He sought tax breaks for second homes. He likes flashy, pointless gestures like ending pay for members of Congress if they don’t get this or that done, or a measure to bring Congress under national health care, which get him headlines but contribute nothing substantive. Then there is his cheap shot at recipients of the jobless pay they earned as “hobos.”

His reasons for voting as he does seem detached from what he really feels. He casts votes that are appalling. And as often as not, he dithers while migrating to those stances. Indecisive, meandering, ambivalent. How exactly are voters supposed to know what Heller will do with another term, when he provides such uncertain guidance, and when one bit of that guidance is to go from opposing Donald Trump in 2016 to supporting him in 2017? Flexibility is fine, but so is principle.

We urge a vote for a different candidate. Jacky Rosen? Sure.

U.S. House of Representatives, Nevada District 2

Clint Koble

Nevada Governor

Adam Laxalt arrived in Nevada with an attitude of entitlement. He didn’t put in much time making a contribution to his new state before running for office—working in the Douglas County PTA, say, or Carson Valley Community Food Closet, or any of a number of other such groups. The only thing we can find that he has used his home county for is his annual political fundraiser. If he had gotten more involved, he might have a better feel for Nevadans.

By contrast, his opponent has volunteered with the Red Cross Clark County chapter, Seniors United, Boys and Girls Club, and several other groups.

Laxalt ran for office at the earliest opportunity, not unlike Nevada’s most famous carpetbagger, Thomas Mechling, who came to Nevada and won a U.S. Senate nomination in 1952 walking door to door in the days when it was possible to hit most of the state’s homes that way. Fortunately, Mechling was defeated in the general election. Even Nevadans have little tolerance for those who don’t put down roots before reaping the benefits of living here.

And when Laxalt ran for office, he didn’t start with city attorney or hospital trustee—no, trading on his grandfather’s name, he ran for one of Nevada’s six statewide offices in state government. It was something he was not ready for, as his tenure has plainly shown. He has repeatedly bungled the job and cut corners on ethics.

His whole office-seeking adventures seem disrespectful to Nevadans who contribute without expectations. He never contributed and expected to be rewarded.

By contrast, his opponent started out as one of Clark County’s members of the Board of Regents, then ran for county commission, and only now seeks the governorship.

If it seems like we favor Steve Sisolak, we invite readers to check our previous editorials about him. We have made plain our dislike of Sisolak’s style of campaigning. But he does have a better sense of the fitness of things, something Laxalt entirely lacks.

Once in office, Laxalt spent much of his time raising money ($1.2 million in 2016, a year when he was not running for office), seeking favorable treatment from a gambling regulator for a campaign contributor, attacking good people who had gathered signatures to place measures on the ballot dealing with gun background checks and marijuana. It was quite a run-up for governor and made him a polarizing figure.

By contrast, his grandfather used his run-up to the 1966 governor’s race by reaching out to those with whom he disagreed. In preparing his run for governor, Paul Laxalt recruited Nevada’s first black state legislative candidate and cultivated moderates by reading the John Birch Society hate group out of the Nevada Republican Party. The Almanac of American Politics described the elder Laxalt this way: “Laxalt’s assets are similar to Ronald Reagan’s: he is a fervent believer in a mostly popular political philosophy, yet remains affable and civil with opponents as well as allies.”

His grandson, however, works well only with those with whom he agrees.

In running for an office where he will have to prepare the state budget, he is entirely without fiscal experience, with the result that he has never explained how he will keep his promise to (1) eliminate the commerce tax and (2) keep education spending at the same level.

Laxalt is callow, presumptuous and arrogant. He is not close to being ready to be governor.

Nevada Lt. Governor

Kate Marshall

Nevada Attorney General

Aaron Ford has been the Democratic Leader of the Nevada State Senate since 2014. He’s an attorney, a former educator and has been a member of the state legislature since 2012. In 2017, he called out former fellow senator Mark Manendo for the sexual harassment allegations made against him by lobbyists and junior legislative staff over the course of years. Manendo resigned shortly afterward.

And as a 2018 candidate for state attorney general, Ford was himself called out for having been arrested multiple times as a young man in Texas in 1990s. But considering frequent studies that show that black people are incarcerated at five times the rate of white people—and a new study out of the University of South Carolina that revealed that nearly 50 percent of black men are arrested by the age of 23—is it all that surprising that Ford, a black man, has had this sort of experience with the justice system?

Many young people encounter the justice system as defendants, and many thereafter go on to lead lives as productive members of society. Elected officials who’ve struggled, who have felt like the odds were stacked against them, are able to relate to others who’ve not always been fortunate. We need more of them. Aaron Ford is a proponent of police body cameras, gun safety and regulation for predatory “payday” lenders. He’s a good choice for Nevada Attorney General.

Nevada State Senate, District 14

Wendy Boszak

Nevada Supreme Court, Seat C

The Honorable Elissa Cadish has been a district judge in Department 6 of the Eighth Judicial District Court in Las Vegas since 2007. In 2013, after having her name put forth by President Obama, she withdrew her nomination for a federal bench position as a judge for Nevada on the United States District Court when questions raised about her views on gun rights led to a lengthy hang-up in her confirmation. She knew the delay was holding up justice delivered by a court that had only four of its seven seats filled at the time—saying it had “severely impacted the ability of Nevadans to get speedy justice, particularly in civil cases.”

In an era in which some people desperately cling to their nominations to positions for which evidence has revealed they are wholly unfit, Elissa Cadish stands out as a beacon reflecting the values of a principled, impartial justice system. Her opponent—Jerry Tao—on the other hand, seems less than forthcoming. He’s a judge on the state appeals court. Before filing to run for Nevada’s Supreme Court—he inexplicably changed his party affiliation from Democrat to Nonpartisan. He then embraced the support of gubernatorial candidate Adam Laxalt, said he was in favor of school choice—why would a justice in his position voice an opinion on this?—and released campaign material asking, “Is the Court going to drift even further to the left, or can we change the direction? Do we want a Court that gets even more liberal, or can we make it one that follows the Constitution and believes in individual liberty?” Elissa Cadish is the better choice.

Washoe County Sheriff

Heidi Howe

Washoe County Commission, District 2

Stephen Wolgast

Washoe County Commission, District 3

Kitty Jung

Washoe County Commission, District 5

Lindsy Judd

Washoe County Public Administrator

Verita Black Prothro

County Assessor

Hugh “Chip” Evans

Washoe County School Board, District C

Debra Feemster

Reno Mayor

Hillary Schieve

Reno City Council, Ward 4

Paul McKenzie